Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at a Joint Press Availability

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Kyiv, Ukraine

Office of the President of Ukraine

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Dear representatives of the media, you have your opportunity to put questions to president of Ukraine and State Secretary of the U.S.

PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY:  (Via interpreter) I would like to apologize for infringing upon your rule procedure, but a couple opening remarks from myself and Secretary of State.  I would like to talk essentially and without emotions – unlikely emotions.

The United States of America is represented at this level for the first time in my life.  I have State Secretary here and Victoria Nuland and all the team.  This is the first meeting, but I have this feeling of familiarity because the team has been well-versed in our developments.  You’re well posted on all the details.  Sometimes, this is a disadvantage, but – to have such well-informed interlocutors, but your – the awareness of the U.S. team on the developments in the Ukrainian Donbas is striking.  And they’re supporting us not just in words but in deeds – our sovereignty, our territorial integrity.

And quite frankly, I’d like to say that we’ve made many steps to stop the buildup and escalation, the recent buildup along the Ukrainian borders.  And so we prevented some developments, especially coming from this side of the temporarily occupied areas in the Donbas and the Crimean peninsula that belongs to Ukraine.  And we discussed the issues not just of our occupied territories and the illegal annexation of the Crimea by the Russian Federation, but also Nord Stream 2.  This is of utmost importance and a very sensitive issue for Ukraine.

There are different positions imaginable in Europe.  Unfortunately, there is not always coinciding with the Ukraine’s stance, but we have a full understanding with the United States, and their sanction policy is very well present and appreciated by us.  Some things we have achieved, some where we have covered part of the distance, but the meeting has been very essential and significant.

We hope that this is going to be a fundamental year of our bilateral relations.  This is fundamental for Ukraine because this is the 30th anniversary of our regained independence, and under the auspices of this, we will open the Crimean Platform, the first venue to support Ukrainian Crimea and de-occupy the peninsula.  I invited President Biden and Vice President of the U.S.  We believe that this year, the year of such symbolic developments for Ukraine, the United States by all means will be with us and play – pay us a visit officially and not so officially.

Thank you very much.  The floor is yours.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, Mr. President, thank you very, very much.  Thank you for your hospitality, thank you for already some very, very good and detailed meetings.  I’m particularly delighted to be back in Kyiv in Ukraine.  And I really came, as I told you, on one of my first trips as Secretary of State to convey personally on behalf of President Biden how deeply we value our friendship, our partnership with Ukraine.  And I think we are in the process of really reinvigorating that partnership.  We are proud to stand by your side to secure a prosperous and democratic future for all the people of this country.

And as the president told you when you spoke, and as I reiterated today, we are committed to Ukraine’s independence, to its sovereignty, to its territorial integrity.  And by the way, I’m pleased to note that that sentiment was very much shared by all of our colleagues at the G7 meeting that I just came from in London.  To some extent, what we’re doing today here reflects the breadth and depth of the relationship we have because even in the short amount of time that we’re here today, I was able to see leaders of the Rada this morning.  Had a very good meeting with my good friend, the foreign minister.  We’ve been working very closely together for – since I came to office.

I managed to visit the majestic St. Michael’s Monastery and was very grateful that his beatitude gave me a tour.  We were able to pay tribute to those who’ve lost their lives defending Ukraine’s democracy, and it’s very, very moving to be at the wall, to see the pictures of these individuals.  Monuments are powerful things, but I think this is especially powerful because you see in those pictures each life, and you think of the mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers, the children who have lost their loved ones because they were defending Ukraine.  And it’s very, very, very powerful.

I’ll have an opportunity to see the prime minister as well.  We’ll be meeting with representatives of your very strong civil society.  And in all of this, I think it just shows the breadth of what we’re doing together.

As the president said, we had very wide-ranging discussions.  We talked about Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.  I emphasized the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to supporting the vital work that Ukraine is undertaking to advance reforms, to tackle corruption, to implement a strong reform agenda based on the shared democratic values we have.  We know from our own experiences we talked about, that the work of reforming institutions is hard.  There are powerful interests lined up against reform and against anticorruption efforts.  Those include external forces like Russia but also internal forces like oligarchs and other powerful individuals who are pursuing their own narrow interests through illegitimate means at the expense of the interests of the Ukrainian people.  And we know that effectively combating corruption is one of the most important issues to the Ukrainian people and it’s crucial to improving their lives, from the services they rely upon to the opportunities they are able to pursue.

So we talked about a number of areas where this work is so important: corporate governance, transparency, the integrity and independence of the anticorruption bodies, the judiciary, and we had a very good – a very good exchange on all of that.

Let me just say also that we spent some time talking about the threat that Russia continues to pose to Ukraine.  We’ve been watching this very, very closely and very, very carefully.  We’re proud to have supported Ukraine in the face of years of Russian aggression and pressure, from the invasion of Crimea to hostilities in the Donbas.  And of course, Ukraine was tested again just weeks ago this spring as Russia pushed more forces to Ukraine’s border than at any time since 2014 when it invaded.  And I can tell you, Mr. President, that we stand strongly with you.  Partners do as well.  I heard the same thing when I was at NATO a couple of weeks ago.  And we look to Russia to cease reckless and aggressive actions.

We’ll continue to strengthen our security partnership in close collaboration with you to make sure that Ukraine can defend itself against aggression.  We’re aware that Russia has withdrawn some forces from the border of Ukraine, but we also see that significant forces remain there, significant equipment remains there.  We’re monitoring the situation very, very closely.  As I said, regardless of the movement that Russia is making back and forth, one thing is tragically constant, and that is that there are casualties every day along the line of contact in eastern Ukraine, and cyber attacks, abuses of its place in the seas, all of this is a daily occurrence.

And ultimately, let me just say in conclusion that we oppose Russia’s destabilizing actions toward Ukraine for the same reason we believe these anticorruption and rule of law reforms are so important, because corrupt interests and Russian aggression both seek in different ways to do the same thing, and that is to take away from the Ukrainian people what is rightfully theirs: their right to make their own decisions, to use their resources as they see fit, and whether that be resources, territory, justice, or simply the ability to chart the country’s future, those are decisions for a sovereign Ukraine and the Ukrainian people to make, and no one else.

So Mr. President, again, it’s so good to be here, but also so good to have an opportunity to work with you and to really reinvigorate the partnership between our countries.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) We have time for two questions from the Ukrainian media, Ukraine TV network.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) So I have two.  My questions to President Zelenskyy and Secretary Blinken:  Mr. President, can you tell us how we will deepen the military cooperation with the United States?  Have you discussed this with the Secretary of State here?  And the second question:  Have you discussed the opportunity to meet Joe Biden?  Because it’s such – Ukraine has insisted upon such opportunity.

(In English.) Mr. State Secretary, the same questions I have to you.  Have you discussed with the Ukrainian president strengthening and deepening of military support of Ukraine?  Because we’re faced with ongoing Russian aggression.  And the second – my question is about how do you estimate the oaths of our president to meet with the President of the United States Joe Biden?  Because as you know, our country is willing to have this meeting.  Thank you.  We would highly appreciate this possibility.  Thank you.

PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY:  (Via interpreter) Well, thank you for the question, and two in one.  Let me start with the latter part.  I have discussed this already.  I mentioned it at the very beginning in my talking points.  Yes, I invited President Joe Biden to officially visit Ukraine.  This year, this is our 30th anniversary of the regained independence.  I don’t know what will the format of this meeting exactly.  It depends on our both countries.  But the invitation is accepted, I understand, and I believe that the meeting will happen.  It is very important for both our countries.

Now, speaking of the military support and financial support and technical assistance coming from the U.S. for Ukraine, yes, it is happening.  It is unfolding.  I would like to thank for the bipartisan and bicameral support coming from the U.S.  We increased the military, the financial support.  Indeed, we discussed separately the format of support of – as – which is fundamental, the alliance issue, and possible bilateral very serious agreement.  But this is for the future to tell; it is too early to discuss any detail.

And we also discussed the issue of security in the Black Sea and Azov Sea regions, and we can see some joint action there.  One of the fundamental ideas, I think – well, I cannot discuss it publicly yet.  We have to reconcile this idea, finalize it, and then we will come to the public with it.  But we can see support in a very important point of development of our history for our nation, for our people.  It is very important for our people to feel support of our partners.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And thank you very much.  So two things.  Yes, we – as the president said, we discussed in some detail the support that we’re providing, we’ll continue to provide to Ukraine to continue to strengthen its security, its defenses.  And that’s something that we are working on very, very actively, and, by the way, other strong supporters of Ukraine are looking at the same thing.

And I very much appreciated the invitation that the president extended to President Biden, which of course I’ll share with the President as soon as we get back to Washington.  I know that he looks very much forward to the opportunity to meet, especially after the very good conversation that you had.  I know he will welcome the opportunity at the right time to come back to Ukraine, where he spent much time in the past.

As you all know, we continue to face challenges with COVID-19 and – that make travel challenging.  We’ll be testing the proposition soon when the President makes his first trip.  We’ve been – he’s been in office for more than four months and we, of course, have not yet had the opportunity to travel, so – but we’ll be doing that soon.  And I know that at some point, he will very much want to, of course, see you and return to Ukraine.

MR PRICE:  We’ll turn to Barbara Usher of the BBC.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Here we are.  Just a few follow-up questions on that.  On security, you mentioned that the Russians had not withdrawn all their forces; in fact, left a sizable force there.  What – both of you – what is your assessment of the threat level, especially as NATO is beginning a series of military exercises in the region?

On U.S. support, you both talked, I think generally, about strengthening military assistance, a possible NATO agreement, but nothing concrete at the moment.  So if you could confirm that there’s no new steps on the military and NATO side, but is there anything new to announce about an expanded diplomatic role for the United States when it comes to the Minsk peace talks?  I know that’s something that you’ve been looking for.

And then finally, about reform, Rudy Giuliani is back in the news.  Was his involvement here, President, a setback for the anticorruption reform?  And can you respond to U.S. criticism of the firing of the Naftogaz board, which the State Department has said is a setback for the anticorruption reform?

And Mr. Blinken, will that move – will that affect in any way assistance tied to reforms?  Thank you very much.

PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY:  (Via interpreter) Thank you.  Where are you?  (Laughter.)  I see you put the question.  Face the answer.

Well, thank you very much for your question or questions, in plural.  First of all, about the number of the force and the contingent of the Russian military presence along the borders, you put this question to us both or Secretary Blinken alone?  Well, both of us, all right.

What we see is so far, despite the buildup and the contingent and the equipment and the weapons in the Crimean Peninsula and the temporarily occupied parts of Luhansk and Donetsk regions and also along the borders between Ukraine and Russia, the military strength and equipment, we have tens of thousands of units and members of the personnel.  That’s what we have, and our intelligence and our professional military can see 3,000 to 3,500-strong force, which is being withdrawn now from the territory of the temporarily occupied annex Crimea.  This is it, so we can imagine a threat.  We do not want any surprises there.

At the same time, I would like to tell you the truth.  We have fewer sniper shots fired, and glory be to all our supporters, and thank God for that because sniper fire is responsible for the majority of our casualties and dead.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY:  (Via interpreter) You don’t hear?

QUESTION:  There was an interruption in the translation, but it’s okay.  Continue.

PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY:  Russian translators, they’re here.  (Laughter.)  They’re everywhere.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  An interruption – a Russian interruption in the translation (inaudible).

PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY:  Okay.

(Via interpreter) So this is – this is – well, I have answered that, and you can see fewer sniper shots fired.  And unfortunately, we have more UAVs coming from the separatist side in temporarily occupied Donbas.  Now, speaking of – you asked me about Rudy Giuliani being back and his hand in – and I’m not sure what – Naftogaz?  Because I didn’t know —

QUESTION:  Those were two separate questions.  So the question was:  Was his involvement here at the time, was that a setback for anticorruption reform?

PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY:  Yeah, ah, okay.

(Via interpreter) Well, quite frankly, I think that – well, I – I’m sorry.  I’d like to be as correct as I can, but I’m no – I don’t know how aware are you of the reforms made before our team came to office and while we are in office.  The anticorruption court had to be introduced and become operational.  That was done in – during my presidency.  National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine, NABU, is now independent.  Any case should be finalized.  If it is not adjudicated, there is no sentence and there is no outcome.  So it should – it is 50/50.  One hundred percent success is putting all the corruption – the corrupt people behind bars, but this can only be done by the specialized anticorruption court.

The land reforms, for 30 years it was discussed under the previous presidency.  And this is not just a law voted for.  This is 11 new bills and the 12th is in making, and this is the land reform for you, a big reform in Ukraine.  Now we have this special competition for the Special Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office.  And the Constitutional Court should be reset.  It used to work against the people of Ukraine.  And I’m very open that the superpowers for the Constitutional Court judges were provided by the previous president, the previous administration.

But let’s not talk about the past.  Let bygones be bygones and let’s discuss the future.  We have many developments in the parliamentary pipeline: the bill on the water transport which is fundamental, the banking law and fundamental reforms.  A lot has been done.  So I don’t understand where the setback is because I’m – I think we are quite on schedule.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  In terms of the threat, it remains.  Russia has pulled back some forces, but significant forces remain at Ukraine’s border.  It has pulled back some equipment, but significant equipment remains near Ukraine’s border.  And so Russia has the capacity on fairly short notice to take aggressive action if it so chooses, and so we are watching this very, very carefully.  We’re in close contact.  I must tell you that I admire the restraint that Ukraine has shown in the face of these provocative actions, in the face of this aggression.  And as we were discussing a few minutes ago, Ukrainians continue to lose their lives on a regular basis, and yet the restraint is very, very real and very much appreciated.  Ukraine has not taken to the provocations by Russia.  So we’re very focused on this, as are many allies and partners.  This is the subject of extensive discussion at the most recent NATO meetings, and as well at the meetings of the G7 just in the last two days.

In turn, we are, as I said, actively looking at strengthening even further our security cooperation and our security assistance to Ukraine.  Nothing to announce today, but it’s something that we’re very actively looking at.

We’ve – we also discussed the diplomacy, the Minsk process and commitments that were made, and we’ll always continue to explore ways to see if there are opportunities to help advance the diplomacy.  But there again, Russia continues to be the recalcitrant party in not engaging in good faith in trying to resolve the – both Crimea, of course, and the Donbas, and restoring what is rightfully Ukraine’s, which is its border and its territorial integrity and sovereignty over its – over all of Ukraine.

Finally, we talked extensively about reform efforts and how important those are.  As I said, when you look at it, really, Ukraine faces twin challenges: aggression from outside coming from Russia, and in effect, aggression from within coming from corruption, oligarchs, and others who are putting their interests ahead of those of the Ukrainian people.  And these two things are linked because Russia also plays on that internal aggression, using corruption and using individuals to try to advance its interests as opposed to those of the Ukrainian people.  And in that context, we talked about the importance of continuing to move forward with corporate governance.  That’s tremendously important, including with regard to Naftogaz, we – but beyond Naftogaz, other major institutions.

We talked about the importance of a strong, independent anticorruption board.  We talked about the importance of moving forward with reforms of the judiciary and the way judges are selected. We talked about the important work that’s being done in the Rada right now on reform of the security services.  The bill on reform got its first reading.  That’s a very positive development.  As the president said, it’s also important to note that there’s been – just as there are significant remaining challenges, there’s been real progress as well.  The land reform the president talked about, I think, is very significant, new laws focused on dealing with illicit gains, new laws focused on reforming parliamentary immunities.  These are very, very significant as well.

The last thing I’d say is that the laws are very important, but so is their implementation.  And I think from what we hear, the Ukrainian people are looking to see that the laws, once passed, are actually implemented, including against corrupt actors.  Thank you very much.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter)  Thank you very much.  This concludes our meeting, ladies and gentlemen.

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    GAO's previous work has shown that a number of opportunities exist for the Department of Defense (DOD) to strengthen management of defense spending, which would help the department address the challenges it faces, especially in a constrained budget environment. These opportunities include: Improving budgeting execution of funds. DOD does not fully obligate the funds appropriated to it and can improve both its budgeting for and its use of the resources that are provided to it. For example, GAO found that DOD has left billions of dollars in appropriated amounts unspent over the past 10 fiscal years. Better estimating annual budget requirements and obligating appropriations provided by Congress within the period of availability established by Congress would help DOD minimize these cases of under-execution. More clearly determining future resource requirements related to overseas contingency operations. DOD and Congress need a clearer determination of DOD's future resource requirements, in particular how and whether to incorporate enduring Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) costs—costs that will endure beyond ongoing contingency operations—into DOD's base budget. These costs could total tens of billions of dollars a year. However, few details exist as to what makes up these enduring costs or how they were derived, raising questions about how much should be included as future requirements. Reducing improper payments. Addressing improper payments—payments that should not have been made or were made in an incorrect amount—is an area where better financial management could save DOD billions of dollars. In its fiscal year 2020 agency financial report, DOD estimated that it paid about $11.4 billion in improper payments, or about 1.7 percent of all payments it made that year. DOD has taken steps to reduce improper payments in some areas, but DOD's estimates of its improper payments in other areas indicate more remains to be done. Sustaining and refining department-wide business reform efforts. DOD must transform its overall business operations so that it can more efficiently and effectively use its resources. In recent years, DOD reported notable achievements from its most recent department-wide business reform efforts, including $37 billion in savings from fiscal years 2017 to 2021 as a result of these efforts. However, GAO previously found that while DOD's reported savings were largely reflected in its budget materials, the analyses underlying these estimates were not always well documented and the savings were not always the result of business reform. Moreover, uncertainty about the leadership structure at DOD for overseeing and reforming business operations, including the recent elimination of the Chief Management Officer position, calls into question whether efforts to fundamentally transform how the department does business can be realized and sustained. GAO has previously highlighted the importance of DOD providing clear department-wide guidance on roles, responsibilities, authorities, and resources for business reform efforts will be necessary for DOD to make progress in these efforts. Decisions by DOD and Congress regarding long-term defense needs will have a meaningful impact on the nation's fiscal future. As the single largest category of discretionary spending, defense spending is likely to play a large role in any discussion of future federal spending. GAO and others have found that DOD faces challenges that are likely to put pressure on its budget moving forward. DOD is the only major federal agency that has been unable to receive a clean audit opinion on its financial statements. This testimony provides information on how DOD can better manage defense spending, specifically related to its ability to (1) accurately estimate its budgetary requirements and execute its appropriated funds, (2) determine resource requirements related to overseas contingency operations, (3) reduce improper payments, and (4) sustain and refine department-wide reform efforts. For this testimony, GAO reviewed and summarized its recent work on DOD budget and financial management issues and departmental reform efforts. In prior work on which this testimony is based, GAO made recommendations that DOD take steps to better estimate its annual budget requirements and future fiscal needs for OCO, reduce improper payments, and refine and formalize its departmental reform efforts. DOD generally concurred with these recommendations and is working toward implementing them. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.
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  • Data Security: Recent K-12 Data Breaches Show That Students Are Vulnerable to Harm
    In U.S GAO News
    A cybersecurity incident is an event that actually or potentially jeopardizes a system or the information it holds. According to GAO's analysis of K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center (CRC) data from July 2016 to May 2020, thousands of K-12 students were affected by 99 reported data breaches, one type of cybersecurity incident in which data are compromised. Students' academic records, including assessment scores and special education records, were the most commonly compromised type of information (58 breaches). Records containing students' personally identifiable information (PII), such as Social Security numbers, were the second most commonly compromised type of information (36 breaches). Financial and cybersecurity experts say some PII can be sold on the black market and can cause students significant financial harm. Breaches were either accidental or intentional, although sometimes the intent was unknown, with school staff, students, and cybercriminals among those responsible (see figure). Staff were responsible for most of the accidental breaches (21 of 25), and students were responsible for most of the intentional breaches (27 of 52), most frequently to change grades. Reports of breaches by cybercriminals were rare but included attempts to steal PII. Although the number of students affected by a breach was not always available, examples show that thousands of students have had their data compromised in a single breach. Responsible Actor and Intent of Reported K-12 Student Data Breaches, July 1, 2016-May 5, 2020 Notes: The actor or the intent may not be discernible in public reports. For this analysis, a cybercriminal is defined as an actor external to the school district who breaches a data system for malicious reasons. Of the 287 school districts affected by reported student data breaches, larger, wealthier, and suburban school districts were disproportionately represented, according to GAO's analysis. Cybersecurity experts GAO spoke with said one explanation for this is that some of these districts may use more technology in schools, which could create more opportunities for breaches to occur. When a student's personal information is disclosed, it can lead to physical, emotional, and financial harm. Organizations are vulnerable to data security risks, including over 17,000 public school districts and approximately 98,000 public schools. As schools and districts increasingly rely on complex information technology systems for teaching, learning, and operating, they are collecting more student data electronically that can put a student's information, including PII, at risk of disclosure. The closure of schools and the sudden transition to distance learning across the country due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic also heightened attention on K-12 cybersecurity. GAO was asked to review the security of K-12 students' data. This report examines (1) what is known about recently reported K-12 cybersecurity incidents that compromised student data, and (2) the characteristics of school districts that experienced these incidents. GAO analyzed data from July 1, 2016 to May 5, 2020 from CRC (the most complete source of information on K-12 data breaches). CRC is a non-federal resource sponsored by an educational technology organization that has tracked reported K-12 cybersecurity incidents since 2016. GAO also analyzed 2016-2019 Department of Education data on school district characteristics (the most recent available), and interviewed experts knowledgeable about cybersecurity. We incorporated technical comments from the agencies as appropriate. For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or nowickij@gao.gov.
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    What GAO Found In their role administering private sector employer-sponsored defined contribution (DC) retirement plans, such as 401(k) plans, plan sponsors and their service providers—record keepers, third party administrators, custodians, and payroll providers—share a variety of personally identifiable information (PII) and plan asset data among them to assist with carrying out their respective functions (see figure). The PII exchanged for DC plans typically include participant name, Social Security number, date of birth, address, username/password; plan asset data typically includes numbers for both retirement and bank accounts. The sharing and storing of this information can lead to significant cybersecurity risks for plan sponsors and their service providers, as well as plan participants. Data Sharing Among Plan Sponsors and Service Providers in Defined Contribution Plans Federal requirements and industry guidance exist that could mitigate cybersecurity risks in DC plans, such as requirements that pertain to entities that directly engage in financial activities involving DC plans. However, not all entities involved in DC plans are considered to have such direct engagement, and other cybersecurity mitigation guidance is voluntary. Federal law nevertheless requires plan fiduciaries to act prudently when administering plans. However, the Department of Labor (DOL) has not clarified fiduciary responsibility for mitigating cybersecurity risks, even though 21 of 22 stakeholders GAO interviewed expressed the view that cybersecurity is a fiduciary duty. Further, DOL has not established minimum expectations for protecting PII and plan assets. DOL officials told GAO that the agency intends to issue guidance addressing cybersecurity-related issues, but they were unsure when it would be issued. Until DOL clarifies responsibilities for fiduciaries and provides minimum cybersecurity expectations, participants' data and assets will remain at risk. Why GAO Did This Study Cyber attacks against information systems (IT) are perpetuated by individuals or groups with malicious intentions, from stealing identities to appropriating money from accounts. DC plans, which allow individuals to accumulate tax-advantaged retirement savings, increasingly rely on the internet and IT systems for their administration. Accordingly, the need to secure these systems has become paramount. Ineffective data security controls can result in significant risks to plan data and assets. In 2018, DC plans enrolled 106 million participants and held nearly $6.3 trillion in assets, according to DOL. This report examines (1) the data that sponsors and providers exchange during the administration of DC plans and their associated cybersecurity risks, and (2) efforts to assist sponsors and providers to mitigate cybersecurity risks during the administration of DC plans. GAO interviewed key entities involved with DC plans, such as sponsors and record keepers, DOL officials and industry stakeholders; and reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance.
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    Federal agencies are undertaking information technology (IT) acquisitions that are essential to their missions. GAO identified 16 of these acquisitions as particularly critical to missions ranging from national security, to public health, to the economy (see table). GAO has previously reported on these acquisitions and the programs they support, and has made numerous recommendations to agencies for improvement. The amount agencies expect to spend on the selected acquisitions vary greatly depending on their scope and complexity, as well as the extent of transformation and modernization that agencies envision once the acquisitions are fully deployed. For example, the Department of Defense plans to spend $10.21 billion over 21 years on its health care modernization initiative, while the Department of Homeland Security intends to spend $3.19 billion over 30 years on its system supporting immigration benefits processing. Agencies reported potential cost savings associated with 13 of the 16 mission-critical acquisitions after deployment due to factors such as shutting down legacy systems, eliminating physical paper processing, and improving security, monitoring, and management. Eleven of the 16 selected acquisitions were rebaselined during their development, meaning that the project's cost, schedule, or performance goals were modified to reflect new circumstances. Agencies reported a number of reasons as to why their acquisitions were rebaselined, including delays in defining the cost, schedule, and scope; budget cuts and hiring freezes; technical challenges; and changes in development approach. As shown below, ten of the acquisitions relate to an additional programmatic area that GAO has designated high risk. Federal Agency Mission-Critical Information Technology Acquisitions Department of Agriculture Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems Department of Commerce 2020 Decennial Census* Department of Defense Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization* Global Combat Support System-Army* Department of Homeland Security Student and Exchange Visitor Information System Modernization* U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Transformation* Department of the Interior Automated Fluid Minerals Support System II* Department of Justice Next Generation Identification System Terrorist Screening System Department of State Consular System Modernization Department of Transportation Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Department of the Treasury Customer Account Data Engine 2* Integrated Enterprise Portal* Department of Veterans Affairs Electronic Health Record Modernization* Small Business Administration Application Standard Investment Social Security Administration Disability Case Processing System 2* Legend: *= Acquisition relates to a programmatic area that GAO has previously designated as being high risk. Source: GAO analysis of agency data. | GAO-20-249SP The acquisition of IT systems has presented challenges to federal agencies. Accordingly, in 2015 GAO identified the management of IT acquisitions and operations as a high-risk area, a designation it retains today. GAO was asked to report on federal IT acquisitions. GAO's specific objective was to identify essential mission-critical IT acquisitions across the federal government and determine their key attributes. To identify acquisitions for the review, GAO administered a questionnaire to the 24 agencies covered by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 asking them to identify their five most important mission-critical IT acquisitions. From a total of 101 acquisitions that were identified, GAO selected 16 mission-critical IT acquisitions to profile in this report. The selection was based on various factors, including the acquisition's criticality to providing service to the nation, its total life cycle costs, and its applicability to the President's Management Agenda. For each of the 16 selected acquisitions, GAO obtained and analyzed documents on cost, schedule, risks, governance, and related information; and interviewed cognizant agency officials. GAO requested comments from the 12 agencies with acquisitions profiled in its draft report and the Office of Management and Budget. In response, one agency (the Social Security Administration) provided comments that discussed the planned use of its system. For more information, contact Carol C. Harris at (202) 512-4456 or harriscc@gao.gov.
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    What GAO Found F-35 mission capable rates—a measure of the readiness of an aircraft fleet—have recently improved, but still fall short of warfighter requirements, as discussed in our draft report. Specifically, from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2020, the U.S. F-35 fleet's average annual (1) mission capable rate—the percentage of time during which the aircraft can fly and perform one of its tasked missions—improved from 59 to 69 percent; and (2) full mission capable rate—the percentage of time during which the aircraft can perform all of its tasked missions—improved from 32 to 39 percent. Both metrics fall below the services' objectives. For example, in fiscal year 2020 the Air Force F-35A full mission capable rate was 54 percent, versus a 72 percent objective. Since 2012, F-35 estimated sustainment costs over its 66-year life cycle have increased steadily, from $1.11 trillion to $1.27 trillion, despite efforts to reduce costs. The services face a substantial and growing gap between estimated sustainment costs and affordability constraints—i.e., costs per tail (aircraft) per year that the services project they can afford—totaling about $6 billion in 2036 alone (see fig.). The services will collectively be confronted with tens of billions of dollars in sustainment costs that they project as unaffordable during the program. Gap between F-35 Affordability Constraints and Estimated Sustainment Costs in 2036 Note: Costs are in constant year 2012 dollars as that was the year when the F-35 program was most recently re-baselined. aSteady state years for the F-35 program are defined in each respective service's affordability analysis as: US Air Force/F-35A – 2036-2041; US Marine Corps/F-35B – 2033-2037; US Navy/F-35C – 2036-2043. Steady state refers to the program's peak operating point. The Air Force needs to reduce estimated costs per tail per year by $3.7 million (or 47 percent) by 2036 or it will incur $4.4 billion in costs beyond what it currently projects it could afford in that year alone. Cost reductions become increasingly difficult as the program grows and matures. However, GAO found there is no agreed upon approach to achieve the constraints. Without an assessment of cost-reduction efforts and program requirements (such as number of planned aircraft), along with a plan, the Department of Defense (DOD) may continue to invest resources in a program it ultimately cannot afford. Congress requiring DOD to report on its progress in achieving affordability constraints and making F-35 procurements contingent on DOD's demonstrated progress would enhance DOD's accountability for taking the necessary and appropriate actions to afford sustaining the F-35 fleet. Why GAO Did This Study The F-35 aircraft with its advanced capabilities represents a growing portion of DOD's tactical aviation fleet—with the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy currently flying about 400 of the aircraft. It is also DOD's most ambitious and costly weapon system in history, with estimated life-of-program costs exceeding $1.7 trillion. DOD plans to procure nearly 2,500 F-35s at an estimated total acquisition cost of just under $400 billion. The remaining $1.3 trillion in life cycle costs is associated with operating and sustaining the aircraft. This statement, among other things, assesses the extent to which (1) the F-35 has met warfighter-required mission capable rates; and (2) DOD has reduced the F-35's estimated life cycle sustainment costs and made progress in meeting its affordability constraints. This statement is largely based on GAO's draft report, which was provided to DOD in March for review and comment. For that report and this statement, GAO reviewed program documentation, analyzed performance and cost data, collected data from F-35 locations, and interviewed officials.
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