Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the Virtual U.S.-Nigeria Health Partnership Event

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

AMBASSADOR LEONARD:  Secretary Blinken, colleagues, friends, Dr. Shuaib, Professor Ahmed, welcome.  I’m Mary Beth Leonard, the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, and it’s my honor to welcome the U.S. Secretary of State, albeit virtually, to Nigeria, and a big thank you to everyone joining us for this virtual event.

Mr. Secretary, here at U.S. Mission Nigeria, we are so immensely proud of our partnership with the Nigerian Government and the health sector.  Our assistance saves lives every day.  COVID-19 presented new challenges and the United States responded, contributing more than $73 million in equipment and technical assistance since the start of the pandemic.  Mr. Secretary, we’re honored to have you with us and for the opportunity to share with you a bit about our partnership in health.

So without further ado, I would like to turn the virtual mike over to Mr. Tony Blinken, the United States 71st Secretary of State.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, thank you all for joining us for this conversation, and let me start by thanking you, Ambassador Leonard.  Deeply appreciate all the work that you’re doing and for helping to bring us together today.  And Dr. Shuaib from Nigeria’s Primary Health Care Development Agency, Professor Ahmed from the Federal Medical Center in Abuja, everyone who contributes to the health partnership between Nigeria and United States, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Let me just say a few words to get us started, and I’m eager to hear from some of our friends today, but at the outset, the relationship between Nigeria and the United States covers a vast array of issues that are vital to both the Nigerian and the American people.  A key issue that we’ve worked on together for years is health.  Together, we’ve reached more than 60 million Nigerians through programs that train public health workers, invest in medical facilities, and improve access to medicines, vaccines, reproductive health care.

More than 1.3 million people with HIV/AIDS are on lifesaving treatment through the U.S. program to combat HIV/AIDS around the world, PEPFAR.  And what a remarkable achievement that the program is rapidly closing in on an epidemic – on epidemic control, excuse me, over the next two years in Nigeria.  Together, we’ve brought child death rates from malaria down 16 percent.  That’s a remarkable achievement.  And last year, the World Health Organization officially declared Nigeria wild poliovirus-free, an outstanding accomplishment by tireless frontline workers whom the United States was proud to support through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Now, of course, we’re facing another health crisis together.  The COVID-19 pandemic won’t end for any country until it ends for all countries.  Otherwise, the virus will keep replicating around the world and turning into new variants.  People will keep getting sick and dying, and we won’t be able to safely reopen our economies or travel around the world for business and tourism the way we used to.  That’s why the United States is committed to helping end the pandemic in Nigeria and everywhere.

We’ve contributed $2 billion to COVAX, the global Covid vaccine initiative.  We promised another two billion between now and 2022 as other countries also raise their ambitions.  I’m very pleased that COVID-19 vaccines provided by COVAX have arrived in Nigeria.  And I’m proud that dozens of people from the U.S. Government have been working with local and national partners in Nigeria to respond to COVID-19 from the beginning of the pandemic.  We’re collaborating on epidemiology, outbreak response, lab operations, data analytics, vaccine deployment.  It’s a continuation of our $5 billion investment in our decades-long partnership in public health, and it’s a testament to the strong and respectful relationship that we’ve built over the years between our countries and between the Nigerian and American people.  When crises strike, we’re there for each other.

In the months and years ahead, our ability to collaborate to improve the health of all Nigerians will be vital.  That’s why today’s conversation is important.  I want to convey to all of you how grateful and proud the United States is of our partnership in health with Nigeria, and I want to learn more about our work together because it’s as urgent as ever.

With that, let me pass the microphone back to you, Ambassador Leonard, to lead our conversation.

AMBASSADOR LEONARD:  Thank you so much, Secretary Blinken.  Now I’d like to introduce Dr. Shuaib, who is the executive director and CEO of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency in Nigeria.  Dr. Shuaib is a longtime friend and partner of the U.S. mission in virtually all aspects of our health programs.  Nearly four million vaccine doses from the COVAX facility arrived in Nigeria on March 2, and to date, over 1.4 million people have been vaccinated.  It’s Dr. Shuaib’s agency that oversees the provision of vaccines to Nigerians, so Dr. Shuaib, thank you for taking the time to join us, and over to you.

MR SHUAIB:  Thank you very much, Madam Ambassador, and thank you very much, Secretary Blinken, for the honor of being a part of this program.  As of today, we have been able to vaccinate up to 1.4 million Nigerians with the COVAX – with the COVID-19 vaccine.  That is just 500,000 people shy of the two million people we want to vaccinate in the first phase.  Because we have been able to get four million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine – the AstraZeneca vaccine – we plan to give both doses to those individuals pending when we get additional vaccines.

We are keenly aware that when Nigeria got four million doses as a result of the collaboration through the COVAX facility, which couldn’t have been possible without the support of the U.S. Government, we know that many other countries still haven’t accessed the vaccine.  This is why the collaboration of the U.S. Government with many other governments under the platform of COVAX is very, very critical if we are going to end this pandemic.

We are very pleased to announce that as a result of the collaboration with the U.S. CDC, we’ve been able to come up with a hybrid solution in terms of our rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines.  So not only are we using traditional metrics by asking our health workers to come to the health facility and get their vaccines, but we’ve also learned from what has happened in the United States in terms of using electronic data, technology to invite people to schedule their vaccinations.  And because of the support from the AFENET and the U.S. CDC, as it were, we’ve been able to push these types of technology so that in the future we’ll be able to have a routine immunization data system that will have learned from the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines.

One thing that we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks has been a gradual overcoming of vaccine hesitancy.  Vaccine hesitancy, as you’re well aware, is a global phenomenon, and the same types of solutions are required: that we do not dismiss their concerns, that we do not ridicule people who have questions, but that we listen, that inasmuch as we’re offering the vaccines we’ll also take the time to explain, to provide information to this vaccine hesitance.  And that is what we see is beginning make us turn the corner in terms of this vaccine hesitancy.

We’ve learned a lot from the polio eradication program.  Again, the United States has been a very strong partner in that amazing and compelling story of how partnership and solidarity can help us overcome COVID-19, just like we’ve done with the wild polio viruses.  We’ve been able to mobilize community leaders, local leaders, religious leaders to speak in favor of COVID-19 vaccines, and also offer themselves to take the vaccines.  Lessons from wild polio virus eradication is going to be very instrumental in how we end up strengthening primary health care.  And the collaboration between our governments is very, very key.

In the next few months, hopefully by the end of July, we’re hoping to roll out a summit on primary health care and health system strengthening.  And I’m hopeful that along the lines of the decades of collaboration in the health sector that exist between the United States and Nigeria, that we’ll be able to invite our partners around the table to help us strengthen the health system in Nigeria so that with every crisis, we don’t have to worry about the number of people who are going to lose their lives.

So I’m really, really appreciative, and I bring you greetings from the federal minister of health, and I hope that this engagement today will just be the beginning, honorable Secretary, so that we can continue to have conversations around how we can strengthen our partnership and improve the health of our citizens.  Thank you very much for this opportunity.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Doctor, thank you both for your leadership, the collaboration, and I think the great wisdom you’re bringing to this.  And I think for all of us, drawing the lessons of past experience and applying them to the challenges we’re facing today, looking at best practices, all of that is the way we make progress.  So I’m really grateful for what you’re doing and the way you’re doing it.

AMBASSADOR LEONARD:  Indeed.  Thank you, Dr. Shuaib.  Mr. Secretary, I’d now like to introduce Dr. Chukwu, the head of the Department for Internal Medicine at the Federal Medical Center in Abuja.  Dr. Chukwu plays a leadership role in encouraging health workers to get vaccinated.  As a side note, after attending medical school in Nigeria, she came to the United States, completing her residency in internal medicine at Michigan State University, and a fellowship in endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism at the University of Washington.  As U.S. ambassador, I’m so thrilled she brought her talents and medical knowledge back to Nigeria and the FMC.  So Mr. Secretary, over to you and to Dr. Chukwu.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, doctor, thank you.  Thanks for joining us today.  And thank you for your service.  On vaccines, I understand that just like in the United States and around the world, Nigeria is dealing with some misinformation that makes people reluctant to get vaccinated.  And we just heard from our colleague about some of the efforts underway to deal with that challenge.  But I’m curious for your view on what we can do to encourage Nigerians, especially health workers, to get the vaccine.  What have you found to be most effective?

MS CHUKWU:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Being at the forefront of COVID-19, we saw the devastation caused by COVID-19.  So when the vaccine came out, it was very exhilarating and exciting.  We started in our hospital with vaccinating our CMD, Professor Saad, and the heads of department so that we are able to encourage other health care workers to get vaccinated, because with that, it gave us a lot of confidence to be able to take care of our patients.

We saw with great scare how people died and how health care workers were very much afraid of COVID-19.  But now, with the vaccine, we are more confident and able to give our patients the best care that they require.

So the saying says do as you preach.  So we got ourselves vaccinated first, giving our own health care workers the example needed.  And we’re also able to communicate and have continued to communicate with them about the continued need for all of them to get vaccinated so that we can all get herd immunity and be able to take care of our patients.

Apart from even the health care workers, we have been able to also communicate with leaders in the country, and the church leaders, the Muslim leaders, to talk to our people so that the misinformation about the vaccination is reduced.  And now a lot of people are coming out to take their vaccines.

And we’ve also made it seamlessly possible for them to get vaccinated.  We’ve reduced the wait time for them; even for those of them who were not able to register online, when they come to the site, we are able to register them so that everybody gets vaccinated.

Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, doctor, thank you so much.  And I’ve got to say, I know we’ve had the same experience in both our countries.  The frontline health care workers are literally heroic, and they have been throughout this pandemic.  And it’s very, very good to hear what you had to say, and to see what works in terms of overcoming some of the hesitancy.  So I’m really encouraged by that.  And thank you for everything you’re doing every day.

MS CHUKWU:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Ambassador Leonard.

AMBASSADOR LEONARD:  Thank you.  And indeed, thank you so much, Dr. Chukwu, for taking the time to speak with us.

Nigeria’s prosperity depends on the health of its people.  It depends on the health of all of its people.  So equal access to health care is a hallmark to – of all of our health programs, ensuring that we reach the most vulnerable populations who may not otherwise seek health services due to stigma and discrimination.

So today we’re proud to have a beneficiary of our PEPFAR program, Peter Abang.  The PEPFAR program has provided care and service to Peter for the past two years, and we will reach epidemic control because we are reaching people like you, Peter.  Thank you for your courage and speaking with us today.

Mr. Secretary, I know you will be as inspired as I was to hear Peter’s story.  Over to you and Peter.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, thank you, Ambassador, and Peter, thank you very, very much for being here.  I want to ask you about PEPFAR because this program is so important to us, and I have to say, I think President Bush and his leadership in putting this program together is really one of the finest achievements in American foreign policy in recent years.  It’s something I’m tremendously proud of as an American.  But I don’t get enough opportunities myself to ask people who actually get services through PEPFAR what their experience is like.  So I appreciate your willingness to share some of this with us today, but how have those services affected you and your own quality of life?

MR ABANG:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  My name is Peter Abang from Cross River State.  I’m HIV-positive, 25 years old, a gay man.  I came in contact with PEPFAR program in the year 2018, August 18.  And ever since I have come in contact with PEPFAR program, it has been marvelous program in my life.  PEPFAR program has transformed my life.  I came in contact with them in a cold evening when I and my friend went out for a drink at the joints.  So on reaching there, we saw a group of health workers having a moonlight testing.  So my friend advised we should go have a test done to let us know our status.  (Inaudible) day after they run the test, I became positive.  I was devastated.  I don’t know what to do.  I thought my whole life has gone down.

But luckily for me, my friend never discriminated me.  He never looked down at me.  Rather, he was encouraging me.  And the lady in charge of the test, she said that is not the end of the world if only I will agree to start my treatment immediately.  The following day she called me to come to the community center, where they placed me on treatment.  I followed my treatment.  When I go there, I was so excited to see my community people, because it’s all just for you to see your fellow – your sexual partner in our country.  But when I get to the community center, I saw people I love, people I would love to – I saw a new family that I never met before in the community center.

So I (inaudible) with the doctor, the lab scientists.  They were so friendly to me.  So I was like, if I just start this treatment, how will I be able to raise money to pay for the program, for the treatment during that?  So they answered me, “Everything here is free.”  I was like, wow.  I’m so honored to be here, for everything to be free.

And along that line, I became – because I was ignorant of what I am.  Because I’ve been living with this virus for the past how many years without noticing it.  But PEPFAR program come into my life, they help me to realize that yes, this is what is troubling me and I have to take it up.  And with that, I have a – I also have a problem.  I have a partner that I don’t want to lose.  So I don’t know how to tell my partner I’m HIV-positive.  So when I returned to the doctor, the doctor collected my partner’s number and invited my partner, had my partner, and it’s done.  So after the test my partner became positive, everything went well because he was placed on treatment.

The joy now is that my viral load is very suppressed in the sense that I cannot transmit it.  PEPFAR program has helped me a lot in a sense that they organize a support group for us whereby we come together, we (inaudible), we play games, and they tell us more how our viral load collection will be taken and how to place a condom and lubricant with easy access to us.  Because along the line I started bringing people from my community to the community center for them to know their status and to know where they belong.  Because the more we – the more we keep on dying ignorant, the more the virus keeps spreading, but the more we get to know our status, the more we reduce the rate of virus in the community.  And thank you so much.  The program has been so wonderful to me because I end up being a community leader.  I was employed through the help of this program.  Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  No, my thanks to you, Peter, for sharing all of that.  I deeply, deeply appreciate it, and I think your words as people hear them are going to have an impact on other lives.  So I’m really grateful to you for sharing that and really thankful as well that we could be part of this and we could be helpful.

Mary Beth?

AMBASSADOR LEONARD:  Yes, indeed.  Thank you, Peter, so much for sharing your story with us.  And we hope others draw courage and strength from your example.

Mr. Secretary, I hope in this brief time you’ve been able to get a glimpse of the breadth and the depth of our health partnerships here in Nigeria.  Before closing, I want to thank the Federal Medical Center facilitating this event and also thank Professor Ahmed, the chief medical director, and his team.  Professor, thank you and over to you.

MR AHMED:  Thank you, Ambassador.  First, I want to thank the Secretary of State for visiting FMC Abuja, though virtually.  We hope and pray that someday we will welcome you physically in our facility.  FMC Abuja is one of the centers that are active against vaccination – against COVID-19, and over the years our staff have taken part in many community-linked programs of the U.S. Government in Nigeria, like in areas of routine immunization, HIV/AIDS, and maternal and child health services.  I want to specifically thank the U.S. Government for donating a 40-bed negative pressure hospital, field hospital facility that has been installed in FMC Abuja for the management of infectious diseases.  I want to say that FMC Abuja stands ready to collaborate with the U.S. Government in community-related health services in Nigeria.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, Professor Ahmed, thank you.  Thank you very much.  And I want to thank everyone for making the time for this conversation today.  I’m really humbled by the determination and courage of Nigeria’s health care workers.  I’m very proud of the decades-long partnership in health and grateful to all the Nigerian and American people who’ve made it possible.  I want you to know that the United States will keep standing with Nigeria to implement effective health care initiatives for the Nigerian people, and I’m confident we’ll keep achieving good things together.

Thank you all very, very much.

AMBASSADOR LEONARD:  Oh, thank you.  And we so appreciate the opportunity to share our progress and programs with you, Mr. Secretary.  Thank you and thanks to all of you who participated today and for your work to improve the health of all Nigerian citizens.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you all.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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    What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) delayed the completion of key testing until problems with the F-35 aircraft simulator are resolved, which GAO also reported last year, and will again delay its full-rate production decision. In August 2020, the program office determined the aircraft simulator—to be used to replicate complex test scenarios that could not be accomplished in real-world environment testing—did not fully represent F-35 capabilities and could not be used for further testing until fixed. Since then, program officials have been developing a new plan to ensure the simulator works as intended. Until they finalize the plan and fix the simulator, the next production milestone date—which would formally authorize DOD's transition from development to full production—remains undetermined (see figure). F-35 Operational Test Schedule and Key Events through 2021, as of November 2020 DOD is now in its third year of its modernization effort, known as Block 4, to upgrade the hardware and software of the aircraft. While DOD added another year to the schedule, GAO found the remaining development time frame is not achievable. The program routinely underestimated the amount of work needed to develop Block 4 capabilities, which has resulted in delays, and has not reflected historical performance into its remaining work schedule. Unless the F-35 program accounts for historical performance in the schedule estimates, the Block 4 schedule will continue to exceed estimated time frames and stakeholders will lack reliable information on when capabilities will be delivered. GAO found the F-35 program office collects data on many Block 4 software development metrics, a key practice from GAO's Agile Assessment Guide, but has not met two other key practices for monitoring software development progress. Specifically, the F-35 program office has not implemented tools to enable automated data collection on software development performance, a key practice. The program's primary reliance on the contractor's monthly reports, often based on older data, has hindered program officials' timely decision-making. The program office has also not set software quality performance targets, inconsistent with another key practice. Without these targets, the program office is less able to assess whether the contractor has met acceptable quality performance levels. Why GAO Did This Study The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program remains DOD's most expensive weapon system program. DOD is 3 years into a development effort that is loosely based on Agile software development processes to modernize the F-35 aircraft's capabilities. With this approach, DOD intends to incrementally develop, test, and deliver small groups of new capabilities every 6 months. Congress included provisions in two statutes for GAO to review the F-35 program. This report addresses the F-35 operational testing status, DOD's Block 4 modernization development schedule, and how the F-35 program office implements key practices for evaluating Agile software development progress. To assess cost and schedule concerns identified in prior years, GAO selected three key practices that focus on evaluating Agile software development progress. GAO reviewed DOD and contractor documentation and interviewed DOD officials and contractor representatives.
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  • Commercial Space Transportation: FAA Should Examine a Range of Options to Support U.S. Launch Infrastructure
    In U.S GAO News
    Launch providers support the deployment of people and payloads, such as national security and commercial satellites or research probes, into space. The majority of these providers told GAO that U.S. space transportation infrastructure—located at sites across the country—is generally sufficient for them to meet their customers' current requirements. This situation is in part a result of the launch providers' investments in launch sites, along with state and local funding. Launch providers and site operators alike seek future improvements but differ on the type and location of infrastructure required. Some launch providers said that infrastructure improvements would be required to increase launch capacity at existing busy launch sites, while a few site operators said that new infrastructure and additional launch sites would help expand the nation's overall launch capacity. U.S. Commercial Launch Sites with Number of FAA-Licensed Launches, January 2015 - November 2020 The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was directed by statute to make recommendations to Congress on how to facilitate and promote greater investments in space transportation infrastructure, among other things. However, FAA's initial draft report was limited because it focused only on two existing FAA programs, rather than a range of options. FAA officials stated that they did not examine other options because of limited time and resources, and that the two identified programs could be implemented quickly because FAA has administrative authority to manage them. Leading practices in infrastructure investment emphasize the importance of conducting an examination of potential approaches, which can help identify how best to support national interests; avoid overlap or duplication of federal effort; and enhance, not substitute, participation by non-federal stakeholders. An examination may also help identify alternatives to making funding available, such as increasing efficiency and capacity through technology improvements. By focusing only on these existing programs, FAA may overlook other options that better meet federal policy goals and maximize the effect of any federal investment. Although FAA has already prepared its initial report to respond to the statute, it still has opportunities, such as during subsequent mandated updates, to report separately on potential approaches. Demand for commercial space launches is anticipated to increase in the coming years. FAA, the agency responsible for overseeing the sites where these launches occur, was directed by statute to submit a report—and update it every 2 years until December 2024—that makes recommendations on how to facilitate and promote greater investments in space transportation infrastructure. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 included a provision for GAO to review issues related to space transportation infrastructure. This report discusses launch providers' and site operators' views on the sufficiency of infrastructure in meeting market demand and assesses the steps FAA has taken to identify options for federal support of space transportation infrastructure, among other things. GAO reviewed relevant regulations; assessed FAA's actions against GAO-identified leading practices; and interviewed FAA officials, commercial launch providers, and representatives from U.S. commercial launch sites that GAO identified as having hosted an FAA-licensed launch since 2015 or having an FAA launch site operator license as of August 2020. GAO recommends that FAA examine a range of potential options to support space transportation infrastructure and that this examination include a discussion of trade-offs. DOT partially concurred, noting that it would provide its mandated report to Congress but not conduct a new examination of a range of options. GAO continues to believe that such an examination is warranted. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or KrauseH@gao.gov.
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  • U.S. Postal Service: Volume, Performance, and Financial Changes since the Onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In 2020, the majority of which was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) experienced a 9 percent drop in total mail volume when compared to 2019. The overall drop was primarily due to a 4 percent dip in First-Class Mail and a 14 percent decline in Marketing Mail (such as advertisements). Despite a drop in total volume, 2020 package volume rose by 32 percent. A surge of election-related mail caused a temporary spike in total mail volume in September and October 2020, before falling again by year end. Overall, USPS's nationwide on-time performance fell in 2020. Average monthly on-time performance for First-Class Mail decreased from 92 percent in 2019 to 87 percent in 2020. However, decreases were more significant in certain USPS districts at different times, and nationally in December 2020. On-time performance was 48 percent in New York in April and 61 percent in Baltimore in September—both of which were nearly 90 percent prior to the pandemic (see figure). Further, national on-time performance dipped to 69 percent in December. In February 2021, the Postmaster General stated that on-time performance was affected by employees' decreased availability in COVID-19 hot spots and a surge in holiday package volume. 2020 Average Monthly On-Time Performance for First-Class Mail in Baltimore, Detroit, and New York Postal Districts USPS's revenue increased in 2020 but not enough to avoid a net loss of $8.1 billion. Rapid growth and price increases for packages, resulted in a net revenue increase of $4.3 billion. However, USPS's expenses grew by $4.4 billion, including COVID-19 related expenses, such as personal protective equipment. USPS took some cost-reduction actions in 2020 and released a new strategic plan in March 2021 that also has cost-reduction actions. In May 2020, GAO concluded that absent congressional action to transform USPS, USPS's financial problems would worsen, putting its mission and financial solvency in greater peril. The further deterioration of USPS's financial position since the start of the pandemic makes the need for congressional action even more urgent. Why GAO Did This Study USPS plays a critical role in the nation's communications and commerce. However, USPS's financial viability is not on a sustainable path and has been on GAO's High Risk List since 2009. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the role of USPS in the nation's economy as well as USPS's financial difficulties. Responding to these concerns, the CARES Act, as amended in late 2020, provided USPS up to $10 billion in additional funding. The CARES Act included a provision for GAO to report on its monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines changes in USPS's (1) mail volume, (2) on-time performance, and (3) revenue and expenses from January through December 2020. GAO analyzed USPS mail volume, on-time performance, revenue, and expense data by month for 2020, and compared these data to similar data for 2019. GAO also reviewed its prior work, including its May 2020 report. That report had three matters for congressional consideration on: (1) determining the level of postal services, (2) the extent to which those services should be financially self-sustaining, and (3) the appropriate institutional structure of USPS. GAO also reviewed reports by USPS and the USPS Inspector General. Finally, GAO interviewed USPS officials, two package delivery companies that compete with USPS, and representatives from four mailing associations whose members send the types of mail with the highest volumes in 2020. For more information, contact Jill Naamane at (202) 512-2834 or naamanej@gao.gov.
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  • F-35 Sustainment: Enhanced Attention to and Oversight of F-35 Affordability Are Needed
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found F-35 mission capable rates—a measure of the readiness of an aircraft fleet—have recently improved, but still fall short of warfighter requirements, as discussed in our draft report. Specifically, from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2020, the U.S. F-35 fleet's average annual (1) mission capable rate—the percentage of time during which the aircraft can fly and perform one of its tasked missions—improved from 59 to 69 percent; and (2) full mission capable rate—the percentage of time during which the aircraft can perform all of its tasked missions—improved from 32 to 39 percent. Both metrics fall below the services' objectives. For example, in fiscal year 2020 the Air Force F-35A full mission capable rate was 54 percent, versus a 72 percent objective. Since 2012, F-35 estimated sustainment costs over its 66-year life cycle have increased steadily, from $1.11 trillion to $1.27 trillion, despite efforts to reduce costs. The services face a substantial and growing gap between estimated sustainment costs and affordability constraints—i.e., costs per tail (aircraft) per year that the services project they can afford—totaling about $6 billion in 2036 alone (see fig.). The services will collectively be confronted with tens of billions of dollars in sustainment costs that they project as unaffordable during the program. Gap between F-35 Affordability Constraints and Estimated Sustainment Costs in 2036 Note: Costs are in constant year 2012 dollars as that was the year when the F-35 program was most recently re-baselined. aSteady state years for the F-35 program are defined in each respective service's affordability analysis as: US Air Force/F-35A – 2036-2041; US Marine Corps/F-35B – 2033-2037; US Navy/F-35C – 2036-2043. Steady state refers to the program's peak operating point. The Air Force needs to reduce estimated costs per tail per year by $3.7 million (or 47 percent) by 2036 or it will incur $4.4 billion in costs beyond what it currently projects it could afford in that year alone. Cost reductions become increasingly difficult as the program grows and matures. However, GAO found there is no agreed upon approach to achieve the constraints. Without an assessment of cost-reduction efforts and program requirements (such as number of planned aircraft), along with a plan, the Department of Defense (DOD) may continue to invest resources in a program it ultimately cannot afford. Congress requiring DOD to report on its progress in achieving affordability constraints and making F-35 procurements contingent on DOD's demonstrated progress would enhance DOD's accountability for taking the necessary and appropriate actions to afford sustaining the F-35 fleet. Why GAO Did This Study The F-35 aircraft with its advanced capabilities represents a growing portion of DOD's tactical aviation fleet—with the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy currently flying about 400 of the aircraft. It is also DOD's most ambitious and costly weapon system in history, with estimated life-of-program costs exceeding $1.7 trillion. DOD plans to procure nearly 2,500 F-35s at an estimated total acquisition cost of just under $400 billion. The remaining $1.3 trillion in life cycle costs is associated with operating and sustaining the aircraft. This statement, among other things, assesses the extent to which (1) the F-35 has met warfighter-required mission capable rates; and (2) DOD has reduced the F-35's estimated life cycle sustainment costs and made progress in meeting its affordability constraints. This statement is largely based on GAO's draft report, which was provided to DOD in March for review and comment. For that report and this statement, GAO reviewed program documentation, analyzed performance and cost data, collected data from F-35 locations, and interviewed officials.
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    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Transportation (DOT) uses a multistep, centralized process to prioritize and select research activities it will fund. DOT's modal administrations—which focus on specific modes of transportation like air, rail, and highways—conduct and manage most of DOT's research. The modal administrations GAO spoke to used a variety of methods to prioritize and select research, including soliciting stakeholders' feedback on research needs. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R) is responsible for reviewing this proposed research to ensure alignment with DOT's strategic plans and to prevent duplicative research efforts, as required by statute. DOT has multiple efforts to facilitate research collaboration both externally and internally, but in guidance to promote collaboration, OST-R did not incorporate all leading practices. Specifically, OST-R established topical-research working groups on 12 multimodal subject areas in October 2018 and issued accompanying guidance. This guidance incorporated some leading collaboration practices, such as directing working groups to identify leadership roles and relevant participants. However, the guidance did not incorporate two leading practices—defining and monitoring progress toward long-term outcomes and regularly updating and monitoring written agreements. Taking steps to ensure the working groups follow these practices could provide OST-R greater assurance that the groups coordinate their efforts effectively, better plan long-term research, and better position themselves to address future transportation challenges. OST-R has taken some steps to help ensure that its public database on DOT-funded research projects (the Research Hub) contains complete and accurate information, as required by DOT's data management policy; however, data reliability issues remained. For example, as of July 2019—the latest available data at the time of GAO's analysis—36 percent of records in the database were missing research partners' contact information, hindering the research community's ability to obtain current project details. Taking additional steps, such as providing instructions to the modal administrations on how to improve the completeness and accuracy of the information they give OST-R for the Research Hub, would help ensure the database is fulfilling DOT's intended purpose that it serve as a reliable source of information on the department's research portfolio. Examples of Research Activities on Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems and Connected Vehicles Funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation DOT's research activities are critical to DOT's mission to make the nation's transportation system safer and more efficient. To meet current research needs and prepare for emerging technologies, DOT partners with public and private entities. In fiscal year 2018, DOT funded about 2,300 partners and had a research budget exceeding $1 billion. GAO was asked to review DOT's research activities. This report addresses: (1) how DOT prioritizes and selects which research activities it will undertake; (2) the extent to which DOT facilitates research collaboration with external stakeholders and across the department; and (3) the extent to which DOT ensures its Research Hub database contains complete and accurate project information. GAO reviewed documents and analyzed data from DOT; observed DOT-funded research; interviewed DOT officials from OST-R and four selected modal administrations; and used GAO's leading collaboration practices to assess the extent of collaboration. GAO also interviewed 17 DOT research partners, including universities and associations. GAO recommends that OST-R (1) take steps to ensure the topical-research working groups follow all leading collaboration practices, and (2) take additional steps to ensure the information in the Research Hub is complete and accurate. DOT concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth Repko at (202) 512-2834 or repkoe@gao.gov.
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  • Homelessness: Better HUD Oversight of Data Collection Could Improve Estimates of Homeless Population
    In U.S GAO News
    Data collected through the Point-in-Time (PIT) count—a count of people experiencing homelessness on a single night—have limitations for measuring homelessness. The PIT count is conducted each January by Continuums of Care (CoC)—local homelessness planning bodies that apply for grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and coordinate homelessness services. The 2019 PIT count estimated that nearly 568,000 people (0.2 percent of the U.S. population) were homeless, a decline from the 2012 count of about 621,500 but a slight increase over the period's low of about 550,000 in 2016. While HUD has taken steps to improve data quality, the data likely underestimate the size of the homeless population because identifying people experiencing homelessness is inherently difficult. Some CoCs' total and unsheltered PIT counts have large year-over-year fluctuations, which raise questions about data accuracy. GAO found that HUD does not closely examine CoCs' methodologies for collecting data to ensure they meet HUD's standards. HUD's instructions to CoCs on probability sampling techniques to estimate homelessness were incomplete. Some CoC representatives also said that the assistance HUD provides on data collection does not always meet their needs. By strengthening its oversight and guidance in these areas, HUD could further improve the quality of homelessness data. To understand factors associated with homelessness in recent years, GAO used PIT count data to conduct an econometric analysis, which found that rental prices were associated with homelessness. To mitigate data limitations, GAO used data from years with improved data quality and took other analytical steps to increase confidence in the results. CoC representatives GAO interviewed also identified rental prices and other factors such as job loss as contributing to homelessness. Estimated Homelessness Rates and Household Median Rent in the 20 Largest Continuums of Care (CoC), 2018 Note: This map shows the 20 largest Point-in-Time counts by CoC in 2018. GAO estimated 2018 homelessness rates because the U.S. Census Bureau data used to calculate these rates were available up to 2018 at the time of analysis. GAO used 2017 median rents (in 2018 dollars) across all unit sizes and types. Policymakers have raised concerns about the extent to which recent increases in homelessness are associated with the availability of affordable housing. Moreover, counting the homeless population is a longstanding challenge. GAO was asked to review the current state of homelessness in the United States. This report examines (1) efforts to measure homelessness and HUD's oversight of these efforts and (2) factors associated with recent changes in homelessness. GAO analyzed three HUD data sources on homelessness and developed an econometric model of the factors influencing changes in homelessness. GAO also conducted structured interviews with 12 researchers and representatives of 21 CoCs and four focus groups with a total of 34 CoC representatives responsible for collecting and maintaining homelessness data. CoCs were selected for interviews and focus groups to achieve diversity in size and geography. GAO also visited three major cities that experienced recent increases in homelessness. GAO recommends that HUD (1) conduct quality checks on CoCs' data-collection methodologies, (2) improve its instructions for using probability sampling techniques to estimate homelessness, and (3) assess and enhance the assistance it provides to CoCs on data collection. HUD concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Alicia Puente Cackley at (202) 512-8678 or cackleya@gao.gov.
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  • Interagency Council on Homelessness: Governance Responsibilities Need Further Clarification
    In U.S GAO News
    The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) consists of representatives from 19 federal agencies—including a Chair and Vice-Chair—on its governing Council and a full-time staff led by an Executive Director. The Executive Director has led most day-to-day operations, including hiring and managing staff, preparing budget requests, working with private-sector groups, drafting strategic plans, developing performance goals, and drafting agendas for the Council's quarterly meetings. Council members have quarterly meetings to discuss and consider homelessness issues and review the efforts of the Executive Director and USICH staff. Actions taken at Council meetings held from December 2017 through March 2020 included electing the Chair and Vice-Chair, appointing the Executive Director, and approving the USICH strategic plan and activities of interagency working groups. USICH staff also informed the Council of their performance results during the quarterly meetings. Some roles and responsibilities for the governance of USICH, such as the types of matters that require Council approval, are not fully defined or documented. Recent Council Chairs told GAO they generally did not have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities and generally based them on their predecessors' activities. For example, the 2019 Chair stated he saw his responsibilities as preparing and chairing quarterly Council meetings and acting as the Council's external spokesperson, but there were no written procedures detailing these responsibilities. The 2019 Chair also stated that he had no involvement in overseeing the USICH budget or operations, staff, and interagency working groups. Standards of Internal Control for the Federal Government state that for an entity's objectives to be achieved the responsibilities and delegations of authority should be clearly established. At its quarterly meeting held in March 2020, the Council approved a charter that addresses voting mechanics, performance evaluations for the Executive Director, and the authority of the Executive Director to oversee personnel. But the charter does not fully clarify the Council's responsibilities in other areas, such as the responsibilities of the Council Chair, types of matters that would require approval by Council vote, and actions that are within the Executive Director's delegated authority. Additional clarity and documentation in these areas may assist the Council in securing a fuller understanding of its oversight role and responsibilities. The mission of USICH is to coordinate the federal response to homelessness and create partnerships with the private sector and state and local governments to reduce and end homelessness. The joint explanatory statement related to the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019 includes a provision for GAO to review the management and governance structure of USICH, including the Council's ability to oversee the Executive Director and USICH operations. This report (1) describes the structure and practices for USICH operations and (2) evaluates the extent to which roles and responsibilities for the governance of USICH have been defined and documented. GAO focused primarily on the 2017–2020 time frame and analyzed agency documentation (such as Council meeting transcripts, and USICH's strategic plan and performance reports) and interviewed Council members, current and former Executive Directors, and staff from member agencies. GAO is recommending that the Council further clarify and document its roles and responsibilities for matters requiring the Council's approval, the role of the Council Chair, and actions within the Executive Director's delegated authority. The Council concurred with the recommendation. For more information, contact Alicia Puente Cackley, (202) 512-8678, cackleya@gao.gov.
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  • Officials Announce International Operation Targeting Transnational Criminal Organization QQAAZZ that Provided Money Laundering Services to High-Level Cybercriminals
    In Crime News
    Fourteen members of the transnational criminal organization, QQAAZZ, were charged by a federal grand jury in the Western District of Pennsylvania in an indictment unsealed today.  A related indictment unsealed in October 2019 charged five members of QQAAZZ.  One additional conspirator, a Russian national, was arrested by criminal complaint in late March 2020 while visiting the United States, bringing the total number of charged defendants to 20.  Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady for the Western District of Pennsylvania, made the announcement today.
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  • Execution Scheduled for Federal Death Row Inmate Convicted of Murdering a Child
    In Crime News
    Attorney General William [Read More…]
  • Newport News Tax Preparer Pleads Guilty to Preparing False Return
    In Crime News
    A Newport News, Virginia, tax preparer pleaded guilty today to aiding and assisting the preparation of a false tax return, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger for the Eastern District of Virginia.
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