Revocation of the Authorization of Belarus General License 2G Due to Human Rights Violations and Abuses

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

The U.S. Department of State fully supports the Department of the Treasury’s announcement today on the revocation of the Belarus-related General License (GL) and implementation of a 45-day wind down of transactions. This action is a further consequence of the Belarusian authorities’ flagrant disregard for human rights and Belarus’ failure to comply with its obligations under international human rights law.

In 2015, the Department of the Treasury – in consultation with the Department of State – issued the GL authorizing U.S. persons to engage in certain transactions with nine sanctioned Belarusian state-owned enterprises. The GL had been renewed annually through 2020 due to notable progress by Belarusian authorities on human rights, particularly the release of all political prisoners during this time.

However, as a result of government suppression surrounding the fraudulent August 2020 Presidential elections in Belarus and its aftermath, there are more than 340 political prisoners detained in Belarus today. Given the sharply deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, the U.S. Government determined a further extension would be inconsistent with the Belarus Democracy Act and incompatible with American values. The nine state-owned enterprises affected by this action finance and support the Lukashenka regime, facilitating its violent repression of the Belarusian people and repeated rejection of the rule of law.

Belarus’ regression is exemplified by the detention of political hopefuls like Syarhey Tsikhanouski, courageous activist leaders like Maria Kalesnikava, and independent media experts like Ihar Losik – who are but three among the hundreds of Belarusians unjustly imprisoned by the Lukashenka regime for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The United States calls on the Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those unjustly detained or imprisoned. Moreover, we commit to working together with the international community to further promote accountability for those responsible for human rights violations and abuses in Belarus.

Respect for human rights, the rule of law and Belarus’ commitments to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe remain central to improving bilateral relations.

To learn more about the GL 2H, visit https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/financial-sanctions/recent-actions/20210419 .

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    What GAO Found The Social Security Administration's (SSA) administrative law judges review, process, and adjudicate requests for hearings on disability benefits. In 2007, the agency set an expectation—which SSA reported was based on trend data and some regional managers' input—for judges to issue 500-700 dispositions (decisions and dismissals) each year, and the extent to which they have met this expectation has varied over time. SSA did not document the expectation-setting process in 2007, nor has it formally reviewed the expectation since. Judges in discussion groups held by GAO questioned the basis of the expectation and 87 percent of judges GAO surveyed (47 of 54) said the expectation was too high. The extent to which judges met the annual and related expectations has fluctuated over the years (see figure). Without periodic reviews, SSA cannot be assured that its expectations appropriately allow judges to balance productivity with other expectations, such as quality, given changing conditions over time. Administrative Law Judges Who Met or Exceeded SSA's Annual Productivity Expectation, Fiscal Years 2014-2020 Judges in selected hearing offices cited a variety of factors affecting their ability to meet the annual expectation. The top factor cited by judges GAO surveyed was the size of case files, which have increased five-fold on average since the expectation was established, according to SSA data. The COVID-19 pandemic introduced other factors in 2020, resulting in fewer hearings being conducted. SSA monitors judges' productivity and takes various actions when expectations are not met, ranging from informal conversations to formal discipline. In addition, judges in 11 of 13 discussion groups viewed telework restrictions as a consequence for not meeting expectations. Additionally, judges GAO surveyed reported feeling pressured to meet the expectations. For instance, 87 percent of judges surveyed (47 of 54) said that SSA placed too much emphasis on productivity, and some expressed concerns about their work quality and work-life balance. SSA officials said they do not formally seek feedback from judges on the expectations. However, without feedback or other gauges of pressure, SSA lacks information that could help it appropriately balance timely case processing while maintaining high-quality work and employee morale. Why GAO Did This Study SSA's approximately 1,350 judges play a major role in processing and adjudicating requests for hearings to help ensure individuals who do not agree with the determination on their claim for Social Security disability benefits receive due process. SSA receives hundreds of thousands of hearing requests each year and has historically had a large backlog. GAO was asked to review SSA's productivity expectations for its judges. This report examines (1) how SSA set productivity expectations for judges and the extent to which judges have met them over time, (2) reported factors affecting the ability of judges in selected offices to meet the annual productivity expectation, and (3) SSA's management of judges' productivity. GAO obtained and analyzed SSA data on judges' productivity from fiscal years 2005-2020; surveyed and held 13 virtual discussion groups with judges in six hearing offices selected for geographic location, average productivity, and average case size; reviewed relevant federal laws and agency policies and documents; and interviewed officials from SSA and the association representing judges.
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    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today concluded an investigation into conditions at the Glenwood Resource Center (Glenwood), an institution for individuals with intellectual disabilities operated by the State of Iowa in Glenwood, Iowa.
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    In Crime News
    It is with great pleasure that I sign this Memorandum of Understanding on behalf of the Department of Justice alongside my good friend, Prosecutor General Yoon. Enhancing the ties between our agencies has been an important priority for me during my tenure as Assistant Attorney General of the Antitrust Division. While only a few years ago we knew comparatively little about one another, our relationship has quickly blossomed into a strong and enduring friendship. I am extremely pleased that we have succeeded in developing important and lasting ties between our agencies, as underscored by our signing of this Memorandum of Understanding today.
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  • Social Security Contracting: Relevant Guidance Should Be Revised to Reflect the Role of Contracting Personnel in Software Development
    In U.S GAO News
    The approach followed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in awarding and overseeing contracts generally aligns with the requirements GAO reviewed. For the 27 contracts and orders GAO reviewed, SSA varied its approach depending on the contract type used and the dollar value. For example, one of SSA's written acquisition plans acknowledged the risks to the government associated with time-and-materials contracts. From fiscal year 2015 through 2019, SSA obligated 22.7 percent of its contract dollars on time-and-material contracts compared with 10.5 percent at other civilian agencies. In addition, from fiscal year 2015 through 2019, the rate at which SSA used competitive award procedures to achieve the best value for the agency increased by nearly 20 percentage points. This increase was the result of the agency's increased use of competition in its contracting for information technology (IT). SSA relies heavily on IT resources to support the administration of its programs and related activities. During fiscal years 2015 through 2019, about 65 percent of the $8.3 billion in contract obligations were for IT goods and services compared with about 16 percent at other civilian agencies. The figure shows the percentage of obligations for IT goods and services at SSA. Percentage of Social Security Administration's Contract Obligations for Goods and Services during Fiscal Years 2015 through 2019 SSA adopted an Agile approach to software development for some of its critical IT programs in 2015. An Agile approach to software development involves incremental improvements to software rather than the more traditional single-track approach. Subsequently, SSA developed an IT modernization plan in 2017 that states SSA will use an Agile methodology. GAO's draft Agile Assessment Guide states that an organization's acquisition policies and guidance should support an Agile development approach and identify clear roles for contracting personnel, since this is a different approach than federal agencies previously used. However, GAO found SSA's acquisition handbook does not specifically identify a role for contracting personnel with respect to contracts and task orders involving Agile, which GAO has identified as a leading practice. Identifying a role for contracting personnel in the Agile process should better position SSA to achieve its IT modernization goals and provide appropriate levels of oversight. SSA is responsible for delivering services that touch the lives of virtually every American. To do so, SSA relies on a variety of products and services, including information technology (IT) systems. SSA obligates approximately $1.5 billion annually to procure goods and services, 65 percent of which are IT-related. GAO was asked to assess how SSA implements its contracting and acquisition processes. This report examines: (1) how SSA awards and oversees contracts for products and services, and (2) the extent to which SSA has updated its guidance regarding the role of contracting personnel in software development efforts. GAO reviewed SSA's acquisition policies, interviewed contracting officials, and reviewed a non-generalizable sample of 27 high- and lower value contracts and orders with dollars obligated in fiscal years 2014 through 2018. GAO also examined data from fiscal years 2015-2019 to determine what SSA contracted for and reviewed IT guidance. GAO compared SSA's practices to leading practices for Agile software development with respect to the roles of contracting personnel. GAO recommends that SSA revise relevant guidance to identify the roles of contracting personnel in Agile software development. SSA agreed with this recommendation. For more information, contact William Woods at (202) 512-4841 or woodsw@gao.gov.
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  • Military Child Care: Off-Base Financial Assistance and Wait Lists for On-Base Care
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) has reviewed the financial assistance it provides for off-base child care services and taken steps to standardize this assistance across the military services. Specifically, in August 2018, representatives of each service agreed to work toward a goal of standardizing the only element of the fee assistance calculation that varies among the services—the maximum provider rate. DOD officials said that they assess progress toward this goal each year, but have not set a definite deadline for full standardization. With respect to assistance for off-base child care at high-cost duty stations, DOD's 2020 report on its child care programs states that the Air Force, Marines, and Navy review high-cost locations annually, and the services may approve increased provider rate caps for specific high-cost locations. In addition, it states that the services may grant waivers allowing increased fee assistance for individual families experiencing hardship. DOD has also assessed factors that contribute to wait lists for on-base child care. According to DOD’s report, DOD found that wait lists are the result of a myriad of factors, including staff shortages and facility conditions that vary across service locations. Officials said DOD has worked for several years to analyze and address wait lists. In 2017, DOD launched a web portal that consolidates child care data across the services and in August 2019, DOD officials began monthly monitoring of wait list data from this portal. These data allowed DOD to identify four geographic regions and six additional locations that account for the majority of wait lists, and focus their efforts on addressing the issues affecting these regions and locations, according to the report. DOD officials said that any requests for additional resources to help address wait lists must be handled through the individual services’ budgeting processes. DOD offers child care in a variety of on- and off-base settings for children of military families. In fiscal year 2020 these child care programs received nearly $1.2 billion in federal funds; in addition, parents pay a portion of the costs. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 required DOD to report on elements of its financial assistance to off-base child care providers and wait lists for on-base child care, and included a provision for GAO to review DOD's report. This report describes DOD's assessment of (1) financial assistance provided to off-base child care providers, and (2) its efforts to reduce wait lists for child care at military bases. GAO reviewed DOD's report on this assessment, interviewed DOD officials, and reviewed relevant federal law. For more information, contact Kathryn A. Larin at (202) 512-7215 or larink@gao.gov.
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  • Two Georgia Correctional Officers Indicted for Civil Rights and Related Offenses for Assaulting Inmates
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Macon, Georgia, returned a 4-count indictment against former supervisory correctional officer Sergeant Patrick Sharpe, 29, and former correctional officer Jamal Scott, 33, of the Valdosta State Prison (VSP) for their roles in using excessive force against inmates incarcerated at the facility.
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    In Crime News
    A California woman was arrested Thursday in Los Angeles on criminal health care fraud charges arising from her false home health certifications and related fraudulent billings to Medicare.
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