Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau Before Their Meeting

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

Ben Franklin Room

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And our colleagues are here.

FOREIGN MINISTER GARNEAU:  Well, thank you very much, Tony.  Great to see you again after our very productive meeting on Tuesday.  I really welcome the commitments that Prime Minister Trudeau and President Biden made on the roadmap, which, in fact, mirrors many of the themes that you raised in your own confirmation hearings to renew U.S. leadership and diplomacy.

This is a particularly important time as we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic.  Both Canadians and Americans have been impacted by this pandemic and have suffered losses and faced many challenges in this crisis.  I think you’ll agree with me now is not the time for our two nations to turn inward.

It’s important that we work together to fight COVID-19, support our citizens, and ensure that a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery can happen.  It’s also important that we maintain the integrity of our cross-border supply chains.  This is where the rubber hits the road – or, if I could say, the rubber hits the roadmap.  (Laughter.)  The Canada-U.S. trade relationship is balanced, fair, and highly complementary in many areas, including the manufacturing, technological, agri-food, and energy sectors, just to name a few.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, and the roadmap, I think, charts a course for Canada and the United States to partner and to tackle many challenges, including the ones that we’re going to discuss today.  I note the emphasis on diversity and inclusion in the roadmap as well as your announcement earlier this week creating a new chief diversity and inclusion officer at the State Department.  We’re working on similar things as well, and I’d be very happy if our officials could exchange best practices and things we might do together.

(In French.)

As the United States engages, I want you to know that you can count on Canada to be by your side, and I think that you’ll find that we can be surprisingly helpful to you while advancing our own objectives.

So thank you very much and delighted to be with you today.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Marc, thank you so very much for receiving our virtual delegation in Canada.  I so wish that we could be there in person, but I’m looking very much forward to the day, I think sooner rather than later, when we’ll actually be able to do that, and also to see you here in Washington.

Like you, I’m so pleased that our leaders were able to spend real quality time together a few days ago and to review and renew the U.S.-Canada partnership, particularly with regard to the roadmap, and I subscribe to everything that you said.  But we have an incredibly broad and deep agenda to go through and to cover.  It’s hard to think of two countries whose destines are more connected, more intertwined than ours.  And we know that every single day the work that we’re doing – but more importantly, the deep ties between our people in virtually every aspect of our societies – are benefitting both countries.  And this is very much the spirit in which we’re looking forward to this real renewal in our relationship.

I was, I think, telling some colleagues the other day I first started working at the State Department in 1993, and the very first trip that I made with my then boss was to Canada.  So, in a sense, the first foreign trip I made working in government was to Canada, and it’s wonderful to be able to make this virtual trip today.  The good news is no jet lag, the bad news is no frequent flier miles, but we’ll work on both of those things.

I know we have a lot to talk about, and you’ve alluded to virtually all of the key points.  I would say one of the things that’s so important is that when we’re working together, especially on the many global challenges that confront both of our countries and both of our peoples, we are really democratic and diplomatic force multipliers for each other.  And that’s something that the United States places great, great value in.

(In French.)

So thank you so much for welcoming us today, and let’s get down to work.

FOREIGN MINISTER GARNEAU:  Thank you.

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    GAO's analysis of federal data found that about 1 percent of companies with Department of Defense (DOD) contracts were cited for willful or repeated safety, health, or fair labor violations in fiscal years 2015 through 2019. However, these data do not indicate whether the violations occurred while performing work related to a defense contract. Companies with DOD Contracts Cited for Willful or Repeated Violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 or the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Fiscal Years 2015 through 2019 Because of limitations in available data, GAO could not determine the total incidence of willful or repeated violations of safety, health, or fair labor standards among all companies with a defense contract in this 5-year time frame. Specifically, about 43 percent of the Department of Labor's (Labor) safety and health violation data did not include key company identification numbers. These numbers are necessary to match federal contracting data to violation data. GAO recommended in February 2019 that Labor explore ways to address this issue. While Labor neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, it issued a memorandum in May 2019 directing its Occupational Safety and Health Administration staff to make every reasonable effort to collect this information during inspections and enter it into its database. About 1 percent of Labor's data on fair labor violations were missing these key company identification numbers. The nature of the willful or repeated violations for companies with DOD contracts during fiscal years 2015 through 2019 varied. According to GAO's analysis of Labor data, the most frequently found willful or repeated safety and health violations related to toxic substances and machinery. For that same time frame, the most frequently found willful or repeated fair labor violations related to failure to pay overtime. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to report on the number of DOD contractors that Labor found to have committed willful or repeated violations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) or the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) for fiscal years 2015 through 2019. This report examines the number of DOD contractors that were cited for willful or repeated safety, health, or fair labor standards violations under the OSH Act or FLSA, and the nature of those violations for fiscal years 2015 through 2019. GAO analyzed federal contracting data to identify companies that had defense contracts in fiscal years 2015 through 2019, and matched them to Labor data on companies cited for willful or repeated safety, health, or fair labor standards violations. In addition, GAO used the Labor data to identify information on the nature of the violations. GAO also reviewed relevant federal laws and regulations, and agency documents. For more information, contact William T. Woods at (202) 512-4841 or woodsw@gao.gov, or Thomas Costa at (202) 512-7215 or costat@gao.gov.
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  • Science & Tech Spotlight: Contact Tracing Apps
    In U.S GAO News
    Why This Matters Contact tracing can help reduce transmission rates for infectious diseases like COVID-19 by identifying and notifying people who may have been exposed. Contact tracing apps, notably those using proximity tracing, could expedite such efforts. However, there are challenges, including accuracy, adoption rates, and privacy concerns. The Technology What is it? Contact tracing is a process in which public health officials attempt to limit disease transmission by identifying infected individuals, notifying their "contacts"—all the people they may have transmitted the disease to—and asking infected individuals and their contacts to quarantine, if appropriate (see fig. 1). For a highly contagious respiratory disease such as COVID-19, a contact could be anyone who has been nearby. Proximity tracing applications (apps) can expedite contact tracing, using smartphones to rapidly identify and notify contacts. Figure 1. A simplified depiction of disease transmission. Through contact tracing, an infected individual’s contacts are notified and may be asked to quarantine. (In reality, some contacts may not become infected, and some of those infected may not show symptoms.) How does it work? In traditional contact tracing, public health officials begin by identifying an infected individual. They then interview the individual to identify recent contacts, ask the individual and their contacts to take containment measures, if appropriate (e.g., a 14-day quarantine for COVID-19), and coordinate any needed care and testing. Proximity tracing apps may accelerate the process by replacing the time-consuming interviews needed to identify contacts. Apps may also identify more contacts than interviews, which rely on interviewees' recall and on their being acquainted with their contacts. Public health authorities provide the apps, often using systems developed by companies or research groups. Users voluntarily download the app for their country or region and opt in to contact tracing. In the U.S., state or local public health authorities would likely implement proximity tracing apps. Proximity tracing apps detect contacts using Bluetooth, GPS, or a combination of both. Bluetooth-based apps rely on anonymous codes shared between smartphones during close encounters. These codes contain no information about location or user identity, helping safeguard privacy. The apps allow public health authorities to set a minimum time and distance threshold for someone to count as a contact. Contact tracing can be centralized or decentralized. With a centralized approach, contacts identified by the app are often saved to a government server, and an official notifies contacts of possible exposure. For a decentralized approach, contact data are typically stored on the user's device at first. When a user voluntarily reports infection, the user's codes are uploaded to a database that other app users' phones search. Users who have encountered the infected person then receive notifications through the app (see fig. 2). Figure 2. Bluetooth-based proximity tracing apps exchange information, notify contacts exposed to an infected person, and provide follow-up information. How mature is it? Traditional contact tracing is well established and has been an effective infectious disease response strategy for decades. Proximity tracing apps are relatively new and not as well established. Their contact identifications could become more accurate as developers improve app technology, for example by improving Bluetooth signal interpretation or using information from other phone sensors. Opportunities Reach more people. For accurate COVID-19 contact tracing using traditional methods, public health experts have estimated that the U.S. would require hundreds of thousands of trained contact tracers because of the large number of infections. Proximity tracing apps can expedite and automate identification and notification of the contacts, reducing this need. Faster response. Proximity tracing apps could slow the spread of disease more effectively because they can identify and notify contacts as soon as a user reports they are infected. More complete identification of contacts. Proximity tracing apps, unlike traditional contact tracing, do not require users to recall or be acquainted with people they have recently encountered. Challenges Technology. Technological limitations may lead to missed contacts or false identification of contacts. For example, GPS-based apps may not identify precise locations, and Bluetooth apps may ignore barriers preventing exposure, such as walls or protective equipment. In addition, apps may overlook exposure if two people were not in close enough proximity long enough for it to count as a contact. Adoption. Lower adoption rates make the apps less effective. In the U.S., some states may choose not to use proximity tracing apps. In addition, the public may hesitate to opt in because of concerns about privacy and uncertainty as to how the data may be used. Recent scams using fake contact tracing to steal information may also erode trust in the apps. Interoperability. Divergent app designs may lead to the inability to exchange data between apps, states, and countries, which could be a problem as travel restrictions are relaxed. Access. Proximity tracing apps require regular access to smartphones and knowledge about how to install and use apps. Some vulnerable populations, including seniors, are less likely to own smartphones and use apps, possibly affecting adoption. Policy Context and Questions Although proximity tracing apps are relatively new, they have the potential to help slow disease transmission. But policymakers will need to consider how great the benefits are likely to be, given the challenges. If policymakers decide to use proximity tracing apps, they will need to integrate them into the larger public health response and consider the following questions, among others: What steps can policymakers take to build public trust and encourage communities to support and use proximity tracing apps, and mitigate lack of adoption by some populations? What legal, procedural, privacy, security, and technical safeguards could protect data collected through proximity tracing apps? What can policymakers do to improve coordination of contact tracing efforts across local, state, and international jurisdictions? What can policymakers do to expedite testing and communication of test results to maximize the benefits of proximity tracing apps? What can policymakers do to ensure that contact identification is accurate and that its criteria are based on scientific evidence? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.
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  • Taxpayer Service: IRS Could Improve the Taxpayer Experience by Using Better Service Performance Measures
    In U.S GAO News
    The Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) mission and strategic plan state expectations for IRS to improve the taxpayer experience and services it provides. However, IRS and its divisions that manage programs serving the largest taxpayer groups—the Wage and Investment (W&I) and the Small Business/Self-Employed (SB/SE) divisions—did not have performance goals to specify the desired improvements. For example, W&I aligned its service programs to IRS's strategic objectives for taxpayer services that state broad types of management activities such as monitoring the taxpayer experience and addressing issues. However, it did not have performance goals that specify outcomes to improve the taxpayer experience, such as reducing taxpayer wait times for telephone assistance. Because IRS and these two divisions do not have performance goals for improving the taxpayer experience, IRS does not have related performance measures. IRS has many performance measures—including more than 80 for W&I and SB/SE—for assessing the services it provides, such as related to timeliness and accuracy of information provided to taxpayers. However, these existing measures do not assess improvements to the taxpayer experience, such as whether tax processes were simpler or specific services met taxpayers' needs. The division-level measures also lack targets for improving the taxpayer experience. Further, the existing measures do not capture all of the key factors identified in Office of Management and Budget guidance for how customers experience federal services, including customer satisfaction and how easy it was to receive the services. As a result, IRS does not have complete information about how well it is satisfying taxpayers and improving their experiences. IRS analyzes its taxpayer service measures to compare performance with targets but the analyses provide few insights and no recommendations to improve the taxpayer experience, such as to provide more timely tax filing guidance. Also, IRS does not have a process to use service measures to guide decisions on allocating resources to improve the taxpayer experience. As a result, IRS is challenged to use performance data to balance resource allocation for efforts to improve the taxpayer experience compared with other IRS efforts. Finally, IRS reports limited information to the public about performance related to the taxpayer experience for transparency and accountability. The table below summarizes important management practices that IRS did not fully follow to provide taxpayers a top-quality service experience. According to IRS, providing top-quality service is a critical part of its mission to help taxpayers understand and meet their tax responsibilities. Congress, the National Taxpayer Advocate, and the administration have recognized the importance of improving how taxpayers experience IRS services. Setting goals and objectives with related performance measures and targets are important tools to focus an agency's activities on achieving mission results. GAO was asked to review IRS's customer service performance measures. This report assesses IRS's (1) goals and objectives to improve the taxpayer experience; (2) performance measures to support improved experiences; and (3) use of performance information to improve the experience, allocate resources, and report performance. To assess IRS's goals, measures, targets, and use of them, GAO compared IRS's practices to key practices in results-oriented management. GAO is making 7 recommendations, including that IRS identify performance goals, measures, and targets; as well as analyze performance; develop processes to make decisions on resources needed; and report performance on improving the taxpayer experience. IRS indicated that it generally agreed with the recommendations, but that details around their implementation were under consideration and would be provided at a later date. For more information, contact Jessica Lucas-Judy at (202) 512-9110 or LucasJudyJ@gao.gov.
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  • Disaster Response: Agencies Should Assess Contracting Workforce Needs and Purchase Card Fraud Risk
    In U.S GAO News
    The efforts of selected agencies to plan for disaster contracting activities and assess contracting workforce needs varied. The U.S. Forest Service initiated efforts to address its disaster response contracting workforce needs while three agencies—the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the U.S. Coast Guard, and Department of the Interior (DOI)—partially addressed these needs. The Environmental Protection Agency indicated it did not have concerns fulfilling its disaster contracting responsibilities. Specifically, GAO found the following: USACE assigned clear roles and responsibilities for disaster response contracting activities, but has not formally assessed its contracting workforce to determine if it can fulfill these roles. The Coast Guard has a process to assess its workforce needs, but it does not account for contracting for disaster response activities. DOI is developing a strategic acquisition plan and additional guidance for its bureaus on how to structure their contracting functions, but currently does not account for disaster contracting responsibilities. Contracting officials at all three of these agencies identified challenges executing their regular responsibilities along with their disaster-related responsibilities during the 2017 and 2018 hurricane and wildfire seasons. For example, Coast Guard contracting officials stated they have fallen increasingly behind since 2017 and that future disaster response missions would not be sustainable with their current workforce. GAO's strategic workforce planning principles call for agencies to determine the critical skills and competencies needed to achieve future programmatic results. Without accounting for disaster response contracting activities in workforce planning, these agencies are missing opportunities to ensure their contracting workforces are equipped to respond to future disasters. The five agencies GAO reviewed from above, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), collectively spent more than $20 million for 2017 and 2018 disaster response activities using purchase cards. GAO found that two of these six agencies—Forest Service and EPA—have not completed fraud risk profiles for their purchase card programs that align with leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. Additionally, five of the six agencies have not assessed or documented how their fraud risk for purchase card use might differ in a disaster response environment. DOI completed such an assessment during the course of our review. An Office of Management and Budget memorandum requires agencies to complete risk profiles for their purchase card programs that include fraud risk. GAO's Fraud Risk Framework states managers should assess fraud risk regularly and document those assessments in risk profiles. The framework also states that risk profiles may differ in the context of disaster response when managers may have a higher fraud risk tolerance since individuals in these environments have an urgent need for products and services. Without assessing fraud risk for purchase card programs or how risk may change in a disaster response environment, agencies may not design or implement effective internal controls, such as search criteria to identify fraudulent transactions. The 2017 and 2018 hurricanes and California wildfires affected millions of people and caused billions of dollars in damages. Extreme weather events are expected to become more frequent and intense due to climate change. Federal contracts for goods and services play a key role in disaster response and recovery, and government purchase cards can be used by agency staff to buy needed items. GAO was asked to review federal response and recovery efforts related to recent disasters. This report examines the extent to which selected agencies planned for their disaster response contracting activities, assessed their contracting workforce needs, and assessed the fraud risk related to their use of purchase cards for disaster response. GAO selected six agencies based on contract obligations for 2017 and 2018 disasters; analyzed federal procurement and agency data; reviewed agencies' policies on workforce planning, purchase card use, and fraud risk; and analyzed purchase card data. FEMA was not included in the examination of workforce planning due to prior GAO work. GAO is making 12 recommendations, including to three agencies to assess disaster response contracting needs in workforce planning, and to five agencies to assess fraud risk for purchase card use in support of disaster response. For more information, contact Marie A. Mak at (202) 512-4841 or makm@gao.gov.
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  • Sexual Harassment: NNSA Could Improve Prevention and Response Efforts in Its Nuclear Security Forces
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)—within the Department of Energy (DOE)—and its contractors may have limited information on the prevalence of sexual harassment within the nuclear security forces. NNSA's nuclear security forces include federal agents in NNSA's Office of Secure Transportation (OST), which is responsible for transporting nuclear materials, and contracted guard forces at four of its sites. Federal officials at NNSA and contractor representatives at four NNSA sites that process weapons-usable nuclear material reported very few cases of sexual harassment from fiscal years 2015 through 2020. Research shows that the least common response to harassment is to report it or file a complaint. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—which enforces federal laws prohibiting harassment—suggests organizations survey employees to assess the extent to which harassment is a problem in their organization. NNSA does not survey employees on this topic, nor does NNSA call for such surveys in its contracts for security forces. Because NNSA relies solely on reported incidents, it may not have full knowledge into the nature or extent of sexual harassment in OST or by its contractors at its sites. Surveying employees would better position them to identify actions to effectively prevent and respond to harassment. To varying degrees, NNSA and its contractors follow EEOC's recommended practices to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in their nuclear security forces. For example, with respect to recommended training practices, NNSA and its contractors provide antiharassment training to all employees, but only one force offers workplace-specific training that addresses sexual harassment risk factors relevant to the security forces. Because NNSA has not formally reviewed EEOC's practices and considered which to adopt for its nuclear security forces, or made similar considerations for its security force contractors, the agency may be missing opportunities to prevent and respond to sexual harassment. Selected EEOC Practices for Effective Training to Prevent and Respond to Sexual Harassment and Number of NNSA's Nuclear Security Forces That Reflect Those Practices in Training EEOC Promising Practice Number of forces that reflect the practice Provided to employees at every level and location of the organization 5 of 5 Tailored to the specific workplace and workforce 1 of 5 Explains the complaint process, as well as any voluntary alternative dispute resolution processes 2 of 5 Explains the range of possible consequences for engaging in prohibited conduct 1 of 5 Source: GAO comparison of National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and protective force contractor information with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) November 2017 Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment . | GAO-21-307 EEOC has found that NNSA and DOE do not meet all EEOC requirements relevant to preventing and responding to sexual harassment. For example, NNSA does not have an antiharassment program or a compliant antiharassment policy. According to EEOC officials, NNSA and DOE efforts to date have improved some aspects of their EEO programs, but because the agencies have not fully implemented their plans to address deficiencies identified by EEOC, DOE and NNSA may be missing opportunities to establish and maintain effective programs that include protection from and response to sexual harassment. Why GAO Did This Study Federal law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Besides being harmful to those harassed, sexual harassment can decrease organizational performance and increase turnover. In January 2019, public allegations of sexual harassment in NNSA's nuclear security forces drew attention to this issue. House Report 116-120 provided that GAO review sexual harassment in NNSA's nuclear security force. This report examines (1) what NNSA and its contractors know about the prevalence of sexual harassment in their nuclear security forces, (2) the extent to which NNSA and its contractors implement EEOC recommendations to prevent and respond to sexual harassment, and (3) the extent to which EEOC found that NNSA and DOE meet its requirements relevant to sexual harassment. GAO reviewed information on sexual harassment and programs to address such harassment at DOE and NNSA from fiscal years 2015 through 2020. GAO analyzed documents and data, conducted a literature review, interviewed NNSA officials, and compared NNSA and contractor actions with EEOC-recommended practices for preventing harassment.
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