Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
MS KVIEN: Hello. Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Kristina Kvien. I’m the charge d’affaires here at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. And it is my enormous pleasure to have with me today our Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
We’d like to thank you all for joining this roundtable today. As many of you know, Secretary Blinken knows Ukraine well through three decades of work on foreign policy, including with the White House, the State Department, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
While here in Ukraine, Secretary Blinken has met with Ukrainian Government, civil society, and members of the press. And one of his primary areas of discussion with all of these groups has been Ukraine’s reform agenda and fight against corruption, which is why we’ve invited stakeholders from civil society, business, and anticorruption institutions here today to discuss the important work that they do, share their assessment of Ukraine’s progress on reforms, and advise how the United States can support their efforts.
So – and now please allow me to introduce Secretary of State Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Kristina, thank you so much, and it’s wonderful to be with all of you virtually. I wish we were together in person, but maybe next time, but meanwhile I really appreciate everyone taking some time this afternoon to have a conversation. And as I look at it, Ukraine is facing aggression from without and from within. From without, obviously from Russia and the actions it’s taken since 2014 – Crimea, the Donbas, including recently – but from within, from corruption, from oligarchs and interests that would put themselves ahead of the interests of the Ukrainian people. And so just as there are incredibly brave soldiers on the front lines in the Donbas, in many ways you are on the front lines in that second fight against corruption and for a democracy that has strong institutions, that has transparency, that has accountability.
We know that corruption literally eats away at Ukraine’s democracy from the inside. And so the work that you’re doing and the courage that you show in doing it could not be more important. And I really want to salute you for that.
We had some very good conversations today with leaders in the government, including President Zelenskyy, including about the reform agenda. And what I really am anxious to do is to listen to you, to hear from you about how the United States can be a strong and even stronger partner for Ukraine in moving forward with reforms, and particularly in combating corruption. What can we do more effectively in support of Ukraine as it takes on this fight?
And some of the things we discussed today with government colleagues were the very great importance of corporate governance, and particularly to make sure that there are true, independent people overseeing the particularly state-owned enterprises. We talked about as well the vital importance of sustaining and strengthening the anti-corruption board. We talked about the importance of judicial reform and making sure that the process for picking judges is transparent and relies on outside evaluation and expertise, not on inside interests. We talked about the reform of the security forces to make sure that they’re truly working for the Ukrainian people.
And finally, we talked about the importance not only of passing the right laws and making sure that the legal foundation is there to deal with corruption, to advance transparency, to deal with the judiciary, but that those laws are actually implemented. Because it’s necessary but insufficient to have laws on the books; they actually have to be used for the purposes to which they’re intended.
So we, as I said, had a very good, open, direct conversation. We want to know how we can be more helpful. And so I’d really like to learn from you, to listen to you, both about your assessment of the state of things, what’s working, what’s not working, and again, whether there are things that we can do to be a strong partner to Ukraine in advancing reform and combating corruption.
MS KVIEN: Thank you so much, Secretary Blinken.
- Telecommunications: FCC Should Enhance Performance Goals and Measures for Its Program to Support Broadband Service in High-Cost AreasBy Sam NewsOctober 30, 2020The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has a program, known as the high-cost program, to promote broadband deployment in unserved areas. Although the performance goals for the high-cost program reflect principles in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, not all of the goals are expressed in a measurable or quantifiable manner and therefore do not align with leading practices. Furthermore, FCC's measures for its performance goals do not always align with leading practices, which call for measures to have linkage with the goal they measure and clarity, objectivity, and measurable targets, among other key attributes. For example, as shown below for two of FCC's five goals, GAO found that FCC's measures met most, but not all, of the key attributes. By establishing goals and measures that align with leading practices, FCC can improve the performance information it uses in its decision-making processes about how to allocate the program's finite resources. Leading practices also suggest that agencies publicly report on progress made toward performance goals. FCC does so, however, only in a limited fashion which may lead to stakeholder uncertainty about the program's effectiveness. Examples of FCC’s Performance Measures Compared with a Selection of Key Attributes of Successful Performance Measures According to stakeholders GAO interviewed, FCC faces three key challenges to accomplish its high-cost program performance goals: (1) accuracy of FCC's broadband deployment data, (2) broadband availability on tribal lands, and (3) maintaining existing fixed-voice infrastructure and attaining universal mobile service. For example, although FCC adopted a more precise method of collecting and verifying broadband availability data, stakeholders expressed concern the revised data would remain inaccurate if carriers continue to overstate broadband coverage for marketing and competitive reasons. Overstating coverage impairs FCC's efforts to promote universal voice and broadband since an area can become ineligible for high-cost support if a carrier reports that service already exists in that area. FCC has also taken actions to address the lack of broadband availability on tribal lands, such as making some spectrum available to tribes for wireless broadband in rural areas. However, tribal stakeholders told GAO that some tribes are unable to secure funding to deploy the infrastructure necessary to make use of spectrum for wireless broadband purposes. Millions of Americans do not have access to broadband. Within the Universal Service Fund, FCC's high-cost program provided about $5 billion in 2019 to telecommunications carriers to support broadband deployment in unserved areas where the cost to provide broadband service is high. In 2011, FCC established five performance goals and related measures for the high-cost program. GAO was asked to review the high-cost program's performance goals and measures. This report examines: (1) the extent to which the program's performance goals and measures align with leading practices to enable the effective use of performance information and (2) the key challenges selected stakeholders believe FCC faces in meeting the program's goals. GAO reviewed FCC's program goals and measures and assessed them against applicable criteria, including GAO's leading practices for successful performance measures. GAO interviewed FCC officials and representatives from industry, tribal carriers, consumer advocates, and other stakeholders, to obtain a variety of non-generalizable viewpoints. GAO is making four recommendations, including that FCC should ensure its high-cost program's performance goals and measures align with leading practices and publicly report on progress measured toward the goals. FCC concurred with all four recommendations. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- List Broker Pleads Guilty to Facilitating Elder Fraud SchemesBy Sam NewsApril 23, 2021A New York man pleaded guilty today to supplying lists of consumers’ names and addresses for use in schemes that targeted vulnerable victims.[Read More…]
- Secretary Blinken’s Call with Foreign Minister LamamraBy Sam NewsAugust 6, 2021Office of the [Read More…]
- Judicial Conference Approves Measures to Increase Security for Federal JudgesBy Sam NewsIn U.S CourtsAugust 14, 2020A series of recommendations to upgrade and expand security for federal judges and increase Congressional funding to support the security program have been approved by the federal Judiciary’s national policy-making body.[Read More…]
- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: Efforts to Promote Diversity and InclusionBy Sam NewsSeptember 8, 2020In 2019, the number of women on the boards of directors at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—two government-sponsored enterprises (enterprises)—were five and three, respectively, slightly higher than in 2011. Female directors held leadership positions on the enterprises' boards for the first time in 2019, serving as vice chair at Fannie Mae and chair at Freddie Mac. The percentage of women in senior management positions remained relatively consistent for 2011 and 2018, while minority representation was higher in 2018 than in 2011 (see figure). The enterprises have implemented leading practices to support workforce diversity, such as career and networking events to recruit diverse populations and employee mentorship programs. Share of Women and Minorities in Senior Management at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, 2011 and 2018 Note: Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac used diverse broker-dealers (such as minority- and women-owned) for financial transactions to a limited extent. In 2019, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac both paid about 6 percent of their financial transaction fees to diverse broker-dealers. The enterprises have taken steps to work with diverse broker-dealers more often, such as by lowering some capital requirements to allow participation by typically smaller, less-capitalized diverse broker-dealers. Broker-dealer representatives GAO interviewed said that enterprises had taken steps to increase their participation. However, some representatives noted that additional performance feedback and data on how they compare to larger firms would help them understand what business areas they could improve to meet standards for handling additional, more complex products. The enterprises said that some of the information on other firms is proprietary. In 2017, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) began reviewing the diversity and inclusion efforts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as part of its annual examinations of the enterprises. In 2017, FHFA found the enterprises generally took steps to promote diversity and inclusion but made recommendations to improve both enterprises' programs. In response, the enterprises have directed more attention and resources to diversity efforts. FHFA officials told GAO the agency planned to review the diversity and inclusion of the enterprises' financial transactions in late 2020 and would update its examination manual to include a focus on activities in this area. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-sponsored enterprises regulated by FHFA that buy and pool mortgages into mortgage-backed securities. The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 requires the enterprises to promote diversity and inclusion in employment and related activities. GAO was asked to review the enterprises' diversity and inclusion efforts. This report examines, among other things, (1) trends in the diversity of the enterprises' boards and senior management; (2) the extent to which the enterprises used diverse broker-dealers and implemented practices to promote more diversity; and (3) FHFA oversight of the enterprises' diversity and inclusion efforts. To conduct this work, GAO analyzed enterprise and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data on the enterprises' workforces, boards, and broker-dealers; and reviewed FHFA and enterprise policies and regulations and previous GAO reports on these issues. GAO also interviewed FHFA and enterprise staff and a nongeneralizable sample of external stakeholders knowledgeable about broker-dealer diversity. For more information, contact Michael E. Clements at (202) 512-8678 or ClementsM@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Three Tribal Officials Charged in Bribery SchemeBy Sam NewsJuly 30, 2020Two current tribal government officials and one former tribal government official of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation (MHA Nation) were charged by criminal complaint unsealed today for their alleged acceptance of bribes and kickbacks from a contractor providing construction services on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation (FBIR), which is the home of the MHA Nation.[Read More…]
- 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…]
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to the Press Before the Berlin II Conference on LibyaBy Sam NewsJune 23, 2021Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
- Justice Department Settles with Florida’s Volusia County School District to Protect Students with Disabilities from Classroom Removals and Other DiscriminationBy Sam NewsAugust 3, 2021The Justice Department announced today a settlement agreement with Florida’s Volusia County School District (VCS) to address the district’s systemic and discriminatory practices that punish students with disabilities for their disability-related behavior and deny them equal access to VCS’s programs and services.[Read More…]
- American Contractor Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Steal Government Equipment from U.S. Military Base in AfghanistanBy Sam NewsOctober 13, 2020An American military contractor pleaded guilty today to her role in a theft ring on a military installation in Kandahar, Afghanistan.[Read More…]
- Florida Recording Artist and Pennsylvania Man Charged for Role in $24 Million COVID-Relief Fraud SchemeBy Sam NewsOctober 6, 2020A Florida recording artist and a Pennsylvania towing company owner have been charged for their alleged participation in a scheme to file fraudulent loan applications seeking more than $24 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.[Read More…]
- El Salvador Travel AdvisoryBy Sam NewsIn TravelSeptember 26, 2020Reconsider travel to El [Read More…]
- COVID-19: Additional Risk Assessment Actions Could Improve HUD Oversight of CARES Act FundsBy Sam NewsSeptember 30, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) oversight of $12.4 billion in CARES Act funding included monitoring spending and addressing reporting requirements, but further action is needed to more fully assess program and fraud risks. As of July 2021, HUD obligated 94 percent of its CARES Act funds, and 34 percent had been expended (see figure). The CARES Act significantly increased funding for some HUD programs—for example the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program for homelessness assistance received more than 10 times its fiscal year 2020 funding. GAO previously reported that programs should update risk assessments when funding or the operating environment changes. To respond to COVID-19, HUD expedited its risk assessment process, and concluded the CARES Act funds did not substantially affect programs' risks or existing controls. While HUD's assessment identified risk factors and short-term steps to address them, it did not include some leading fraud risk management practices GAO previously identified. For example, HUD did not identify programs' new fraud risks or evaluate fraud risk tolerance. Additional risk assessment actions could help HUD better identify and address potential program and fraud risks of its CARES Act programs. HUD CARES Act Funds' Obligations and Expenditures, as of July 31, 2021 As of July 2021, HUD's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and ESG programs expended about 15 percent of their CARES Act funds, mostly for emergency payments that can include rental assistance. HUD officials said spending is slow because some grantees have limited capacity to administer the larger grants, other federal funding is available, and CDBG grantees had until mid-August 2021 to apply for CARES Act funds. HUD is providing grantees with training and support to help them administer and use the CARES Act funds and developing specific monitoring guidance. Almost all of the CARES Act's $1.25 billion for the Housing Choice Voucher program has been expended. To help public housing agencies navigate COVID-19, HUD issued numerous program waivers, such as letting owners self-certify property conditions in lieu of inspections. To monitor compliance, HUD is developing a portal for public housing agencies to report their use of the funds, which officials anticipate will be operational in December 2021. HUD also awarded a contract to support the program's CARES Act monitoring, including collecting information on waiver use. Why GAO Did This Study The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn created housing instability for many families and individuals. Congress appropriated about $12.4 billion to HUD in CARES Act funds to prevent, prepare for, and respond to housing needs related to COVID-19. GAO has previously reported on HUD's persistent management challenges and noted the potential for these challenges to affect the implementation and oversight of HUD's COVID-19 response. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to monitor the federal government's efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines HUD's actions to oversee its CARES Act funding and manage risks, and HUD's implementation and monitoring of the CARES Act funds of selected community development, homelessness, and rental assistance programs. GAO reviewed HUD documentation and analyzed HUD spending data, focusing on the four programs that received the most CARES Act funding. GAO also interviewed HUD officials and associations representing HUD funding recipients.[Read More…]
- Federal Oil and Gas Revenue: Actions Needed to Improve BLM’s Royalty Relief PolicyBy Sam NewsOctober 6, 2020In reaction to falling domestic oil prices due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) developed a temporary policy in spring 2020 for oil and gas royalty relief. The policy aimed to prevent oil and gas wells from being shut down in way that could lead to permanent losses of recoverable oil and gas. During March through June 2020, BLM gave companies the opportunity to apply for a reduction in the royalty rates for certain oil and gas leases on federal lands. BLM approved reductions from 12.5 percent of total revenue on oil and gas sold from those leases to an average of less than 1 percent for a period of 60 days. However, BLM did not establish in advance that royalty relief was needed to keep applicants' wells operating, according to BLM officials. BLM also did not assess the extent to which the temporary policy kept oil and gas companies from shutting down their wells or the amount of royalty revenues forgone by the federal government. By evaluating the extent to which the policy met BLM's objective of preventing unrecoverable loss of oil and gas resources–and likely costs, such as forgone revenues—BLM could better inform its decisions about granting royalty relief that provides a fair return to the government, should the agency decide to consider such relief in the future. BLM officials told GAO that BLM state offices implementing the temporary policy for royalty relief made inconsistent decisions about approving applications for relief because the temporary policy did not supply sufficient detail to facilitate uniform decision-making. The officials added that their state offices did not have recent experience in processing applications for oil and gas royalty relief. Several of the officials had never received or processed royalty relief applications. In addition, GAO found that ongoing guidance for processing royalty relief decisions—within BLM's Fees, Rentals and Royalties Handbook , last revised in 1995—also does not contain sufficient instructions for approving royalty relief. For example, the handbook does not address whether to approve applications in cases where the lease would continue to be uneconomic, even after royalty relief. As a result, some companies that applied for royalty relief were treated differently, depending on how BLM officials in their state interpreted the policy and guidance. In particular, officials from two state offices told GAO they denied royalty relief to applicants because the applicants could not prove that royalty relief would enable their leases to operate profitably. However, two other state offices approved royalty relief in such cases. The fifth state office denied both of the applications it received for other reasons. BLM's existing royalty relief guidance did not address this issue, and BLM's temporary policy did not supply sufficient detail to facilitate uniform decision-making in these situations. BLM's directives manual states that BLM should provide BLM employees with authoritative instructions and information to implement BLM programs and support activities. Until BLM updates the royalty relief guidance, BLM cannot ensure that future relief decisions will be made efficiently and equitably across the states and provide a fair return to the federal government. BLM manages the federal government's onshore oil and gas program with the goals of facilitating safe and responsible energy development while providing a fair return for the American taxpayer. In April 2020, oil and gas producers faced financial challenges from a drop in demand for oil during the COVID-19 pandemic. If oil and gas prices decline, it places financial stress on oil and gas companies, thereby increasing bankruptcies and the risk of wells being shut down. BLM developed a temporary policy to provide oil and gas companies relief from royalties that they owe to the federal government when they sell oil and gas produced on federal lands. This testimony discusses (1) BLM's development of the temporary policy for royalty relief and what is known about the policy's effects, and (2) BLM's implementation of this policy across relevant states. To do this work, GAO reviewed BLM documents; analyzed royalty data; and interviewed BLM officials from headquarters and the five BLM state offices with jurisdiction over states that account for 94 percent of royalties from oil and gas production on federal lands. GAO is making two recommendations. BLM should (1) evaluate the effects of its temporary royalty relief policy and use the results to inform its ongoing royalty relief program, and (2) update its guidance to provide consistent policies for royalty relief. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- IRS Reorganization: Planning Addressed Key Reform Practices, but Goals and Measures for the Plan Have Not Been FinalizedBy Sam NewsNovember 18, 2020GAO identified advantages of, challenges related to, and options for improving the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) current organizational structure, based on GAO's review of prior work and interviews with IRS officials and stakeholders. For example, one advantage of the current structure, according to several interviewees, is that IRS's divisions have developed specialized expertise on different types of taxpayers with similar needs, such as small businesses. Several interviewees also believed that addressing some of IRS's challenges may not require significant changes to IRS's organizational structure. GAO and others have identified challenges and options to improve IRS's structure, processes, and operations in the following areas: (1) customer service; (2) communication and coordination within IRS; (3) technology; and (4) strategic human capital management and training. While developing its reorganization plan required by the Taxpayer First Act, IRS addressed or partially addressed all six of the key practices for agency reforms that GAO reviewed (see table below). GAO Assessment of IRS's Reorganization Planning Process against Key Reform Practices Key reform practice Extent addressed Establishing goals and outcomes ◑ Involving employees and key stakeholders ● Using data and evidence ● Addressing fragmentation, overlap, and duplication ◑ Addressing high-risk areas and long-standing management challenges ◑ Leadership focus and attention ● Legend: ● Generally addressed ◑ Partially addressed ○ Not addressed Source: GAO analysis of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) information. | GAO-21-18 IRS established a senior-level team—the Taxpayer First Act Office—to lead the reorganization planning, involved employees and key stakeholders, and used multiple sources of data and evidence to inform its planning. Although IRS has developed preliminary goals for the plan, it has not yet finalized and communicated the goals and performance measures for the plan. IRS has also researched potential actions it could take to address long-standing management challenges at IRS, such as those related to areas of fragmentation, overlap, duplication, and high risk that GAO has identified. However, IRS has not yet decided on specific actions to address those areas in its plan. IRS officials told us that they intend to take these additional steps, but COVID-19 delayed the completion of their reorganization plan to December 2020. As a result, it is still unclear whether the reorganization plan will have outcome-oriented goals and performance measures or whether it will identify specific actions to address long-standing management challenges. Taking these steps could help IRS identify and achieve the intended outcomes of the reorganization plan, and identify reforms that can create long-term gains in efficiency and effectiveness. The Taxpayer First Act required that a comprehensive written plan to redesign IRS be submitted to Congress by September 30, 2020. Reforming and reorganizing a federal agency as large and complex as IRS is not an easy task. However, a potential reorganization could provide IRS with an opportunity to address emerging and long-standing challenges. GAO was asked to review IRS's organizational structure and IRS's plans to reform it. This report examines (1) reported advantages of, challenges related to, and options for potentially improving IRS's organizational structure; and (2) the extent to which IRS's reorganization planning process is consistent with selected leading practices. GAO reviewed documents from IRS and other sources; interviewed IRS officials and stakeholders, including three former IRS commissioners; and assessed IRS's reorganization planning process against selected key practices for agency reform efforts developed by GAO. GAO is making three recommendations to IRS as it finalizes its reorganization plan, including that IRS should finalize goals and performance measures, and identify specific actions to address long-standing management challenges. IRS responded that it plans to implement GAO's recommendations when it submits its final reorganization plan to Congress in December 2020. For more information, contact James R. McTigue, Jr. at (202) 512-9110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Military Training: Actions Needed to Further Improve the Consistency of Combat Skills Training Provided to Army and Marine Corps Support ForcesBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021In conventional warfare, support forces such as military police, engineers, and medical personnel normally operate behind the front lines of a battlefield. But in Iraq and Afghanistan--both in U.S. Central Command's (CENTCOM) area of responsibility--there is no clear distinction between front lines and rear areas, and support forces are sometimes exposed to hostile fire without help from combat arms units. The House report to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2010 directed GAO to report on combat skills training for support forces. GAO assessed the extent to which (1) Army and Marine Corps support forces are completing required combat skills training; (2) the services and CENTCOM have information to validate completion of required training; and (3) the services have used lessons learned to adjust combat skills training for support forces. To do so, GAO analyzed current training requirements, documentation of training completion, and lessons learned guidance; observed support force training; and interviewed headquarters officials, trainers, and trainees between August 2009 and February 2010.Army and Marine Corps support forces undergo significant combat skills training, but additional actions could help clarify CENTCOM's training requirements, ensure the services fully incorporate those requirements into their training requirements, and improve the consistency of training that is being conducted. CENTCOM has issued a list of training tasks to be completed, in addition to the services' training requirements, before deploying to its area of operations. However, there is confusion over which forces the CENTCOM requirements apply to, the conditions under which the tasks are to be trained, and the standards for successfully completing the training. As a result, interpretations of the requirements vary and some trainees receive detailed, hands-on training for a particular task while others simply observe a demonstration of the task. In addition, while the Army and Marine Corps are training their forces on most of CENTCOM's required tasks, servicemembers are not being trained on some required tasks prior to deploying. While units collect information on the completion of training tasks, additional actions would help higher level decision-makers assess the readiness of deploying units and servicemembers. Currently, both CENTCOM and the services lack complete information on the extent to which Army and Marine Corps support forces are completing required combat skills training. The Army has recently designated the Digital Training Management System as its system of record for tracking the completion of required training, but guidance concerning system implementation is unclear and the system lacks some needed capabilities. As a result, support forces are not fully utilizing the system, and are inconsistently tracking completion of individual and unit training using paper records, stand-alone spreadsheets, and other automated systems. The Marine Corps also uses inconsistent approaches to document training completion. Furthermore, as GAO reported in May 2008, CENTCOM does not have a clearly defined waiver process to provide visibility over the extent to which personnel are deploying to its area of operations without having completed its required training tasks. As a result, CENTCOM and the services have limited visibility over the extent to which servicemembers have or have not completed all required training. While trainers at Army and Marine Corps training sites have applied lessons learned information and made significant changes to the combat skills training they provide support forces, the changes to training have varied across sites. Army and Marine Corps doctrine requires the collection of after action reports, the primary formal vehicle for collecting lessons learned. Lessons are also shared informally, such as through communication between deployed forces and units training to replace them. While the services have these formal and informal means to facilitate the sharing of lessons learned information, trainers at the various training sites are not consistently sharing information about the changes they have made to their training programs. As a result, servicemembers are trained inconsistently and units that are deploying for similar missions sometimes receive different types and amounts of training.[Read More…]
- COVID-19: HHS Should Clarify Agency Roles for Emergency Return of U.S. Citizens during a PandemicBy Sam NewsApril 19, 2021What GAO Found At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. returned, or repatriated, about 1,100 U.S. citizens from abroad and quarantined them domestically to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) experienced coordination and safety issues that put repatriates, HHS personnel, and nearby communities at risk. This occurred because HHS component agencies—the Administration for Children and Families, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—did not follow plans or guidance delineating their roles and responsibilities for repatriating individuals during a pandemic—an event these agencies had never experienced. While they had general repatriation plans, there was disagreement as to whether the effort was in fact a repatriation. This led to fundamental problems for HHS agencies and their federal partners, including at the March Air Reserve Base quarantine facility in California where the first repatriated individuals were quarantined prior to widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the U.S. These problems included the following: Lack of clarity as to which agency was in charge when the first repatriation flight from Wuhan, China, arrived at the quarantine facility, which caused confusion among the HHS component agencies. Coordination issues among HHS component agencies resulted in component agencies operating independently of each other, and led to frustration and complications. HHS's delay in issuing its federal quarantine order, during which time a repatriate tried to leave the quarantine facility. HHS personnel's inconsistent use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and HHS officials' disagreement on which agency was responsible for managing infection prevention and control. An HHS official also directed personnel to remove their PPE as it created “bad optics,” according to an HHS report that examined the repatriation effort. The National Response Framework, a guide to how the U.S. responds to disasters and emergencies, instructs agencies to understand their respective roles and responsibilities, know what plans apply, and develop appropriate guidance for emergency responses. Until HHS revises or develops new plans that clarify agency roles and responsibilities during a repatriation in response to a pandemic, it will be unable to prevent the coordination and health and safety issues it experienced during the COVID-19 repatriation response in future pandemic emergencies. HHS also did not include repatriation in its pandemic planning exercises. As a result, agencies lacked experience deploying together to test repatriation plans during a pandemic, which contributed to serious coordination issues. GAO has previously reported that exercises play an important role in preparing for an incident by providing opportunities to test response plans and assess the clarity of roles and responsibilities. Until HHS conducts such exercises, it will be unable to test its repatriation plans during a pandemic and identify areas for improvement. Why GAO Did This Study HHS provides temporary assistance to U.S. citizens repatriated by the Department of State (State) from a foreign country because of destitution, illness, threat of war, or similar crises through the U.S. Repatriation Program. In January and February 2020, HHS assisted State in repatriating individuals from Wuhan, China, and the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan, to the U.S. HHS quarantined repatriates at five Department of Defense (DOD) installations to ensure they did not infect others with COVID-19. GAO was asked to examine HHS's COVID-19 repatriation efforts to ensure the health and safety of those involved in the response. This report examines HHS's coordination and management of its COVID-19 repatriation response. GAO reviewed relevant documentation from HHS, State, and DOD related to repatriation planning, including documentation on pandemic planning exercises. GAO also interviewed officials from HHS, State, and DOD.[Read More…]
- The United States and United Kingdom: Reaffirming Our AllianceBy Sam NewsMay 2, 2021Office of the [Read More…]
- Statement of Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on World Elder Abuse Awareness DayBy Sam NewsJune 15, 2021U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland today made the following statement in honor of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day:[Read More…]
- Four Members of Los Angeles-Based Fraud Ring Indicted for COVID-Relief FraudBy Sam NewsNovember 18, 2020Four individuals were charged in an indictment for their alleged participation in a scheme to submit at least 35 fraudulent loan applications seeking over $5.6 million in COVID-19 relief guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.[Read More…]