September 28, 2021

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado at a Joint Press Availability

33 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

San Jose, Costa Rica

Casa Presidencial

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter)  Good afternoon.  On behalf of the people of Costa Rica, we would like to give a warm welcome to our presidential home to the Secretary of State of the United States, Mr. Antony Blinken, and his distinguished delegation.  We would like to greet Mr. President, Mr. Carlos Alvarado Quesada, the ministers and leaders of the Republic of Costa Rica, and the media for both sister countries, as well as all those people who are watching this transmission live.

Costa Rica is the first country in Latin America to receive the visit of the United States Secretary of State.  We will now listen to the message given by Mr. President of the Republic of Costa Rica Carlos Alvarado Quesada, who is going to give us a summary of the breadth of the meeting.  Good afternoon, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT ALVARADO:  Good afternoon, everybody. Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary Antony Blinken and his delegation.  He honors us with his visit here to Costa Rica.  We are very grateful being that it is the first visit to the Western Hemisphere is to Costa Rica.  And along those lines, we have worked on a very important agenda on topics that are very important in the bilateral relationship between the United States and Costa Rica – a relationship that encompasses common values, and that is the most important things: values of democracy, of human rights, and progress, and focused on people; values of believing in multilateralism and the way that countries in this globalized world can coexist peacefully and get ahead as a humanity.

And so along those lines, we have talked about some of the challenges that we face in our bilateral relationship as well as in the region, and how can we take some of the successes that we have achieved together regarding the fight against drugs, regarding environmental sustainability, the fight against climate change and integration processes, or in commerce, or more recently, Costa Rica has become a part of the OCDE, or fighting the pandemic and how to recover after the pandemic so that Costa Rica and the entire region, the countries that conform SICA, can have a fast and satisfactory recovery and together we can face all these problems that our different peoples are suffering, and always keeping in mind – people – how to resolve the different problems for the good of the people.

The conversation has focused on an agenda where the greatest challenge that we face is this relationship that is based on principles and values, this strategic relationship.  How can we take it to the next level, a level of cooperation in bilateral issues in the region as well as in a multilateral fashion?

Once again, I would like to thank Mr. Blinken for his visit.  I am very pleased to meet him.  We have had a very frank and open and fluid conversation, common interests.  And once again, Mr. Secretary, I would like to thank you very much for your visit here in Costa Rica and please know that President Biden and yourself are always welcome to Costa Rica.  We would like to deepen our friendship between our people.  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  The United States and the United – and Costa Rica have a long history of cooperation (inaudible) in fundamental topics to consolidate liberty and democracy.  The Secretary of State of the United States Antony Blinken will now deliver his message to the Costa Rican people.  Good afternoon.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Muchas gracias, Senor Presidente.  It’s wonderful to be here.  President Alvarado, thank you for your incredibly warm welcome.  Thank you for a very productive, concrete conversation.  And I have to tell you, the president and I found many common points of interest beyond the responsibilities that we have, including in history and music and many other things.  So it was particularly wonderful to have the opportunity to spend some time with you today.  I’m grateful for that.

I am delighted to be in Costa Rica for my first visit to Central America as Secretary of State.  And it really is no accident that we’re here.  Of course, we have the very important meeting a little later today with our partners in the Central American Integration System led by the foreign minister.  But it’s no accident because Costa Rica and the United States are joined in partnership based on shared values, based on a shared approach to the most pressing issues that our people face today.  And especially now in these moments of great challenge, the United States values our partnerships and values this partnership, and we wanted to make that very clear.

The president was kind enough to invite me to participate in the Central American Integration System ministerial meeting a little bit later, but we also had the opportunity to reflect on ways we can strengthen even more the robust relationship between the United States and Costa Rica.  That relationship is reflected in our cooperation across a range of issues, from development to decarbonization to fighting transnational organized crime, and it demonstrates the way our partnership can help Costa Rica and the United States deliver for people in our respective countries.

And I apologize, I don’t know if you want to do interpretation or not, in which case I can stop and —

INTERPRETER:  I am interpreting you simultaneously, sir.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Let me just give you a few quick examples of how we’re doing this.

Our bilateral trade relationship is valued at $11 billion every year.  Forty percent of Costa Rica’s exports come to the United States.  Our investment accounts for approximately 70 percent of all foreign direct investment in Costa Rica.  And that together has created thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, in both of our countries.  Before the pandemic, more U.S. young people studied here in Costa Rica than anywhere else in the hemisphere, and we’re looking forward to their return when we get through COVID.  We also continue to work together to fight transnational organized crime.  That includes training judges, prosecutors, law enforcement, investing in community-based efforts to give underserved youth access to education and other opportunities.

Tomorrow I’m very much looking forward to visiting one of these neighborhood programs which I’ve read about that’s had tremendous success and I think could be a model for many other countries.  I commend Costa Rica for bringing together leaders of innovative initiatives like this one for a regional citizen security conference next week where participants will share best practices.  The example Costa Rica is setting can be an example for many other countries.

The president and I also had a chance to speak about regional issues.  Let me just highlight quickly three of the most important ones, and I’ll focus on those as well in our engagement a little later with our regional partners.

First, the fate of the people in the United States is more intertwined than ever with our neighbors in Central America.  To effectively confront the biggest challenges we face, like COVID-19, like the climate crisis, like migration, like corruption, regional cooperation is more important than ever.  And these are problems that all of us have to contend with.  It’s not just about the United States or just about Costa Rica.  These are regional challenges and we are more effective when we face them together.

The same is true when it comes to delivering broad-based, inclusive economic growth in our countries that our people expect and deserve.  For too long, the United States and others measured our economic success only by rising GDP or the stock market.  We turned a blind eye to declining opportunity for hardworking people in our societies.  Both of us are determined to put the focus on our people, and the big question we’re both asking ourselves is:  Is what we are doing, is it working for our people?  That’s what motivates us.

President Biden is planning to make an unprecedented $4 billion investment in the region that will focus on helping all people, not just the well-off or the well-connected, much like the investments we’re looking to make at home in the United States.  We think that’s the best way to ensure greater stability and improve the lives of people across the region, which ultimately is in the United States’ interest as well.

And this is my second point:  We have to deliver this growth with equity.  That’s the best way to give people a horizon of hope in their own communities.  Without that, many people are willing to take significant risks at the hands of coyotes to seek out opportunities in other countries, including the United States.

Third, good governance is crucial for confronting the challenges and seizing the opportunities of this moment.  And yet, we meet at a moment when democracy and human rights are being undermined in many parts of the region.  We see this in the erosion of judicial independence, a crackdown on independent media and NGOs, the barring of political opponents, the quashing of anticorruption efforts.  We understand how fragile democracy is.  We’ve experienced setbacks in our own country in recent years.  But that experience has underscored for us just how important it is to shore up the institutions and the norms that safeguard our democracy.  And it’s affirmed that the way to fix our flaws is to address them out in the open, directly, transparently.  That’s the most effective thing we can do.

And that holds for our partners as well.  The United States will partner with governments across the region – left, right, center – to work toward the commitments our countries made nearly 20 years ago when we adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter.  All we expect of those governments is what their citizens expect: that elected officials are accountable to their people and respect their rights; that they ensure free and fair elections; that they not use their power to punish their critics; and that all of us continue to work to improve the lives of people in our countries in real, concrete ways.

We’re looking forward to hearing how we can continue to work together toward these critical – critically important goals a little later this evening with our partners.  But meanwhile, Mr. President, thank you.  Thank you for your warmth, for your hospitality, and especially for the work that our countries are doing together.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary of the United States.  And now we will hear the media questions, and we are going to start with the first question from the Costa Rican press, by Yessenia Alvarado, journalist for Telenoticias representing the national media.

Good afternoon, Yessenia.  Go ahead, ask your question.

INTERPRETER:  I can’t hear.  We can’t hear her.  We can’t – we’re sorry, we cannot – the interpreters cannot hear the question.  Yes, there – we are listening to the question from Yessenia Alvarado.  If you could please repeat it.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Is there a possibility for Costa Rica to be included in the vaccine donation the United States is planning in July?

(Via interpreter) My other question is for President Alvarado.  We wanted to know if in this meeting you had the opportunity to ask some of the topics that you have been talking about – about vaccines – with us, so that there is more justice, there is no hoarding in the world.  And also in the beginning of May, you had requested the United States – you had requested President Biden if they could lend us some vaccines, and so I would like to know if those topics were able to be addressed.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Thank you to journalist Yessenia Alvarado from Telenoticias, and Mr. Secretary of State, if you could please answer the question.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much for your question.  In short, yes, we did discuss vaccines at length and COVID – and the fight against COVID that we’re joined in more broadly, and let me say this:  I think you heard President Biden a couple of weeks ago announce that we will be making available globally about 80 million vaccine doses that we have access to between now and the end of June.  And in the next week or so – sometime in the next week to two weeks – we will be announcing the process by which we will distribute those vaccines, what the criteria are, how we will do it.  And among other things, we will focus on equity, on the equitable distribution of vaccines; we’ll focus on science; we’ll work in coordination with COVAX; and we will distribute vaccines without political requirements of those receiving them.  And so I expect that there will be news in much more detail in – within the next two weeks.

I would point out that we’ve worked closely with Costa Rica in – over the last year-plus in terms of helping to provide personal protective equipment, medical supplies, mobile hospitals, et cetera, but now we are focused on making available vaccines that we have access to.  And, as I said, within the next two weeks or so I expect we’ll be able to make clear exactly how we’re going to do that.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Mr. President.

PRESIDENT ALVARADO:  Thank you very much, and yes, that was one of the topics that we talked about in the meeting that we had, our work meeting session.  And Secretary Blinken let us know what he has just shared with you along the lines of the announcement from President Biden, and that soon they will be announcing and explaining how the process is going to be to cooperate on the vaccine issue, and we are grateful already.  And also we are very grateful that throughout the pandemic and since the beginning, the United States has been helping – the United States – with protective equipment.  They have helped with mobile hospitals as well as other installations that have been part of the cooperation in this process, and obviously, the people of Costa Rica is waiting – awaiting the news, the announcements that might come our way according to – regarding the vaccines.  We are accelerating in vaccinating, as we have been doing.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  Now we’re going to have the first question from the United States press from Mr. Ned Price.

MR PRICE:  Our first question will go to Tracey Wilkinson of the LA Times.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Hi.  Mr. Secretary, you’ll be meeting later this evening with the ministers of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.  What do you want to hear from them that will convince you that they are trustworthy partners in carrying out the agenda that you’ve just described in terms of the money and democratization and good governance?

Secondly, the new State Department budget request has a huge increase in military spending for Central America.  How do you justify that given the backsliding in democracy that you yourself just described?

And for President Alvarado, did you receive assurances from the United States that you will be getting some of the vaccines, that Central America will be getting some of the vaccines?  Are you considering, if not, getting vaccines from China?  And if so – taking them from China – are you worried about what some people say are strings attached that China imposes?  Thanks.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  Mr. Secretary of State.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  A couple of things.  We – we’re looking forward to the meeting in a short while, and I think first and foremost what we would like to see is a recommitment by all of the countries that signed the Inter-American Charter on Democracy to recommit to its principles, to recommit to the principles and, in effect, the commitments that we each made to our own people: to have strong democratic institutions; to follow the rule of law; to ensure that we have freedom of press, freedom of assembly, freedom to criticize.  Because what we’re seeing in too many places around the world, including in this region, is backsliding from those basic principles and from democracy.  That’s one.

Second, we’re in many of these challenges together.  And just to focus on migration for a minute, the migration – the irregular migration that we’re seeing – doesn’t just affect the United States, it affects virtually every country in the region, including Costa Rica.  And we have a shared responsibility to meet the challenge of irregular migration.  We’re going to talk about that, following on the very important work that Vice President Harris is doing and continues to do.  And here’s what we expect there:  First, we have our own commitments and the own work that we’re doing to make sure that, for example, we strengthen our own asylum system, that we offer the appropriate protections to people, that we increase legal pathways to migration even as we are very clear about the security of our border and the fact that that border is not open.  But we are working to strengthen the system of legal migration to deal effectively with and humanely with those seeking asylum, those who would be refugees.  And other countries have important roles to play in this process too.

But as important – and ultimately, over time, more important – is working together to deal with the drivers of irregular migration, the root causes that compel people to leave everything they know – to leave their homes, their families, their communities, their cultures, their language – because they have – they feel they have no other choice.  And what we need to hear from our partners is a shared commitment with us to address those root causes.  President Biden proposes to make a very historically significant investment of $4 billion over four years to help countries address these roots causes.

And what are they?  We know: governance or the lack thereof, corruption, insecurity, and ultimately opportunity, because at heart people need to have confidence that they can put food on the table, that they can provide for themselves and for their families, and that there’s actually the prospect of a better life going forward.  And that requires some very basic things like jobs, and those jobs often follow from investment.  And investment, in turn, requires that countries and governments take certain steps to make sure that there’s an investment environment that attracts companies, that attracts investors.  And there, again, rule of law, transparency, a predictable judiciary; combating corruption, not encouraging it – all of these things are vital.

So what we hope and expect to hear from our partners are commitments to address all of these issues together.  The United States is willing to make the investments, the United States is determined to work in partnership, and our hope and expectation is that our – other countries will join us in these efforts.  It affects all of us.

And as to the budget, I’ll have an opportunity to address that next week before Congress.  One critical component, of course, is dealing with security challenges that we face, including the question of transnational organized crime, the drugs and the interdiction efforts that are necessary to deal with that, cooperation on terrorism, et cetera.  So there are very good and important reasons for strengthening our security cooperation and the resources that need to follow in order to do that.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) President Alavarado.

PRESIDENT ALVARADO:  Thank you for your question.  On the topic of vaccines and vaccinations, I’ve been vocal recently about the necessity of an equitable distribution of vaccines across the globe, and particularly on developing and emerging economies and poor countries which have a small quantity of doses.  That being said, given the announcement of Secretary Blinken, we look forward to what the United States is going to announce in the matter of vaccines.  We hope to be part of that – of the countries that receive that.  Also, given that – as Secretary Blinken has mentioned, it’s going to be following a series of principles to make that happen, so we’ll be looking forward to that announcement.

Also, on other sources of – to receive vaccines, Costa Rica has implemented a principle that we are open to discussions to receive vaccines.  Our condition is that those vaccines that we buy or receive as donations should be qualified by a strict agency, sanitary agency.  And in terms of cooperation, some vaccines, I need – I think we – I think not.  We implement a principle of global cooperation, particularly for the ones that receive cooperation, which is dignity and no strings attached in that sense.  I mean, here we’re talking about saving lives, and we’re – but that doesn’t mean we in receiving a donation will compromise our dignity as a nation in order to receive those.  We welcome the donations for friends, for countries, but those are our terms.  It needs to be vaccines that are guaranteed by an entity, a sanitary entity – strict one – and no strings attached.

And just to briefly follow on the situation on the region, I wanted to point out that we also look forward to having a role to contribute positively in finding solutions, in working together.  We think that Costa Rica can be part of a – can be handy in having solutions for Central America, and we believe that starting now, at this point, is a good point of departure.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) We will continue with a question from Costa Rica, and it will be Marco Marin from digital media El Observador.  Marco.

QUESTION:  Buenos tardes.  Bienvenido, Secretary Blinken.  (Via interpreter) You were just talking about the importance of having this cooperation, of having the U.S. invest in Costa Rica.  You were talking about jobs.  You were also talking about the state of corruption in the region.  In recent weeks, there has been news here in Costa Rica that two criminal organizations that were dedicated to drug trafficking were able to penetrate higher authorities, the – some of the highest levels of authorities.  At the same time, the economy in Costa Rica has been tanking a little bit given the pandemic and the lack of tourism, mainly.  So now that you’re announcing a $4 billion plan for the next four years, my two questions are:  Is there a specific investment plan from the U.S. towards Costa Rica to increase that 70 percent, to increase the investment the U.S. has in the country, given the fact that Costa Rica is one of the biggest, most important social, economic – social allies that the U.S. has in the region?  And (b), is that cooperation for the – to fight drug trafficking included in that plan?

And (via interpreter) President Alvarado, specifically about the topics of more investment and – which questions did you ask regarding drug traffic?

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Thank you very much.  We will listen to the reply for the Secretary – from the Secretary of State.

QUESTION:  We are very proud of our partnership with Costa Rica across the board in so many different areas, many of which we discussed today with the president, with the cabinet ministers.  And some of that does involve significant assistance from the United States.  Some of that is financial, some of that is technical, but it’s all done in the spirit of partnership.  We have significant results just from the security partnership and the assistance that has gone into that, including in significant interdictions of drugs in recent years.  We are joined together – and I know the President’s commitment – in combating corruption and dealing with that.  We spoke about the corrosive impact that corruption and also the money that comes with drug trafficking and transnational criminal organizations – the corrosive impact that has on other societies.  We’re both very focused on that.

And as well, we’ve been able to help support the very important work that Costa Rica is doing to host vulnerable migrants, asylum seekers, other forcibly displaced persons.  And we’ve announced very recently some additional assistance.  Vice President Harris announced that a short while ago – more than $28 million for programs inside of Costa Rica.  There are at least a half a dozen areas that we talked about today in which we’ll be working more – even more closely together, and that will involve no doubt some additional assistance, both financial but also technical experts, bringing our people together.

One of the things I should say that’s so important, and why this partnership is so both important and, frankly, valuable to us, is because Costa Rica enjoys something extraordinary.  And that is an abundance of human resources, the most important resource, really, of any of them; more important than natural resources, more important than the size of your military – and in Costa Rica’s case, it doesn’t have one – remarkable richness in human resources.  And that’s where working together, connecting our people, connecting our experts, connecting our businesses, connecting our governments – I think that’s where we’re going to see even stronger work in our partnership together.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) President Alvardo, your reply.

PRESIDENT ALVARADO:  (Via interpreter) Thank you for the question, and yes, that was one of the issues that we talked about.  And if we review – let’s call it the strategic partnership in security issues – throughout the years of our administration, we have seen an increase, more effectiveness, for example, in trafficking – or in interdicting cocaine and marijuana, and that has been a result of the cooperation between both countries.  And in these three years we’ve also seen, before Secretary Blinken came here, the work on the field and the preventative issues to protect communities.  And a third pillar that we talked about the most – and speaking of what you have just mentioned – is everything that has to do with organized crime, because of the amount of money that they handle and how that can hit the different powers in the country, the different powers.  And that was the concern that the leaders of the different powers mentioned here in the statement, the declaration that we gave, and also how can we protect our institutions, our democratic institutions from that imminent risk.  So there is something that is important to say.

I think that there is no country or people who are completely shielded, institutions that are immune to those risks, and precisely because of that is that we need to work in the prevention in those topics.  And certainly, we have a shared concern regarding corruption and regarding the possible penetration, and so that is part of the joint conversations that we have had is in strengthening all of this so that we can strengthen our security issues.  But also something that’s very important – and we talked about that before with Secretary Blinken – everything has to be done in order to protect our people, our citizens, the people that live in the country.  And that is the way we are focusing our efforts for this pillar and for the other two that we have mentioned: the environment, health, trade – we need to protect our people.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) And are we going to continue – we’re going to continue with a question from the United States in order to finish this press conference.  The last question is from the United States media moderated by Mr. Ned Price.

QUESTION:  Final question, we’ll go to Cristina Smit of VOA.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Good afternoon, President Alvarado.  Costa Rica in the last few years has noticed an increase in the number of Nicaraguan and Venezuelan populations that reach the country.  In your meeting with the Secretary of State, what did you ask in terms of support to the country to tackle this increase in refugees from these communities?  Do you believe that maybe an alleviation of the sanctions that the U.S. Government has adopted vis-a-vis these two governments could reduce the influx of migrants from these two countries in Costa Rica? 

(In English) You think that maybe if the U.S. will alleviate some of the sanctions that has on Nicaragua and Venezuela, the governments, will alleviate some of the migration on – or the exodus that Venezuelans and Nicaraguans are having in their countries?

PRESIDENT ALVARADO:  Mucha gracias.  (Via interpreter) Regarding immigration and refugees, we need to keep in mind that Costa Rica has the condition of being a receiving country, receiving migrants and receiving refugees, more so than being a source of people migrating out of the country.  With the State Department and also with the help of the secretary’s office for migration and refugees, the IOM, there was a conference that I participated in November 2019, and so Costa Rica has deployed a plan to give the best possible attention to that migrating population and the population of refugees.  Of course, it’s a shared interest that we are working with the United States, and particularly the topics that we talked about have to do with the strengthening in the region of those democratic institutions.  That was a very particular emphasis and was the emphasis that we spoke about, is the strengthening in the region of the common principles that we have, such as democracy, respect of human rights, respect of freedom, respect of freedom of the press and others that are – so that’s what we touched upon in the bilateral meeting.  Mr. Secretary of State.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And a couple of points to address your question.  First, let me start by applauding the remarkable generosity of Costa Rica and the Costa Rican people, including with regard to Venezuelans who have been displaced or made refugees from their country.  Also support for Nicaraguans, of course – there are deep ties between Nicaragua and Costa Rica over many years and a strong community here, but I think we’re seeing a very generous society when it comes to Costa Rica.  And as I noted a short while ago, we have increased the assistance that we’re providing to help care for and attend to the needs of those who are forcibly displaced, who are irregular migrants, including assistance that Vice President Harris announced for Costa Rica just a short while ago of an additional $28 million.

With regard to sanctions, a few things are important.  Sanctions are there for a purpose, and that is to promote accountability for those who engage in human rights abuses, corruption, or undermine democracy.  And unfortunately, that’s exactly what we’ve seen in both Venezuela and Nicaragua.  This is in line with U.S. values; I think it’s in line with Costa Rican values as well.  And it’s always been clear and we’ve always said that sanctions are not permanent.  They’re intended to bring about positive changes in the behavior and actions of a government and the – or individuals, and the removal of sanctions is always available for individuals and entities or governments that take meaningful actions to restore democratic order, to refuse to take part in human rights abuses, to speak out against abuses committed by the authorities, et cetera.

Finally, our sanctions when it comes, for example, to Venezuela, target those responsible for the abuses.  They also have very clear carve-outs in order to ensure that humanitarian assistance and other forms of assistance and aid can continue even as the sanctions are focused on those responsible for undermining human rights and democracy.  And so I think the most important answer to the question when it comes to the suffering of Venezuelans or Nicaraguans is for governments to do the right thing and to actually address the concerns of their people and to actually support democracy, human rights, and the values that all of these countries signed on to, including in the Inter-American Charter for Democracy.  That’s the answer.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Thank you very much.  We would like to say farewell and thank Mr. Secretary of State and their distinguished delegation for their visit to the presidential palace in the Republic of Costa Rica.  You will always be welcome to our country.  Thank you to the media for their presence here and the people who followed this transmission live.  Right now, Mr. President of the country says goodbye to Secretary Blinken.  There’s also the Foreign Relations Minister Mr. Rodolfo Solano as well as the state minister, health and safety ministers, foreign trade minister.  And immediately, Secretary Blinken, as the foreign relations office in the United States and the United States embassy mentioned, is going to have a meeting with the ministers in SICA along with the Minister of Mexico Mr. Ebrard.  We thank you all for your presence here and for having followed this transmission live.

 

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By establishing processes to regularly update their procedures, the ICIG, CIA OIG, DIA OIG, and NRO OIG could better ensure that their policies and procedures will remain consistent with evolving laws, regulations, Executive Orders, and CIGIE standards. Additionally, CIGIE's Quality Standards for Federal Offices of Inspector General requires OIGs to establish and maintain a quality assurance program. The standards further state that internal and external quality assurance reviews are the two components of an OIG's quality assurance program, which is an evaluative effort conducted by reviewers independent of the unit being reviewed to ensure that the overall work of the OIG meets appropriate standards. Developing quality assurance programs that incorporate both types of reviews, as appropriate, could help ensure that the IC-element OIGs adhere to OIG procedures and prescribed standards, regulations, and legislation, as well as identify any areas in need of improvement. Further, CIGIE Quality Standards for Investigations states that case-specific priorities must be established and objectives developed to ensure that tasks are performed efficiently and effectively. CIGIE's standards state that this may best be achieved, in part, by preparing case-specific plans and strategies. Establishing a requirement that investigators use documented investigative plans for all investigations could facilitate NRO OIG management's oversight of investigations and help ensure that investigative steps are prioritized and performed efficiently and effectively. CIA OIG, DIA OIG, and NGA OIG have training plans or approaches that are consistent with CIGIE's quality standards for investigator training. However, while ICIG, NRO OIG, and NSA OIG have basic training requirements and tools to manage training, those OIGs have not established training requirements for their investigators that are linked to the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities, appropriate to their career progression, and part of a documented training plan. Doing so would help the ICIG, NRO OIG, and NSA OIG ensure that their investigators collectively possess a consistent set of professional proficiencies aligned with CIGIE's quality standards throughout their entire career progression. Most of the IC-element OIGs GAO reviewed consistently met congressional reporting requirements for the investigations and semiannual reports GAO reviewed. The ICIG did not fully meet one reporting requirement in seven of the eight semiannual reports that GAO reviewed. However, its most recent report, which covers April through September 2019, met this reporting requirement by including statistics on the total number and type of investigations it conducted. Further, three of the six selected IC-element OIGs—the DIA, NGA, and NRO OIGs—did not consistently document notifications to complainants in the reprisal investigation case files GAO reviewed. Taking steps to ensure that notifications to complainants in such cases occur and are documented in the case files would provide these OIGs with greater assurance that they consistently inform complainants of the status of their investigations and their rights as whistleblowers. Whistleblowers play an important role in safeguarding the federal government against waste, fraud, and abuse. The OIGs across the government oversee investigations of whistleblower complaints, which can include protecting whistleblowers from reprisal. Whistleblowers in the IC face unique challenges due to the sensitive and classified nature of their work. GAO was asked to review whistleblower protection programs managed by selected IC-element OIGs. This report examines (1) the number and time frames of investigations into complaints that selected IC-element OIGs received in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, and the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have established timeliness objectives for these investigations; (2) the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have implemented quality standards and processes for their investigation programs; (3) the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have established training requirements for investigators; and (4) the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have met notification and reporting requirements for investigative activities. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in June 2020. Information that the IC elements deemed sensitive has been omitted. GAO selected the ICIG and the OIGs of five of the largest IC elements for review. GAO analyzed time frames for all closed investigations of complaints received in fiscal years 2017 and 2018; reviewed OIG policies, procedures, training requirements, and semiannual reports to Congress; conducted interviews with 39 OIG investigators; and reviewed a selection of case files for senior leaders and reprisal cases from October 1, 2016, through March 31, 2018. GAO is making 23 recommendations, including that selected IC-element OIGs establish timeliness objectives for investigations, implement or enhance quality assurance programs, establish training plans, and take steps to ensure that notifications to complainants in reprisal cases occur. The selected IC-element OIGs concurred with the recommendations and discussed steps they planned to take to implement them. For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604, farrellb@gao.gov or Brian M. Mazanec at (202) 512-5130, mazanecb@gao.gov.
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  • Olympic Security: Better Planning Can Enhance U.S. Support to Future Olympic Games
    In U.S GAO News
    The 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, were the second Olympic Games to take place overseas since September 11, 2001. The United States worked with Italy to ensure the security of U.S. citizens, and it expects to continue such support for future Games, including the 2008 Games in Beijing, China. GAO was asked to (1) discuss the U.S. approach for providing security support for the 2006 Winter Games and how such efforts were coordinated, (2) identify the roles of U.S. agencies in providing security support for the Games and how they financed their activities, (3) review lessons learned in providing security support and the application of prior lessons learned, and (4) identify U.S. efforts under way for providing security support to the 2008 Beijing Games.In 2004, the United States began planning to provide a U.S. security presence in Italy and security support to the Italian government, and based much of its security strategy on its understanding of Italy's advanced security capabilities. The United States provided Italy with some security assistance, mostly in the form of crisis management and response support. To coordinate U.S. efforts, the U.S. Mission in Italy established an office in Turin as a central point for security information and logistics, and to provide consular services to U.S. citizens during the Games. The U.S. Ambassador to Italy, through the U.S. Consulate in Milan, coordinated and led U.S. efforts in-country, while the Department of State-chaired interagency working group in Washington, D.C., coordinated domestic efforts. While the interagency working group has been a useful forum for coordinating U.S. security support to overseas athletic events, State and Department of Justice (DOJ) officials have indicated that formal guidance that articulates a charter; a mission; and agencies' authorities, roles, and responsibilities would help in planning for security support to future Games. Nearly 20 entities and offices within several U.S. agencies provided more than $16 million for security support activities for the Turin Games. The roles of these agencies--which included the Departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, and Energy--included providing crisis management and response support through personnel, equipment, and training and providing security advice and other assistance to U.S. athletes, spectators, and commercial investors. The U.S. Embassy in Rome initially paid for lodging and other administrative support needs, which were reimbursed by the participating agencies, although it struggled to do so. State and DOJ officials indicated that an interagency mechanism for identifying costs and addressing potential funding issues would be useful in providing U.S. security support to future Games. For the Turin Games, agencies applied key lessons learned from the 2004 Athens Games and identified additional lessons for future Games. Key lessons identified from the Turin Games included, the importance of establishing an operations center at the location of the Games, establishing clear roles and responsibilities for agencies in event planning and crisis response efforts, and planning early for several years of Olympic-related expenditures. These lessons learned were communicated by Washington, D.C.- and Italy-based personnel to their counterparts who are preparing for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The United States is currently taking steps to identify the types of security support that agencies may provide to support China's security efforts for the 2008 Summer Games and to ensure the safety of U.S. athletes, spectators, and commercial investors.
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  • Economic Adjustment Assistance: Experts’ Proposed Reform Options to Better Serve Workers Experiencing Economic Disruption
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found U.S. workers have faced considerable changes in how they work and in the skills they need because of economic changes created by emerging technologies, disruptive business models, and other economic forces. Federal economic adjustment assistance (EAA) programs were established, in part, to help workers adjust to these economic disruptions. Consistent with GAO's prior work on EAA programs, experts in GAO's roundtable identified a range of challenges to using EAA programs to effectively respond to economic disruptions workers might experience. In light of these challenges, experts identified reform actions that could better serve workers (see table). The actions fell into six interrelated reform areas. Examples of Potential Reform Actions That Could Better Serve Workers Who Experience Economic Disruption, as Identified by Experts in GAO's Roundtable Reform area Examples of potential reform actions identified by experts Proactive efforts to address disruption Establish lifelong learning accounts for workers through contributions of individual workers, employers, and government agencies to fund continuous education and training opportunities. Establish a tax credit to help incentivize employers to retrain rather than lay off employees. Access to Economic Adjustment Assistance (EAA) programs Use the existing unemployment insurance system to better inform dislocated workers about the availability of and their eligibility for EAA programs. Worker training Expand the number of short-term, high-demand skills-based training opportunities. Prompt employers to develop apprenticeship programs. For example, require employers to operate apprenticeship programs of their own or pay a tax to fund the creation of apprenticeship programs. Income and other supports Create more opportunities for workers to co-enroll in training and financial safety-net programs. Develop supportive services programs for dislocated workers at the community colleges in which they are enrolled. EAA service delivery Provide dislocated workers ready access to easy-to-navigate data on high-demand skills, earnings in various occupations, and the number of available jobs in those occupations in their area. Provide community colleges with additional state or federal resources to deliver more career guidance to dislocated workers. Structure of the EAA system Invest in training infrastructure, such as publicly funded regional universities, community colleges, and other institutions. Reduce barriers to accessing existing national datasets to facilitate the evaluation of EAA program effectiveness. Source: GAO analysis of expert statements. | GAO-21-324 Note: These potential reform actions are not listed in any specific rank or order and their inclusion in this report should not be interpreted as GAO endorsing any of them. GAO did not assess how effective the potential reform actions may be or the extent to which program design modifications, legal changes, and federal financial support would be needed to implement any given reform action or combination of reform actions. Why GAO Did This Study Various economic disruptions, such as policy changes that affect global trade or the defense or energy industries and shifts in immigration, globalization, or automation, can lead to widespread job loss among workers within an entire region, industry, or occupation. GAO was asked about options for reforming the current policies and programs for helping workers weather economic disruption. This report describes a range of options, identified by experts, to reform the current policies and programs for helping workers weather economic disruption. With the assistance of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, GAO convened a 2-day, virtual roundtable in August 2020 with 12 experts, selected to represent a broad spectrum of views and expertise and a variety of professional and academic fields. They included academic researchers, program evaluators, labor economists, former federal agency officials, and state and local practitioners. GAO also reviewed relevant federal laws, prior GAO reports, and other research. For more information, contact Cindy S. Brown Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or brownbarnesc@gao.gov.
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  • Department of State: Foreign Service Midlevel Staffing Gaps Persist Despite Significant Increases in Hiring
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO FoundThe Department of State (State) faces persistent experience gaps in overseas Foreign Service positions, particularly at the midlevels, and these gaps have not diminished since 2008. In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, State increased the size of the Foreign Service by 17 percent. However, these new hires will not have the experience to reach midlevels until fiscal years 2014 and 2015. GAO found that 28 percent of overseas Foreign Service positions were either vacant or filled by upstretch candidates—officers serving in positions above their grade—as of October 2011, a percentage that has not changed since 2008. Midlevel positions represent the largest share of these gaps. According to State officials, the gaps have not diminished because State increased the total number of overseas positions in response to increased needs and emerging priorities. State officials noted the department takes special measures to fill high-priority positions, including those in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.State has taken steps to increase its reliance on Civil Service employees and retirees, as well as expand mentoring, to help address midlevel experience gaps overseas; however, State lacks a strategy to guide these efforts. State is currently implementing a pilot program to expand overseas assignments for Civil Service employees. Efforts to expand the limited number of these assignments must overcome some key challenges, such as addressing new gaps when Civil Service employees leave their headquarters positions and identifying qualified Civil Service applicants to fill overseas vacancies. State also hires retirees on a limited basis for both full-time and short-term positions. For example, State used limited congressional authority to offer dual compensation waivers to hire 57 retirees in 2011. As a step toward mitigating experience gaps overseas, State began a pilot program offering workshops that include mentoring for first-time supervisors. State acknowledges the need to close midlevel Foreign Service gaps, but it has not developed a strategy to help ensure that the department is taking full advantage of available human capital flexibilities and evaluating the success of its efforts to address these gaps.Why GAO Did This StudyIn 2009, GAO reported on challenges that State faced in filling its increasing overseas staffing needs with sufficiently experienced personnel and noted that persistent Foreign Service staffing and experience gaps put diplomatic readiness at risk. State is currently undertaking a new hiring plan, known as “Diplomacy 3.0,” to increase the size of the Foreign Service by 25 percent to close staffing gaps and respond to new diplomatic priorities. However, fiscal constraints are likely to delay the plan’s full implementation well beyond its intended target for completion in 2013. In addition, State’s first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review highlighted the need to find ways to close overseas gaps. GAO was asked to assess (1) the extent to which State’s overseas midlevel experience gaps in the Foreign Service have changed since 2008 and (2) State’s efforts to address these gaps. GAO analyzed State’s personnel data; reviewed key planning documents, including the Five Year Workforce Plan; and interviewed State officials in Washington, D.C., and at selected posts.
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  • New Embassy Compounds: State Faces Challenges in Sizing Facilities and Providing for Operations and Maintenance Requirements
    In U.S GAO News
    In response to the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies, the Department of State (State) embarked on a multiyear, multibillion dollar program to replace insecure and dilapidated diplomatic facilities. Since 2001, State has constructed 52 new embassy compounds (NECs) under this program, and moved over 21,000 U.S. government personnel into more secure and safe facilities. GAO was asked to examine (1) the extent to which new facilities match the space and functionality needs of overseas missions and State's actions to address space and functionality challenges; and (2) operations and maintenance challenges at these new facilities and State's steps to address them. GAO analyzed staffing data and other documentation for 44 NECs built from 2001 to 2009 and interviewed State headquarters and embassy officials at 22 of these 44 NECs to obtain information on their functionality and operations and maintenance issues.State has located nearly one-quarter of overseas staff in NECs, which posts said are an improvement over older facilities. However, NECs do not fully meet the space and functionality needs of overseas missions. Current staffing levels exceed the originally-built desk--or office--space at over half of the 44 NECs GAO analyzed. Post management has dealt with space limitations by converting spaces, like conference rooms, into offices, but 4 posts have had to retain space outside the compound for staff that could not fit in the NECs. Also, officials at almost all of the 22 NECs that GAO reviewed in depth reported some spaces, like consular affairs spaces, did not fully meet their functional needs. According to State officials, it is difficult to predict changing foreign policy priorities that can affect staffing levels, and the process for planning NECs has been unable to fully account for these changes. Budget constraints also affected decisions about the size of NECs and types of features provided. State has taken some actions to improve NEC sizing, but does not have sufficient flexibility in its staffing projection and design processes to better address sizing challenges. To address problems with functionality, State implemented a lessons learned program to analyze issues in completed NECs and modify design criteria for future NECs, but State has not completed, in a timely manner, planned evaluations that are designed to identify such issues. While NECs are state-of-the-art buildings, they have presented operations and maintenance challenges, and the larger size and greater complexity of NECs, compared to facilities they replaced, have resulted in increased operations and maintenance costs. In 2010, State developed its first long-range maintenance plan that identifies $3.7 billion in maintenance requirements over 6 years for all overseas facilities, but it does not include time frames for implementing identified maintenance projects or address increased operating costs. Problems with testing, or "commissioning," new building systems have contributed to problems with building systems that do not function as they should, causing higher maintenance costs. State strengthened its commissioning process, though this change only applies to future NECs and does not address problems at existing NECs. Further, State does not currently recommission--or retest--NECs to ensure they are operating as intended. In addition, more than half of the 22 NECs that GAO reviewed in detail experienced problems with some building systems, resulting in the need for premature repair and replacement. Through its lessons learned program, State has changed some design criteria for future NECs to avoid problems with building systems. Finally, State has had problems hiring and training personnel who have the technical skills necessary to manage the complex NEC systems. State has taken initial steps to improve its staff hiring and training, but does not have an overall plan to establish its NEC human resource needs and the associated costs.
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