Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
On July 22, the United States imposed sanctions on the leader of Cuba’s military and on the Cuban Ministry of the Interior’s Special National Brigade in response to Cuban security forces’ violent suppression of peaceful protesters.
Today, the United States is announcing additional sanctions in connection with the Cuban regime’s repression of the peaceful protests that started on July 11. We take this action pursuant to Executive Order 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. Through the Global Magnitsky sanctions program, the United States seeks to impose tangible and significant consequences to discourage malign actors and promote accountability in connection with serious human rights abuse.
We are designating the Cuban Revolutionary National Police (Policía Nacional Revolucionaria, PNR) and its leaders, Director Oscar Callejas Valcárcel and Deputy Director Eddy Sierra Arias, in connection with the PNR’s participation in the Cuban government’s suppression of the protests. The PNR, under the leadership of Callejas Valcárcel and Sierra Arias, has attacked and beaten peaceful protesters.
We recognize the bravery of the Cuban people and the protesters who stood up to the Cuban government’s police-state and sent a message to the world. Cubans deserve to have pride in their homeland and the basic necessities of life that the Cuban Communist Party’s failed system has been unable to deliver.
We stand in solidarity with the people of Cuba, and today’s designations result in an additional layer of restrictions on the PNR and its leaders. We are making it clear that anyone who supplies Cuba’s brutal police force, the Special National Brigade, the Interior Ministry, or any other Cuban individuals or entities designated under the Global Magnitsky program may face sanctions risk of their own. We will continue to take action to promote accountability for the Cuban government’s human rights abuses.
- Alabama Tax Preparer Pleads Guilty to Filing False Tax ReturnsBy Sam NewsOctober 15, 2020A Birmingham, Alabama, tax return preparer pleaded guilty to aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false tax return, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama Prim F. Escalona.[Read More…]
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- Department of State: Comprehensive Plan Needed to Address Persistent Foreign Language ShortfallsBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021Proficiency in foreign languages is a key skill for U.S. diplomats to advance U.S. interests overseas. GAO has issued several reports highlighting the Department of State's (State) persistent foreign language shortages. In 2006, GAO recommended that State evaluate the effectiveness of its efforts to improve the language proficiency of its staff. State responded by providing examples of activities it believed addressed our recommendation. In this report, which updates the 2006 report, GAO (1) examined the extent to which State is meeting its foreign language requirements and the potential impact of any shortfall, (2) assessed State's efforts to meet its foreign language requirements and described the challenges it faces in doing so, and (3) assessed the extent to which State has a comprehensive strategy to determine and meet these requirements. GAO analyzed data on State's overseas language-designated positions; reviewed strategic planning and budgetary documents; interviewed State officials; and conducted fieldwork in China, Egypt, India, Tunisia, and Turkey.As of October 31, 2008, 31 percent of Foreign Service officers in overseas language-designated positions (LDP) did not meet both the foreign languages speaking and reading proficiency requirements for their positions. State continues to face foreign language shortfalls in regions of strategic interest--such as the Near East and South and Central Asia, where about 40 percent of officers in LDPs did not meet requirements. Despite efforts to recruit individuals with proficiency in critical languages, shortfalls in supercritical languages, such as Arabic and Chinese, remain at 39 percent. Past reports by GAO, State's Office of the Inspector General, and others have concluded that foreign language shortfalls could be negatively affecting U.S. activities overseas. Overseas fieldwork for this report reaffirmed this conclusion. State's approach to meeting its foreign language requirements includes an annual review of all LDPs, language training, recruitment of language-proficient staff, and pay incentives for language skills. For example, State trains staff in about 70 languages in Washington and overseas, and has reported a training success rate of 86 percent. Moreover, State offers bonus points for language-proficient applicants who have passed the Foreign Service exam and has hired 445 officers under this program since 2004. However, various challenges limit the effectiveness of these efforts. According to State, a primary challenge is overall staffing shortages, which limit the number of staff available for language training, as well as the recent increase in LDPs. State's efforts to meet its foreign language requirements have yielded some results but have not closed persistent gaps and reflect, in part, a lack of a comprehensive, strategic approach. State officials have said that the department's plan for meeting its foreign language requirements is spread throughout a number of documents that address these needs; however these documents are not linked to each other and do not contain measurable goals, objectives, or milestones for reducing the foreign language gaps. Because these gaps have persisted over several years despite staffing increases, we believe that a more comprehensive, strategic approach would help State to more effectively guide its efforts and assess its progress in meeting its foreign language requirements.[Read More…]
- Statement on DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility Report on Jeffrey Epstein 2006-2008 InvestigationBy Sam NewsNovember 12, 2020The executive summary of a report by the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) was released today to affected victims. The summary, which is available on the Justice Department website, provides the essential details about the findings of OPR’s investigation into the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida’s resolution of its 2006–2008 federal criminal investigation of Jeffrey Epstein and its interactions with victims during the investigation.[Read More…]
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- Olympic Security: U.S. Support to Athens Games Provides Lessons for Future OlympicsBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021The 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, were held against the backdrop of growing concerns about international terrorism. Despite widespread fears of a potential terrorist attack on the Olympics, Greece hosted a safe and secure event with no terrorist incidents. To assist Greece in securing the 2004 Games, U.S. government agencies provided training and other support in the four years leading up to the Games. In addition, the U.S. government provided some security and other assistance to American athletes, spectators, and commercial investors, and expects to continue such support for future Olympics, including the upcoming 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. GAO was asked to (1) determine the U.S. approach and coordination efforts for providing security assistance to the 2004 Summer Olympics; (2) examine the roles of U.S. agencies in Athens Olympics security and their financial outlays; and (3) review lessons learned in providing security assistance in support of the Olympics and how they are being incorporated into preparations for future Olympics. The Departments of State, Homeland Security, Defense, and Justice concurred with the report or had no comments.In 2001, the United States began planning its security assistance for the 2004 Summer Olympics, responding to the heightened worldwide anxiety following the September 11 attacks and Greece's request for international advice on its security plan. The United States based much of its security assistance on knowledge gained through Greece's participation in the Department of State's Antiterrorism Assistance Program and through the staging of a major U.S. military exercise in March 2004. Based on these assessments, the United States employed a coordinated approach in providing security assistance to Greece for the Olympics. The U.S. Ambassador in Greece coordinated and led the U.S. interagency efforts in-country, while the State-chaired interagency working group in Washington, D.C., coordinated domestic contributions. Furthermore, the United States participated in a seven-country coordination group that aimed to identify potential areas of cooperation on security and support for Greece. Almost 20 entities and offices within a number of U.S. agencies provided more than $35 million in security assistance and support to the government of Greece. The Departments of State, Homeland Security, Defense, and Justice provided security training to various elements of the Greek government; the Departments of Energy and Justice provided crisis response assistance during the Olympics; and the State Department also provided special security and other assistance to U.S. athletes, spectators, and corporate sponsors. Following the 2004 Summer Games, these U.S. agencies identified a number of lessons learned, such as the importance of assessing host governments' security capabilities early to assist in planning U.S. support, appointing key personnel to craft unified messages for the U.S. security efforts, and coordinating with multilateral and other organizing entities. These lessons were then communicated by Washington, D.C.- and Athens-based personnel to U.S. officials in Italy who are preparing to support the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.[Read More…]
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- Nuclear Nonproliferation: U.S. and International Assistance Efforts to Control Sealed Radioactive Sources Need StrengtheningBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021Sealed radioactive sources, radioactive material encapsulated in stainless steel or other metal, are used worldwide in medicine, industry, and research. These sealed sources pose a threat to national security because terrorists could use them to make "dirty bombs." GAO was asked to determine (1) the number of sealed sources worldwide and how many have been reported lost, stolen, or abandoned; (2) the controls, both legislative and regulatory, used by countries that possess sealed sources; and (3) the assistance provided by the Department of Energy (DOE) and other U.S. federal agencies to strengthen other countries' control over sealed sources and the extent to which these efforts are believed to be effectively implemented.The precise number of sealed sources in use is unknown because many countries do not systematically account for them. However, nearly 10 million sealed sources exist in the United States and the 49 countries responding to a GAO survey. There is also limited information about the number of sealed sources that have been lost, stolen, or abandoned, but it is estimated to be in the thousands worldwide. Many of the most vulnerable sealed sources that could pose a security risk are located in the countries of the former Soviet Union. All of the 49 countries that responded to GAO's survey reported that they have established legislative or regulatory controls over sealed sources. However, nuclear safety and security experts from DOE, the Departments of State and Defense, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the European Commission told GAO that countries' controls over sealed sources vary greatly and are weakest among less developed countries. In fiscal year 2002, DOE established a program focusing on improving the security of sealed sources in the former Soviet Union and has started to fund security upgrades in Russia and other former Soviet countries. The Departments of Defense and State and NRC also have programs to help countries strengthen controls over sealed sources. DOE plans to expand its program to other countries and regions in 2003 and is developing a plan to guide its efforts. However, the department has not fully coordinated its efforts with NRC and the Department of State to ensure that a government-wide strategy is established. In addition, as of January 2003, the majority of DOE's program expenditures totaling $8.9 million were spent by DOE's national laboratories in the United States.[Read More…]
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- Information Technology and Cybersecurity: Significant Attention Is Needed to Address High-Risk AreasBy Sam NewsApril 16, 2021What GAO Found In its March 2021 high-risk series update, GAO reported that significant attention was needed to improve the federal government's management of information technology (IT) acquisitions and operations, and ensure the nation's cybersecurity. Regarding management of IT, overall progress in addressing this area has remained unchanged. Since 2019, GAO has emphasized that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and covered federal agencies need to continue to fully implement critical requirements of federal IT acquisition reform legislation, known as the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), to better manage tens of billions of dollars in IT investments. For example: OMB continued to demonstrate leadership commitment by issuing guidance to implement FITARA statutory provisions, but sustained leadership and expanded capacity were needed to improve agencies' management of IT. Agencies continued to make progress with reporting FITARA milestones and plans to modernize or replace obsolete IT investments, but significant work remained to complete these efforts. Agencies improved the involvement of their agency Chief Information Officers in the acquisition process, but greater cost savings could be achieved if IT acquisition shortcomings, such as reducing duplicative IT contracts, were addressed. In March 2021, GAO reiterated the need for agencies to address four major cybersecurity challenges facing the nation: (1) establishing a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy and performing effective oversight, (2) securing federal systems and information, (3) protecting cyber critical infrastructure, and (4) protecting privacy and sensitive data. GAO identified 10 actions for agencies to take to address these challenges. However, since 2019, progress in this area has regressed—GAO's 2021 rating of leadership commitment declined from met to partially met. To help address the leadership vacuum, in January 2021, Congress enacted a statute establishing the Office of the National Cyber Director. Although the director position has not yet been filled, on April 12 the President announced his intended nominee. Overall, the federal government needs to move with a greater sense of urgency to fully address cybersecurity challenges. In particular: Develop and execute a more comprehensive federal strategy for national cybersecurity and global cyberspace. In September 2020, GAO reported that the cyber strategy and implementation plan addressed some, but not all, of the desirable characteristics of national strategies, such as goals and resources needed. Mitigate global supply chain risks. In December 2020, GAO reported that few of the 23 civilian federal agencies it reviewed implemented foundational practices for managing information and communication technology supply chain risks. Enhance the federal response to cyber incidents. In July 2019, GAO reported that most of 16 selected federal agencies had deficiencies in at least one of the activities associated with incident response processes. Why GAO Did This Study The effective management and protection of IT has been a longstanding challenge in the federal government. Each year, the federal government spends more than $100 billion on IT and cyber-related investments; however, many of these investments have failed or performed poorly and often have suffered from ineffective management. Accordingly, GAO added improving the management of IT acquisitions and operations as a high-risk area in February 2015. Information security has been on the high-risk area since 1997. In its March 2021 high-risk update, GAO reported that significant actions were required to address IT acquisitions and operations. Further, GAO noted the urgent need for agencies to take 10 specific actions on four major cybersecurity challenges. GAO was asked to testify on federal agencies' efforts to address the management of IT and cybersecurity. For this testimony, GAO relied primarily on its March 2021 high-risk update and selected prior work across IT and cybersecurity topics.[Read More…]
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- Federal Research: NIH Should Take Further Action to Address Foreign InfluenceBy Sam NewsApril 22, 2021What GAO Found U.S. research may be subject to undue foreign influence in cases where a researcher has a foreign conflict of interest. Federal grant-making agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), can address this threat by implementing conflict of interest policies and requiring the disclosure of information that may indicate potential conflicts. GAO found that NIH's policy focuses on financial conflicts of interest but does not specifically address or define non-financial interests, which may include multiple professional appointments. In the absence of agency-wide policies and definitions on non-financial interests, universities that receive federal grant funding may lack sufficient guidance to identify and manage conflicts appropriately, potentially increasing the risk of undue foreign influence. In its report, GAO noted that NIH also requires researchers to disclose information—such as foreign support for their research—as part of grant proposals, and that such information could be used to determine if certain conflicts exist. National Institutes of Health Disclosure Requirements for Grantees as of December 2020 NIH relies on universities to monitor financial conflicts of interest, and the agency collects information, such as foreign collaborations, that could be used to identify non-financial conflicts. NIH has taken action in cases where it identified researchers who failed to disclose financial or non-financial information. Such actions included referring cases to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation. Additionally, NIH has written procedures for addressing allegations of failures to disclose required information. In interviews, stakeholders identified opportunities to improve agency responses to prevent undue foreign influence in federally funded research. For example, agencies could harmonize grant application requirements and better communicate identified risks. NIH has taken steps to address the issue of foreign influence in the areas stakeholders identified. Why GAO Did This Study The federal government reported expending about $44.5 billion on university science and engineering research in fiscal year 2019. The Department of Health and Human Services funds over half of all such federal expenditures, and NIH accounts for almost all of this funding. Safeguarding the U.S. research enterprise from threats of foreign influence is of critical importance. Recent reports by GAO and others have noted challenges faced by the research community to combat undue foreign influence, while maintaining an open research environment. This testimony discusses (1) NIH's conflict of interest policy and disclosure requirements that address potential foreign influence, (2) NIH's mechanisms to monitor and enforce its policy and requirements, and (3) the steps NIH has taken to address concerns about foreign influence in federally funded research identified by stakeholders. It is based on a report that GAO issued in December 2020 (GAO-21-130).[Read More…]
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- USAJOBS Website: OPM Has Taken Actions to Assess and Enhance the User ExperienceBy Sam NewsOctober 13, 2020The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) uses a variety of sources to assess the user experience with USAJOBS, the central website for posting federal job openings. GAO found that OPM's assessments generally track key measures in accordance with selected government-wide guidance. Specifically, OPM collects data on most of the website performance measures recommended by selected guidance from Digital.gov, including the number of times pages were viewed, the percentage of users who use the USAJOBS search box, and overall customer experience. Additionally, consistent with guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), OPM surveys USAJOBS users about their experiences with the site. OPM also assesses user experience through usability testing, focus groups, and analysis of data on questions submitted to the USAJOBS help desk. Through these assessments, OPM found variations in user experience across the job search and application process, including variations in how people find job announcements and how long it takes them to complete job applications. Since the agency's redesign of USAJOBS in 2016, OPM has taken a number of actions in an effort to address feedback from these assessments and improve the USAJOBS user experience. For example, in 2017, OPM created a set of categories, called Hiring Paths, that describe who is eligible to apply for specific federal jobs and guide job seekers to positions for which they are eligible. Other OPM actions taken from 2016 to 2020 include implementing a new process for logging in to the system to improve website security; updating job search filters and adding a keyword autocomplete function, which suggests search terms as a job seeker types in the search box; revising its job announcement template for hiring agencies to help eliminate duplicative language, increase clarity, and avoid jargon; adding guidance to help job seekers complete federal applications and understand federal hiring authorities; and highlighting jobs related to COVID-19 response. OPM continues to update and refine these efforts. OPM also expects to take a number of additional actions intended to help enhance the USAJOBS website. For example, according to OPM officials, in early fiscal year 2021 they expect to add a “job status” indicator for each job announcement posted on USAJOBS. The job status indicator would provide information such as the number of applicants and when the job has been filled. According to OPM, this would improve transparency and accountability and also provide applicants with updates at each stage of the hiring process. GAO provided a draft of this report to OPM for review and comment. OPM stated that it did not have comments. The USAJOBS website, which is managed by OPM, is the entry point to the federal hiring process for most agencies. It facilitates hiring of new employees as well as the movement of talent across government through merit-based promotions and transfers. OPM uses USAJOBS to help achieve the agency's mission to recruit and retain a world-class government workforce. OPM is responsible for ensuring the usability of USAJOBS and collecting feedback on the user experience. Hiring agencies are responsible for the content of job opportunity announcements. Report language accompanying the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill, 2020, and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 included provisions for GAO to review the user experience on USAJOBS. This report examines (1) the extent to which OPM assesses the user experience with USAJOBS and the results of OPM's assessments; and (2) actions OPM has taken to improve the user experience with USAJOBS. GAO reviewed OPM data and documentation, interviewed OPM officials, and compared OPM's assessments of user experience to OMB guidance for federal service providers and selected guidance from Digital.gov on performance measures for federal websites. For more information, contact Michelle B. Rosenberg at (202) 512-6806 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Supplemental Material for GAO-21-536: 2020 Federal Managers Survey: Results on Government Performance and Management IssuesBy Sam NewsJuly 28, 2021This product is a supplement to Evidence-Based Policymaking: Survey Data Identify Opportunities to Strengthen Capacity across Federal Agencies (GAO-21-536). Between July and December 2020, GAO surveyed nearly 4,000 federal managers on various organizational performance and management issues. The survey asked managers for their perspectives on their agencies' capacities to develop and use different types of data and information in decision-making activities, such as when allocating resources. In addition, the survey sought views on agency efforts to maintain operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. With a 56 percent response rate, the results are generalizable to the 24 major agencies included in the survey, and across the federal government. This product makes available the results from GAO's 2020 survey—at a government-wide level and for each agency. It also provides information about how and why GAO conducted the survey, and identifies other GAO products that analyzed and reported these survey results. For more information, contact Alissa H. Czyz at 202-512-6806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]