Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod at a Joint Press Availability

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Copenhagen, Denmark

Eigtveds Pakhus

FOREIGN MINISTER KOFOD:  Welcome, everybody. It is a true pleasure to have Secretary Blinken here today.  The U.S. is Denmark’s friend, close ally, and strategic partner.  Today is a good day for Denmark and for transatlantic cooperation, because today, America is back.  Secretary Blinken has kindly taken me up on my suggestion to visit Denmark, not even a year after we had your predecessor in town.  So today, America is back, and in more ways than one.

The U.S. is back in the Paris Climate accord, of which Denmark is a strong defender.  The U.S. is back in the UN Human Rights Council, of which Denmark is currently a member.  You are back in the World Trade Organization with Denmark, also aims to reform.  And let me tell you, Secretary Blinken:  America has been missed.

Denmark appreciates the Biden administration’s return to the negotiating table in the world in the decision making foras, not to defend the status quo but to build alliances for reform. Denmark is more than ready to join you in that crucial work.  We appreciate that you stand up for global human rights and democracy, and we appreciate that you, on every single foreign policy issue, stress the need for closer transatlantic cooperation.

Today, we covered a range of issues, from international security to trade policy, from Afghanistan and our 20-years long military presence, which we now are winding down, the Danish leadership in the NATO mission in Iraq, from the Arctic and the North Atlantic, to the situation in Israel and Palestine, and how to defend our common democratic values and global human rights.

We focused also on global climate challenges and cooperation on the green transition, where Denmark has a lot to offer globally as well as in the U.S.  And we have reaffirmed our close partnership and cooperation between the United States and Denmark on the full range of diplomatic and security policy issues.

So with these words, once again, a heartfelt welcome to Denmark, Secretary Blinken, Tony, you are among friends.  I will leave the floor to you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Jeppe, thank you so much.  It’s been such a pleasure working with you, getting to know you starting almost from day one when we first spoke – spoke on the phone, and in our work ever since, including at NATO and now here in Copenhagen.  And it’s a real pleasure to be here, to be with you for my first time as Secretary of State.  And I’m grateful to you for very warm but also very productive meetings and for the meeting that we had earlier with Minister Broberg from Greenland and Minister av Rana from the Faroe Islands.

I also very much want to thank Prime Minister Frederiksen for our time together this morning, which was extremely productive.  And I was honored to visit with Her Majesty the Queen and his Royal Highness the Crown Prince as well.

I feel a special debt to Denmark for helping me get through COVID-19, because as I told Jeppe in the early days of COVID-19 when many of us were housebound, my wife and I binge watched Borgen, which for those of you who haven’t seen it, is an absolutely wonderful television series. It helped me perfect my Danish.  I learned some words like spin doctor – (laughter) – so —

FOREIGN MINISTER KOFOD:  I don’t know what that is.  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s – but it’s just particularly good to be here and to just get across the board such a warm welcome from everyone.

Before speaking in greater depth about the partnership with Denmark, I do want to talk briefly about the ongoing situation in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.  The United States remains greatly concerned by the violence, by the escalating violence – hundreds of people killed or injured, including children being pulled from the rubble.  We’re also alarmed by how journalists and medical personnel have been put at risk.  Palestinians and Israelis, like people everywhere, have the right to live in safety and security.  This is not an Israeli privilege or a Palestinian privilege; it’s a human right.  And the current violence has ripped it away.

So we’ve been working intensively behind the scenes to try to bring an end to the conflict.  President Biden’s been in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas.  I spent my own flight on – yesterday to Copenhagen on the phone with regional leaders, including from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, as well as with my counterpart in France, discussing the urgent need to end the violence.  And we’ll continue to do that later this afternoon.

As we’ve said before, Israel has the right to defend itself.  There is no equivalence between a  terrorist group indiscriminately firing rockets at civilians and a country defending its people from those attacks.  So we call on Hamas and other groups in Gaza to end the rocket attacks immediately.

I’ve also said that I believe Israel, as a democracy, has an extra burden to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties, even as it defends itself and its people.  We call for an end to the ongoing violence within mixed communities in Israel, and we urge all parties to avoid any actions that undermine the chance for future peace.  Further, we call on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians – especially children – to respect international humanitarian law, to protect medical facilities, protect media organizations, and protect UN facilities where civilians are desperately seeking shelter.  And we are ready to lend support if the parties seek a ceasefire.

We’ll continue to conduct intensive diplomacy to bring this current cycle of violence to an end.  Then we will immediately resume the work, the vital work of making real the vision of Israel and a Palestinian state existing peacefully, side by side, with people from all communities able to live in dignity.

This was a topic of conversation with the foreign minister today, because Denmark and the United States are allies and partners on virtually every major issue facing our countries, facing the world, facing our citizens.  And I think you can see the strength of that partnership in our shared commitment to democracy and human rights.  And I commend Denmark for last week’s successful democracy summit, which illustrated how deeply the Danish people feel, like the American people, about free and open societies that empower all of our citizens, and we look forward as well to working together in the months ahead as we work on our own democracy summit in the United States.

I think the partnership is evident also in the very close economic ties, including our robust trade relationship and, of course, our cooperation on climate.  Denmark is a world leader in both its green ambitions and its green technology, especially wind energy, as Prime Minister Frederiksen highlighted at the Leaders Summit just a couple weeks ago, which she participated in.  We’re proud of our new partnership with Denmark on decarbonizing the shipping sector.  And we look forward to working together to set even higher climate ambitions, drive innovation, invest in renewable energy, and help vulnerable communities adapt and build their resilience.

More broadly, we work together across an incredibly broad range of diplomatic and security priorities, several of which the foreign minister touched upon.  We’re coordinating closely to end the global COVID-19 pandemic, and to build back better so that we have in place a better, stronger global health security system to prevent, and if necessary, mitigate the next pandemic.

And together, we’re committed deeply to the NATO Alliance, which we agree is the bedrock of transatlantic security.  We’ve had American and Danish troops serving shoulder to shoulder in virtually every NATO mission.  Denmark now leads the effort in Iraq.  We’ve worked closely together on the coalition to counter Daesh, and, of course, in Afghanistan with a long and strong partnership on security as well as economic and humanitarian support.

We also share concerns about the threat that Russia poses to Europe in light of the recent military buildup on the border with Ukraine, and the threat to European energy security posed by the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.  We share concerns about the challenges that China poses to our interests and values, including the rules-based order that makes our shared security and prosperity possible.

And we share a commitment to Arctic security.  We very much welcome Denmark’s recent decision to invest more than $240 million in North Atlantic and Arctic defense in coordination with the governments of Greenland and the Faroe Islands.  And we’ll continue our close cooperation in the Arctic Council, where we’re headed soon, to ensure that the Arctic region is one that is free of conflict, where nations act responsibly and act together to advance economic development, sustainable economic development, to care for the environment, to respect as well the interests and well-being and development of indigenous communities.

All of these matters will be on the agenda that we’ll join together in Reykjavik.  On these issues and so many more, our countries stand together and work together.  As the only country that belongs to NATO, the European Union, and the Arctic Council, Denmark consistently plays a leadership role in regional and global affairs.  And we’re grateful for that.

There’s a Danish proverb that feels quite fitting today, and I quote: “The road to a friend’s house is never long.”  So I’m thrilled to be able to visit our friend Denmark today.  It is great to be back.  And I’m looking forward to our countries continuing a close partnership for many years to come.  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER KOFOD:  We’ll open for questions.

MODERATOR:  (Off-mike.)

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, you and President Biden have sort of signaled America is back, multilateralism is back, I guess saying this is no longer Donald Trump’s America.  But if people are skeptical – I mean, I wonder what you have to say to them.  There were 74 million people, Americans voting for Donald Trump.  He still seems to be popular to control the Republican Party.  He may come back, or Trumpism may come back.  What do you have to say to those people who may not be willing to go all-in on the Biden-Blinken line, “America is back”?

And to the foreign minister, you just said America is back and America has been missed.  How was it different meeting Secretary Blinken today from meeting Secretary Pompeo less than a year ago?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So happily, I don’t do politics; I just do foreign policy.  And I’m also resolutely focused on today and tomorrow, not yesterday.  And I would just say judge us not by what we say, but by what we do.  Jeppe alluded to some of the steps that we took immediately upon taking office in January, of rejoining the Paris climate accord, re-engaging with the World Health Organization, posing our candidacy for the Human Rights Council at the United Nations, holding the global climate Leaders Summit in Washington.  And I could go down the list.

Across the board, I think you’ve seen in a few short months a determination by the United States to reinvigorate its alliances and partnerships – witness this visit today – and also our engagement in multilateral institutions.  And there is a strong reason for that that’s animating our thinking, and I’m finding that it has real resonance as I’m talking to counterparts around the world.

Two things.  First, we believe that American engagement is important, that it makes a difference.  Because in its absence, one of two things is likely.  Either someone else will try to come and fill that role – and it may not be a way that advances the interests and values that we share – or maybe just as bad, no one does, and then you have big forces of change that may be disruptive and cause chaos before the challenges are resolved.

But the other side of the coin is this:  As President Biden looks at it, when we look at the problems that are confronting our citizens – whether it’s in Denmark or the United States, every single day, that are going to have an impact on their lives, like COVID, like climate change, like the disruptive impact of new technologies – not a single one can be effectively addressed by any one country acting alone, even if it’s the United States.  We have more of a premium than at any time since I’ve been involved in finding ways to cooperate and coordinate with other countries.  That’s what’s animating us.

And so I would say to those who are looking at the United States with a question mark:  Judge us by what we do, and whether we make good on that perspective, on that worldview.

FOREIGN MINISTER KOFOD:  Well, Poul Erik, I had a excellent also working relationship with the predecessor to Tony.  And U.S. is Denmark – our most important ally.  It is the foundation for our security, prosperity, and also for freedom of values that we hold so dear, and we must never take it for granted.  Therefore, I am very pleased with also Secretary Blinken, Tony, your leadership and Biden’s leadership in the world for these values – democracy, rule of law, international cooperation based on rules where small and big countries can work together in solving global problems like the climate problems and other problems.  And there I see U.S. is back, as also Tony alluded to.  And we need U.S. leadership in the world today, and that’s something Denmark commend a lot.

So we strengthen today our bilateral relationship, the Kingdom of Denmark and the U.S., but also we welcome very much that U.S. is back in international foras fighting for the values that we maybe too long have taken for granted.

MR PRICE:  Christina Ruffini.

QUESTION:  Good afternoon, gentlemen.  Mr. Secretary, if it’s okay, I’ll start with you.  The prime minister of Israel and officials from the IDF said over the weekend that they’ve transmitted intelligence to the United States that shows Hamas was using that tower they struck in Gaza to house military assets.  As you know, it also has several media organizations who lost their offices and equipment and archives.  Have you seen that intelligence?  Has it been transmitted?  And did you find it credible?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So let me start by saying, I think as you know, I had the opportunity over the weekend before leaving to speak to the president and CEO of the AP, Gary Pruitt.  We had what I thought was a good – very good conversation.  And I wanted to speak to him and as well as to all of you to reaffirm the strong commitment of the United States, the unwavering support of the United States for independent journalists and media organizations around the world, including for their safety and security.

I think independent journalism is especially important in conflict zones.  I made a similar point earlier this month when we marked World Press Freedom Day, and I had the opportunity then to speak to journalists from around the world who, like so many of you, are pursuing the truth at – sometimes at great risk, and that’s something I take very much to heart.

So when it comes to the strike in Gaza, first, I was relieved that no one from the journalism community in that strike was hurt and people were able to leave the building safely.  As you know, I think, President Biden and other members of the administration have raised directly our concerns with our Israeli counterparts about the safety and security of journalists operating in Gaza.  And we have stressed the need for their protection.

Shortly after the strike, we did request additional details regarding the justification for it.  I wouldn’t want to weigh in on intelligence matters in – in this forum.  It’s not my place.  I will leave it to others to characterize if any information has been shared and our assessment of that information.

The broader point, though, remains, and this is really critical:  Israel has a special responsibility to protect civilians in the course of its self-defense, and that most certainly includes journalists.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, a follow up:  You said that you’ve requested additional information.  Have you received it?  Have you seen it?  And did you find it credible?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I have not seen any information provided.  And again, to the extent that it is based on intelligence, that would have been shared with other colleagues and I’ll leave that to them to assess.

MODERATOR:  (Off-mike.)

FOREIGN MINISTER KOFOD:  Yeah, I would also like to emphasize we also talked on the issue in the Middle East, Blinken and I.  We are deeply, deeply concerned about the escalation of violence in Israel and Palestine, and we have called from the Danish side for immediate de‑escalation.  It is needed to avoid further loss of civilian life.  I have myself been in contact with the Israeli foreign minister and also the Palestinian foreign minister. The indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and militant groups in the Gaza Strip is completely unacceptable.  So I recognize Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense, but the Israeli military operations must be proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law.  U.S. and EU are already deeply engaged in ensuring de-escalation, and it’s something that we work hard for.  And I echo the words of Tony, that we need to protect civilian life as much as we possibly can.

MODERATOR:  (Off-mike.)

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, it’s from the Danish Broadcast Cooperation.  Is it an American priority that Denmark steps up its efforts to secure the Arctic?  And what do you – if so, what do you specifically want the Kingdom of Denmark to do?  Are we talking military presence?  Are we talking more surveillance?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think, in fact, Denmark is stepping up.  The investment we talked about, about $240 million in what is called – in the terminology domain awareness, basically having the – a capacity in place through – people through technology to know who’s doing what, where, at any given time, is usually important to maintaining security. And we very much appreciate the role that Denmark is playing in helping to do that. And so I think as well, one of the things that we’re working on together is heading toward the NATO leaders’ summit in just about a month’s time, where among other things, NATO is going to be hopefully adapting a program for NATO between now and 2030, revising some of its strategic concepts. And that has to include making sure that we have in place the appropriate resources and assets to sustain security in the North Atlantic.  And the two of us are helping to lead those efforts, and Denmark is a critical partner in all of that.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, did you guys discuss that Denmark still don’t pay the two percent of its GDP to NATO?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So I think we’re all tracking the need for allies and partners to achieve, as was agreed back in the Wales summit, these goals.  And I think again this is an important step in dedicating resources to situational awareness in the North Atlantic, and we continue to look to our partners to continue to make progress in dedicating the appropriate percentage of their budget to defense.

FOREIGN MINISTER KOFOD:  And also at our meeting – a meeting with my colleague, our colleague from Greenland and the Faroe Islands on Arctic and North Atlantic issues together, and it was a very productive meeting in the spirit of good cooperation, close friendship, and I look forward to continuing that.  On NATO, it is the fundamental alliance for all of us for our security, and Denmark is contributing, of course – of course with cash, but also with capabilities and also contributions to missions.  We are leading the NATO mission in Iraq, a very important mission, and are taking a huge responsibility also with enhanced forward presence with soldiers in Estonia and the Baltic states to ensure the integrity of NATO.  And when it comes to Arctic issues, we have the capability package, the $240 million where we want to raise situational awareness and ensure that we have the capacity to look at what is going on in the region to also protect our sovereignty in the region.

MR PRICE:  (Off-mike.)

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thank you so much.  And for the foreign minister, I just wanted to sort of ask a little bit more about the question from Danish Public Broadcasting about whether you’re specifically worried about Russia’s activities in the Arctic region and Greenland, and what you intend to do about it.

For Secretary Blinken, you and President Biden have called for de-escalation in the conflict in Israel and Gaza, and it seems like quite the opposite has happened.  What do you think about that?  Would you support a United Nations Security Council statement immediately to call for a ceasefire, given that many U.S. senators and others are calling for an immediate ceasefire?  And if not, what other concrete steps – or in general, what other concrete steps can you do at this point to influence what’s happening there on the ground?  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER KOFOD:  Yeah, on the Arctic, it is North Atlantic – it is important with the close partnership with Greenland and Faroe Islands, United States, and then, of course, Kingdom of Denmark.  We have a unique cooperation.  We are both – we will move after this meeting to Arctic Council, which is an architecture that has also ensured that we have a situation of non-conflict – of constructive cooperation around Arctic issues and an aim of also low tension in the Arctic region.

That said, we have seen Russian – some of the military bases in the northeastern flank that was closed off at the end of the Cold War has been re-opened.  They have mainly defensive capabilities but also some offensive capabilities.  And we see increased activities in the Arctic region.  And I think it’s – it has to be done with a due diligence that we are ready to ensure to see what is going on in the Arctic region, and therefore we have this package where we have surveillance, we have other capacities to see what is going on to protect our sovereignty and our interest.  But we have a unique cooperation and we want to safeguard it as that, so when we go to Reykjavik in a few days, this is a aim that we share.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  With regard to the second part of the question, we have been working around the clock through diplomatic channels to try to bring an end to the conflict.  As you know, President Biden was on the phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas 24 hours ago and on Saturday.  I’ve spoken to both of them.  As I mentioned coming over here, I spent most of the time on the plane actually calling various counterparts: Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, as well as my French counterpart.  And there’ll be more such conversations later today.  We’ve had a whole series of senior officials, starting as well with our Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, working with her counterparts, Deputy Secretary of State Sherman as well, Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, and of course we have our Senior Official for Israel-Palestine Affairs Hady Amr on the ground in Israel now.

In all of these engagements, we’ve made clear that we are prepared to lend our support and good offices to the parties should they seek a ceasefire.  And that’s precisely the message I think you heard from Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield during the UN session yesterday.  Any diplomatic initiative that advances that prospect is something that we’ll support.  And we are, again, willing and ready to do that, but ultimately it is up to the parties to make clear that they want to pursue a ceasefire.  Any ceasefire would be, by definition, between them but we are ready to engage in support of.  Meanwhile, we are working tirelessly across every diplomatic channel we have to advance the prospect of getting to a – getting to calm and ending the violence.

QUESTION:  Does that mean the United Nations Security Council does not help that process of de-escalation, and that’s why the U.S. isn’t supporting it or – correct me if I’m misunderstanding.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  No, no that’s – it’s – we’re not standing in the way of diplomacy.  To the contrary, we’re exercising it virtually nonstop.  The question is:  Will any given action, will any given statement actually, as a practical matter, advance the prospects for ending the violence or not?  And that’s the judgement we have to make each time.  If we think that there’s something, including at the United Nations, that would effectively advance that, we would be for it.  We thought it was very important the other day to have this open discussion where the parties could put forward their views, their concerns, and be heard.  And we’ll continue to look for ways to advance the goal that we have, which is ending the violence.

QUESTION:  Thank you guys.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER KOFOD:  Thank you so much.  Thank you.

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    The U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau) responded to COVID-19 in multiple phases. The Bureau first suspended field operations in March 2020 for two successive 2-week periods to promote the safety of its workforce and the public. In April 2020, the Bureau extended this suspension to a total of 3 months for Non-response Follow-up (NRFU), the most labor-intensive decennial field operation that involves hundreds of thousands of enumerators going door-to-door to collect census data from households that have not yet responded to the census. At that time, the Department of Commerce also requested from Congress a 120-day extension to statutory deadlines providing census data for congressional apportionment and redistricting purposes, and the Bureau developed and implemented plans to deliver the population counts by those requested deadlines. The Bureau implemented NRFU in multiple waves between July 16 and August 9, 2020, to ensure that operational systems and procedures were ready for nationwide use. The Bureau considered COVID-19 case trends, the availability of personal protective equipment, and the availability of staff in deciding which areas to start NRFU first. On August 3, 2020, the Bureau announced that, as directed by the Secretary of Commerce, it would accelerate its operational timeframes to deliver population counts by the original statutory deadlines. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in September 2020 issued an injunction that reversed the Secretary's August 2020 directions for design changes and the Bureau's adherence to the statutory deadlines, but the Supreme Court ultimately stayed this injunction in October 2020 and allowed the Bureau to proceed with its August 2020 design changes. As a result, the Bureau shortened NRFU by over 2 weeks and reduced the time allotted for response processing after NRFU from 153 days to 77 days. GAO has previously noted that late design changes create increased risk for a quality census. The Bureau is examining ways to share quality indicators of the census in the near term and has a series of planned operational assessments, coverage measurement exercises, and data quality teams that are positioned to retrospectively study the effects of design changes made in the response to COVID-19 on census data quality. The Bureau is still in the process of updating its plans for these efforts to examine the range of operational modifications made in response to COVID-19, including the August 2020 and later changes. As part of the Bureau's assessments, it will be important to address a number of concerns GAO identified about how late changes to the census design could affect data quality. These concerns range from how the altered time frames have affected population counts during field data collection to what effects, if any, compressed and streamlined post-data collection processing of census data may have on the Bureau's ability to detect and fully address processing or other errors before releasing the apportionment and redistricting tabulations. Addressing these concerns as part of the overall 2020 assessment will help the Bureau ensure public confidence in the 2020 Census and inform future census planning efforts. As the Bureau was mailing out invitations to respond to the decennial census and was preparing for fieldwork to count nonresponding households, much of the nation began closing down to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the pandemic, the Bureau has made a series of changes to the design of the census. Understanding the chronology of events and the Bureau's decisions, along with the factors and information sources that it considered, can help to shed light on the implications and tradeoffs of the Bureau's response. This report, the first in a series of retrospective reviews on the 2020 Census, examines the key changes that the Bureau made in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and how those changes affect the cost and quality of the census. GAO performed its work under the authority of the Comptroller General to conduct evaluations on the 2020 Census to assist Congress with its oversight responsibilities. GAO reviewed Bureau decision memos, interviewed Bureau officials, and consulted contemporaneous COVID-19 case data for context on the Bureau's COVID-19 response. GAO is recommending that the Bureau update and implement its assessments to address data quality concerns identified in this report, as well as any operational benefits. In its comments, the Department of Commerce agreed with GAO's findings and recommendation. The Bureau also provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact J. Christopher Mihm at (202) 512-6806 or mihmj@gao.gov or Nick Marinos at 202-512-9342 or by email at marinosn@gao.gov.
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  • Automated Technologies: DOT Should Take Steps to Ensure Its Workforce Has Skills Needed to Oversee Safety
    In U.S GAO News
    Stakeholders GAO interviewed said that federal oversight of automated technologies—such as those that control a function or task of a plane, train, or vehicle without human intervention—requires regulatory expertise as well as engineering, data analysis, and cybersecurity skills. Stakeholders also stated that as automated systems become more common across transportation modes, overseeing them will require understanding vehicle operating systems, software code, and the vast amounts of data produced by these systems to ensure their safety. Skills Needed to Oversee the Safety of Automated Technologies, according to Stakeholders The U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Departmental Office of Human Resources Management has identified most skills DOT needs to oversee automated technologies, but it has not fully assessed whether its workforce has these skills. Through its workforce planning efforts, DOT identified many of the skills cited by stakeholders as important for overseeing automated technologies—regulatory expertise, engineering, and data analysis. In 2016 and 2020, DOT surveyed staff in related positions and identified gaps in some of these skills, including regulatory expertise. However, DOT did not survey staff or assess skill gaps in data analysis or cybersecurity positions important to automated technology oversight. As a result, DOT lacks critical information needed to identify skill gaps and ensure key relevant staff are equipped to oversee the safety of these technologies now and in the future. DOT developed strategies to address some but not all gaps in skills needed to oversee automated technologies. For example, DOT implemented some recruiting strategies and established hiring goals as a means of closing gaps identified in the 2016 survey and plans to continue these efforts in light of the 2020 survey. However, DOT has not tracked the progress of strategies implemented to close skill gaps since the 2016 survey, nor has it implemented training strategies. Accordingly, some skill gaps related to overseeing the safety of automated technologies will likely persist in DOT's workforce. Automated technologies in planes, trains, and passenger vehicles are in use today and likely to become increasingly widespread. While these technologies hold promise, accidents involving them demonstrate potential safety challenges. DOT is responsible for overseeing the safety of all modes of transportation. This report addresses: (1) stakeholders' perspectives on the skills required to oversee automated technologies; (2) the extent to which DOT has identified and assessed the skills it needs to oversee these technologies; and (3) the extent to which DOT has developed strategies to address any gaps in skills. GAO reviewed relevant literature and DOT workforce planning documents, and interviewed DOT human capital officials, selected modal administrations, and stakeholders, including transportation associations and technology developers. GAO selected modal administrations based in part on the prevalence of automated technologies. GAO is making four recommendations, including that DOT: (1) assess skill gaps in key occupations involved in overseeing automated technologies and (2) regularly measure the progress of strategies implemented to close skill gaps. DOT concurred with three recommendations and partially concurred with one on measuring progress. GAO clarified this recommendation and believes its implementation is warranted. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or krauseh@gao.gov.
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  • Science & Tech Spotlight: Consumer Electronics Recycling
    In U.S GAO News
    Why This Matters Consumer electronics contain critical materials whose supplies are limited, including gold, platinum, and rare earth metals. Domestic recycling of consumer electronics could extend the supply and reduce the current U.S. reliance on imports. New technologies are becoming available, but electronics recycling is complex and faces challenges, such as narrow profit margins. The Technology What is it? Recycling of consumer electronics—including smartphones, televisions, and computers—generally involves separating high-value metals from plastics and other low-value materials. Precious metals and rare earth metals are the economic driving force for consumer electronic recycling technology. These metals have high market values and limited supplies, and they can be reused across many industries, including the defense and energy sectors. Consumer electronic devices can also contain personally identifiable information (PII), including medical and financial data, which could be improperly disclosed if they are not destroyed prior to recycling. According to a study of selected consumer electronics, about 2.8 million tons were disposed of in the U.S. in 2017, of which about 36 percent was recycled. Figure 1. Selected valuable, hazardous, and digital materials contained within consumer electronics that can be recovered, disposed, or destroyed There is no federal standard requiring consumer electronics recycling. Some states have enacted electronics recycling laws requiring electronics producers to pay fees or contract with businesses to ensure electronic waste is collected for recycling. The U.S. recycles electronics domestically and also exports electronics for recycling abroad. How does it work? The high concentration of valuable material in certain consumer electronics is key to the economic viability of recycling these products. Cell phones, as one example, have more precious metal by weight than raw ore does. According to the EPA, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, and 75 pounds of gold can be recovered from a million recycled cell phones. Based on commodity market prices on August 12, 2020, these weights of metals are worth approximately $100,000, $290,000, and $2.1 million for copper, silver, and gold, respectively. In contrast, cathode ray tube (CRT) displays in older televisions and computer monitors have little recycling value, but they contain leaded glass and may be considered hazardous waste. In addition, recovery of certain valuable materials from consumer electronics is limited due to the high costs of technology and processing. Electronics recycling companies disassemble devices by shredding, which also destroys PII, or by hand. These companies then separate valuable materials for reuse (including gold, silver, platinum, and rare earth metals) from toxic materials for disposal (including brominated materials and lead). Traditional methods include burning to remove non-metal parts and separation using strong acids. New separation technologies are being used or piloted to recover precious and rare earth metals. For example, robotic disassembly uses machine learning and computer vision to more rapidly pick and sort items. Another new technology uses ultrasound to speed up the chemical removal of gold from cell phone SIM cards. Figure 2. Emerging separation technologies for recycled electronics Other technologies are emerging, like biometallurgy, which uses microorganisms to separate high-value metals from other materials, such as plastics, glass, and glue. For example, naturally occurring bacteria can oxidize gold in acidic solutions, making it soluble and thus easier to separate from other materials. Other advanced techniques, such as magnetic or electrochemical separation, are showing promise in the laboratory with existing technology. For example, in one study, researchers used ultrasound to dissolve nickel and gold within a SIM card. They then used a magnetic field to separate the dissolved nickel, which is magnetic, from the gold, which is not. Similarly, other techniques use electric fields to separate dissolved metals based on their weight and electric charge. How mature is it? Recycling technology is well established for some traditional single-stream processes, such as aluminum recycling. However, electronic devices are more complex and require disassembly and separation. At least one consumer electronics manufacturer is piloting robotic disassembly for its products. Emerging separation technologies such as ultrasound have come to market in the past decade and are being used. Manual disassembly and shredding are decades old. Biometallurgy is being tested in pilot plants, and new microorganisms are being developed in laboratories to treat electronic waste. Opportunities Increase supply and reduce imports. Recycling could increase the domestic supply of precious and rare earth metals and reduce the current U.S. reliance on overseas sources. Grow the green economy. Developing advanced recycling technologies could promote domestic business and employment. Reduce hazardous practices. A significant amount of recycling currently occurs in the developing world, where methods include open-pit burning. New technology could reduce the use of such methods, which are hazardous to the environment and human health. Lessen environmental impacts. Developing advanced recycling technologies could reduce the environmental impacts of raw ore mining and landfill disposal of hazardous materials such as lead and brominated materials. Challenges Market challenges. Markets for recovered materials may be limited, and the value of recovered materials may not be enough to cover the costs of equipment for collection, sorting, disassembly, and separation. Secure destruction of personal information. Many electronic devices contain PII. Shredding them may effectively destroy PII but may also make high-value material harder to recover. Counterfeit electronic parts. Exported used electronics may serve as a source of counterfeit electronic parts, which, as GAO previously reported, could disrupt parts of the Department of Defense supply chain and threaten the reliability of weapons systems. (See GAO-16-236, linked below.) Rapid technological development. As consumer electronics made with new materials get smaller, new technologies for separation may be needed to recycle valuable materials. Policy Context and Questions With the volume of electronic waste expected to grow, questions include: How can programs to support technological innovation, economic development, and advanced manufacturing be leveraged to promote a more robust domestic electronics recycling industry? What efforts can the federal government, states, and others make to incentivize recycling rather than disposal? What are the potential benefits and challenges of such policies? What strategies can the public and private sectors implement to address the risk that exports of used electronics will contribute to unsafe recycling practices, disclosure of PII, and counterfeit electronics? How can reductions in exports bolster job growth? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.
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  • Nuclear Safety: DOE and the Safety Board Should Collaborate to Develop a Written Agreement to Enhance Oversight
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Energy's (DOE) Order 140.1 included provisions inconsistent with the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board's (DNFSB) original enabling statute—the statute in place when the order was issued—and with long-standing practices. For example, GAO found that Order 140.1 contained provisions restricting DNFSB's access to information that were not included in the statute. GAO also found Order 140.1 to be inconsistent with long-standing DNFSB practices regarding staff's access to certain National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) meetings at the Pantex Plant in Texas, where nuclear weapons are assembled and disassembled (see fig.). In December 2019, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20 NDAA) amended DNFSB's statute to clarify and confirm DNFSB's authority and long-standing practices between the agencies. DOE replaced Order 140.1 with Order 140.1A in June 2020. National Nuclear Security Administration's Pantex Plant, Located Near Amarillo, Texas DNFSB, DOE, and NNSA officials that GAO interviewed identified concerns with Order 140.1 that GAO found are not addressed under DOE's Order 140.1A. In particular, DOE's Order 140.1A was not part of a collaborative effort to address DNFSB's remaining concerns related to access to information and other regular interagency interactions. For example, DNFSB officials cited concerns that DOE could interpret a provision of DNFSB's statute authorizing the Secretary of Energy to deny access to information in a way that could limit DNFSB access to information to which it has had access in the past. GAO has previously recommended that agencies develop formal written agreements to enhance collaboration. By collaborating to develop an agreement that, among other things, incorporates a common understanding of this provision, DOE and DNFSB could lessen the risks of DNFSB being denied access to information important for conducting oversight. DOE and NNSA officials, as well as contractor representatives involved in operating the facilities, also raised concerns that insufficient training on Order 140.1 contributed to uncertainties about how to engage with DNFSB staff when implementing the order, a problem that GAO found could persist under Order 140.1A. Providing more robust training on Order 140.1A would help ensure consistent implementation of the revised order at relevant facilities. Established by statute in 1988, DNFSB has broad oversight responsibilities regarding the adequacy of public health and safety protections at DOE defense nuclear facilities. In May 2018, DOE issued Order 140.1, a new order governing DOE's interactions with DNFSB. DNFSB raised concerns that the order could affect its ability to perform its statutory mandate. Congressional committee reports included provisions for GAO to review DOE Order 140.1. This report examines (1) the extent to which the order was consistent with DNFSB's original enabling statute and with long-standing practices, as well as actions DOE has taken in light of changes to the statute outlined in the FY20 NDAA; and (2) outstanding areas of concern that DNFSB and DOE identified, and the potential effects of these concerns on how the two agencies cooperate. GAO reviewed legislation and agency documents; visited DOE sites; and interviewed DNFSB, DOE, and NNSA officials and contractor representatives. GAO is making a recommendation to DOE and DNFSB that they collaborate to develop a written agreement, and an additional two recommendations to DOE, including that it develop more robust training on Order 140.1A. DOE and DNFSB agreed to develop a written agreement. DOE agreed with one of the other two recommendations, but did not agree to provide more robust training. GAO maintains that the recommended action is valid. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
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  • Areas with High Poverty: Changing How the 10-20-30 Funding Formula Is Applied Could Increase Impact in Persistent-Poverty Counties
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Some federal agencies have been statutorily required to use the “10-20-30 formula” when allocating funding for certain programs. That is, agencies must allocate at least 10 percent of designated funds to counties with poverty rates of at least 20 percent over the last 30 years (persistent-poverty counties). However, GAO found the formula has not always increased the proportion of funding awarded to those counties. The Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA) and Department of the Treasury's Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund both awarded at least 10 percent of designated funds to persistent-poverty counties in fiscal years 2017–2020, but generally had done so before 2017. Most of their programs subject to the formula already were required to target funds to economically distressed areas. The Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Rural Development awarded less than 10 percent of designated funds to persistent-poverty counties in at least one fiscal year for six out of 10 appropriations accounts. Rural Development set aside 10 percent of designated funds for use in those counties, which officials said met the statutory requirement to allocate these funds. Officials said some programs had not received a sufficient number of applications from these counties to meet the threshold because the programs are not well-suited to areas with severe poverty. For example, it may not be financially prudent for local governments in persistent-poverty counties to participate in a loan program to finance community facilities if the governments cannot service the debt. The purpose of the 10-20-30 formula—to increase the proportion of funding awarded to persistent-poverty counties—could be better achieved by focusing its application on programs that do not already target such areas and which can provide meaningful assistance to economically distressed communities. The three agencies GAO reviewed used different datasets and methodologies to identify persistent-poverty counties for the 10-20-30 formula. Appropriations laws for 2017–2020 required the agencies to use data from different years and sources, some outdated, to identify the counties. EDA also used a methodology that identified more than 100 additional persistent-poverty counties, than the other two agencies. Requiring each agency to identify persistent-poverty counties in this way is inefficient, and the inconsistency limits the ability to compare targeted funding across agencies. Using a uniform list of persistent-poverty counties, updated each year, would reduce administrative costs and facilitate assessments of the formula's impact across agencies. Such a measure also could help ensure more consistent investment in areas with current poverty rates of at least 20 percent. USDA's Economic Research Service has the technical capabilities to produce such a list and officials said that doing so each year would not be resource intensive because the agency already publishes other related work using the same data. Why GAO Did This Study Since 2009, the 10-20-30 formula has been applied to appropriations for certain federal programs and accounts. This includes programs and accounts administered by USDA's Rural Development, Treasury's CDFI Fund, and Commerce's EDA that averaged more than $10 billion in each fiscal year from 2017 to 2020. GAO was asked to review certain issues related to the 10-20-30 formula. This report examines (1) the proportion of funds subject to the 10-20-30 formula that these agencies awarded in persistent-poverty counties in 2017–2020 and the effects on funding levels to these areas, and (2) how agencies identify persistent-poverty counties. GAO analyzed agency budget and administrative data for fiscal years 2017—2020. GAO also reviewed documentation, such as program descriptions and funding notices, and interviewed agency officials.
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    In U.S GAO News
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  • Troubled Asset Relief Program: Treasury Continues Winding Down Housing Programs
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of the Treasury (Treasury) continues to wind down housing assistance programs funded by the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Treasury has extended one program to assist certain program participants who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, although limited program funds remain at this point. As of September 30, 2020, Treasury had disbursed $30.85 billion (95 percent) of the $32.56 billion TARP funds obligated to the three housing programs (see figure). The Making Home Affordable program allowed homeowners to apply for loan modifications to avoid foreclosure. Treasury will continue to provide incentive payments for loan modifications through 2023. The Housing Finance Agency Innovation Fund for the Hardest Hit Housing Markets provided funds to 18 states and the District of Columbia to help struggling homeowners through programs tailored to the state. Treasury extended this program through June 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic's negative economic effects on some program participants. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Short Refinance program allowed eligible homeowners to refinance into an FHA-insured loan. Under this program, Treasury made TARP funds available to provide additional coverage to lenders for a share of potential losses on these loans for borrowers who entered the program by December 31, 2016. Status of Troubled Asset Relief Program Housing Programs, as of September 2020 aAccording to the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), these funds have been committed to future financial incentives for existing Making Home Affordable transactions, as of September 30, 2020. bRepresents the amount of funds that states and the District of Columbia have drawn from Treasury. cIncludes about $11.6 million in administrative expenses and $10 million of reserve funds, as of September 30, 2020. Treasury will be reimbursed for unused reserve amounts. dAmounts do not add up due to rounding. In response to the 2008 housing crisis, Treasury established TARP-funded housing programs to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure and preserve homeownership. Since 2009, Treasury has obligated $32.56 billion for such housing programs. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 provided GAO with broad oversight authorities for actions taken related to TARP. This report provides an update on the status of TARP-funded housing programs, as of September 30, 2020. GAO reviewed Treasury program data and documentation, and interviewed Treasury officials. This report contains the most recently available public data at the time of GAO's review, including obligations, disbursements, and program participation. For more information, contact John H. Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or pendletonj@gao.gov.
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  • As COVID-19 Cases Fall, Juries Get Back to Work
    In U.S Courts
    As coronavirus (COVID-19) case totals continue to decline in the United States, federal courts are rapidly expanding the number of jury trials and other in-person proceedings.
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  • Federal Court Permanently Shuts Down Mississippi Tax Preparer
    In Crime News
    A federal court in the Northern District of Mississippi has permanently enjoined a Senatobia, Mississippi, tax return preparer from preparing returns for others and from owning, operating, or franchising any tax return preparation business in the future.
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