Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
We are deeply concerned by a Russian court’s decision to uphold the designation of the Khakassia regional branch of Falun Gong as “extremist” and criminalize the peaceful practice of their spiritual beliefs. Russian authorities harass, fine, and imprison Falun Gong practitioners for such simple acts as meditating and possessing spiritual texts.
We urge the Russian government to end its practice of misusing the “extremist” designation as a way to restrict human rights and fundamental freedoms. We continue to call on Russia to respect the right of freedom of religion or belief for all, including Falun Gong practitioners and members of other religious minority groups in Russia simply seeking to exercise their beliefs peacefully.
Yesterday’s decision is another example of Russian authorities labeling peaceful groups as “extremist,” “terrorist,” or “undesirable” solely to stigmatize their supporters, justify abuses against them, and restrict their peaceful religious and civic activities. The Russian government has done so against a number of groups, whose members face home raids, extended detention, excessive prison sentences, and harassment for their peaceful religious practices. Earlier this year, another Russian court designated three organizations affiliated with imprisoned opposition figure Aleksey Navalny as “extremist,” further demonstrating Russia’s arbitrary and expansive application of this label.
- Organ Transplants: Changes in Allocation Policies for Donated Livers and LungsBy Sam NewsNovember 4, 2020The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) develops allocation policies in the United States to determine which transplant candidates receive offers for organs, such as livers or lungs, that are donated from deceased donors. In July 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees OPTN, directed it to change the liver allocation policy to be more consistent with federal regulations. The liver allocation policy changed in February 2020 from a system that, in general, offered donated livers first to the sickest candidates within the fixed boundaries of a donation service area or region to a system based on a candidate's level of illness and distance from the donor hospital. The current liver allocation policy offers livers first to the sickest candidates within 500 nautical miles of the donor hospital using a series of distance-based concentric circles, called acuity circles. The processes used to develop the liver and lung allocation policies had various similarities and differences. For example, while the current liver allocation policy, the 2017 liver allocation policy, and the current lung allocation policy each had public comment periods, the length of these comment periods varied—25 days for the current liver allocation policy; two separate 62-day and 64-day periods for the 2017 liver allocation policy; and 61 days (retroactive) for the current lung allocation policy. In addition, the current lung allocation policy resulted in part from a federal district court order directing HHS to initiate emergency review of the policy. However, the 2017 liver allocation policy—that was approved but never implemented—resulted from a 2012 OPTN Board directive to reduce geographic disparities in organ allocation. HHS oversight of OPTN's processes were similar for all three allocation policies and included reviewing the proposed changes to the policies to ensure compliance with federal regulations, according to HHS officials. Timeline of Selected Events Related to Three Organ Allocation Policies Organ transplantation is the leading form of treatment for patients with severe organ failure. OPTN, a nonprofit entity that was established in 1984 under the National Organ Transplant Act, manages the nation's organ allocation system. In 2019, 32,322 organs were transplanted from deceased donors in the United States. Nevertheless, as of July 2020, close to 110,000 individuals remained on waiting lists for donor organs. Previously, donated livers and lungs were generally offered first to the sickest candidates in donation service areas. However, livers and lungs are now generally offered first to the sickest candidates based on distance. GAO was asked to review the changes to the liver and lung allocation policies. This report describes (1) changes to the liver allocation policy, and (2) similarities and differences in the processes OPTN used to change the liver and lung allocation policies, and federal oversight of these processes, among other things. GAO reviewed documents, including those related to the current liver and lung allocation policies, and the 2017 liver allocation policy; interviewed HHS officials and OPTN members; reviewed the National Organ Transplant Act and its implementing regulations; and conducted a literature review of studies published from January 2017 through April 2020 in peer-reviewed and other publications. HHS and the United Network for Organ Sharing (the contractor serving as OPTN) provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact James Cosgrove at (202) 512-7114 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Senior State Department Officials on the Secretary’s Upcoming Bilateral and Trilateral Meetings with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al NahyanBy Sam NewsOctober 12, 2021Senior State Department [Read More…]
- San Antonio Return Preparer Pleads Guilty in Tax Fraud SchemeBy Sam NewsOctober 20, 2020A San Antonio, Texas, tax return preparer pleaded guilty today to aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Department of Justice’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Gregg N. Sofer of the Western District of Texas.[Read More…]
- The United States Supports the Voices of the Venezuelan PeopleBy Sam NewsDecember 16, 2020Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
- National Health Care Fraud Enforcement Action Results in Charges Involving over $1.4 Billion in Alleged LossesBy Sam NewsSeptember 17, 2021The Department of Justice announced today criminal charges against 138 defendants, including 42 doctors, nurses, and other licensed medical professionals, in 31 federal districts across the United States for their alleged participation in various health care fraud schemes that resulted in approximately $1.4 billion in alleged losses.[Read More…]
- Statement of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division on the Closing of Its Investigation of London Stock Exchange Group and RefinitivBy Sam NewsJuly 31, 2020Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice issued the following statement today in connection with the closing of the division’s investigation into the proposed acquisition of Refinitiv by the London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG): “After an extensive review of the proposed transaction, the Antitrust Division determined that the combination of LSEG and Refinitiv is unlikely to result in harm to competition or American consumers.”[Read More…]
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- State Department: Implementation of Grants Policies Needs Better OversightBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021What GAO Found The Department of State (State) has established policies and guidance that provide a supportive environment for managing grants and cooperative agreements (grants). In addition, State provides its grants officials mandatory training on these policies and guidance, and routinely identifies and shares best practices. State's policies are based on federal regulations, reflect internal control standards, and cover topics such as risk assessment and monitoring procedures. State's policies also delineate specific internal control activities that grants officials are required to both implement and document in the grant files as a way of promoting accountability (see fig.). Key Internal Control Activities Required through a Grant's Life Cycle GAO found that inconsistent implementation of policies and guidance weakens State's assurance that grant funds are used as intended. Inadequate risk analysis . In most of the files GAO reviewed, grants officials did not fully identify, assess, and mitigate risks, as required. For example, officials conducted a risk identification process for 45 of the 61 grants that GAO reviewed. While grants officials identified risk in 28 of those 45 grants, they mitigated risks in only 11. Poor documentation . Grants officials generally did not adhere to State policies and procedures relating to documenting internal control activities. For example, 32 of the 61 files reviewed did not contain the required monitoring plan. Considerable turnover among grants officials makes documenting internal control activities particularly important. State's periodic management reviews of selected bureaus' and overseas missions' grant operations have also found that key documentation was frequently missing or incomplete and made recommendations to address the problem. However, State has not consistently followed up to ensure the implementation of these recommendations, as internal control standards require. State does not have processes for ensuring compliance with risk analysis and documentation requirements. Without the proper implementation of its internal control policies for grants management, State cannot be certain that its oversight is adequate or that it is using its limited oversight resources effectively. Why GAO Did This Study Grants are key tools that State uses to conduct foreign assistance. In fiscal year 2012, State obligated over $1.6 billion worldwide for around 14,000 grants to individuals and organizations for a variety of purposes, such as fostering cultural exchange and facilitating refugee resettlement. However, recent GAO and Inspectors General reports have identified challenges with State's management of these funds. This report examines (1) the policies and guidance that State has established to administer and oversee grants, and (2) the extent to which the implementation of those policies and guidance provides reasonable assurance that funds are being used as intended. GAO analyzed State's policies and guidance, and interviewed cognizant grants officials at 14 bureaus headquartered in Washington, D.C., and three overseas missions (Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Turkey). GAO also conducted file reviews for a sample of 61 grants totaling approximately $172 million. Selection criteria included total dollar value of grants in a country, geographic diversity, and balance among bureaus.[Read More…]
- Kidnapping Charges Added to California Restaurant Owners Charged with Forced Labor and Harboring of AliensBy Sam NewsJune 11, 2021A federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment yesterday adding the charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and kidnapping to the previous charges of conspiracy to commit forced labor, forced labor, conspiracy to harbor aliens and harboring aliens.[Read More…]
- Joint Statement on the Anniversary of Mr. Alexey Navalny’s PoisoningBy Sam NewsAugust 20, 2021Office of the [Read More…]
- Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Bud Hedinger of Good Morning Orlando on WFLA OrlandoBy Sam NewsOctober 15, 2020Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
- Three Operators of Financial Services Firm Charged and Arrested in Alleged $155 Million Investment Fraud SchemeBy Sam NewsSeptember 9, 2021A three-count criminal indictment was unsealed yesterday in federal court in the Eastern District of New York charging Roberto Gustavo Cortes Ripalda, 54, of Madrid, Spain; Fernando Haberer Bergson, 48, of Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Ernesto Heraclito Weisson Pazmino, 53, of Miami, Florida, with conspiring to defraud investors and financial institutions as part of an international fraud scheme stretching through the United States, South America, and Europe. The defendants are each charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Federal agents arrested Weisson in Miami yesterday. Cortes and Haberer were also arrested yesterday in Spain and Argentina, respectively.[Read More…]
- [Protest of National Telecommunications and Information Administration Contract Award]By Sam NewsSeptember 10, 2021A firm protested the award of a National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) contract. The protester contested the award on two major grounds. First, the firm contended that the award was tainted because of a conflict of interest resulting from the awardee's status as a former NTIA employee. Second, the protester argued that the lower technical score it received could only be the result of the agency's failure to evaluate proposals on a common basis. GAO stated that, under the reported circumstances, it could not conclude that the agency's award to a former Government employee was improper. However, the question of whether the awardee's actions violated the Ethics in Government Act is not a matter for consideration by GAO. Such an issue must be resolved by the agency under the regulations issued by the Office of Government Ethics. Also, GAO could find no evidence, other than the protester's contentions and allegations, that the procuring agency acted improperly in evaluating the bidders' technical proposals. Accordingly, the protest was denied.[Read More…]
- Counternarcotics: Treasury Reports Some Results from Designating Drug Kingpins, but Should Improve Information on Agencies’ ExpendituresBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021What GAO Found Under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act), the Department of the Treasury's (Treasury) Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) leads a flexible interagency process to designate and sanction foreign individuals and entities that contribute to illicit narcotics trafficking. OFAC identifies potential Kingpin Act designees, compiles evidence, submits it for legal review, and seeks concurrence from partner agencies on designation decisions. OFAC and U.S. partner agencies monitor and enforce Kingpin Act sanctions, but OFAC has not ensured consistency and transparency of the expenditure data it has reported to Congress. Federal Banking Agencies monitor the OFAC compliance programs of U.S. banks through regular bank examinations. Additionally, OFAC handles enforcement through warnings, monetary penalties, and other methods. As required, OFAC reports annually to Congress on Kingpin Act designations and corresponding agency expenditures, but it has provided limited guidance to partner agencies on expenditure data they report. As a result, agencies use different methods to calculate the personnel and resource costs associated with their Kingpin activities. For example, the Department of Homeland Security said it only reports personnel expenditures when it is the lead investigative agency, but the Department of Defense reports personnel expenditures when it is not the lead. Furthermore, OFAC has not reported the limitations in agency data in its congressional reports. This lack of clear expenditure information could hinder oversight of the Kingpin Act. OFAC officials noted challenges to assessing the overall effectiveness of the Kingpin Act, but they and their U.S. and international partners track and report a range of results. The primary challenge cited is the difficulty of isolating the effect of the Kingpin Act from multiple other programs combating drug trafficking organizations. Results reported by OFAC and its partners include, for example, from 2000-2019, OFAC reported that it had designated more than 2,000 Kingpins and their supporters, and frozen more than half a billion dollars in assets under the act. In addition, host government officials reported that Kingpin Act sanctions assist them in imposing penalties on drug traffickers. Number of Kingpin Act Designations, from 2000 to 2019 Why GAO Did This Study Drug deaths in the United States have been rising for years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017 there were over 70,000 U.S. drug overdose deaths. This national emergency results in part from the activities of international narcotics traffickers and their organizations. The Kingpin Act, enacted in 1999, allows Treasury to designate and sanction individuals and entities that contribute to illicit narcotics trafficking. Sanctions and other consequences include blocking a designee's property and assets, denying U.S. travel visas to designees, and penalizing U.S. persons who violate the prohibitions in the Kingpin Act. Treasury is required to submit an annual report to Congress on agencies' Kingpin Act–related personnel and resource expenditures and sanctions activities. This report examines (1) how U.S. agencies designate individuals and entities under the Kingpin Act; (2) the extent to which U.S. agencies monitor, enforce, and report on sanctions under the Kingpin Act; and (3) what agencies have done to assess the effectiveness of the Kingpin Act. GAO reviewed documents from and interviewed officials at Treasury, the Department of State, and other partner agencies. GAO also performed fieldwork in Colombia and Mexico.[Read More…]
- Child Care: Subsidy Eligibility and Receipt, and Wait ListsBy Sam NewsFebruary 18, 2021An estimated 1.9 million children received child care subsidies in fiscal year 2017, representing approximately 14 percent of all children estimated to be eligible under federal rules – and 22 percent of all children estimated to be eligible under state rules -- in an average month. These figures are from the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) analysis of fiscal year 2017 data, the most recent year for which such analysis is available. Generally, fewer families qualify for subsidies under state eligibility rules than under federal eligibility rules since most states use flexibility provided by HHS to set their income eligibility limits below the federal maximum. Health and Human Services’ Estimated Number of Children Eligible Under Federal and State Rules, and Estimated Number Receiving Child Care Subsidies, Fiscal Year 2017 GAO found that the extent to which children who meet federal child care eligibility requirements also meet state eligibility requirements varies by state as does the share of eligible children who receive Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) subsidies. Under state requirements, the CCDF subsidy receipt rate ranged from 5 percent to 32 percent of eligible children. Under federal requirements, the CCDF subsidy receipt rate ranged from 4 percent to 18 percent of federally eligible children. According to HHS estimates, among families who met federal child care eligibility criteria, children from lower-income families were more likely to receive child care subsidies compared to children from higher-income families. These estimates also showed that preschool-age children were more likely to receive subsidies compared to older, school-age children and that Black children were more likely to receive subsidies compared to children of other races / ethnicities. As reported in previous GAO work, states have varied strategies for managing their wait lists. Some states have a single statewide list while others have sub-state lists that allow sub-state areas to have their own policies. Some states conduct full or partial eligibility determinations prior to placing families on wait lists, and many states require periodic reviews of their wait lists. According to state administrators GAO interviewed, the strategies that states use to manage their wait lists pose certain challenges. For example, state administrators told GAO that sub-state lists can contain duplication, making state-wide estimates of families in need difficult. And administrators told GAO that maintaining up-to-date contact information is challenging, in part due to insufficient technology. The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted child care in several ways, including cost, eligibility and subsidy receipt, according to some members of the National Association of State Child Care Administrators (NASCCA). These members told GAO that despite initial declines in the number of families receiving subsidies, some states are seeing their child care costs increase due to, for example, more school-age children using full-day care; increased expenses for additional health and safety measures; paying for more absences and for parent co-pays; and families applying for subsidies for relative care. NASCCA members noted that some states have made changes to policies to help families and providers. To help families access child care, some states have increased income eligibility for subsidies to 85 percent of the state median income; temporarily waived work requirements to receive subsidies; and covered family fees for parents when a family must quarantine due to a COVID-19 exposure. Changes to some state policies aimed at helping providers include providing funds to providers to help with increased costs, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and additional cleaning supplies; paying providers based on their pre-COVID-19 level authorized enrollments; and raising the state's provider reimbursement rate to help providers cover overhead costs. The federal child care subsidy program known as CCDF is one of the primary sources of federal funding dedicated to assisting low-income families with child care who are working or participating in education and training. Funding for CCDF, which is administered by HHS at the federal level, comes from two funding streams: discretionary funding in the form of block grants authorized by the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG Act) of 1990, as amended, and mandatory and matching funding authorized under section 418 of the Social Security Act. CCDF was appropriated more than $8 billion in federal funds in 2019. For more information, contact Kathryn Larin at (202) 512-7215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- Information Technology: DHS Directives Have Strengthened Federal Cybersecurity, but Improvements Are NeededBy Sam NewsMay 6, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has established a five-step process for developing and overseeing the implementation of binding operational directives, as authorized by the Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014 (FISMA). The process includes DHS coordinating with stakeholders early in the directives' development process and validating agencies' actions on the directives. However, in implementing the process, DHS did not coordinate with stakeholders early in the process and did not consistently validate agencies' self-reported actions. In addition to being a required step in the directives process, FISMA requires DHS to coordinate with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to ensure that the directives do not conflict with existing NIST guidance for federal agencies. However, NIST officials told GAO that DHS often did not reach out to NIST on directives until 1 to 2 weeks before the directives were to be issued, and then did not always incorporate the NIST technical comments. More recently, DHS and NIST have started regular coordination meetings to discuss directive-related issues earlier in the process. Regarding validation of agency actions, DHS has done so for selected directives, but not for others. DHS is not well-positioned to validate all directives because it lacks a risk-based approach as well as a strategy to check selected agency-reported actions to validate their completion. Directives' implementation often has been effective in strengthening federal cybersecurity. For example, a 2015 directive on critical vulnerability mitigation required agencies to address critical vulnerabilities discovered by DHS cyber scans of agencies' internet-accessible systems within 30 days. This was a new requirement for federal agencies. While agencies did not always meet the 30-day requirement, their mitigations were validated by DHS and reached 87 percent compliance by 2017 (see fig. 1). DHS officials attributed the recent decline in percentage completion to a 35-day partial government shutdown in late 2018/early 2019. Nevertheless, for the 4-year period shown in the figure below, agencies mitigated within 30 days about 2,500 of the 3,600 vulnerabilities identified. Figure 1: Critical Vulnerabilities Mitigated within 30 days, May 21, 2015 through May 20, 2019 Agencies also made reported improvements in securing or replacing vulnerable network infrastructure devices. Specifically, a 2016 directive on the Threat to Network Infrastructure Devices addressed, among other things, several urgent vulnerabilities in the targeting of firewalls across federal networks and provided technical mitigation solutions. As shown in figure 2, in response to the directive, agencies reported progress in mitigating risks to more than 11,000 devices as of October 2018. Figure 2: Federal Civilian Agency Vulnerable Network Infrastructure Devices That Had Not Been Mitigated, September 2016 through January 2019 Another key DHS directive is Securing High Value Assets, an initiative to protect the government's most critical information and system assets. According to this directive, DHS is to lead in-depth assessments of federal agencies' most essential identified high value assets. However, an important performance metric for addressing vulnerabilities identified by these assessments does not account for agencies submitting remediation plans in cases where weaknesses cannot be fully addressed within 30 days. Further, DHS only completed about half of the required assessments for the most recent 2 years (61 of 142 for fiscal year 2018, and 73 of 142 required assessments for fiscal year 2019 (see fig. 3)). In addition, DHS does not plan to finalize guidance to agencies and third parties, such as contractors or agency independent assessors, for conducting reviews of additional high value assets that are considered significant, but are not included in DHS's current review, until the end of fiscal year 2020. Given these shortcomings, DHS is now reassessing key aspects of the program. However, it does not have a schedule or plan for completing this reassessment, or to address outstanding issues on completing required assessments, identifying needed resources, and finalizing guidance to agencies and third parties. Figure 3: Department of Homeland Security Assessments of Agency High Value Assets, Fiscal Years (FY) 2018 through 2019 Why GAO Did This Study DHS plays a key role in federal cybersecurity. FISMA authorized DHS, in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget, to develop and oversee the implementation of compulsory directives—referred to as binding operational directives—covering executive branch civilian agencies. These directives require agencies to safeguard federal information and information systems from a known or reasonably suspected information security threat, vulnerability, or risk. Since 2015, DHS has issued eight directives that instructed agencies to, among other things, (1) mitigate critical vulnerabilities discovered by DHS through its scanning of agencies' internet-accessible systems; (2) address urgent vulnerabilities in network infrastructure devices identified by DHS; and (3) better secure the government's highest value and most critical information and system assets. GAO was requested to evaluate DHS's binding operational directives. This report addresses (1) DHS's process for developing and overseeing the implementation of binding operational directives and (2) the effectiveness of the directives, including agencies' implementation of the directive requirements. GAO selected for review the five directives that were in effect as of December 2018, and randomly selected for further in-depth review a sample of 12 agencies from the executive branch civilian agencies to which the directives apply. In addition, GAO reviewed DHS policies and processes related to the directives and assessed them against FISMA and Office of Management and Budget requirements; administered a data collection instrument to selected federal agencies; compared the agencies' responses and supporting documentation to the requirements outlined in the five directives; and collected and analyzed DHS's government-wide scanning data on government-wide implementation of the directives. GAO also interviewed DHS and selected agency officials.[Read More…]
- United States Citizen Who Joined ISIS Charged With Material Support ViolationsBy Sam NewsSeptember 16, 2020An indictment and arrest warrant were unsealed today in the federal court of the District of Columbia charging Lirim Sylejmani, a Kosovo-born naturalized U.S. citizen, with conspiring to provide, providing, and attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist organization, and receiving training from ISIS, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2339B and 2339D.[Read More…]
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