Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Mexican Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier Before Their Meeting

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

Ben Franklin Room

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So good to see you, Secretary.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Likewise.  It is such a pleasure to welcome you today.  Good morning, Secretary Blinken.  Welcome to Mexico and mostly, welcome to the Secretariat of the Economy.

ECONOMY SECRETARY CLOUTHIER:  (Via interpreter) Good morning.  It is such a pleasure, Secretary Blinken, to see you not just in Mexico, but at the Secretariat of the Economy.  It is a pleasure for us to have this first meeting with you, and we are certain that this will be a great step so as to strengthen the relationship between Mexico and the United States.  It would have been great to have you visit us here, but we are certain that sooner than we expect we’ll be able to shake hands in person and give you the welcome you deserve.

We know that for the relationship between Mexico and the United States this is not just a relationship of friends, neighbors, and trade partners.  We share more than that.  We share a huge border, which has had us be united for such a long time.  We have had achievements between our two nations, not only speaking of trade in our trade relationship; we had over 538 million daily trade exchanges.

This is a very interesting figure, and please know that we are ready to work with our counterparts:  the future trade representative Gina Raimondo, the next secretary of trade, and Isabel Guzman, who will be in charge of SMEs.  Allow me to say that it is always a pleasure to work with the United States embassy in Mexico.  Our colleague and friend, John Creamer, with whom we meet every fortnight, we hold meetings to see how we will continue to work to continue to deepen this bond.  Thank you so very much, John, for this coordinated work.

Please allow me to say that President Lopez Obrador is extremely interested and is betting on this work through the USMCA trade relations, and the strengthening of the work between both nations is of the utmost importance.  He sees the USMCA as a big tool for recovery post-COVID, maybe during COVID, but I think we could start discussing the post-COVID era.

And allow me to discuss the outage of supply chains that have affected not just the world but also our countries as a result of COVID.  We know President Biden has requested a review in a term of 100 days in supply chains in the United States, specifically regarding chips and large-capacity batteries and pharmaceuticals and strategic minerals.  Mexico, we are sure, could be part of these large efforts so as to ensure that in North America, we can have the necessary supply for these type of goods.  They cannot be a problem.  We want to be suppliers of these goods.  We want to work hand-in-hand with you, your government, and the Government of Canada to strengthen the platform for trade in North America.

The pandemic has shown us that only if we work jointly – and here, I believe our colleague John Creamer is not going to let us lie – I believe when we work together, we can face challenges in an easier way, creating synergies so that things can progress.  We reiterate our willingness to work with your government hand-in-hand not just for Mexico to do better but for the three countries who have signed the USMCA.  We will all become stronger for the benefit of our peoples.

You have the floor, Secretary.  Many thanks to you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, Madam Secretary, thank you so much.  First, thank you for receiving our virtual delegation, and as you said, I wish we could be there in person.  But also, as you said, I think that day will come sooner rather than later, and I very much look forward to it and being able to work in close cooperation with you.  I think I share all of the sentiments you’ve already expressed, both the general perspective and even some of the substance that we started to get into regarding supply chains.

But I couldn’t agree more that we have already such a vital and vibrant economic relationship between our countries and one that is to the benefit of Mexicans and Americans alike.  And I think we have a common opportunity as well as responsibility to work to deepen and strengthen that.  And as you said, particularly as our countries emerge from COVID-19 and we’re embarked on a shared effort to, as President Biden says, build back better, we have real opportunities in the trade and economic space to do the same thing.

But having kicked things off, let me ask our colleagues from the press to have an opportunity to get some coffee somewhere – (laughter) – and then we can continue.  Thank you.

ECONOMY SECRETARY CLOUTHIER:  Thank you.

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    Following a decade of decline, including after the 2007–2009 financial crisis, the national homeownership rate started to recover in 2016 (see figure). Homeownership Rate in the United States, 1990–2018 Note: Shaded areas indicate U.S. recessions. However, not all Americans have benefitted from the recovery, even in housing markets that appear to be thriving. GAO examined homeownership trends during 2010–2018 in nine core-based statistical areas (cities)—Chicago; Cleveland; Columbia, South Carolina; Denver; Houston; Pittsburgh; San Francisco; Seattle; and Washington, D.C. In summary, among the nine cities reviewed, GAO found that during 2010–2018: The homeownership rate declined or was flat in all cities. The homeownership rate significantly declined in Chicago, Cleveland, and Houston and remained statistically unchanged in the other cities. Average home prices grew in all cities, but at considerably different rates. For example, real house prices increased significantly in Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle but much less in Chicago, Cleveland, and Columbia. The homeowner vacancy rate dropped in all cities, indicating growing constraints on the housing supply. Most significantly, by 2018, the three cities with the largest house price increases—Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle—all had homeowner vacancy rates below 1 percent and the three lowest rental vacancy rates (below 5 percent), indicating more severe constraints on supply. Most cities became denser, and some also expanded outward. Cities such as Houston and Washington, D.C., both became denser (added more housing units in developed areas) and expanded outward (added housing units in previously undeveloped areas), while cities such as Seattle and Denver grew largely by adding more density to already high-density areas. Chicago, and Pittsburgh became less dense, as limited growth came largely through outward expansion. Homeowners and recent borrowers were increasingly higher-income. All nine cities saw growth in the estimated number and percentage of households reporting annual incomes of $150,000 or more (the highest income category reported by Census). Similarly, with the exception of Columbia, real median incomes of borrowers increased in the selected cities. Homeowners and recent borrowers were increasingly older and more diverse. Most cities saw growth in homeownership among households aged 60 and older, often with corresponding decreases among younger owners. Additionally, loan originations by minority borrowers increased in all cities. GAO's analysis of homeownership trends in these nine cities during 2010–2018 illustrates two main points: (1) Cities grew differently and accommodated growth to differing degrees, and (2) who owns and who can buy a home differs by location and type of buyer, sometimes substantially. Historically, owning a home has been one of the primary ways Americans built wealth and financial security. This is one reason why the availability and price of housing is consequential to both households and policymakers. GAO was asked to assess the state of the current domestic housing market and this report, one in a series, focuses on homeownership trends. To conduct this work, GAO used data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey and Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data (loan and application data filed by mortgage lenders), among other sources, to identify trends in nine selected cities during 2010–2018, the most current data available at the time of GAO's review. This report examines trends prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and does not account for the profound effect it likely will have on homeowners. GAO has ongoing work that will examine implementation of foreclosure and eviction protections authorized in recent legislation. GAO makes no recommendations in this report. For more information, contact Daniel Garcia-Diaz at (202) 512-8678 or garciadiazd@gao.gov.
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Telecommunications: FCC Should Enhance Performance Goals and Measures for Its Program to Support Broadband Service in High-Cost Areas
    In U.S GAO News
    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has a program, known as the high-cost program, to promote broadband deployment in unserved areas. Although the performance goals for the high-cost program reflect principles in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, not all of the goals are expressed in a measurable or quantifiable manner and therefore do not align with leading practices. Furthermore, FCC's measures for its performance goals do not always align with leading practices, which call for measures to have linkage with the goal they measure and clarity, objectivity, and measurable targets, among other key attributes. For example, as shown below for two of FCC's five goals, GAO found that FCC's measures met most, but not all, of the key attributes. By establishing goals and measures that align with leading practices, FCC can improve the performance information it uses in its decision-making processes about how to allocate the program's finite resources. Leading practices also suggest that agencies publicly report on progress made toward performance goals. FCC does so, however, only in a limited fashion which may lead to stakeholder uncertainty about the program's effectiveness. Examples of FCC’s Performance Measures Compared with a Selection of Key Attributes of Successful Performance Measures According to stakeholders GAO interviewed, FCC faces three key challenges to accomplish its high-cost program performance goals: (1) accuracy of FCC's broadband deployment data, (2) broadband availability on tribal lands, and (3) maintaining existing fixed-voice infrastructure and attaining universal mobile service. For example, although FCC adopted a more precise method of collecting and verifying broadband availability data, stakeholders expressed concern the revised data would remain inaccurate if carriers continue to overstate broadband coverage for marketing and competitive reasons. Overstating coverage impairs FCC's efforts to promote universal voice and broadband since an area can become ineligible for high-cost support if a carrier reports that service already exists in that area. FCC has also taken actions to address the lack of broadband availability on tribal lands, such as making some spectrum available to tribes for wireless broadband in rural areas. However, tribal stakeholders told GAO that some tribes are unable to secure funding to deploy the infrastructure necessary to make use of spectrum for wireless broadband purposes. Millions of Americans do not have access to broadband. Within the Universal Service Fund, FCC's high-cost program provided about $5 billion in 2019 to telecommunications carriers to support broadband deployment in unserved areas where the cost to provide broadband service is high. In 2011, FCC established five performance goals and related measures for the high-cost program. GAO was asked to review the high-cost program's performance goals and measures. This report examines: (1) the extent to which the program's performance goals and measures align with leading practices to enable the effective use of performance information and (2) the key challenges selected stakeholders believe FCC faces in meeting the program's goals. GAO reviewed FCC's program goals and measures and assessed them against applicable criteria, including GAO's leading practices for successful performance measures. GAO interviewed FCC officials and representatives from industry, tribal carriers, consumer advocates, and other stakeholders, to obtain a variety of non-generalizable viewpoints. GAO is making four recommendations, including that FCC should ensure its high-cost program's performance goals and measures align with leading practices and publicly report on progress measured toward the goals. FCC concurred with all four recommendations. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.
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  • LGBTQ Judges Discuss Experiences in Pride Month Event
    In U.S Courts
    Five openly LGBTQ judges from different backgrounds and experiences offer insight into their lives before and after appointment to the federal bench in a new U.S. Courts video released in observance of Pride Month.
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  • Annual Bankruptcy Filings Fall 29.7 Percent
    In U.S Courts
    Bankruptcy filings fell sharply for the 12-month period ending Dec. 31, 2020, despite a significant surge in unemployment related to the coronavirus (COVID-19).
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  • Financial Audit: IRS’s FY 2020 and FY 2019 Financial Statements
    In U.S GAO News
    In GAO's opinion, the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) fiscal years 2020 and 2019 financial statements are fairly presented in all material respects, and although certain controls could be improved, IRS maintained, in all material respects, effective internal control over financial reporting as of September 30, 2020. GAO's tests of IRS's compliance with selected provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements detected no reportable instances of noncompliance in fiscal year 2020. Limitations in the financial systems IRS uses to account for federal taxes receivable and other unpaid assessment balances, as well as other control deficiencies that led to errors in taxpayer accounts, continued to exist during fiscal year 2020.These control deficiencies affect IRS's ability to produce reliable financial statements without using significant compensating procedures. In addition, unresolved information system control deficiencies from prior audits, along with application and general control deficiencies that GAO identified in IRS's information systems in fiscal year 2020, placed IRS systems and financial and taxpayer data at risk of inappropriate and undetected use, modification, or disclosure. IRS continues to take steps to improve internal controls in these areas. However, the remaining deficiencies are significant enough to merit the attention of those charged with governance of IRS and therefore represent continuing significant deficiencies in internal control over financial reporting related to (1) unpaid assessments and (2) financial reporting systems. Continued management attention is essential to fully addressing these significant deficiencies. The CARES Act, enacted in March 2020, and other COVID-19 pandemic relief laws contained a number of tax relief provisions to address financial stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the Economic Impact Payments provisions in the CARES Act provided for direct payments for eligible individuals to be implemented through the tax code. Implementing the provisions related to these Economic Impact Payment required extensive IRS work, and resulted in it issuing approximately $275 billion in payments as of September 30, 2020. IRS faced difficulties in issuing these payments as rapidly as possible, such as in identifying eligible recipients, preventing improper payments, and combating fraud based on identity theft. IRS discusses the challenges in carrying out its responsibilities under the CARES Act in its unaudited Management's Discussion and Analysis, which is included with the financial statements. As part of monitoring and oversight of the federal government's efforts to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, GAO has issued a number of reports on federal agencies' implementation of the CARES Act and other COVID-19 pandemic relief laws, including reports providing information on, and recommendations to strengthen, IRS's implementation of the tax-related provisions. In accordance with the authority conferred by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990, as amended, GAO annually audits IRS's financial statements to determine whether (1) the financial statements are fairly presented and (2) IRS management maintained effective internal control over financial reporting. GAO also tests IRS's compliance with selected provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements. IRS's tax collection activities are significant to overall federal receipts, and the effectiveness of its financial management is of substantial interest to Congress and the nation's taxpayers. Based on prior financial statement audits, GAO made numerous recommendations to IRS to address internal control deficiencies. GAO will continue to monitor, and will report separately, on IRS's progress in implementing prior recommendations that remain open. Consistent with past practice, GAO will also be separately reporting on the new internal control deficiencies identified in this year's audit and providing IRS recommendations for corrective actions to address them. In commenting on a draft of this report, IRS stated that it continues its efforts to improve its financial systems controls. For more information, contact Cheryl E. Clark at (202) 512-3406 or clarkce@gao.gov.
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  • Federal Contractor Agrees to Pay More Than $6 Million to Settle Overbilling Allegations
    In Crime News
    Virginia-based Information Innovators Inc. (Triple-I) has agreed to pay the United States $6.05 million to resolve allegations that a predecessor company, Creative Computing Solutions Inc. (CCSi), violated the False Claims Act by knowingly overbilling the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for work performed by CCSi employees who lacked required job qualifications.
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  • Eight Individuals Charged With Conspiring to Act as Illegal Agents of the People’s Republic of China
    In Crime News
    A complaint and arrest warrants were unsealed today in federal court in Brooklyn charging eight defendants with conspiring to act in the United States as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  Six defendants also face related charges of conspiring to commit interstate and international stalking.  The defendants, allegedly acting at the direction and under the control of PRC government officials, conducted surveillance of and engaged in a campaign to harass, stalk, and coerce certain residents of the United States to return to the PRC as part of a global, concerted, and extralegal repatriation effort known as “Operation Fox Hunt.” 
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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    In Crime News
    The United States has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois seeking to bar a Rockford area tax return preparer from preparing federal income tax returns for others.
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    In Crime News
    A U.S. accountant was sentenced in the Southern District of New York to 39 months in prison for wire fraud, tax fraud, money laundering, aggravated identity theft, and other charges, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt and Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss of the Southern District of New York.
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  • Owner and Operator of India-Based Call Centers Sentenced to Prison for Scamming U.S. Victims out of Millions of Dollars
    In Crime News
    An Indian national was sentenced today to 20 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release in the Southern District of Texas for his role in operating and funding India-based call centers that defrauded U.S. victims out of millions of dollars between 2013 and 2016.
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  • Former Oilfield Manager Pleads Guilty in Connection with OSHA Worker Fatality Investigation
    In Crime News
    A Montana man pleaded guilty in federal court in the District of North Dakota to a felony charge of obstructing an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proceeding stemming from the 2014 death of an oilfield worker in Williston, North Dakota.
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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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