Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Virtual Town Hall with U.S. Mission Nigeria and U.S. Embassy Nairobi Employees and Family Members

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

Recorded on April 9, 2021

MS FITZSIMMONS:  Mr. Secretary, it is my pleasure, my sincere pleasure, to welcome you to the Africa Bureau family, and virtually to U.S. Missions Nigeria and Kenya.  My name is Elizabeth Fitzsimmons, and I’m the acting principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs.  I have the pleasure of moderating your town hall this morning with our staff posted in Abuja, Lagos, and Nairobi.  We’re grateful that you can spend this time with us, and we look forward to a vibrant exchange.

As we begin, I’d like to please introduce my chiefs of mission, my colleagues.  So I’ll begin, Mr. Secretary, with introducing you to U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria Mary Beth Leonard.

AMBASSADOR LEONARD:  Hello, Mr. Secretary, and welcome to Nigeria.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Great to see you, Mary Beth.

AMBASSADOR LEONARD:  Hey, first I’d like to take the opportunity to introduce you to our consul general in Lagos, Claire Pierangelo.

MS PIERANGELO:  Good morning, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Claire, good to see you.

MS PIERANGELO:  Good to see you, sir.  Really pleased to see you as well.  So as we say in Nigeria, you are welcome.  Greetings from one of our largest consulates in the world, with our team of local staff, Marines, seven agencies, and all our family members.  We are here to take care of America’s business at the consulate general in Lagos.  So Ambassador Leonard, thank you, and back to you.

AMBASSADOR LEONARD:  Thank you so much, Claire.  And once again, Mr. Secretary, the warmest of welcomes to Mission Nigeria.  We are one 2,250 employees, American and locally engaged, from 12 agencies, and ably supported by our families, who sustain us.  On the Nigerian side, our colleagues come from every one of Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.  In the United States, we come from 43 states, two territories, and D.C.  And we are all so proud to represent the United States to sub-Saharan Africa’s giant.  This country has the biggest economy, the largest population.  It’s the largest democracy.  And we know that our work saves lives from hunger, from illness, from violence, and thereby reducing threats to the United States from international terrorism and border-ignorant health risks.

We know that we are partners in creating shared prosperity between the United States and Nigeria.  They’re our second-largest trading partner.  More Nigerian students study at colleges in the United States than from any other country in Africa, and they send about a half a billion dollars a year in their universities and surrounding communities across our country.

Our commercial interests are helping to drive the diversification and growth of Nigeria’s economy, particularly in areas like IT and power and agriculture, and usually in ways that help drive down climate-damaging emissions.

And more to the – also we’re here at a time when this African giant is reasserting its preeminence in African and worldwide multilateral fora, at the same time that the U.S. is re-engaging in this spheres with new energy and optimism.

So Mr. Secretary, for all these reasons, thank you so much for coming to visit us and taking some time in our world.  We’re so looking forward to hearing from you, and we hope you’ll enjoy the rest of your stay with us.  Thanks so much.

MS FITZSIMMONS:  Thank you so much, Ambassador Leonard.  Secretary Blinken, we’re going to whisk you virtually now over to East Africa.  I have the pleasure of introducing my colleague, the charge d’affaires at U.S. Embassy Kenya, Eric Kneedler.

MR KNEEDLER:  Morning, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Eric, good to see you.

MR KNEEDLER:  Great to see you as well, and on behalf of the 1,800 people and 34 agencies and offices represented here at Mission Nairobi, I’d like to offer you a warm virtual welcome to Kenya.  Mission Nairobi is your largest embassy in the Africa Bureau, and we’re proud of the work our diverse and talented team carries out on behalf of the American and Kenyan people.  Mission Nairobi stands shoulder to shoulder with our Kenyan friends countering terrorism, creating jobs for both of our countries, battling infectious disease, and expanding the deep and enduring people-to-people ties.

Mr. Secretary, I know you need no further introduction, but with your permission I’d like to add one more biographic note for the benefit of our community.  While I think most are aware this is our first town hall virtually with the Secretary of State, they’re probably not aware that this is also our first town hall of any kind with a musician you can actually listen to on Spotify.  (Laughter.)  It’s a true story.  You can access the Secretary’s music on Spotify under Ablinken.  That’s a-b-l-i-n-k-e-n.  And since it is now nearing the end of the day here in Kenya, I hope our town hall viewers can enjoy a few of the Secretary’s songs.  So with that, Mr. Secretary, I’d like to thank you once again for taking the time to be with us today and turn it back over to Elizabeth.

MS FITZSIMMONS:  Thank you so much, Charge Kneedler.  Secretary Blinken, the floor is yours.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, thank you all so very much.  And Eric, if I notice a dramatic spike in my Spotify account from zero to three or four listeners, I’m going to know where it’s coming from.  So I thank you and I just want to assure everyone listening in today that that wasn’t a setup, but I would also suggest that you may find other, better venues for listening to music, especially to start the weekend.

But in all seriousness, it’s wonderful to be with everyone, and there is at least one benefit to having to meet virtually:  We can all be together in one very big town hall meeting.  I suspect we’re also going to give new meaning for this virtual visit to what a wheels up party is all about. I don’t know if we need to change the terminology.  Do we call it a satellite down party?  We’ll have to figure that out at some point.

But I really do want to start by thanking a few people, thanking our Charge d’affaires Eric Kneedler in Nairobi, Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard from Embassy Abuja, and Principal Officer Claire Pierangelo from the consulate general in in Lagos.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  And Elizabeth, thank you to you, our acting PDAS from the African Affairs Bureau, not just for serving as our emcee today, but for serving in a sense as our emcee every day in carrying out the extraordinary mission that we have in American engagement with Africa.  I also very much want to thank three site officers who made the town hall possible: Samuel Aronson in Abuja, Bill Bridgeland in Lagos, and Christopher Estoch in Nairobi.  Thanks to all three of you. Thanks to everyone who’s been able to help us put this together.

It means a lot to have this chance to connect with so many members of our missions overseas. Whether you’re a direct hire, a contractor, locally employed staff, or a family member; whether you work for the State Department or one of the many other U.S. Government agencies represented here, from DOD to the CDC to USAID, I’m deeply grateful for your service.  And I have to tell you it’s not an accident that I am making this virtual trip to Kenya and Nigeria near the start of my time as Secretary.  Our administration, the Biden-Harris administration is committed to elevating and increasing our engagement across Africa.  We’re reinvigorating our diplomacy, restoring respectful engagement with our partners, reaffirming our support for democracy and economic growth across the entire continent.

And as part of this virtual trip, I’m meeting with representatives from the clean energy sector in Kenya and with young people from several countries through YALI, because the rising generation of African leaders literally will shape the future not just of their countries but, I believe, of the world.  I have a chance to visit with health experts and patients in Abuja because public health is a significant component of the partnership between Nigeria and the United States, especially during COVID-19.

I’m also meeting with Nigerian and Kenyan senior officials because our governments work together closely on so many issues that all of you are engaged in every day, but most important, working together on issues that are actually critical to the people of our respective countries, that are having an impact on their lives.

I know that many of you have done a lot of work – often late into the evening – to make these events happen.  And so I just want to say thereto thank you very, very much.  This itinerary represents just a small fraction of the work that you’re doing every day in Nairobi, in Abuja, in Lagos to advance American interests, to build cooperation between our countries, and to represent our values.  These are vital diplomatic relationships, and the fact is you’re the ones making them possible.

Even at a less eventful time, I know the work you do is often very challenging, and then comes COVID-19 to make your jobs even harder.  We’ve lost people dear to us, and I know, for example, that includes George Kamau, who served as the director of the Information Resource Center and the American Center at Embassy Nairobi for 20 years.  We’re so grateful for his dedication and support, and I know that his memory will long, long endure.

We had the recent news of the death of a member of our State Department family on temporary assignment in Kenya, which is deeply saddening and distressing, and a reminder of how important it is for us to be there for each other and to seek help if we need it without shame.  The global authorized departure policy meant that many of you were separated and isolated from your family members as well as from each other, and Kenya is dealing with heightened security concerns.  In Lagos and Abuja, your movements outside the city centers are restricted, now even more so.

In short, none of this has been easy.  In the past few days as I’ve plunged into this virtual trip, I’ve learned a little bit more about the culture of your missions, and culture is so important to the missions and to our department as a whole.  I’ve heard about the Boatsy Ross and the Foggy Bottom boats that some of you take to work in Lagos.  I’ve heard about the magnificent locally employed staff choir in Nairobi, which I hope to actually hear, and the recycling program at Embassy Abuja that helps send at-risk kids to school.

But most of all, what I’m hearing across the board is about your perseverance and commitment.  You’ve kept essential work going throughout the pandemic.  You’ve helped Americans get home.  You’ve helped mission personnel stay safe.  It’s really remarkable, and all of us back here at home deeply appreciate it.

In my first remarks as Secretary, I said that we have some work to do across the department to build trust and morale.  We’ve got to do a better job listening to the people of the State Department when we’re making policy.  We’ve got to invest in diversity and inclusion.  We’ve got to build a workplace culture of collegiality, teamwork, respect.  And I want to be clear:  That doesn’t just apply to Washington, D.C.  It applies to you and all your colleagues in embassies and consulates around the world.  We are all a part of this community, and I’m committed to doing everything that I can to support you, to support your work, to support your families.

So thanks again for the work you’ve done just to make this virtual visit to Nigeria and Kenya a success, but especially for the work you’re doing every single day to serve our country, to serve the American people.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Hits: 0

News Network

  • Massachusetts Woman Pleads Guilty to Tax and Drug Charges Arising from Multimillion-Dollar Marijuana Enterprise
    In Crime News
    A Massachusetts woman pleaded guilty today to tax evasion, conspiracy to distribute marijuana, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, and money laundering.
    [Read More…]
  • Former Commander of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Sentenced to Prison
    In Crime News
    A former Commander of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison following his multiple convictions of obstructing justice and making false statements, in connection with the death of a civilian at the naval base.
    [Read More…]
  • Appointment of António Guterres as UN Secretary-General for a Second Term
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Acting Associate Attorney General Matthew Colangelo Delivers Remarks at Listening Session on Environmental Crime Victims
    In Crime News
    Good Afternoon. Kris, thank you for the kind introduction. Thank you all for joining us this afternoon for this opportunity to exchange ideas about how to better serve victims of environmental crime. We are honored to be joined by so many knowledgeable and dedicated professionals working on behalf of crime victims and the environment, federal and state law enforcement, academic experts, and representatives of organizations.
    [Read More…]
  • COVID-19 Contracting: Observations on Contractor Paid Leave Reimbursement Guidance and Use
    In U.S GAO News
    Section 3610 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act generally authorizes agencies at their discretion to reimburse a contractor for the cost of paid leave incurred during the pandemic so that it can maintain its workforce in a ready state. Between March 2020—when the CARES Act was enacted—and early July 2020, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and each of the seven other agencies in GAO's review issued guidance to implement section 3610. While largely similar, GAO's work identified some differences across these guidance documents, including the extent to which the rates used to calculate these reimbursements could include profit or fees. OMB issued additional guidance on July 14, 2020, that addressed these differences and clarified how agencies should handle each situation. For example, OMB noted that profit or fees should generally not be reimbursed but provided options for addressing situations in which removing profit or fees would be burdensome. OMB advised agencies to report the amount reimbursed using section 3610 authority via contract modifications to the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation (FPDS-NG). After excluding reported obligations identified by agency officials as not associated with section 3610 authority, the reported data indicated that agencies made relatively little use of the authority through July 2020 (see figure). However, the Department of Energy (DOE) reimbursed contractors for almost $550 million in paid leave costs, stating it used existing obligations rather than adding funding via a contract modification. As a result, these amounts were not reported to FPDS-NG as section 3610 reimbursements. Obligations Using Section 3610 Authority Reported to the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation by Selected Agencies from January 31 to July 20, 2020 Agency officials and industry representatives GAO interviewed identified several factors that limited section 3610 obligations to date, including the absence of dedicated funding. With the exceptions of the Department of Defense (DOD) and DOE, agency officials GAO met with either did not expect a large amount or were uncertain about the level of future requests for section 3610 reimbursements. DOD officials stated that they expected requests amounting to billions of dollars. In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which provides over $2 trillion in emergency assistance and healthcare response for individuals, families, and businesses affected by COVID-19. The CARES Act also includes a provision for GAO to review federal contracting pursuant to authorities provided in the Act. This report addresses the implementation of section 3610 of the CARES Act, which authorizes federal agencies to reimburse contractors for paid leave related to the COVID-19 pandemic through September 30, 2020. This report describes (1) the extent to which section 3610 implementation guidance provided by selected federal agencies and OMB differs and (2) the extent to which selected federal agencies reported use of section 3610 authority through July 20, 2020. GAO reviewed relevant guidance issued by OMB and the seven federal agencies with contract obligations greater than $10 billion in fiscal year 2019; interviewed cognizant officials from OMB and each agency; and reviewed comments provided by and spoke with representatives from four industry associations. GAO also analyzed public procurement data reported by selected agencies to FPDS-NG through July 20, 2020 on the use of section 3610 authority. GAO will continue to assess how agencies are implementing section 3610 authority as part of a series of planned reports regarding the federal response to COVID-19. For more information, contact Timothy J. DiNapoli at (202) 512-4841 or dinapolit@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Federal Telework: Key Practices That Can Help Ensure the Success of Telework Programs
    In U.S GAO News
    The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 (the act) defines telework as a work flexibility arrangement under which an employee performs the duties and responsibilities of their position and other authorized activities from an approved worksite other than the location from which the employee would otherwise work. GAO previously identified key practices in telework-related literature and guidelines that federal agencies should implement in ensuring successful telework programs. These key practices may be grouped under seven categories. Program planning. Consistent with a key practice GAO identified, agencies are required to have a telework managing officer. Other key practices related to planning for a telework program include establishing measurable telework program goals, and providing funding to meet the needs of the telework program. Telework policies. Agencies can help ensure their workforces are telework ready by establishing telework policies and guidance. To ensure that teleworkers are approved on an equitable basis, agencies should establish eligibility criteria, such as suitability of tasks and employee performance. Agencies should also have telework agreements for use between teleworkers and their managers. Performance management. Agencies should ensure that the same performance standards are used to evaluate both teleworkers and nonteleworkers. Agencies should also establish guidelines to minimize adverse impacts that telework can have on nonteleworkers. Managerial support. For telework programs to be successful agencies need support from top management. They also need to address managerial resistance to telework. Training and publicizing. Telework training helps agencies ensure a common understanding of the program. The act requires agencies to provide telework training to employees eligible to telework and to managers of teleworkers. Keeping the workforce informed about the program also helps. Technology. Agencies need to make sure teleworkers have the right technology to successfully perform their duties. To that end, agencies should assess teleworker and organization technology needs, provide technical support to teleworkers, and address access and security issues. Program evaluation. Agencies should develop program evaluation tools and use such tools from the very inception of the program to identify problems or issues. Agencies can then use this information to make any needed adjustments to their programs. GAO has previously reported instances where selected agencies faced challenges implementing telework programs that aligned with key practices. For example, three of four selected agencies did not require review or document their review of ongoing telework agreements. These reviews are important to provide assurance that the agreements reflect and support their current business needs. GAO also previously reported that managers at three of four selected agencies were not required to complete telework training before approving staff's telework agreements. The training is important to ensure managers fully understood agency telework policy and goals before approving or denying requests to telework. Telework offers benefits to federal agencies as well as to the federal workforce. These include improving recruitment and retention of employees, reducing the need for costly office space, and an opportunity to better balance work and family demands. In addition, telework is a tool that agencies can use to help accomplish their missions during periods of disruption, including during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Congress has encouraged federal agencies to expand staff participation in telework, most recently by passing the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 (the act). The act established requirements for executive agencies' telework policies and programs, among other things. This statement provides key practices to help ensure the success of telework programs. The statement is based on GAO's body of work on federal telework issued from July 2003 through February 2017. GAO has recently initiated two reviews related to federal telework. One is examining the extent to which agencies have used telework during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the successes and challenges agencies experienced. The second is reviewing agencies' telework information technology infrastructure. For more information, contact Michelle B. Rosenberg at (202) 512-6806 or rosenbergm@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Russian Influence in the Mediterranean
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • United States and Partners Promote Accountability for Corruption and Human Rights Abuse
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Defense Health Care: Efforts to Ensure Beneficiaries Access Specialty Care and Receive Timely and Effective Care
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) has a general expectation that its health care beneficiaries, upon receiving an urgent referral to see a specialist, will access that specialty care in 3 days or less. GAO's analysis of 16,754 urgent referrals at military treatment facilities (MTF) shows that DOD beneficiaries accessed specialty care services in 3 days or less for more than half of the urgent referrals. About 9 percent of the urgent referrals involved beneficiaries waiting 3 weeks or longer to be seen. According to DOD officials, some beneficiaries may have waited longer than 3 days due to factors such as patient preference, appointment availability, or waiting for lab results. Time to access care varied by specialty, with beneficiaries urgently referred to ophthalmology generally seeing a specialist the fastest, and those urgently referred to mental health and oncology generally waiting the longest. According to DOD officials, MTFs are responsible for monitoring beneficiaries' access to specialty care through urgent referrals. GAO found that the monitoring processes used varied by MTF and specialty care clinic at the five selected MTFs that GAO reviewed. For example, officials from one MTF told GAO they centrally manage all urgent referrals using a daily report to address any delays, while officials from another MTF told GAO that individual specialty care clinics are responsible for managing their own urgent referrals. DOD officials acknowledged such variation and MTFs have been directed to centralize their referral management and monitoring processes—an effort that is currently underway. GAO found that DOD monitors the rates at which beneficiaries receive timely and effective care, in part, through 10 outpatient health care quality measures. These measures allow DOD to make comparisons to civilian health care systems, and they are reviewed by various DOD groups at least quarterly. However, DOD officials told GAO that since October 2017, they have been unable to monitor nine of the 10 measures for MTFs using Military Health System (MHS) Genesis, DOD's new electronic health record system. According to the officials, DOD's current data warehouse—a system that stores some MHS Genesis data and can be used by MTFs to create reports on quality measures—is not capable of producing accurate reports for those measures. DOD officials told GAO they expect to implement a new data warehouse by the end of 2020. DOD officials also said they are importing data related to quality measures into another system used for quality monitoring; however, DOD does not have a targeted date for completing these data imports. Until these actions are fully implemented, groups responsible for monitoring quality care will continue to lack the data needed to offer assurance that the growing number of MTFs using MHS Genesis are providing beneficiaries with timely and effective care that will lead to better health outcomes. A draft of this report recommended that DOD establish a timeline to complete importing the quality measure-related data from MHS Genesis into DOD's system used for quality monitoring. In its review of the draft, DOD concurred with the recommendation and established a timeline for importing the data, to be available in DOD's system no later than May 2021. After reviewing the information DOD provided, GAO removed the recommendation from the final report. DOD is responsible for ensuring that beneficiaries have access to specialty care for conditions that, while not life-threatening, require immediate attention, as well as for ensuring that beneficiaries receive timely and effective care for certain routine or other services. A report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review the quality of health care in the MHS. This report examines (1) the timeliness with which beneficiaries access specialty care at MTFs through urgent referrals and DOD's efforts to monitor access, and (2) DOD's use of quality measures to monitor and improve the rates of timely and effective care received by beneficiaries at MTFs. GAO examined relevant policies, national DOD referral data (a total of 16,754 urgent referrals) for a 1-year period ending August 2019, and the most recent available quality measure data (April 2020). GAO interviewed officials from five MTFs, selected for variation in military services, geography, provision of select specialty services, and use of the electronic health record system. For more information, contact Debra A. Draper at (202) 512-7114 or draperd@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • National Nuclear Security Administration: Information on the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Request and Affordability of Nuclear Modernization Activities
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Energy's (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is in the midst of a long-term effort to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapon stockpile and its supporting production infrastructure. NNSA's modernization plans and budgets are communicated to Congress on an annual basis primarily through two key documents—the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP) and DOE's budget justification—together referred to as NNSA's nuclear security budget materials. GAO reviewed four areas related to the affordability of NNSA's modernization activities as described in these budget materials: Funding for nuclear modernization activities. Congress funds NNSA's nuclear modernization activities through the Weapons Activities appropriation account, which falls under the National Defense budget function along with other NNSA, DOE, and Department of Defense (DOD) appropriations related to the common defense and security of the United States. Discretionary defense spending for fiscal year 2021 may not exceed a certain statutory limit, or else a sequestration—a cancellation of budgetary resources—would be triggered. Therefore, a proposed increase for a given program under the National Defense budget function may need to be offset by reductions in other defense programs to keep the defense budget within statutory spending limits. Comparison of modernization activities in budget materials for fiscal year 2021 and earlier. The proposed funding in DOE's fiscal year 2021 budget justification for NNSA's nuclear modernization activities for fiscal years 2021 through 2025 is about $81 billion, which is about $15 billion more (or about 23 percent greater) compared to NNSA's estimate for the same period in its fiscal year 2020 budget materials. The main factor contributing to this large increase in proposed funding for fiscal year 2021 was NNSA's reevaluation of the funding needed to meet existing requirements, rather than costs associated with new requirements outlined in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. Affordability discussion in the Fiscal Year 2020 SSMP. The Fiscal Year 2020 SSMP included a new section entitled, "Affordability Analysis." NNSA added this section in response to GAO's April 2017 recommendation that the agency include an assessment of its portfolio of modernization programs in future versions of the SSMP. The recommendation addressed a shortfall between NNSA's projected budget needs to meet program requirements and projections of the President's budget, a condition that could recur in the future. GAO found that NNSA's new section on affordability does not fully respond to its recommendation because the section does not provide information about how potential misalignment between NNSA's estimates of future modernization funding needs and projections of the President's modernization budgets may be addressed, or about the potential impacts of adjusting program schedules or cost or schedule overruns. Implications of potential New START expiration for modernization activities. New START is a treaty between the United States and Russia for the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms, and it will expire in February 2021 unless both parties agree to extend it for no more than 5 years. DOD is basing its plans on the assumption that New START will be extended, and it currently has no plans to change its force structure. NNSA similarly has not considered the implications of the potential expiration of New START on the assumptions underlying its overall program of record and future-years funding projections as described in the fiscal year 2021 budget justification. GAO was asked to review issues related to the affordability of NNSA's modernization activities as reflected in its nuclear security budget materials. DOE's fiscal year 2021 budget justification for NNSA includes a proposed $3.1 billion increase for nuclear modernization activities. The budget justification states that it supports the modernization efforts and the scientific tools necessary to execute the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. Nuclear posture reviews are issued periodically to assess the global threat environment and establish policy on U.S. nuclear forces. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • 25th Anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Prison Official Charged with Accepting Bribes and Smuggling Contraband into Correctional Institution
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury sitting in the Eastern District of North Carolina returned an indictment on Oct. 14 charging a North Carolina Department of Public Safety official with a bribery and smuggling scheme that funneled drugs and other contraband into Caledonia Correctional Institution.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with UK Prime Minister Johnson
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Covid-19: Key Insights from GAO’s Oversight of the Federal Public Health Response
    In U.S GAO News
    More than a year after the U.S. declared COVID-19 a public health emergency, the pandemic continues to result in catastrophic loss of life and substantial damage to the economy. It also continues to lay bare the fragmented nature of our public health sector, the fragility of the nation's medical supply chain, and longstanding disparities in health care access, treatment, and outcomes. GAO has made 44 recommendations to federal agencies. Of these recommendations, 16 relate to the following public health topics: COVID-19 Testing. GAO has made two recommendations to date to improve the federal government's efforts in diagnostic testing for COVID-19, critical to controlling the spread of the virus. In January 2021, GAO recommended that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) develop and make publicly available a comprehensive national COVID-19 testing strategy. Vaccines and Therapeutics. GAO has made two recommendations to improve transparency, communication, and coordination around the government's efforts to develop, manufacture, and distribute vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat COVID-19. For example, in September 2020, GAO recommended that HHS establish a time frame for a national vaccine distribution and administration plan that follows best practices, with federal and nonfederal coordination. Medical Supply Chain. GAO has made seven recommendations for the federal government to respond to vulnerabilities highlighted by the pandemic in the nation's medical supply chain, including limitations in personal protective equipment and other supplies necessary to treat individuals with COVID-19. In January 2021, GAO recommended that HHS establish a process for regularly engaging with Congress and nonfederal stakeholders as the agency refines and implements its supply chain strategy for pandemic preparedness, to include the role of the Strategic National Stockpile. COVID-19 Health Disparities. GAO has made three recommendations to improve COVID-19 data by race and ethnicity, as available data show communities of color bear a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 positive tests, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. In September 2020, GAO recommended that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention involve key stakeholders to help ensure the complete and consistent collection of demographic data. COVID-19 Data. GAO has made two recommendations to improve the collection of data needed to respond to COVID-19 and prepare for future pandemics. GAO recommended in January 2021 that HHS establish an expert committee to help systematically define and ensure the collection of standardized data across the relevant federal agencies and related stakeholders; the absence of such data hinders the ability of the government to respond to COVID-19, communicate the status of the pandemic with citizens, or prepare for future pandemics.  Although the responsible agencies generally agreed with the majority of the 16 recommendations, only one has been fully implemented. GAO maintains that implementing these recommendations will improve the federal government's public health response and ability to recover as a nation. As of February 17, 2021, the U.S. had about 27 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and more than 486,000 reported deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions. Five relief laws, including the CARES Act, have appropriated $3.1 trillion to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. The CARES Act also includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to COVID-19. This testimony summarizes GAO's insights from its oversight of the federal government's pandemic response in a series of comprehensive reports issued from June 2020 through January 2021. In particular, the statement focuses on the public health response, including testing, vaccines and therapeutics, medical supply chain, health disparities, and health data. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials and stakeholders for the series of reports on which this testimony is based. See https://www.gao.gov/coronavirus/. GAO has made 44 recommendations for agencies and four matters for congressional consideration in its comprehensive series of bimonthly reports on the federal response to COVID-19 over the last year. GAO will issue its next report in this series in March 2021. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Namibian Independence Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Luxembourg National Day 
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With John Roberts of Fox News America Reports
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • South Texan convicted of gun and drug possession
    In Justice News
    35-year-old Edinburg man [Read More…]
  • Report to Congress: Human Trafficking in the Seafood Supply Chain
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • U.S.-Russia Joint Statement Addressing the Climate Challenge
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • NFL Player Charged for Role in $24 Million COVID-Relief Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    An NFL player has been charged for his 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…]
  • Jury finds Webster aviation company liable for violating FAA regulations
    In Justice News
    Ascent Aviation [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Settles Claim Against Operators of a Utah On-The-Job Training Program for Discriminating Against Asylee
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice today announced that it signed a settlement agreement with Montana-based Easterseals-Goodwill Northern Rocky Mountain Inc. (ESGW), which also operates in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming.
    [Read More…]
  • Complaint Seeks Forfeiture of Iranian Oil Aboard Tanker Based on Connection to Terror Group
    In Crime News
    The United States filed a forfeiture complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging that all oil aboard a Liberian-flagged vessel, the M/T Achilleas (Achilleas), is subject to forfeiture based on U.S. terrorism forfeiture laws. The complaint alleges a scheme involving multiple entities affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to covertly ship Iranian oil to a customer abroad.  Participants in the scheme attempted to disguise the origin of the oil using ship-to-ship transfers, falsified documents, and other means, and provided a fraudulent bill of lading to deceive the owners of the Achilleas into loading the oil in question. 
    [Read More…]
  • Indonesian Company Admits To Deceiving U.S. Banks In Order To Trade With North Korea, Agrees To Pay A Fine Of More Than $1.5 Million
    In Crime News
    A global supplier of cigarette paper products, PT Bukit Muria Jaya (“BMJ”), has agreed to pay a fine of $1,561,570 and enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department for conspiring to commit bank fraud in connection with the shipment of products to North Korean customers. BMJ, which is incorporated in Indonesia, has also entered into a settlement agreement with the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”).
    [Read More…]
  • Lifting Self-Imposed Restrictions on the U.S.-Taiwan Relationship
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • North Carolina Man Charged with Fraudulently Seeking Over $6 Million in COVID Relief Funds
    In Crime News
    A North Carolina man was charged with fraudulently seeking over $6 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon Jr. of the Eastern District of North Carolina.
    [Read More…]
  • Four Chinese Nationals Working with the Ministry of State Security Charged with Global Computer Intrusion Campaign Targeting Intellectual Property and Confidential Business Information, Including Infectious Disease Research
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in San Diego, California, returned an indictment in May charging four nationals and residents of the People’s Republic of China with a campaign to hack into the computer systems of dozens of victim companies, universities and government entities in the United States and abroad between 2011 and 2018.
    [Read More…]
  • Low-Income Workers: Millions of Full-Time Workers in the Private Sector Rely on Federal Health Care and Food Assistance Programs
    In U.S GAO News
    The 12 million wage-earning adults (ages 19 to 64) enrolled in Medicaid—a joint federal-state program that finances health care for low-income individuals—and the 9 million wage-earning adults in households receiving food assistance from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) shared a range of common labor characteristics. For example, approximately 70 percent of adult wage earners in both programs worked full-time hours (i.e., 35 hours or more) on a weekly basis and about one-half of them worked full-time hours annually (see figure). In addition, 90 percent of wage-earning adults participating in each program worked in the private sector (compared to 81 percent of nonparticipants) and 72 percent worked in one of five industries, according to GAO’s analysis of program participation data included in the Census Bureau’s 2019 Current Population Survey. When compared to adult wage earners not participating in the programs, wage-earning adult Medicaid enrollees and SNAP recipients in the private sector were more likely to work in the leisure and hospitality industry and in food service and food preparation occupations. Estimated Percentage of Wage-Earning Adult Medicaid Enrollees and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Recipients Working at Least 35 Hours per Week, by Number of Weeks Worked in 2018 GAO’s analysis of February 2020 program data from 15 agencies—six Medicaid agencies and nine SNAP agencies—across 11 states shows that a majority of working adult Medicaid enrollees and SNAP recipients in these states worked for private sector employers. GAO’s analysis also shows that the percentage of working adult Medicaid enrollees and SNAP recipients working for any one employer did not exceed 4 percent in any state that provided data. Most working adults in the programs worked for private sector employers concentrated in certain industries, including restaurants, department stores, and grocery stores. Smaller percentages of working adults in each program in these states worked outside the private sector. For example, less than 10 percent worked for public sector employers, such as state governments, the U.S. Postal Service, or public universities; others worked for nonprofit organizations, such as charities, hospitals, and health care networks, or were self-employed. In October 2020, GAO issued a report entitled Federal Social Safety Net Programs Millions of Full-Time Workers Rely on Federal Health Care and Food Assistance Programs (GAO-20-45.) This testimony summarizes the findings of that report, which examined (1) what is known about the labor characteristics of wage-earning adult Medicaid enrollees and SNAP recipients, and (2) what is known about where wage-earning adult Medicaid enrollees and SNAP recipients work. To answer these questions, GAO analyzed recent Census Bureau data on the labor characteristics of working adults in the two programs. GAO also analyzed recent (Feb. 2020) non-generalizable data on the employers of working adult Medicaid enrollees and SNAP recipients obtained from 15 state agencies across 11 states. GAO selected state agencies that (1) collected, verified, and updated the names of Medicaid enrollees’ and SNAP recipients’ employers; and (2) could extract reliable data. GAO made no recommendations. For more information, contact Cindy S. Brown Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or brownbarnesc@gao.gov.  
    [Read More…]
  • Medicaid: CMS Needs to Implement Risk-Based Oversight of Puerto Rico’s Procurement Process
    In U.S GAO News
    Like other U.S. territories and states, Puerto Rico implements major functions of its Medicaid program by procuring services from contractors, such as the delivery of managed care services to Medicaid beneficiaries. In 2018, procurement costs represented $2.4 billion of Puerto Rico's $2.5 billion in total Medicaid expenditures. A 2019 federal indictment alleging Puerto Rico officials unlawfully steered Medicaid contracts to certain individuals has raised concerns about Puerto Rico's Medicaid procurement process, including whether this process helps ensure appropriate competition. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), within the Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for overseeing the Medicaid program. CMS requires states and territories to use the same process for Medicaid procurements as they do for their non-federal procurements. However, CMS has not taken steps to ensure Puerto Rico has met this requirement. Instead, CMS has relied on Puerto Rico to oversee the territory's procurement process and to attest to its compliance. CMS approved Puerto Rico's attestation of compliance in 2004 and has not required subsequent updates. CMS officials told GAO that states and territories are in the best position to ensure compliance with their respective procurement laws. GAO and others have found that competition is a cornerstone of procurement. Using competition can reduce costs, improve contractor performance, curb fraud, and promote accountability. GAO reviewed selected Puerto Rico Medicaid procurements against federal procurement standards designed to promote competition and reduce risks of fraud. States and territories are generally not required to meet such standards. However, GAO and others have found that such standards can indicate whether a state's or territory's procurement process includes necessary steps to achieve fair competition. GAO found that seven of the eight selected Puerto Rico procurements did not include important steps to promote competition and mitigate the risk for fraud, waste, and abuse, underscoring the need for federal oversight. Competitive procurements. The requests for proposals for two of the three competitive procurements GAO reviewed did not include certain information on factors used to evaluate proposals and make awards. In contrast, Puerto Rico's managed care procurement—the largest procurement reviewed—included this information. Noncompetitive procurements. None of the five noncompetitive procurements GAO reviewed documented circumstances to justify not using competitive procurements, such as a lack of competition or an emergency. Puerto Rico officials explained that territorial law allows noncompetitive procurement for professional services regardless of circumstances. Because CMS does not oversee Puerto Rico's procurement process, the agency lacks assurance that Puerto Rico's Medicaid program is appropriately managing the risk of fraud, waste, and abuse. Procurements that did not include important steps to promote competition could have unnecessarily increased Medicaid costs, reducing funding for Medicaid services to beneficiaries. States' and U.S. territories' Medicaid procurement processes can directly affect their ability to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse in the program. A 2019 federal indictment alleging fraudulent Medicaid procurements in Puerto Rico has raised questions about the program's oversight. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 includes a provision for GAO to review oversight of Puerto Rico's Medicaid procurement process and its use of competition. This report examines CMS oversight of Puerto Rico's procurement process from its initial steps through the award, and how it helps ensure competition. GAO reviewed federal regulations, guidance, and Puerto Rico's December 2020 procurement reform plan; interviewed Puerto Rico and federal officials; and reviewed eight awards that represented about 97 percent of the costs of Puerto Rico's procurements in effect as of April 2020. These procurements were selected based on variation in cost, use of competition, and other factors. GAO assessed whether CMS addressed risks in Puerto Rico's procurement process by reviewing selected procurements against certain federal standards that apply to other non-federal entities and aim to mitigate the risk of fraud, waste, and abuse. GAO also assessed CMS's policies and procedures against federal internal control standards. GAO recommends that CMS implement risk-based oversight of the Medicaid procurement process in Puerto Rico. The Department of Health and Human Services concurred with this recommendation. For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or YocomC@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • The Untold Coronavirus Story: How the Diplomatic Security Service Helped Evacuate Americans from China
    In Crime Control and Security News
    By Eric Weiner, DSS [Read More…]
  • Operation Legend: Case of the Day
    In Crime News
    A Bates City, Missouri, man was charged in federal court after law enforcement officers seized nearly two dozen firearms and illegal drugs from his residence.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marsudi
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Four Plead Guilty to Multi-State Dogfighting Conspiracy
    In Crime News
    Four defendants pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting and conspiracy charges for their roles in an inter-state dogfighting network across the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey.
    [Read More…]
  • Small Business Administration: COVID-19 Loans Lack Controls and Are Susceptible to Fraud
    In U.S GAO News
    In April 2020, the Small Business Administration (SBA) moved quickly to implement the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides loans that are forgivable under certain circumstances to small businesses affected by COVID-19. Given the immediate need for these loans, SBA worked to streamline the program so that lenders could begin distributing these funds as soon as possible. For example, lenders were permitted to rely on borrowers' self-certifications for eligibility and use of loan proceeds. As a result, there may be significant risk that some fraudulent or inflated applications were approved. Since May 2020, the Department of Justice has publicly announced charges in more than 50 fraud-related cases associated with PPP funds. In April 2020, SBA announced it would review all loans of more than $2 million to confirm borrower eligibility, and SBA officials subsequently stated that they would review selected loans of less than $2 million to determine, for example, whether the borrower is entitled to loan forgiveness. However, SBA did not provide details on how it would conduct either of these reviews. As of September 2020, SBA reported it was working with the Department of the Treasury and contractors to finalize the plans for the reviews. Because SBA had limited time to implement safeguards up front for loan approval, GAO believes that planning and oversight by SBA to address risks in the PPP program is crucial moving forward. SBA's efforts to expedite processing of Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)—such as the reliance on self-certification—may have contributed to increased fraud risk in that program as well. In July 2020, SBA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported indicators of widespread potential fraud—including thousands of fraud complaints—and found deficiencies with SBA's internal controls. In response, SBA maintained that its internal controls for EIDL were robust, including checks to identify duplicate applications and verify account information, and that it had provided banks with additional antifraud guidance. The Department of Justice, in conjunction with other federal agencies, also has taken actions to address potential fraud. Since May 2020, the department has announced fraud investigations related to the EIDL program and charges against recipients related to EIDL fraud. SBA has made or guaranteed more than 14.5 million loans and grants through PPP and EIDL, providing about $729 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. However, the speed with which SBA implemented the programs may have increased their susceptibility to fraud. This testimony discusses fraud risks associated with SBA's PPP and EIDL programs. It is based largely on GAO's reports in June 2020 (GAO-20-625) and September 2020 (GAO-20-701) that addressed the federal response, including by SBA, to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. For those reports, GAO reviewed SBA documentation and interviewed officials from SBA, the Department of the Treasury, and associations that represent lenders and small businesses. GAO also met with officials from the SBA OIG and reviewed OIG reports. In its June 2020 report, GAO recommended that SBA develop and implement plans to identify and respond to risks in PPP to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. SBA neither agreed nor disagreed, but GAO believes implementation of this recommendation is essential. For more information, contact William B. Shear at (202) 512-4325 or shearw@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Jury Convicts Iranian National for Illegally Exporting Military Sensitive Items
    In Crime News
    A federal jury convicted an Iranian citizen and a resident of the United Arab Emirates and Germany, for scheming to obtain military sensitive parts for Iran in violation of the Iranian Trade Embargo.
    [Read More…]
  • Norwegian National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security Publish Final Rule on Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal
    In Crime News
    Today, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security (collectively, the Departments) announced the forthcoming publication of a Final Rule that will streamline and enhance procedures for the adjudication of claims for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) regulations. 
    [Read More…]
  • Request Denied for Preliminary Injunction on the Administration’s Landmark New Regulations Implementing under the National Environmental Policy Act
    In Crime News
    On Friday, Sept. 11, Judge James T. Jones of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia denied a request for a preliminary injunction against the Administration’s landmark new regulations implementing under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which will modernize environmental review, enhance the information-gathering process, and facilitate more meaningful public participation in the protection of our environment. These regulations had not been subject to a major revision since 1978, when they were first promulgated, and they were in need of modernization to improve the infrastructure permitting process.
    [Read More…]
  • ANZAC Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Two Bizarre Brown Dwarfs Found With Citizen Scientists’ Help
    In Space
    Data from NASA’s [Read More…]
  • Department of Justice Seizes $2.3 Million in Cryptocurrency Paid to the Ransomware Extortionists Darkside
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice today announced that it has seized 63.7 bitcoins currently valued at over $2.3 million.
    [Read More…]
  • Papua New Guinea Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Alleges Conditions at Iowa Institution for Individuals with Disabilities Violate the Constitution
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today concluded an investigation into conditions at the Glenwood Resource Center (Glenwood), an institution for individuals with intellectual disabilities operated by the State of Iowa in Glenwood, Iowa.
    [Read More…]
  • The Bank of Nova Scotia Agrees To Pay $60.4 Million in Connection with Commodities Price Manipulation Scheme
    In Crime News
    The Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank), a Toronto, Canada-based global banking and financial services firm, has entered into a resolution with the Department of Justice to resolve criminal charges related to a price manipulation scheme involving thousands of episodes of unlawful trading activity by four traders in the precious metals futures contracts markets.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Announces $1.2 Million Dollar Settlement of Title VII Intentional Race Discrimination and Retaliation Lawsuit Involving Law Enforcement Victims in Maryland
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement with the Worcester County Sheriff, in his official capacity (currently Matthew Crisafulli, formerly Reggie Mason), and the state of Maryland, resolving allegations that a former staff member was subjected to a racially hostile work environment and that he and others who supported him were retaliated against after he complained about the racial discrimination. The Justice Department also announced the settlement of related retaliation claims filed against Pocomoke City, Maryland that were resolved on Dec. 4, 2019.
    [Read More…]
  • Department Press Briefing – February 12, 2021
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • DRL FY19 Countering Corruption Amid COVID-19
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    Bureau of Democracy, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken to State Department Employees
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • U.S. Seizes Virtual Currencies Valued at $24 Million Assisting Brazil in Major Internet Fraud Investigation
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it has seized virtual currency worth an estimated $24 million on behalf of the Brazilian government.
    [Read More…]
  • Bermuda Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • NASA Human Space Exploration: Significant Investments in Future Capabilities Require Strengthened Management Oversight
    In U.S GAO News
    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) again delayed the planned launch date for Artemis I, the first uncrewed test flight involving three closely related human spaceflight programs—the Orion crew vehicle, Space Launch System (SLS), and Exploration Ground Systems (EGS). Together, these programs aim to continue human space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. The most recent delay, to November 2021, resulted in part from manufacturing challenges and represents a 36-month slip since NASA established a schedule to measure performance in 2014. This new launch date does not account for the effects of COVID-19. According to NASA officials, COVID-19 delays and schedule risks will place pressure on NASA's ability to achieve this launch date. Development cost estimates for key programs also increased. The cost of the SLS program increased by 42.5 percent and the EGS program by 32.3 percent since 2014, for a combined increase of over $3 billion, bringing the total to $11.5 billion. NASA does not plan to complete revised estimates for Orion, which are tied to the second, crewed test flight (Artemis II) before spring 2021. Key Parts of Space Launch System Ready for Testing at Stennis Space Center NASA awarded billions of dollars in development and production contracts to support flights beyond Artemis I, but the flight schedule has changed frequently due to a lack of clear requirements and time frames for planned capability upgrades. Limited NASA oversight also places efforts to plan and execute future flights at risk of adverse outcomes, such as increased costs or delays. For example, NASA is committed to establishing cost and schedule performance baselines for these efforts, but it plans to do so too late in the acquisition process to be useful as an oversight tool. In addition, senior leaders do not receive consistent and comprehensive information at quarterly briefings on future efforts, such as a program to begin developing a more powerful upper stage for SLS. This is because current updates provided to NASA management focus primarily on the more short-term Artemis I and II flights. This approach places billions of dollars at risk of insufficient NASA oversight. NASA is pursuing an aggressive goal to return American astronauts to the surface of the Moon by the end of 2024. The success of NASA's plans hinges, in part, on two upcoming test flights. An uncrewed test flight and subsequent crewed test flight are intended to demonstrate the capability of a new launch vehicle, crew capsule, and ground systems. The House Committee on Appropriations included a provision in its 2017 report for GAO to continue to review NASA's human space exploration programs. This is the latest in a series of GAO reports addressing this topic. This report assesses (1) the progress the programs are making towards the first test flight, known as Artemis I, with respect to schedule and cost, and (2) the extent to which NASA's human space exploration programs are positioned to support the planned Artemis flight schedule beyond Artemis I. To do this work, GAO examined program cost and schedule reports, test plans, and contracts, and interviewed officials. GAO also assessed the extent to which the COVID-19 state of emergency has affected schedules for these programs. GAO is making two recommendations to NASA to establish baselines ahead of a key design review and improve internal reporting about capability upgrades for human space exploration programs beyond Artemis I. NASA concurred with the recommendations made in this report. For more information, contact William Russell at (202) 512-4841 or russellw@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Information Technology: Key Attributes of Essential Federal Mission-Critical Acquisitions
    In U.S GAO News
    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.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Canadian Foreign Minister Garneau
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • New Jersey Man Sentenced to Prison for Tax Fraud Conspiracy
    In Crime News
    A New Jersey man was sentenced to 78 months in prison today for conspiring to defraud the United States, filing false claims, and obstructing the internal revenue laws, announced Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
    [Read More…]
  • Department of Justice Announces Charges of North Korean and Malaysia Nationals for Bank Fraud, Money Laundering and North Korea Sanctions Violations
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced a criminal complaint charging Ri Jong Chol, Ri Yu Gyong, North Korean nationals, and Gan Chee Lim, a Malaysia national. The three were charged with conspiracy to violate North Korean Sanctions Regulations and bank fraud, and conspiracy to launder funds. The defendants allegedly established and utilized front companies that transmitted U.S. dollar wires through the United States to purchase commodities on behalf of North Korean customers.
    [Read More…]
  • Owner and Operator of India-Based Call Centers Sentenced to Prison for Scamming U.S. Victims out of Millions of Dollars
    In Crime News
    An Indian national was sentenced today to 20 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release in the Southern District of Texas for his role in operating and funding India-based call centers that defrauded U.S. victims out of millions of dollars between 2013 and 2016.
    [Read More…]
  • Alabama Salesman Sentenced to Prison for Tax Evasion
    In Crime News
    A Hoover, Alabama, salesman was sentenced to 24 months in prison yesterday for tax evasion, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona for the Northern District of Alabama.
    [Read More…]
  • Crude Oil Markets: Effects of the Repeal of the Crude Oil Export Ban
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO's analysis of U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data and interviews with industry stakeholders shows that the repeal of the U.S. crude oil export ban is associated with increased crude oil exports—from less than half a million barrels per day in 2015 to almost 3 million barrels per day in 2019. The repeal of the ban expanded the market for U.S. crude oil to overseas buyers and, along with other market factors, allowed U.S. crude oil producers to charge higher prices relative to comparable foreign crude oil. Higher prices and an expanded market for U.S. crude oil further incentivized domestic crude oil production, which had been growing since the shale oil boom began around 2009 (see figure). During the period after the repeal, total U.S. imports of crude oil remained largely unchanged. Annual Production and Exports of U.S. Crude Oil, 2009-2019 GAO's analysis found limited effects associated with the repeal of the ban on the production, export, and import of domestic refined petroleum products, such as gasoline. However, profit margins—which are determined in part by the costs a refiner pays for the crude oil and the earnings a refiner receives from the sale of refined products—likely decreased as the prices refiners paid for domestic crude oil increased relative to international prices. Because gasoline prices are largely determined on the global market, U.S. refiners could not pass on to consumers the additional costs associated with the increase in crude oil prices, resulting in decreased profit margins for U.S. refiners. Finally, after the repeal of the crude oil export ban, the U.S. shipping industry experienced a decline as demand fell for U.S. tankers—known as Jones Act tankers—used to move domestic crude oil between U.S. ports. The increase in the relative price of domestic crude oils associated with the repeal of the export ban may have resulted in some U.S. refineries deciding to use more foreign crude oil. Foreign crude oil is typically transported by foreign tankers, reducing the demand for Jones Act tankers compared to what it would have been if the export ban had remained in place, according to six of the seven shipping industry stakeholders GAO interviewed. Between 1975 and the end of 2015, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act directed a ban on nearly all exports of U.S. crude oil. This ban was not considered a significant policy issue when U.S. oil production was declining and import volumes were increasing. However, U.S. crude oil production roughly doubled from 2009 to 2015, due in part to a boom in shale oil production made possible by advancements in drilling technologies. In December 2015, Congress effectively repealed the ban, allowing the free export of U.S. crude oil worldwide. GAO was asked to provide information on the effects of repealing the crude oil export ban. This report describes the effects of the repeal of the crude oil export ban on the domestic crude oil production, petroleum refining, and related sectors of the U.S. shipping industry. GAO analyzed data from EIA and other federal databases to determine the effects of repealing the export ban. GAO also interviewed a nongeneralizeable sample of economists, market analysts, and stakeholders from the oil and gas, refining, and shipping industries. GAO's analysis focused on the repeal of the crude oil export ban and any effects of the repeal on U.S. crude oil and related industries through March 2020. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or ruscof@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]