Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
New York City, New York
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everyone. I’m very pleased to be meeting with my friend and counterpart from Pakistan, Foreign Minister Qureshi. We’ve had many opportunities to speak on the phone these many months, but finally now an opportunity (inaudible) at the UN General Assembly to see each other in person. A lot to focus on, starting with Afghanistan and the importance of our countries working together and going forward on Afghanistan. (Inaudible) appreciate the work that Pakistan has done to facilitate the departure of American citizens who wish to leave as well as others, but a lot to talk about there as well as our own bilateral relationship, including the economic relationship between our countries and working in the region as a whole.
So it’s a pleasure to see you. Look forward to a very good conversation.
FOREIGN MINISTER QURESHI: Well, thank you, Secretary Blinken. Thank you for your time today. I’m glad to be meeting face-to-face with you. As you said, we’ve had three telephone phone conversations discussing the regional situation, the Afghan situation. I thought a time would come where we’d be talking beyond Afghanistan, but it seems Afghanistan is there, we can’t wish it away, and we have to find a way of collectively working to achieve our common objective, which is peace and stability. So it gives me a good opportunity to discuss the evolving situation in Afghanistan, to discuss our bilateral relations, and the delicate situation in South Asia. So I’m looking forward to my meeting with the Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Thank you all.
- Exposure Notification: Benefits and Challenges of Smartphone Applications to Augment Contact TracingBy Sam NewsSeptember 9, 2021Why GAO Did This Study With the emergence and rapid global spread of COVID-19, smartphone apps have been developed to supplement manual contact tracing, which is a public health measure used to slow the spread of infectious disease. GAO was asked to conduct a technology assessment of exposure notification apps. This report discusses (1) the benefits of exposure notification apps; (2) the current level of deployment in the U.S.; (3) challenges affecting their use; and (4) policy options that may help address these challenges for future use. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed agency documentation, met with officials from several federal agencies, and conducted a review of technical and policy literature. GAO also interviewed representatives from companies involved in the development of exposure notification apps, public health organizations, federally funded research and development centers, and academic researchers. In addition, GAO analyzed information from a selection of states. GAO is identifying policy options in this report. GAO received technical comments on a draft of this report from five federal agencies and five organizations included in the review, which it incorporated as appropriate. What GAO Found Exposure notification applications (apps)—which determine the proximity of users and notify people who have been in close contact with another user who was likely infectious—are expected to enhance the speed and reach of contact tracing and help slow the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19. As of June 2021, almost half (26/56) of U.S. states, territories, and the District of Columbia had deployed an app for COVID-19, all using a system developed jointly by Google and Apple (see figure). In the absence of a national app, states independently launched apps, resulting in a staggered rollout over 10 months beginning in August 2020. Map of deployment of exposure notification apps by U.S. states and territories, as of June 2021 Reported app development costs for selected states varied, ranging from no cost (provided by a nonprofit organization) to $700,000. Marketing costs for selected states ranged from $380,000 to $3.2 million. Reported app download levels in the selected states ranged from 200,000 to more than 2 million, as of June 2021. GAO identified several challenges limiting app use and the ability of states and others to determine whether the apps were effective: Accuracy of measurements Technical limitations to measuring distance and exposure can result in inaccurate exposure notifications. Privacy and security concerns The public may lack confidence that its privacy is being protected, in part, due to a lack of independent privacy and security assessments and a lack of federal legal protections. Adoption States have faced challenges attracting public interest in downloading and using an exposure notification app. Verification code delays States faced challenges in promptly providing people who tested positive for COVID-19 with a verification code necessary to notify other close contacts of potential exposure using the app. Evidence of effectiveness Limited data are available to evaluate the effectiveness of the apps. Source: GAO. | GAO-21-104622 GAO developed the following four policy options that could help address challenges related to exposure notification apps. The policy options identify possible actions by policymakers, which may include Congress, other elected officials, federal agencies, state and local governments, and industry. See below for details of the policy options and relevant opportunities and considerations. Policy Options to Help Address Challenges of Exposure Notification Apps for Future Use Opportunities Considerations Research and Development (report page 41) Policymakers could promote research and development to address technological limitations. Research on technological limitations could help increase accuracy, encouraging users to download and use the apps. Research on technologies and architectures other than those used by U.S. states could lead to improvements. Partnerships with technology companies could spur innovation and help with integrating improvements. The research needed may be costly. Improvements may not be cost-effective, since existing apps may already be sufficiently accurate. Research may result in apps that are not functional for the next pandemic, since the current apps were developed for COVID-19. Privacy and Security Standards and Practices (report page 42) Policymakers could promote uniform privacy and security standards and practices for exposure notification apps. Uniform standards and best practices could help address real and perceived risks to the public’s data, potentially increasing adoption. Standards developed by a broad coalition of stakeholders could increase the likelihood of stakeholder agreement and buy-in. Policymakers would need to balance the need for privacy and security with the costs of implementing standards and practices. Implementation of privacy requirements may need to be flexible, since jurisdictions could use different approaches. Standards and practices could be challenging to oversee and enforce. Best Practices (report page 43) Policymakers could promote best practices for approaches to increasing adoption and to measure the effectiveness of exposure notification apps. Best practices could help authorities better promote app adoption. Best practices could help state public health authorities by providing information on procedures and potential approaches for distributing verification codes in a timely manner. Best practices could help public health authorities establish a more rigorous way to measure the extent of app use and any resulting improvements in notifying exposed people. Best practices could require consensus from many public- and private-sector stakeholders, which can be time- and resource-intensive. Current best practices may have limited relevance to a future pandemic. In some cases, stakeholders may lack sufficient information or the experience to develop best practices. National Strategy (report page 44) Policymakers could collaborate to enhance the pandemic national strategy and promote a coordinated approach to the development and deployment of exposure notification apps. Enhanced national coordination that builds on the underlying infrastructure and lessons learned from COVID-19 could prompt faster deployment of apps in the future. A future national marketing campaign with cohesive and coherent messaging could result in wider adoption. Policymakers could recommend a national app that public health authorities could decide to use based on their individual needs. A national app could add more functions by integrating exposure notification capabilities with test scheduling and vaccine delivery coordination. A coordinated national approach would likely have associated costs and require sustained funding during the pandemic. Coordination of groups with divergent perspectives and interests may pose challenges to defining outcomes, measuring performance, and establishing a leadership approach. It is unclear whether potential users would be more or less likely to trust a national exposure notification app than one developed by a state government. Source: GAO. | GAO-21-104622 For more information, contact Karen L. Howard at (202) 512-6888 or email@example.com or Vijay A. D’Souza, at (202) 512-6240, firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Priority Open Recommendations: Department of CommerceBy Sam NewsJune 22, 2021What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified 20 priority recommendations for the Department of Commerce. Since then, Commerce has implemented nine of those recommendations by, among other things, improving the risk management of the decennial census by ensuring identified risks had the required mitigation and contingency plans, and by establishing a process for conducting an organization-wide cybersecurity risk assessment. Commerce also had one priority recommendation related to the decennial census that we closed as not implemented. Additionally, Commerce had two priority recommendations that will remain open for the 2030 Census, but are no longer a priority in 2021 because action on these recommendations does not need to occur until later in the 10-year decennial cycle. In June 2021, GAO identified three additional priority recommendations for Commerce, bringing the total number to 11. These recommendations involve the following areas: Managing climate change risks International trade Information technology management and workforce planning Ensuring the cybersecurity of the nation Decennial Census Conflict minerals rule Full implementations of these open recommendations could significantly improve Commerce’s operations. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Michelle Sager at (202) 512-6806 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- COVID-19: Federal Efforts Accelerate Vaccine and Therapeutic Development, but More Transparency Needed on Emergency Use AuthorizationsBy Sam NewsNovember 17, 2020Through Operation Warp Speed—a partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD)—the federal government is accelerating efforts to develop vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19. A typical vaccine development process can take approximately 10 years or longer, but efforts under Operation Warp Speed seek to greatly accelerate this process by completing key steps simultaneously (see figure). As of October 15, 2020, Operation Warp Speed publicly announced financial support for the development or manufacturing of six COVID-19 vaccine candidates totaling more than $10 billion in obligations. It has also announced financial support for the development of therapeutics, such as a $450 million award to manufacture a monoclonal antibody treatment (a treatment that uses laboratory-made antibodies, which also may be able to serve as a prevention option). Operation Warp Speed Timeline for a Potential Vaccine Candidate Note: An Emergency Use Authorization allows for emergency use of medical products without FDA approval or licensure during a declared emergency, provided certain statutory criteria are met. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may temporarily allow the use of unlicensed or unapproved COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics through emergency use authorizations (EUA), provided there is evidence that the products may be effective and that known and potential benefits outweigh known and potential risks. For vaccines, FDA issued guidance in October 2020 to provide vaccine sponsors with recommendations regarding the evidence FDA needed to support issuance of an EUA. For therapeutics, FDA has issued four EUAs as of November 9, 2020. The evidence to support FDA's COVID-19 therapeutic authorization decisions has not always been transparent, in part because FDA does not uniformly disclose its scientific review of safety and effectiveness data for EUAs, as it does for approvals for new drugs and biologics. Given the gravity of the pandemic, it is important that FDA identify ways to uniformly disclose this information to the public. By doing so, FDA could help improve the transparency of, and ensure public trust in, its EUA decisions. The U.S. had about 10.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and about 224,000 reported deaths as of November 12, 2020. Given this catastrophic loss of life as well as the pandemic's effects on the U.S. economy, effective and safe vaccines and therapeutics are more important than ever. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines, (1) efforts of Operation Warp Speed to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutic development; and (2) FDA's use of EUAs for COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines, among other objectives. GAO reviewed federal laws and agency documents, including HHS and DOD information on vaccine and therapeutic development and EUAs as of November 2020. GAO interviewed or received written responses from HHS and DOD officials, and interviewed representatives from vaccine developers and manufacturers, as well as select public health stakeholders and provider groups covering a range of provider types. FDA should identify ways to uniformly disclose to the public the information from its scientific review of safety and effectiveness data when issuing EUAs for therapeutics and vaccines. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but said it shared GAO's goal of transparency and would explore approaches to achieve this goal. For more information, contact Mary Denigan-Macauley at (202) 512-7114 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Alyssa M. Hundrup at (202) 512-7114 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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