Remarks at Perth USAsia Center

Ambassador Atul Keshap, Principal Deputy Assistant SecretaryBureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Video Conference

Perth USAsia Center and U.S. Studies Center Conference

As Prepared

Thank you, Professors Flake and Jackman, for your kind introduction and inviting me today. “State of the United States: An evolving Alliance agenda” – an excellent report, and a broad, compelling, and important topic – and ever-relevant to us and so many of our colleagues across the Indo-Pacific.

Greetings to everyone gathered in Canberra today. I also want to convey warm greetings to those in sunny Perth, where I was fortunate to attend two Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) summits graciously hosted by Australia on the shores of the Indian Ocean. I am also delighted to speak again to the U.S. Studies Center, bringing back fond memories of a talk in Sydney in 2013 and again in November 2019 here in Washington.

Australia is a long-standing ally and partner of the United States. Australia and the United States have a proud history of assisting one another in times of crisis. The relationship between the United States and Australia is, without question, one of our strongest and most important, and will continue in strength and purpose for decades to come. No further proof of this is required if one visits the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, which I was very moved to see on a visit in 2013. Our “mateship” has been forged in blood and shared sacrifice over the past century.

Our alliance endures because our shared democratic values form a bedrock of trust and cooperation.

The strength of our alliance is seen at every level. The people of Australia and the United States support each other: we consume each other’s movies and culture, we attend each other’s schools, and in non-COVID times, we visit each other’s countries frequently. And we have long sent firefighters to help each other battle blazes in Queensland and in California.

Our Alliance is also strong at the national level. This past July, our Secretaries of State and Defense hosted their Australian counterparts for the 30th annual AUSMIN, which demonstrated how closely aligned we are on many issues facing the Indo-Pacific region. FM Payne called it one of the most consequential AUSMINs ever, and she and DefMin Reynolds traveled to Washington during a pandemic and quarantined upon return, because of the importance we all place on our bi-lateral relationship and the urgency of the challenges we are tackling together.

We’ve already had productive exchanges between the Biden administration and the Australian government. President Biden has spoken to PM Morrison, as has Vice President Harris. Secretary Blinken’s call to Foreign Minister Payne was one of the very first calls he completed, as was the call from Defense Secretary Austin to Defense Minister Reynolds. We anticipate a productive AUSMIN 2021 later this year, which will include a focus on U.S. and Australian efforts to vaccinate the Pacific Islands against COVID-19 and set countries up for success economically as they recover from the pandemic-induced worldwide recession.

As I am sure you have all seen in his first major foreign policy speech, Secretary Blinken named revitalizing ties with allies and partners a priority. He rightly noted that our alliances are what the military calls “force multipliers.” Our alliance with Australia has been, and remains, a force multiplier for both of our countries, allowing us to leverage each other’s strengths to improve the future for all our citizens.

Most recently, on Friday, our leaders met in the Quad format to proclaim our shared values of democracy, a rules-based international order, peaceful resolution of disputes, and rule of law, with prosperity for all.

The Quad

Australia and the United States are engaging in substantial regional multilateralism to work together on many issues facing the region. The Quad is uniquely positioned to help lead the Indo-Pacific towards the more positive vision we all seek.

Last week’s Quad summit was a historic moment and showcased the Quad’s ability to pool our capabilities and build habits of cooperation to address the world’s most urgent problems together.

The administration is looking forward to deepening cooperation on combating COVID-19 and climate change.

President Biden is deeply focused on the issue of expanding global vaccination, manufacturing, and delivery, which will all be critical to end the COVID-19 dynamic. The Quad’s COVID-19 engagement is a joint partnership to boost vaccine manufacturing and strengthen vaccinations to benefit the Indo-Pacific.

We are also looking forward to working together on emerging technologies and messaging the positive impacts of Quad cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

Economic Ties

In addition to the key Summit deliverables on COVID-19, climate, and emerging technologies, the Quad will continue to advance coordination on issues including economic recovery, climate change, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, maritime security, counter terrorism, and countering disinformation.

Our economic relationship is critical to both of our economies, and it continues to grow. The United States is by far Australia’s largest investor, and most important economic partner, accounting for seven percent of Australian GDP​ – as much as the entire mining sector.

More than 1,100 U.S. owned firms operate in Australia, employing 320,000 Australians at salaries well above the national average.

Much of that investment is increasingly going into the advanced technology sectors which will drive our economies over the coming decades – aerospace, advanced manufacturing, biomedicine, and the digital economy. The technology deployment and skills development accompanying this investment is helping create the infrastructure for long-term economic growth both in Australia and here at home.

Just as important, the United States is the top destination for Australian investment overseas, helping create good-paying jobs and supporting communities across our country.

We are also Australia’s third largest trading partner, with bilateral trade nearly doubling since the signing of the Australia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 2005.

Working together, we are both well placed to help lead the post-COVID economic recovery and return to growth that will power our economies over the long term.

We also work closely with Australia within APEC, the OECD and the G20.

Regional Issues

The United States and Australia share a common vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Cooperation is critical – there is no global or regional challenge that can be met by any one nation acting alone.

We are both strong supporters of ASEAN centrality and coordinate our support to ASEAN closely. We are both active in supporting a rules-based order and international law in the Indo-Pacific, including as it relates to the South China Sea.

We share Australia’s view of the Mekong region as strategically important, and we have increased our coordination on assistance. This is especially true in helping these countries combat transnational crime and trafficking. We should support regional architecture like ACMECS and the Mekong River Commission and encourage ASEAN to take a stance on the Mekong region’s transnational challenges.

Additionally, I want to note our ongoing efforts with Australia and others to urge the Burmese military to refrain from violence and restore the democratically elected government, particularly in light of the brutal and lethal attacks on protesters over the weekend. We are deeply saddened by reports as many as 42 protesters were killed.

The junta’s violence against its own people is immoral and indefensible, and we will continue to work with the international community to take action to oppose the coup and escalating violence.

The United States and Australia are both committed to delivering development assistance to our Pacific neighbors. We coordinate closely on development and support for the region, to best leverage our collective efforts. In July last year, USAID and DFAT signed an updated MOU solidifying joint efforts providing development assistance to the Indo-Pacific region, complementing the relative strengths of each country. We are focused on helping our neighbors improve their capacity so they can manage their own development effectively and swiftly. Last October, the United States and Australia, together with Japan, announced our first project under our Trilateral Partnership for Infrastructure, to fund construction of an internet cable to Palau.

The United States has an extremely close relationships with the Freely Associated States (FAS) of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Our Compacts of Free Association with these countries form the backbone of our enduring relationships. Through ongoing negotiations on agreements to extend and amend expiring provisions related to U.S. economic assistance and access to certain U.S. federal programs and services, we are seeking to strengthen these partnerships, which have contributed to the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific.

While the United States has historically focused much attention and foreign assistance on the FAS, we welcome Australia’s plans to establish Embassies in all three countries. Building up the diplomatic presence of open democratic countries, collaborating on the ground, and creating more opportunities to cooperate on common goals, benefits us all.

Climate

Climate change poses serious short, medium, and long-term challenges for all countries in the Indo-Pacific region. Climate change is a critical area where the United States and Australia are well placed to work together, to help each other and our Pacific neighbors face these challenges effectively, and demonstrate leadership in the region by reducing our own national emissions to help get the world on track to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We are focused on protecting populations and helping them recover from increasing extreme weather events and other consequences, while adapting economies to reduce our carbon footprints and build a sustainable future.

One of Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Secretary John Kerry’s earliest calls was to Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor and we look forward to doing more with Australia on climate issues. Businesses, universities, researchers, and scientists across Australia and the United States are uniquely positioned to tackle the climate crisis, and help bring the Indo-Pacific region into a sustainable and prosperous future through innovation and a green energy revolution.

And lest anyone relegate climate change to ‘merely’ a tech or solar panel issue, let me reinforce – we see climate change as an economic, humanitarian, environmental, and security issue. President Biden included the risks the acceleration of climate change poses to the whole world in his speech to the Munich Security Conference precisely because this is an existential crisis.

The PRC Challenge

Securing a free, open, transparent, and prosperous Pacific will be one of the most consequential efforts we undertake.

The United States and Australia’s common vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific is predicated on a rules-based, rights-respecting, corruption-combatting context. Strong democracies which protect the self-determination of their people, ensure human rights are respected, defend freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and conduct government business openly and transparently, are critical for the pursuit of happiness for all people in the Indo-Pacific region.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will travel March 18 to Anchorage, Alaska for discussions with People’s Republic of China (PRC) Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi. The talks – which will take place after the Secretary’s trip to Japan and Korea and meetings with two of our closest regional allies – are an opportunity to engage on a wide range of issues with the PRC, including ones where we have deep disagreements. (EAP Press Guidance 03/11)

COVID Cooperation

And of course, Australia and the United States are working with each other and other partners to help the Indo-Pacific manage the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic that has ground so much human activity to a halt, and killed and harmed millions, has left the Pacific relatively unscathed compared to other areas, thanks to the swift action of so many Pacific countries. However, closed borders are not an indefinite solution in a globalized world, and Australia and the United States are working to help our Pacific neighbors fortify their healthcare systems, strengthen public health responses, plan mass vaccine programs, and prepare economic recovery plans.

I am hopeful our efforts will be successful, and we will be able to have future discussions in person in the not too distant future.

In Closing

The strength of the U.S.-Australia alliance, our decades of cooperation on bi-lateral and regional challenges, our economic ties that support tens of thousands of jobs in both countries, our development assistance coordination across the Indo-Pacific, our formal and informal cultural exchanges, and the entirety of our alliance – of our “mateship” – are concrete positive results for the people of the United States, Australia, and the Indo-Pacific region. And after this conference, I am diving right back into coordinating with Australians to continue our work, confront challenges, and forge ahead.

Thank you all.

More from: Ambassador Atul Keshap, Principal Deputy Assistant SecretaryBureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

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    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) has encouraged the use of fixed-price-incentive (FPI) contracts where appropriate. These contracts can provide defense contractors with a profit incentive for effective cost control and performance depending on how they are structured. Over the 10-year period from fiscal years 2010 through 2019, obligations on FPI contracts for major defense acquisition programs (MDAPs) grew to account for almost half of the $65 billion in obligations for fiscal year 2019. Percentage of Obligations by Contract Type for Major Defense Acquisition Programs from Fiscal Years 2010 through 2019 DOD guidance, including Better Buying Power initiatives, influenced DOD's use of FPI contracts over the last decade for the selected contracts GAO reviewed. In addition, when selecting a contract type, contracting officers also considered factors including the availability of cost or pricing data, previous experience with the contractor, and the previously used contract type. DOD has not assessed the extent to which use of FPI contracts has contributed to achieving desired cost and schedule performance outcomes. DOD spends billions of dollars annually using fixed-price type contracts to acquire its MDAPs, among other things. In 2010, DOD's Better Buying Power guidance encouraged the use of FPI contracts as a way to obtain greater efficiency and productivity in defense spending. Congress included a provision in statute for GAO to report on DOD's use of fixed-price type contracts, including FPI. This report examines (1) the extent to which DOD has awarded FPI contracts associated with MDAPs from fiscal years 2010 through 2019, and (2) the factors that influenced DOD's decision to use FPI contracts and the extent to which DOD assesses their use, among other objectives. GAO analyzed government contracting data by contract type for fiscal years 2010 through 2019 on contracts for 101 MDAPs. GAO further analyzed a non-generalizable sample of 12 contracts including six FPI and six firm-fixed-price (two of each type from each of the three military departments); conducted file reviews; reviewed policy documentation; and interviewed DOD officials. GAO recommends that DOD conduct an assessment of its use of FPI contracts for major defense acquisition programs, including the extent to which share lines and other contract elements contributed to achieving desired cost and schedule performance outcomes. DOD agreed with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact W. William Russell at (202) 512-4841 or russellw@gao.gov.
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  • GAO Audits Involving DOD: Status of Efforts to Schedule and Hold Timely Entrance Conferences
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    GAO began 42 new audits that involved the Department of Defense (DOD) in the third quarter of fiscal year 2020. Of the 42 requested entrance conferences (i.e., initial meetings between agency officials and GAO staff) for those audits, DOD scheduled 41 within 14 days of notification and held all 42 entrance conferences within 30 days of notification. Scheduling was delayed for one entrance conference, which was scheduled 21 days after notification, because DOD and GAO were working to reach agreement on the primary action officer, which is the appropriate office or component within the department that coordinates DOD's response to the audit. The entrance conference was held 8 days after it was scheduled. Entrance conferences allow GAO to communicate its audit objectives and enable agencies to assign key personnel to support the audit work. GAO's agency protocols govern GAO's relationships with audited agencies. These protocols assist GAO in scheduling entrance conferences with key agency officials within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit. The ability of the Congress to conduct effective oversight of federal agencies is enhanced through the timely completion of GAO audits. In past years, DOD experienced difficulty meeting the protocol target for the timely facilitation of entrance conferences. In Senate Report 116-48 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision for GAO to review DOD's scheduling and holding of entrance conferences. In this report, GAO's agency protocols govern GAO's relationships with audited agencies. These protocols assist GAO in scheduling entrance conferences with key agency officials within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit. The ability of the Congress to conduct effective oversight of federal agencies is enhanced through the timely completion of GAO audits. In past years, DOD experienced difficulty meeting the protocol target for the timely facilitation of entrance conferences. In Senate Report 116-48 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision for GAO to review DOD's scheduling and holding of entrance conferences. In this report, GAO evaluates the extent to which DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit, consistent with GAO's agency protocols, and held those conferences within 30 days. This is the third of four quarterly reports that GAO will produce on this topic for fiscal year 2020. In the first two quarterly reports, GAO found that DOD had improved its ability to meet the protocol target. GAO analyzed data on GAO audits involving DOD and initiated in the third quarter of fiscal year 2020 (April 1, 2020, through June 30, 2020). Specifically, GAO identified the number of notification letters requesting entrance conferences that were sent to DOD during that time period. GAO determined the number of days between when DOD received the notification letter for each new audit and when DOD scheduled the entrance conference and assessed whether DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of notification, which is the time frame identified in GAO's agency protocols. GAO also determined the date that each requested entrance conference was held by collecting this information from the relevant GAO team for each audit and assessed whether DOD held entrance conferences for new audits within 30 days of notification, which was the time frame identified in the mandate for this review For more information, contact Elizabeth Field at (202) 512-2775 or Fielde1@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Issues Proposed Rule and Model Legislation to Reduce Gun Violence
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    Today, the Department of Justice announced two new steps to help address the continuing epidemic of gun violence affecting communities across the country. First, the department issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that makes clear that when individuals use accessories to convert pistols into short-barreled rifles, they must comply with the heightened regulations on those dangerous and easily concealable weapons. Second, the department published model legislation to help states craft their own “extreme risk protection order” laws, sometimes called “red flag” laws. By sending the proposed rule to the Federal Register and publishing the model legislation today, the department has met the deadlines that the Attorney General announced alongside President Biden in April. 
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  • Employee Benefits Security Administration: Enforcement Efforts to Protect Participants’ Rights in Employer-Sponsored Retirement and Health Benefit Plans
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Labor's (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration's (EBSA) enforcement focuses on encouraging retirement and health plans to comply with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended, and restoring benefits that were improperly withheld from plan participants. To identify violations, EBSA investigates benefit plans and their service providers. Over two-thirds of investigation leads are identified by EBSA staff. EBSA prioritizes investigating cases that may result in large recoveries or affect many participants, such as restored retirement plan contributions or payment for incorrectly denied medical claims. When agreement cannot be reached, investigators can refer civil cases to DOL's Office of the Solicitor for civil litigation. Criminal cases are referred to Department of Justice. In fiscal year 2020, almost 84 percent of investigations were civil and more than 16 percent were criminal, resulting in over $3 billion in payments to participants and plans. EBSA uses a range of strategies to improve its investigative processes and seeks to ensure enforcement quality through training and oversight. For example, EBSA makes efforts to target investigations for greater impact, such as a 2013 change to prioritize cases with the potential to affect many participants and recover significant assets. As EBSA pursued more complex and technical investigations, the number of closed cases decreased, while monetary recoveries increased (see figure). To ensure investigation quality, EBSA provides training, documents procedures, and reviews open and closed cases to evaluate whether investigation procedures have been followed. Number of EBSA Investigations Closed and Monetary Recoveries, Fiscal Years 2011-2020 The COVID-19 pandemic created a number of immediate and long-term challenges for EBSA and benefit plans. For example, according to stakeholders, plans were initially concerned about how to implement provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act, but those concerns were addressed as the agency issued FAQs and notices. Similarly, EBSA officials reported that court closures temporarily slowed criminal cases, but as virtual hearings increased, litigation resumed. Stakeholders and EBSA officials also described potential long-term challenges, including difficulties locating the many participants who may have left a job due to the pandemic and may be unaware they left behind retirement funds. Why GAO Did This Study Millions of Americans rely on employer benefits for their health care and future financial security. Private sector retirement plans are a key source of income for many retirees and employer-sponsored group health plans cover over one-half of all Americans. Consequently, effective oversight and enforcement are critically important to ensure the integrity of the private employee benefit system, especially in light of the economic and health effects of COVID-19 on American workers and their families. EBSA is charged with protecting the rights of participants in employer-sponsored benefit plans. As of fiscal year 2020, this included about 154 million participants in 722,000 retirement plans and 2.5 million health plans with combined assets of over $10.7 trillion. This report examines (1) how EBSA manages its enforcement process, (2) EBSA's strategies to improve investigative processes and ensure enforcement quality, and (3) the immediate and long-term challenges of COVID-19 for EBSA and private sector retirement and health plans. GAO analyzed EBSA data and documents; and federal laws, regulations, and guidance, including the CARES Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. GAO interviewed officials from EBSA's national office and three regional offices, selected for variation in investigations, and locations as well as stakeholders from nine organizations knowledgeable about benefits compliance requirements, the employer-sponsored benefit industry, and participants' benefit plan experiences. For more information, contact Tranchau (Kris) T. Nguyen at (202) 512-7215 or nguyentt@gao.gov.
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  • Covid-19 Contracting: Observations on Federal Contracting in Response to the Pandemic
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    Government-wide contract obligations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic totaled $17.8 billion as of June 11, 2020. Four agencies accounted for 85 percent of total COVID-19 contract obligations (see figure). This report provides available baseline data on COVID-19 federal contract obligations. Contract Obligations in Response to COVID-19 by Department, as of June 11, 2020 About 62 percent of federal contract obligations were for goods to treat COVID-19 patients and protect health care workers—including ventilators, gowns, and N95 respirators. Less than half of total contract obligations were identified as competed (see figure). Top Five Goods and Services and Percentage of Obligations Competed, as of June 11, 2020 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of June 30, 2020, the United States has documented more than 2.5 million confirmed cases and more than 125,000 deaths due to COVID-19. To facilitate the U.S. response to the pandemic, numerous federal agencies have awarded contracts for critical goods and services to support federal, state, and local response efforts. GAO's prior work on federal emergency response efforts has found that contracts play a key role, and that contracting during an emergency can present unique challenges as officials can face pressure to provide goods and services as quickly as possible. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) included a provision for GAO to provide a comprehensive review of COVID-19 federal contracting. This is the first in a series of GAO reports on this issue. This report describes, among other objectives, key characteristics of federal contracting obligations awarded in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Future GAO work will examine agencies' planning and management of contracts awarded in response to the pandemic, including agencies' use of contracting flexibilities provided by the CARES Act. GAO analyzed data from the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation on agencies' reported government-wide contract obligations for COVID-19 through June 11, 2020. GAO also analyzed contract obligations reported at the Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs—the highest obligating agencies. For more information, contact Marie A. Mak at (202) 512-4841 or MakM@gao.gov.
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    As of October 2020, the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) had jointly developed 22 clinical practice guidelines (VA/DOD CPG) that address specific health conditions, including those related to chronic diseases, mental health issues, pain management, and rehabilitation. Such guidelines are important as military and veteran populations may have different health care needs than civilians due to involvement in combat or occupational exposures (e.g., fumes from burn pits) that may amplify physical and psychological stresses. GAO found that DOD and VA considered the health care needs of these populations throughout the guideline development process and that the guidelines include information about these health care needs in different sections. In some cases, the guidelines include treatment recommendations that specifically address the health care needs of the military and veteran populations. In other instances, they may include information about the prevalence of a specific condition for these populations, among other information. Each of the military services (Army, Air Force, and Navy) has its own process for distributing VA/DOD CPGs to providers at their military treatment facilities (MTF). However, DOD's Defense Health Agency (DHA) is in the process of assuming administrative operations—to include distributing guidelines—for all of the military services' MTFs through an incremental transition process that is to be completed by the end of September 2021. While DHA officials acknowledged that they need to develop a uniform distribution process for the guidelines once they complete the transition, MTF providers can currently access the guidelines through VA's designated website and DOD's electronic health record systems. Congress directed DOD to implement VA/DOD CPGs, using means such as providing education and training, and to monitor MTFs' implementation of them. However, GAO found that DHA and the military services are not systematically monitoring MTFs' implementation of these guidelines. While the Army tracks VA/DOD CPG education and training at its MTFs, officials with DHA, the Navy, and the Air Force explained that they have not been monitoring MTF implementation of these guidelines. DHA officials acknowledged that they need to develop a monitoring process as they assume administrative and oversight responsibilities for the military services' MTFs, but have not yet developed a plan to do so. Without a systematic process to monitor MTF implementation of these guidelines, DHA does not know the extent to which MTF providers may be using VA/DOD CPGs to reduce the variability and improve the quality of health care services provided—factors that may contribute to better health outcomes across the military health system. Through DOD's TRICARE program, eligible beneficiaries may receive care from providers at MTFs or from civilian providers. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 required DOD to establish a program to develop, implement, update, and monitor clinical practice guidelines, which are evidence-based treatment recommendations to improve the consistency and quality of care delivered by MTF providers. The Act also included a provision for GAO to assess issues related to the military health system, including the process of ensuring that providers adhere to clinical practice guidelines, and to report annually for 4 years. This is GAO's fourth report based on the Act. This report describes (1) how the process for developing the guidelines considers the health care needs of the military and veteran populations, (2) how they are distributed by the military services to their providers and how providers access them, and (3) the extent to which DHA and the military services monitor MTF implementation of them, among other things. GAO reviewed relevant policies and guidance; analyzed each of the 22 CPGs; and interviewed officials with DOD, the military services, and VA. GAO recommends that DHA work with the military services to develop and implement a systematic process to monitor MTFs' implementation of VA/DOD CPGs. DOD concurred with this recommendation. For more information, contact Debra A. Draper at (202) 512-7114 or draperd@gao.gov.
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    What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified seven priority recommendations for the Department of Labor (DOL). Since then, DOL has implemented one of those recommendations by taking steps to collect better data on how advanced technologies are changing the workplace, which can help DOL and policymakers design training programs that meet the job needs of the future. In May 2021, GAO identified three additional priority recommendations for DOL, bringing the total number to nine. These recommendations involve the following areas: stronger protections for wage earners; enhancing unemployment insurance; and better protections for retirees. DOL's continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Thomas Costa at (202) 512-4769 or costat@gao.gov.
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  • Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations: DOD Needs to Take Action to Help Ensure Superiority
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The electromagnetic spectrum (the spectrum) consists of frequencies worldwide that support many civilian and military uses, from mobile phone networks and radios to navigation and weapons. This invisible battlespace is essential to Department of Defense (DOD) operations in all domains—air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace. The interruption of U.S. forces' access to the spectrum can result in a military disadvantage, preventing U.S. forces from operating as planned and desired. According to the studies by DOD and others that GAO reviewed for its December 2020 report on military operations in the spectrum, adversaries, such as China and Russia, are also aware of the importance of the spectrum and have taken significant steps to improve their own capabilities that challenge DOD and its operations. For example, studies described how China has formed new military units and fielded new unmanned aerial vehicles with spectrum warfare capabilities, and Russian electromagnetic warfare forces have demonstrated their effectiveness through successful real-world applications against U.S. and foreign militaries. These developments are particularly concerning in the context of challenges to DOD's spectrum superiority. GAO's analysis of the studies highlighted DOD management challenges such as dispersed governance, limited full-time senior-level leadership, outdated capabilities, a lengthy acquisition process, increased spectrum competition and congestion, and a gap in experienced staff and realistic training. GAO found that DOD had issued strategies in 2013 and 2017 to address spectrum-related challenges, but did not fully implement either strategy because DOD did not assign senior leaders with appropriate authorities and resources or establish oversight processes for implementation. DOD published a new strategy in October 2020, but GAO found in December 2020 the department risks not achieving the new strategy's goals because it had not taken key actions—such as identifying processes and procedures to integrate spectrum operations across the department, reforming governance structures, and clearly assigning leadership for strategy implementation. Also, it had not developed oversight processes, such as an implementation plan, that would help ensure accountability and implementation of the 2020 strategy goals (see figure). Actions to Ensure DOD Superiority in the Electromagnetic Spectrum Why GAO Did This Study The spectrum is essential for facilitating control in operational environments and affects operations in the air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace domains. Spectrum use is pervasive across warfighting domains and thus maintaining or achieving spectrum superiority against an adversary is critical to battlefield success. This statement summarizes: (1) the importance of the spectrum; (2) challenges to DOD's superiority in the spectrum; and (3) the extent to which DOD has implemented spectrum-related strategies and is positioned to achieve future goals. This statement is based on GAO's December 2020 report (GAO-21-64) and updates conducted in March 2021. For the report, GAO analyzed 43 studies identified through a literature review, reviewed DOD documentation, and interviewed DOD officials and subject matter experts. For the updates, GAO reviewed materials that DOD provided in March 2021.
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