Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission
New York City, New York
The Palace Hotel
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everyone. It is a real pleasure to be able to spend some time with my good friend and colleague Josep Borrell. We’ve spent a lot of time already in recent months working very closely together, but really today building off of the very important and productive U.S.-EU summit that President Biden took part in. A lot of what we’ve been doing since then, including the establishment of the Trade and Technology Council, (inaudible) we look forward to in the coming weeks, and a lot to talk about about the work that we do together quite literally around the world, including, of course, Afghanistan, the Indo-Pacific, in Europe, and beyond.
So Josep, (inaudible) to see you as always and I look forward to our conversation.
MR BORRELL: Thank you. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Inaudible.)
MR BORRELL: Thank you, Tony, for these meetings. A great pleasure to meet you again. We (inaudible) morning (inaudible). We are crossing the (inaudible), and I am sure that we are going to talk about the recent issues with which we can build a stronger confidence from us following the conversations that have been taking place this morning (inaudible). I’m sure we will (inaudible).
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Good to see you. Thank you very much.
- Thirteen Charged in Federal Court Following Riot at the United States CapitolBy Sam NewsJanuary 8, 2021Thirteen individuals have been charged so far in federal court in the District of Columbia related to crimes committed at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. In addition to those who have been charged, additional complaints have been submitted and investigations are ongoing.[Read More…]
- Home Foreclosure Sales: FHA, Rural Housing Service, and VA Could Better Align Program Metrics with Their MissionsBy Sam NewsMarch 5, 2021By 2019, the number of foreclosed properties—known as real estate-owned (REO) properties—that federal entities owned declined to historically low levels because of the housing market recovery and the sale of many of the properties (see figure). Real Estate-Owned Properties of Selected Federal Entities, 2004–2019 Note: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the government-sponsored enterprises shown here. Data for the enterprises and FHA are calendar year; for VA and RHS, fiscal year ending September 30. The entities GAO reviewed each have processes to oversee their REO maintenance contractors' activities and performance, including internal and external performance reviews and on-site inspections. Entities generally have standardized maintenance policies for REO properties across the country, such as emergency repairs for broken windows and routine maintenance requirements for the frequency of cutting grass. GAO found that the performance of contractors whose documentation GAO reviewed generally met entities' standards and requirements. However, entities' oversight of contractors identified instances of underperformance in maintenance. For instance, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) recouped almost $3 million from seven property maintenance contractors for work below quality standards from 2017 to 2020. The REO program metrics of FHA, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the Rural Housing Service (RHS) focus on required financial goals, such as minimizing losses, but do not always align fully with other program goals or agency missions. For example, FHA does not collect comprehensive information on REO property sales to public-sector homeowners or local nonprofits—missing an opportunity to measure the extent to which its REO program supports its goal to strengthen neighborhoods and communities. Similarly, VA and RHS lack metrics that would show whether their REO programs align with their broader agency missions to serve veterans and rural homebuyers, respectively. Incorporating additional metrics could help FHA, VA, and RHS ensure that their REO programs assist in meeting their agencies' missions. Poor maintenance of foreclosed properties can negatively affect communities and threaten neighborhood stability. FHA, VA, RHS, and Freddie Mac are among the federal entities owning foreclosed properties through REO programs. GAO was asked to review how these federal entities monitor REO property conditions. The objectives this report examines include trends in the number of REO properties; oversight of maintenance contractors; and whether metrics used to assess REO program performance align with entities' missions. GAO reviewed and analyzed reports and data on the number of REO properties and documentation on FHA, Freddie Mac, VA, and RHS oversight of REO property maintenance from 2017 to 2020. GAO also analyzed data on REO reimbursements to contractors for maintenance activities. GAO recommends that FHA, VA, and RHS consider additional REO program metrics that measure how the programs support their respective missions of strengthening communities and serving veterans and rural homeowners. The entities generally agreed with the recommendation. For more information, contact John H. Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- Global War on Terrorism: Reported Obligations for the Department of DefenseBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021Since 2001, Congress has provided the Department of Defense (DOD) with hundreds of billions of dollars in supplemental and annual appropriations for military operations in support of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). DOD's reported annual obligations for GWOT have shown a steady increase from about $0.2 billion in fiscal year 2001 to about $139.8 billion in fiscal year 2007. To continue GWOT operations, the President requested $189.3 billion in appropriations for DOD in fiscal year 2008. As of May 2008, Congress has provided DOD with about $86.8 billion of this request, including $16.8 billion for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. Congress has not finalized action on the remaining $102.5 billion. In addition, the President also requested about $66 billion in appropriations for DOD in fiscal year 2009 for GWOT, which was submitted along with DOD's annual budget request. The United States' commitments to GWOT will likely involve the continued investment of significant resources, requiring decision makers to consider difficult trade-offs as the nation faces an increasing long-range fiscal challenge. The magnitude of future costs will depend on several direct and indirect cost variables and, in some cases, decisions that have not yet been made. DOD's future costs will likely be affected by the pace and duration of operations, the types of facilities needed to support troops overseas, redeployment plans, and the amount of equipment to be repaired or replaced. DOD compiles and reports monthly and cumulative incremental obligations incurred to support GWOT in a monthly Supplemental and Cost of War Execution Report. DOD leadership uses this report, along with other information, to advise Congress on the costs of the war and to formulate future GWOT budget requests. DOD reports these obligations by appropriation, contingency operation, and military service or defense agency. The monthly cost reports are typically compiled within the 45 days after the end of the reporting month in which the obligations are incurred. DOD has prepared monthly reports on the obligations incurred for its involvement in GWOT since fiscal year 2001. Section 1221 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 requires us to submit quarterly updates to Congress on the costs of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom based on DOD's monthly Supplemental and Cost of War Execution Reports. This report, which responds to this requirement, contains our analysis of DOD's reported obligations for military operations in support of GWOT through March 2008. Specifically, we assessed (1) DOD's cumulative appropriations and reported obligations for military operations in support of GWOT and (2) DOD's fiscal year 2008 reported obligations through March 2008, the latest data available for GWOT by military service and appropriation account.From fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2007, and for the first quarter of fiscal year 2008 through December 2007, Congress has provided DOD with a total of about $635.9 billion for its efforts in support of GWOT. DOD has reported obligations of about $562 billion for military operations in support of the war from fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2007 and for the second quarter of fiscal year 2008 through March 2008. The $73.9 billion difference between DOD's GWOT appropriations and reported obligations can generally be attributed to certain fiscal year 2008 appropriations and multiyear funding for procurement; military construction; and research, development, test, and evaluation from previous GWOT-related appropriations that have yet to be obligated and obligations for classified and other activities, which are not reported in DOD's cost-of-war reports. As part of our ongoing work, we are reviewing DOD's rationale for reporting its GWOT related obligations. Of DOD's total cumulative reported obligations for GWOT through March 2008 (about $562 billion), about $435.1 billion is for operations in and around Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and about $98.9 billion is for operations in Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, the Philippines, and elsewhere as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The remaining about $28 billion is for operations in defense of the homeland as part of Operation Noble Eagle. In fiscal year 2008, through March 2008, DOD's total reported obligations of about $69.8 billion are about half of the total amount of obligations it reported for all of fiscal year 2007. Reported obligations for Operation Iraqi Freedom continue to account for the largest portion of total reported GWOT obligations by operation--about $57 billion. In contrast, reported obligations associated with Operation Enduring Freedom total about $12.7 billion, and reported obligations associated with Operation Noble Eagle total about $89.3 million.[Read More…]
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- Warfighter Support: Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before FieldingBy Sam NewsSeptember 21, 2021The Army has issued soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan personal body armor, comprising an outer protective vest and ceramic plate inserts. GAO observed Preliminary Design Model testing of new plate designs, which resulted in the Army's awarding contracts in September 2008 valued at a total of over $8 billion to vendors of the designs that passed that testing. Between November and December 2008, the Army conducted further testing, called First Article Testing, on these designs. GAO is reporting on the degree to which the Army followed its established testing protocols during these two tests. GAO did not provide an expert ballistics evaluation of the results of testing. GAO, using a structured, GAO-developed data collection instrument, observed both tests at the Army's Aberdeen Test Center, analyzed data, and interviewed agency and industry officials to evaluate observed deviations from testing protocols. However, independent ballistics testing expertise is needed to determine the full effect of these deviations.During Preliminary Design Model testing the Army took significant steps to run a controlled test and maintain consistency throughout the process, but the Army did not always follow established testing protocols and, as a result, did not achieve its intended test objective of determining as a basis for awarding contracts which designs met performance requirements. In the most consequential of the Army's deviations from testing protocols, the Army testers incorrectly measured the amount of force absorbed by the plate designs by measuring back-face deformation in the clay backing at the point of aim rather than at the deepest point of depression. Army testers recognized the error after completing about a third of the test and then changed the test plan to call for measuring at the point of aim and likewise issued a modification to the contract solicitation. At least two of the eight designs that passed Preliminary Design Model testing and were awarded contracts would have failed if measurements had been made to the deepest point of depression. The deviations from the testing protocols were the result of Aberdeen Test Center's incorrectly interpreting the testing protocols. In all these cases of deviations from the testing protocols, the Aberdeen Test Center's implemented procedures were not reviewed or approved by the Army and Department of Defense officials responsible for approving the testing protocols. After concerns were raised regarding the Preliminary Design Model testing, the decision was made not to field any of the plate designs awarded contracts until after First Article Testing was conducted. During First Article Testing, the Army addressed some of the problems identified during Preliminary Design Model testing, but GAO observed instances in which Army testers did not follow the established testing protocols and did not maintain internal controls over the integrity and reliability of data, raising questions as to whether the Army met its First Article Test objective of determining whether each of the contracted designs met performance requirements. The following are examples of deviations from testing protocols and other issues that GAO observed: (1) The clay backing placed behind the plates during ballistics testing was not always calibrated in accordance with testing protocols and was exposed to rain on one day, potentially impacting test results. (2) Testers improperly rounded down back-face deformation measurements, which is not authorized in the established testing protocols and which resulted in two designs passing First Article Testing that otherwise would have failed. Army officials said rounding is a common practice; however, one private test facility that rounds told GAO that they round up, not down. (3) Testers used a new instrument to measure back-face deformation without adequately certifying that the instrument could function correctly and in conformance with established testing protocols. The impact of this issue on test results is uncertain, but it could call into question the reliability and accuracy of the measurements. (4) Testers deviated from the established testing protocols in one instance by improperly scoring a complete penetration as a partial penetration. As a result, one design passed First Article Testing that would have otherwise failed. With respect to internal control issues, the Army did not consistently maintain adequate internal controls to ensure the integrity and reliability of test data. In one example, during ballistic testing, data were lost, and testing had to be repeated because an official accidentally pressed the delete button and software controls were not in place to protect the integrity of test data. Army officials acknowledged that before GAO's review they were unaware of the specific internal control problems we identified.[Read More…]
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- Global War On Terrorism: Fiscal Year 2006 Obligation Rates Are Within Funding Levels and Significant Multiyear Procurement Funds Will Likely Remain Available for Use in Fiscal Year 2007By Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021Because of broad congressional interest, GAO is examining the costs of military operations in support of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) under the Comptroller General's authority to conduct evaluations on his own initiative. In September 2005, GAO reported the Department of Defense (DOD) cannot ensure reported GWOT obligations are complete, reliable, and accurate, and recommended improvements. In this report, GAO (1) compared supplemental and annual appropriations identified for GWOT in fiscal year 2006 to the military services' reported obligations as of June 2006 and their cost projections for the remainder of the fiscal year, and (2) examined DOD's efforts to improve the reliability of GWOT obligation data. For this engagement, GAO analyzed fiscal year 2006 GWOT related appropriations and reported obligations, and DOD's corrective actions.As of June 2006, which represents 9 months (75 percent) of fiscal year 2006, the military services have reported obligating about $51.6 billion (55 percent) of the $93.3 billion they received for GWOT in supplemental and annual appropriations for military personnel, operation and maintenance, and procurement. Our analysis of reported obligations and the military services' forecasts of their likely costs for fiscal year 2006 suggest that the rates of obligation for military personnel and operation and maintenance are within fiscal year 2006 GWOT funding levels and significant amounts of multiyear procurement funds will likely remain available for use in fiscal year 2007. The rates of obligation for military personnel are within funding levels for all military services except the Army, which plans to transfer about $591 million in funds from other appropriations accounts to cover its military personnel obligations. The rates of obligation for operation and maintenance are within funding levels for all military services. As of June, the military services reported obligating about 85 percent of military personnel funds and 60 percent of operation and maintenance funds. For various reasons, most notably being that supplemental funds were not appropriated until June 2006, the military services do not expect to obligate a large portion of procurement funds, which generally are available for multiple years, and therefore these funds will remain available in fiscal year 2007. The military services received about 32 percent ($6.8 billion) of procurement funding in annual appropriations and 68 percent ($14.7 billion) in the supplemental appropriation. As of June, the military services reported obligating about 68 percent of the procurement funds received in the annual appropriation. DOD and the military services have taken specific steps intended to improve the accuracy and reliability of their reported GWOT obligation data. Some problems remain with transparency over certain costs and inaccuracies in reported obligations. In response to GAO's prior recommendations, DOD now requires components to perform a monthly variance analysis to identify and explain significant changes in obligations and to attest to the accuracy of monthly obligation reports, and affirm it provides a fair representation of ongoing activities. Because these efforts are in the early stages of implementation, GAO has not fully evaluated their impact. Existing cost reporting procedures limit transparency of certain obligations because DOD continues to report large amounts in miscellaneous "other" categories. Also, DOD's cost reports for fiscal year 2005 understated total GWOT obligations for that year because they did not initially include about $1.1 billion in obligations tied to the training and equipping of Afghan and Iraqi security forces. Without transparent and accurate cost reporting, Congress and DOD will continue to be unable to reliably know how much the war is costing, examine details on how appropriated funds are being spent, or have historical data useful in considering future funding needs. On the basis of GAO's work, DOD updated its guidance on the reporting of obligations in miscellaneous "other" categories and revised its September 2005 cost-of-war report to more fully reflect past obligations.[Read More…]