Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Hey, good morning. Good morning, everyone, (inaudible) great to see you. I’m really pleased to be with Jose Manuel. We’ve been doing a lot of work on the phone in recent months, but it’s good to be – actually to be able to get together in person. We are so grateful for the role that our close ally and partner has played in the evacuation from Afghanistan, including the use of the base in Rota to evacuate and transit people. And we have a lot of work to do together as well in preparation for the NATO summit next year, which is going to be critical in continuing to strengthen and prepare NATO for the challenges at this time, as well as lots of work together on the big issues of the moment, to include COVID and climate and many other things. But it’s just very good to have this opportunity to spend time together, so welcome.
FOREIGN MINISTER ALBARES: Thank you, Tony. It’s very nice to meet you here in person. We have many common points we have discussed on the phone several times: of course, Afghanistan, global affairs, climate change, and women-men equality. We share a common vision of several countries in Latin America. And I consider the United States the natural ally and partner of European Union, so nothing more evident than to be here talking to you today.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, my friend.
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- Military Readiness: Joint Policy Needed to Better Manage the Training and Use of Certain Forces to Meet Operational DemandsBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021Military operations in support of the Global War on Terrorism, particularly those in Iraq and Afghanistan, have challenged the Department of Defense's (DOD) ability to provide needed ground forces. Section 354 of the Fiscal Year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act directed GAO to report on a number of military readiness issues. In this report, GAO addresses (1) the extent to which DOD's use of nonstandard forces to meet ground force requirements has impacted the force and (2) the extent to which DOD has faced challenges in managing the training and use of these forces, and taken steps to address any challenges. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed DOD policies, guidance, and data and interviewed department, joint, combatant command, and service officials as well as trainers and over 300 deploying, deployed, and redeploying servicemembers.The use of nonstandard forces--individuals in certain temporary positions, and units with missions that require the unit personnel to learn new skills or operate in different environments--has helped DOD fulfill U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) requirements that the Army otherwise would not have been able to fill, but these efforts have also caused challenges across the force. For certain Navy and Air Force occupational specialties, these nonstandard force deployments have challenged the services' abilities to (1) balance the amount of time their forces are deployed with the amount of time they spend at home, and (2) meet other standard mission requirements. Some of the communities that have been most affected by nonstandard force deployments include the engineering, security force, and explosive ordnance disposal communities. In addition, the services have been challenged by emerging requirements for capabilities which do not exist in any of the services' standard forces, such as the transition teams that train local forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. These requirements are particularly taxing because the teams are composed primarily of officers and senior noncommissioned officers. Because standard forces do not exist to meet these leadership requirements, the services are forced to take leaders from other commands, which must then perform their missions without a full complement of leaders. The steps that DOD has taken to increase coordination between the services and CENTCOM have helped DOD manage challenges related to nonstandard forces, but additional steps are needed to ensure consistency in training and using these forces. Nonstandard forces face more complex relationships than standard forces, making coordination of their training and use more challenging. Specifically, their training requirements are established by both the services and theater commanders and training may be conducted by trainers from another service. In addition, while deployed, these forces often report to commanders from two different services. Furthermore, authorities concerning the training and use of forces do not specifically address the training and use of nonstandard forces. DOD has taken significant steps to coordinate the training of its nonstandard forces through regular conferences at which CENTCOM and service officials develop detailed training plans for some nonstandard forces. However, the training of individual augmentees has not been fully coordinated. As a result, individuals who perform the same types of tasks may receive different levels of training. Also, the services waive training requirements without consistently coordinating with CENTCOM, so CENTCOM lacks full visibility over the extent to which all of its forces have met requirements. To increase support and oversight of the use of nonstandard forces in theater, the services have taken steps to improve coordination, which have reduced instances where nonstandard forces' missions, tasks, or organization are modified. However, the services do not have full visibility over their nonstandard forces and view the authority of ground force commanders differently, which has sometimes led to differences in their use of nonstandard forces.[Read More…]
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- VA Real Property: Preliminary Observations on Challenges Limiting VA’s Ability to Effectively Manage Its AssetsBy Sam NewsJune 10, 2021What GAO Found GAO has identified key characteristics of an asset management framework designed to optimize funding and decision-making related to capital assets. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to have challenges meeting at least three of these key characteristics. Staffing resources. This key characteristic calls for organizational leadership to provide the necessary resources for asset management to succeed. Previously, VA officials described problems resulting from low levels of staffing resources, including project delays and difficulties in managing projects. VA has taken some actions to improve staffing levels, such as establishing special salary rates for engineers, and VA's vacancy rate for general engineers has improved, decreasing from 17.2 percent in fiscal year 2019 to 12.6 percent in fiscal year 2020. VA officials, however, continue to describe staffing difficulties in planning and executing projects and limits on the number of projects that facilities can undertake. Communication and collaboration. This key characteristic calls for organizations to promote a culture of information-sharing across traditional agency boundaries to help ensure that agencies make effective, enterprise-wide decisions regarding their assets. VA has taken steps to improve communication among offices with asset management responsibilities, such as by issuing an asset management directive that VA officials said would help to facilitate such collaboration. However, in current work GAO has found instances of insufficient communication, such as lack of (1) collaboration early in project development between local offices and the Office of Construction and Facilities Management and (2) coordination between construction offices and the Office of Information and Technology when bringing facilities online. Measurement and evaluation. This key characteristic calls for agencies to continuously evaluate the performance of their asset management systems and implement necessary improvements to optimize the assets' value and ensure the assets reflect the organization's current goals. VA previously developed goals and measures for its program of inspections to identify maintenance and repair needs in health care settings. However, currently VA lacks goals with related measures that would evaluate its asset management processes and point the way to necessary improvements. Why GAO Did This Study VA manages a vast portfolio of real property assets, including a healthcare system that provides care at 171 VA medical centers and 1,112 outpatient sites to over 9 million veterans enrolled in the VA health care program. VA has pressing infrastructure needs, including adapting to changes in veterans' demographics and maintaining or replacing aging facilities. GAO's key characteristics of an asset management framework state that effectively managing assets requires, among other things, maintaining leadership support that provides the necessary resources; a collaborative organizational culture; and a system for evaluating and improving asset management performance. However, GAO's previous and ongoing work has found that VA continues to face challenges on these fronts. Although VA has implemented some GAO recommendations, several priority recommendations remain outstanding in areas related to asset management, such as staffing and capital planning. GAO was asked to testify about VA's management of its capital asset portfolio. This statement summarizes GAO's findings from prior reports and preliminary observations from ongoing work examining VA's capital asset management. In ongoing work, GAO reviewed VA documentation and interviewed officials from VA headquarters offices involved in asset management. GAO also interviewed personnel at a selection of eight VA medical centers and seven regional offices and from four Veterans Service Organizations about VA's asset management. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Afghanistan: Oversight and Accountability of U.S. AssistanceBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021What GAO Found Since 2003, GAO has identified numerous challenges related to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Among the various challenges that GAO and others have identified, are the following: the dangerous security environment, the prevalence of corruption, and the limited capacity of the Afghan government to deliver services and sustain donor-funded projects. As illustrated in the figure below, between fiscal years 2002 and 2013, U.S. agencies allocated nearly $100 billion toward U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Breakout of U.S. Allocations for Efforts in Afghanistan, Fiscal Years 2002-2013 Note: This figure does not include funding provided for U.S. military or other operations in Afghanistan. Percentages may not add up to 100 as a result of rounding. The United States, along with the international community, has focused its efforts in areas such as building the capacity of Afghan ministries to govern and deliver services, developing Afghanistan's infrastructure and economy, and developing and sustaining the Afghan National Security Forces. In multiple reviews of these efforts, GAO has identified numerous shortcomings and has made recommendations to the agencies to take corrective actions related to (1) mitigating the risk of providing direct assistance to the Afghan government, (2) oversight and accountability of U.S. development projects, and (3) estimating the future costs of sustaining Afghanistan's security forces which the United States and international community have pledged to support. In February 2013, GAO reported that while the circumstances, combat operations, and diplomatic efforts in Iraq differ from those in Afghanistan, potential lessons could be learned from the transition from a military- to a civilian-led presence to avoid possible missteps and better utilize resources. As GAO has reported, contingency planning is critical to a successful transition and to ensuring that there is sufficient oversight of the U.S. investment in Afghanistan. This is particularly vital given the uncertainties of the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement and the ultimate size of the post-2014 U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Why GAO Did This Study The U.S. government has engaged in multiple efforts in Afghanistan since declaring a global war on terrorism that targeted al Qaeda, its affiliates, and other violent extremists, including certain elements of the Taliban. These efforts have focused on a whole-of-government approach that calls for the use of all elements of U.S. national power to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates and prevent their return to Afghanistan. This approach, in addition to security assistance, provided billions toward governance and development, diplomatic operations, and humanitarian assistance. To assist Congress in its oversight, GAO has issued over 70 products since 2003 including key oversight issues related to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. This testimony summarizes the key findings from those products and discusses: (1) the challenges associated with operating in Afghanistan, (2) key oversight and accountability issues regarding U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, and (3) the need for contingency planning as the U.S. transitions to a civilian-led presence in Afghanistan.[Read More…]
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- Border Security: Observations on Costs, Benefits, and Challenges of a Department of Defense Role in Helping to Secure the Southwest Land BorderBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021What GAO FoundThe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 mandated that GAO examine the costs and benefits of an increased Department of Defense (DOD) role to help secure the southwest land border. This mandate directed that GAO report on, among other things, the potential deployment of additional units, increased use of ground-based mobile surveillance systems, use of mobile patrols by military personnel, and an increased deployment of unmanned aerial systems and manned aircraft in national airspace. In September 2011, GAO reported that DOD estimated a total cost of about $1.35 billion for two separate border operationsOperation Jump Start and Operation Phalanxconducted by National Guard forces in Title 32 status from June 2006 to July 2008 and from June 2010 through September 30, 2011, respectively. Further, DOD estimated that it has cost about $10 million each year since 1989 to use active duty Title 10 forces nationwide, through its Joint Task Force-North, in support of drug law enforcement agencies with some additional operational costs borne by the military services. Agency officials stated multiple benefits from DODs increased border role, such as assistance to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Border Patrol until newly hired Border Patrol agents are trained and deployed to the border; providing DOD personnel with training opportunities in a geographic environment similar to current combat theaters; contributing to apprehensions and seizures and deterring other illegal activity along the border; building relationships with law enforcement agencies; and strengthening military-to-military relationships with forces from Mexico.GAO found challenges for the National Guard and for active-duty military forces in providing support to law enforcement missions. For example, under Title 32 of the United States Code, National Guard personnel are permitted to participate in law enforcement activities; however, the Secretary of Defense has precluded National Guard forces from making arrests while performing border missions because of concerns raised about militarizing the U.S. border. As a result, all arrests and seizures at the southwest border are performed by the Border Patrol. Further, DOD officials cited restraints on the direct use of active duty forces, operating under Title 10 of the United States Code in domestic civilian law enforcement, set out in the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. In addition, GAO has reported on the varied availability of DOD units to support law enforcement missions, such as some units being regularly available while other units (e.g., ground-based surveillance teams) may be deployed abroadmaking it more difficult to fulfill law enforcement requests.Federal officials stated a number of broad issues and concerns regarding any additional DOD assistance in securing the southwest border. DOD officials expressed concerns about the absence of a comprehensive strategy for southwest border security and the resulting challenges to identify and plan a DOD role. DHS officials expressed concerns that DODs border assistance is ad hoc in that DOD has other operational requirements. DOD assists when legal authorities allow and resources are available, whereas DHS has a continuous mission to ensure border security. Further, Department of State and DOD officials expressed concerns about the perception of a militarized U.S. border with Mexico, especially when Department of State and Justice officials are helping civilian law enforcement institutions in Mexico on border issues.Why GAO Did This StudyDHS reports that the southwest border continues to be vulnerable to cross-border illegal activity, including the smuggling of humans and illegal narcotics. Several federal agencies are involved in border security efforts, including DHS, DOD, Justice, and State. In recent years, the National Guard has played a role in helping to secure the southwest land border by providing the Border Patrol with information on the identification of individuals attempting to cross the southwest land border into the United States. Generally, the National Guard can operate in three different statuses: (1) state statusstate funded under the command and control of the governor; (2) Title 32 statusfederally funded under command and control of the governor; and (3) Title 10 statusfederally funded under command and control of the Secretary of Defense.This testimony discusses (1) the costs and benefits of a DOD role to help secure the southwest land border, including the deployment of the National Guard, other DOD personnel, or additional units; (2) the challenges of a DOD role at the southwest land border; and (3) considerations of an increased DOD role to help secure the southwest land border.The information in this testimony is based on work completed in September 2011, which focused on the costs and benefits of an increased role of DOD at the southwest land border. See "Observations on the Costs and Benefits of an Increased Department of Defense Role in Helping to Secure the Southwest Land Border," GAO-11-856R (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 12, 2011).For more information, contact Brian J. Lepore at (202) 512-4523 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- General Aviation: Stakeholders Expressed Mixed Views of FAA Policies on Private Pilot Expense SharingBy Sam NewsFebruary 18, 2021The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) primary rationale for its policies on private pilots' sharing expenses with passengers is based on passenger expectations of safety. FAA policies allow private pilots to share the cost of certain flight expenses with passengers but prohibit these pilots from engaging in “common carriage,” which is communicating to the public a willingness to fly in exchange for compensation. These policies generally prohibit pilots from using the internet to find passengers. FAA officials said these policies are in place because they are concerned the public might expect a similar level of safety on private expense-sharing flights as commercial flights. However, the safety record of commercial aviation is better than that of private flying (general aviation). For example, according to data from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), commercial carriers had a fatal accident rate around 30 times lower than general aviation in 2018. FAA officials said their goal for FAA's 2020 guidance on expense sharing was to restate and clarify existing policies. Example of an Aircraft Private Pilots Could Use for Expense-Sharing Flights Stakeholders described benefits of expense sharing but expressed mixed views on FAA's policies and guidance. For example, stakeholders cited potential economic benefits to the general aviation sector and a potential expansion of the pool of future professional pilots as benefits of expense sharing. Most (eight of 13) stakeholders said FAA's 2020 guidance on expense-sharing is clear and provides sufficient information. However, some stakeholders said the guidance could provide more definitive examples of allowed expense-sharing flights, and others disagreed with how FAA defined certain concepts such as how pilots can be compensated for flying passengers. Also, stakeholders split on whether FAA should allow pilots to use the internet to find expense-sharing passengers. Seven of 15 stakeholders, including four representatives from companies with expense-sharing applications, said FAA should allow pilots to use the internet to find these passengers by citing, for example, ongoing positive experiences in Europe. However, eight stakeholders, including six of seven professional organizations, said FAA should not. These stakeholders cited safety-related risks of expense sharing including what they characterized as FAA's limited capacity to enforce current regulations and flights using less experienced pilots. Private flying is expensive, and FAA allows private pilots to reduce their costs by carrying passengers and sharing certain flight expenses with them. However, private pilots cannot engage in common carriage. If pilots do engage in common carriage, they are subject to FAA's more stringent regulations covering commercial air carriers. Some private pilots have sought to use internet applications to find expense-sharing passengers. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 directed FAA to issue advisory guidance clarifying how private pilots may share expenses. In February 2020, FAA released this guidance as an advisory circular. The Act also includes a provision for GAO to review FAA's policies on expense sharing. This report describes: (1) FAA's rationale for its policies on how private pilots may find expense-sharing passengers and (2) selected stakeholder perspectives on FAA's policies and the risks and benefits of arranging these expense-sharing flights online. GAO interviewed FAA officials on how FAA developed its policies and guidance related to expense sharing. GAO also reviewed FAA's data on enforcement actions related to expense sharing and safety data from NTSB. In addition, GAO interviewed a non-generalizable sample of 15 private-sector stakeholders, including professional organizations, such as trade groups representing general aviation pilots, companies that developed expense-sharing internet applications, and flying clubs. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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