Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Ann, so good to see you. Thank you for being here. We’ve already had the opportunity to work together on a number of things, and that’s a reflection of the fact that the United States and Sweden are working together in so many different areas, whether it’s climate, whether it’s COVID, whether it’s on security matters. And, of course, your chairmanship of the OSCE has been particularly critical and important. I very much look forward to talking about that.
And of course, we’re here together for the Arctic Council and a shared commitment to continuing to maintain this region as one of peaceful cooperation, whether it’s on climate, whether it’s on science, technology, whether it’s on supporting indigenous peoples in the region. So I very much look forward to the opportunity to talk about that and the agenda we have, but mostly it’s good finally to be face to face and get to work. So thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER LINDE: Thank you very much. I’m also very happy to be here and to be able to speak to you in person. And I think it’s very clear that now the United States is tapped in fully with multilateral cooperation, not least when it comes to environment and climate, which is one of the main issues here that we’re – discussion in the Arctic Council. I always say that why are you in the Arctic Council: peace, climate, people – that’s the reason. And we want to keep it low tension. And I hope to be able both to discuss these issues, but also as – me being the chairperson-in-office of OSCE, there’s many conflicts where the United States also are involved, be it the central Caucasus, southern Caucasus, or Central Asia, or Nagorno-Karabakh. And I think it’s important for us to discuss also our different views on these.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I look forward to it. Thank you very much.
- Department of Justice Issues Statement Regarding Federal Civil Rights Review Into March 2020 Police Encounter with Daniel PrudeBy Sam NewsFebruary 23, 2021Pamela Karlan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, James P. Kennedy Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, and Stephen A. Belongia, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Buffalo Field Office, released the following statement:[Read More…]
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- Department of Defense: Eating Disorders in the MilitaryBy Sam NewsAugust 7, 2020The Department of Defense (DOD) screens for eating disorders for all applicants entering into the military but does not specifically screen servicemembers for eating disorders after entrance. However, after joining the military, servicemembers receive annual health screenings, and medical personnel may be able to diagnose eating disorders during in-person physical exams. Service branch behavioral health specialists told GAO that DOD medical personnel are trained to notice signs of eating disorders, such as changes in vital signs and emaciated appearance. DOD is examining ways to improve its screening of eating disorders in the military and recently expanded the available research funding for eating disorders in its Peer-Reviewed Medical Research Program (PRMRP). DOD provides health care services to approximately 9.5 million eligible beneficiaries, including services to treat those diagnosed with eating disorders, through TRICARE, DOD’s regionally structured health care system. Servicemembers can obtain these services at military treatment facilities—referred to as direct care—or receive care purchased from civilian providers—referred to as purchased care. DOD officials told us that the specialized level of care necessary to treat eating disorders is available to TRICARE beneficiaries through purchased care, rather than direct care. The Defense Health Agency (DHA), which oversees the TRICARE program, uses two contractors to develop regional provider networks. According to the two TRICARE contractors’ data for purchased care, as of spring 2020, there were 166 eating disorder facilities located in 32 states throughout the country and the District of Columbia. The facilities vary by geographic location, population served, and level of treatment provided: Geography: About half of the 166 facilities (79) are located in the following five states: California (24), Florida (18), Illinois (15), Texas (13), and Virginia (nine). Population: Of the 166 eating disorder facilities, over three-quarters provide treatment to both adult (132 facilities) and child and adolescent (132 facilities) populations. Level of Treatment: Most facilities provide inpatient hospitalization programs, which are for serious cases requiring medical stabilization (81 facilities); partial hospitalization, which are day programs providing treatment 5 to 7 days a week (133 facilities); or intensive outpatient programs, which are treatment programs providing therapy 2 to 6 days a week (107 facilities). About one-fifth of the facilities (35) provide residential treatment services, which are living accommodations providing intensive therapy and 24-hour supervision. TRICARE contractors have met with some challenges entering into contracts with eating disorder treatment facilities in certain areas of the country, according to DHA officials and both contractors. However, both contractors told GAO they consider it their responsibility to ensure beneficiaries receive the care they need regardless of the location of the facility. No access-to-care complaints related to eating disorder treatment were reported by TRICARE beneficiaries, according to the most recent DHA data for years 2018 through 2019. Eating disorders are complex conditions affecting millions of Americans and involve dangerous eating behaviors, such as the restriction of food intake. They can have a severe impact on heart, stomach, and brain functionality, and they significantly raise the risk of mortality. Many with eating disorders also experience co-occurring conditions such as depression. Research has yielded a range of estimates of the number of servicemembers with an eating disorder, due to differences in research methods. For example, a 2018 DOD study concluded that servicemembers likely experienced eating disorders at rates that are comparable to rates in the general population, while other survey-based research suggested the number of servicemembers with eating disorders may be higher than those with a medical diagnoses of such disorders. The potential effects that eating disorders can have on the health and combat readiness of servicemembers and their dependents underscores the importance of screening and treating this population. GAO was asked to provide information on eating disorders among servicemembers and their dependents. To describe how DOD screens for eating disorders among servicemembers, GAO reviewed DOD policies related to health screening and interviewed behavioral health specialists from the military branches. To understand approaches and challenges with implementing screening in a military environment, any planned or ongoing DOD-sponsored research related to this topic, and available eating disorder treatment, GAO interviewed representatives from the Eating Disorder Coalition, Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, and the University of Kansas. To describe how DOD provides eating disorder treatment to servicemembers and their dependents, GAO interviewed DHA officials and TRICARE contractors and reviewed the TRICARE policy manual to identify the types of eating disorder diagnoses and treatments that are covered through direct and purchased care. GAO received data from the two TRICARE contractors related to the availability of eating disorder treatment services as of spring 2020. For more information, contact Sharon Silas at (202) 512-7114 or Silass@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Central and Southwest Asian Countries: Trends in U.S. Assistance and Key Economic, Governance, and Demographic CharacteristicsBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021Following the terrorist attacks of September 2001, prosecuting the global war on terrorism became the United States' primary foreign policy priority. The United States focused its initial efforts on Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom because the country harbored elements of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. As a result, countries in the region--Pakistan and the five Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan--became frontline states in the war on terrorism, raising the profile of U.S. relations with these countries.Since the attacks of September 2001, the United States has broadened its priorities and increased its assistance and presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the five Central Asian republics--countries with significant political and economic challenges that may affect the United States' priorities and programs in the region. While not specific to all countries in the region, the United States continues to focus on priorities that were in place prior to September 2001: political and economic reform, nonproliferation, energy development, counternarcotics, and trafficking. However, since that time, the United States has emphasized enhanced security and counterterrorism relationships accompanied by increased military and economic assistance and U.S. military presence. For example, in fiscal year 2001 the United States provided about $342 million in assistance to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the five Central Asian republics. In fiscal year 2002, the United States planned to provide about $1.9 billion in assistance for these countries, primarily for Afghanistan and Pakistan.1 Further, since September 2001, the United States has deployed forces to a number of military facilities in the region to support U.S. operations in Afghanistan. These expanded activities and investments occur in an environment generally marked by authoritarian regimes, poor economic outlooks, and large youth populations vulnerable to the appeal of radical movements.[Read More…]
- Statement by Attorney General William P. Barr on the 19th Anniversary of the September 11, 2001 Terrorist AttacksBy Sam NewsSeptember 11, 2020Attorney General William [Read More…]
- The Department of Justice Announces Standards for Certifying Safe Policing Practices by Law Enforcement AgenciesBy Sam NewsOctober 28, 2020Today, the Department of Justice announced Standards for Certification that will be used by credentialing bodies so they can begin certifying thousands of law enforcement agencies over the next three months. The Standards of Certification are a result of President Trump’s June Executive Order 13929, Safe Policing for Safe Communities.[Read More…]
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- SOS Interpreting, Ltd.By Sam NewsAugust 12, 2021A firm protested the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) exclusion of its proposal from the competitive range for translation, transcription, and related support services, contending that DEA (1) unreasonably rejected the initial evaluations of proposals and reconvened a new evaluation panel and (2) did not have a valid basis to reject its proposal, since DEA improperly evaluated its bid. GAO held that (1) there was no evidence in the record that DEA's decisions were not made in good faith and (2) DEA's evaluation was reasonable and consistent with the evaluation criteria set forth in the solicitation. Accordingly, the protest was denied.[Read More…]
- Medical Device Maker Merit Medical To Pay $18 Million To Settle Allegations Of Improper Payments To PhysiciansBy Sam NewsOctober 14, 2020Medical device maker Merit Medical Systems Inc. (MMSI), of South Jordan, Utah, has agreed to pay $18 million to resolve allegations that the company caused the submission of false claims to the Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE programs by paying kickbacks to physicians and hospitals to induce the use of MMSI products, the Department of Justice announced today.[Read More…]
- Owner of Oil Chem Inc. Pleads Guilty to Violating the Clean Water ActBy Sam NewsJanuary 14, 2021The president and owner of Oil Chem Inc. pleaded guilty in federal court in Flint, Michigan, to a criminal charge of violating the Clean Water Act stemming from illegal discharges of landfill leachate — totaling more than 47 million gallons — into the city of Flint sanitary sewer system over an eight and a half year period.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Sues Monopolist Google For Violating Antitrust LawsBy Sam NewsOctober 20, 2020Today, the Department of Justice — along with eleven state Attorneys General — filed a civil antitrust lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to stop Google from unlawfully maintaining monopolies through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices in the search and search advertising markets and to remedy the competitive harms. The participating state Attorneys General offices represent Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, and Texas.[Read More…]
- Florida Man Sentenced to Three Years in Prison for Obstructing the IRSBy Sam NewsJuly 29, 2020A Florida man was sentenced to 36 months in prison today for corruptly obstructing the due administration of the internal revenue laws, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez for the Middle District of Florida.[Read More…]
- Former Bureau of Prisons Corrections Officer Sentenced for Sexually Assaulting Two Women on Multiple Occasions and Lying to InvestigatorsBy Sam NewsAugust 19, 2020Adrian L. Stargell, 39, a former Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Corrections Officer who worked as an Education Specialist at the FCI-Aliceville facility in Aliceville, Alabama, was sentenced today in federal court in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to 42 months in prison and three years supervised release.[Read More…]
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- Science & Tech Spotlight: Vaccine SafetyBy Sam NewsFebruary 24, 2021Why this Matters Safe vaccines are critical to fighting diseases, from polio to COVID-19. Research shows that the protection provided by U.S. licensed vaccines outweighs their potential risks. However, misinformation and unjustified safety concerns can cause people to delay or refuse vaccination, which may increase preventable deaths and prolong negative social and economic impacts. The Science What is it? A vaccine is generally considered safe when the benefits of protecting an individual from disease outweigh the risks from potential side effects (fig. 1). The most common side effects stem from the body's immune reaction and include swelling at the injection site, fever, and aches. Figure 1. Symptoms of polio and side effects of the polio vaccine. A vaccine is generally considered safe if its benefits (preventing disease) outweigh its risks (side effects). In rare cases, some vaccines may cause more severe side effects. For example, the vaccine for rotavirus—a childhood illness that can cause severe diarrhea, dehydration, and even death—can cause intestinal blockage in one in 100,000 recipients. However, the vaccine is still administered because this very rare side effect is outweighed by the vaccine's benefits: it saves lives and prevents an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 childhood hospitalizations in the U.S. each year. The two messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines authorized for COVID-19—a disease that contributed to more than 415,000 American deaths between January 2020 and January 2021—can cause severe allergic reactions. However, early safety reporting found that these reactions have been extremely rare, with only about five cases per 1 million recipients, according to data from January 2021 reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In general, side effects from vaccines are less acceptable to the public than side effects from treatments given to people who already have a disease. What is known? Vaccine developers assess safety from early research, through laboratory and animal testing, and even after the vaccine is in use (fig. 2). Researchers may rely on previous studies to inform future vaccine trials. For example, safety information from preclinical trials of mRNA flu vaccine candidates in 2017 allowed for the acceleration of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine development. Vaccine candidates shown to be safe in these preclinical trials can proceed to clinical trials in humans. In the U.S., clinical trials generally proceed through three phases of testing involving increasing numbers of volunteers: dozens in phase 1 to thousands in phase 3. Although data may be collected over years, most common side effects are identified in the first 2 months after vaccination in clinical trials. After reviewing safety and other data from vaccine studies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may license a vaccine to be marketed in the U.S. There are also programs to expedite—but not bypass—development and review processes, such as a priority review designation, which shortens FDA’s goal review time from 10 to 6 months. Safety monitoring continues after licensing. For example, health officials are required to report certain adverse events—such as heart problems—following vaccination, in order to help identify potential long-term or rare side effects that were not seen in clinical trials and may or may not be associated with the vaccine. Figure 2. Vaccine safety is assessed at every stage: development through post-licensure. Following a declared emergency, FDA can also issue emergency use authorizations (EUA) to allow temporary use of unlicensed vaccines if there is evidence that known and potential benefits of the vaccine outweigh known and potential risks, among other criteria. As of January 2021, two COVID-19 vaccines had received EUAs, after their efficacy and short-term safety were assessed through large clinical trials. However, developers must continue safety monitoring and meet other requirements if they intend to apply for FDA licensure to continue distribution of these vaccines after the emergency period has ended. What are the knowledge gaps? One knowledge gap that can remain after clinical trials is whether side effects or other adverse events may occur in certain groups. For example, because clinical trials usually exclude certain populations, such as people who are pregnant or have existing medical conditions, data on potential adverse events related to specific populations may not be understood until vaccines are widely administered. In addition, it can be difficult to determine the safety of new vaccines if outbreaks end suddenly. For example, vaccine safety studies were hindered during the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic when a large increase in the number of cases was followed by a sharp decrease. This disrupted the clinical trials of Ebola vaccine candidates, because the trials require many infected and non-infected people. Furthermore, a lack of understanding and/or misinformation about the steps taken to ensure the safety of vaccines hinders accurate public knowledge about safety concerns, which may cause people to delay or refuse vaccination. This resulting hesitancy may, in turn, increase deaths, social harm, and economic damage. Opportunities Continuing and, where necessary, improving existing vaccine safety practices offers the following opportunities to society: Herd immunity. Widespread immunity in a population, acquired in large part through safe and effective vaccines, can slow the spread of infection and protect those most vulnerable. Health care improvements. Vaccinations can reduce the burden on the health care system by reducing severe symptoms that require individuals to seek treatment. Eradication. Safe vaccination programs, such as those combatting smallpox, may eliminate diseases to the point where transmission no longer occurs. Challenges There are a number of challenges to ensuring safe vaccines: Public confidence. Vaccine hesitancy, in part due to misinformation or historic unethical human experimentation, decreases participation in clinical trials, impeding identification of side effects across individuals with different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Mutating viruses. Some viruses, such as those that cause the flu or COVID-19, may mutate rapidly and thus may require new or updated vaccines, for which ongoing safety monitoring is important. Long-term and rare effects. Exceedingly rare or long-term effects may not be identified until after vaccines have been widely administered. Further study is needed to detect any such effects and confirm they are truly associated with the vaccine. Policy Context & Questions What steps can policymakers take to improve public trust and understanding of the process of assessing vaccine safety? How can policymakers convey the social importance of vaccines to protect the general public and those who are most vulnerable? How can policymakers leverage available resources to support ongoing vaccine development and post-licensure safety monitoring? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.[Read More…]
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- Justice Department Sues Guam and the Guam Retirement Fund for Denying Servicemembers Proper Pension Credits During Military ServiceBy Sam NewsSeptember 1, 2021The Justice Department announced today that it has filed suit against the Territory of Guam and the Guam Retirement Fund (GRF) alleging defendants violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) when they refused to properly provide pension credit to servicemembers who used leave from Guam’s leave-sharing program while on active military duty. As a result, Guam and the GRF shorted the retirement benefits and pension annuities of at least five servicemembers and potentially many more.[Read More…]
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- Federal Protective Service: Better Documented Cost Estimates Could Help Stakeholders Make Security DecisionsBy Sam NewsJune 9, 2021What GAO Found The Federal Protective Service (FPS) provides security and protection at more than 9,000 federal facilities. FPS performs a variety of security activities in conjunction with the General Services Administration (GSA), which functions as the landlord at most of these facilities, and with the federal agencies, which occupy these facilities as tenants. These stakeholders can provide important perspectives on FPS's performance of its key activities (see figure). The Federal Protective Service's Three Key Security Activities Stakeholders expressed satisfaction with many aspects of FPS's performance of key activities but also identified aspects where they thought FPS could make improvements. For example, stakeholders expressed satisfaction with the professionalism of FPS personnel and commended FPS's coordination in responding to law enforcement incidents. However, some stakeholders said they would like to see FPS oversee contract guards more often. In addition, many stakeholders said that FPS could improve the cost estimates in its security assessment reports. GAO's review of FPS's Facility Security Assessment reports found that cost estimates for the recommended security measures lacked information that could help stakeholders make decisions to accept or reject FPS's recommendations. Specifically, recent reports for 27 selected buildings did not document (1) the assumptions FPS made to produce the cost estimates (e.g., the scope of work) and (2) the sources FPS used to create the estimate. In one report, for example, FPS recommended additional fencing and provided a cost estimate with an exact dollar amount. However, FPS did not document the assumptions it used to develop the estimate, such as the height and linear feet of fence or the fencing material. According to GAO's Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide , cost estimates should provide information about the assumptions and sources used to develop an estimate so that decision-makers can understand the level of uncertainty around the estimate. By providing detailed information about the cost estimates in Facility Security Assessment reports, FPS could better inform stakeholders and potentially increase implementation of recommended security measures, designed to increase the safety of people and property at these facilities. Why GAO Did This Study Over one million employees and a range of visitors seeking services at federal facilities depend on FPS to ensure the safety of both people and property at these locations. This report examines stakeholders' perspectives on FPS's performance of three key activities. GAO identified key activities from FPS data on work hours. GAO held discussion groups with stakeholders from 27 randomly selected facilities where FPS provided guard services and responded to incidents in fiscal year 2019 and analyzed stakeholder responses from 2017-2019 to GSA's and FPS's feedback instruments. These sources of stakeholder views are not representative but collectively provide insight into stakeholders' satisfaction with how FPS is performing key activities. GAO also reviewed agency documents; interviewed FPS officials about FPS's performance; and compared FPS's security assessment reports to criteria in GAO's Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide .[Read More…]