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

Hits: 0

News Network

  • The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security Publish Final Rule to Restrict Certain Criminal Aliens’ Eligibility for Asylum
    In Crime News
    Today, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security announced the publication of a Final Rule amending their respective regulations to prevent certain categories of criminal aliens from obtaining asylum in the United States.  The rule takes effect 30 days after publication of the Final Rule in the Federal Register, which is scheduled to occur on Wednesday, Oct. 21.
    [Read More…]
  • Kansas Man Indicted with Hate Crime for Racially-Motivated Threat of a Minor and for Unlawfully Possessing a Firearm
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced that a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Kansas, returned an indictment charging Colton Donner, 25, with threatening an African-American male juvenile, because of the victim’s race and because the victim was living in a home in Paola, Kansas, in violation of Title 42, U.S. Code, Section 3631.
    [Read More…]
  • DHS and DOJ Announce Dedicated Docket Process for More Efficient Immigration Hearings
    In Crime News
    Today, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced a new Dedicated Docket process to more expeditiously and fairly make decisions in immigration cases of families who arrive between ports of entry at the Southwest Border.  This new process should significantly decrease the amount of time it takes for migrants to have their cases adjudicated while still providing fair hearings for families seeking asylum at the border.
    [Read More…]
  • Ongoing Investigation into Violent White Supremacist Gang Results in Rico Indictment and Additional Charges against Members and Associates
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that additional charges have been brought in a superseding indictment against members and associates of a white supremacist gang known as the 1488s. The 1488s have been charged as a criminal organization that was involved in narcotics distribution, arson, obstruction of justice, and acts of violence including murder, assault, and kidnapping.
    [Read More…]
  • Department of Justice Files Complaint Against California Company To Stop Distribution of Adulterated Animal Drugs
    In Crime News
    The United States filed a civil complaint to stop a California company from manufacturing and distributing adulterated animal drugs, the Department of Justice announced today.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Afghanistan High Council for National Reconciliation Chair Dr. Abdullah
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Peter Fay, One of Three Judges in Florida Who Served 50 Years, Dies at 92
    In U.S Courts
    Peter T. Fay, one of three federal judges from Florida who each served more than 50 years after being confirmed the same day in 1970, died Sunday in Miami at the age of 92.
    [Read More…]
  • Performance and Accountability Report Fiscal Year 2020
    In U.S GAO News
    Presented is GAO's Performance and Accountability Report for fiscal year 2020. In the spirit of the Government Performance and Results Act, this annual report informs the Congress and the American people about what we have achieved on their behalf. The financial information and the data measuring GAO's performance contained in this report are complete and reliable. This report describes GAO's performance measures, results, and accountability processes for fiscal year 2020. In assessing our performance, we compared actual results against targets and goals that were set in our annual performance plan and performance budget and were developed to help carry out our strategic plan. An overview of our annual measures and targets for 2020 is available here, along with links to a complete set of our strategic planning and performance and accountability reports. This report includes A Fiscal Year 2020 Performance and Financial Snapshot for the American Taxpayer, an introduction, four parts, and supplementary appendixes as follows: A Fiscal Year 2020 Performance and Financial Snapshot for the American Taxpayer This section provides an overview of GAO's performance and financial information for fiscal year 2020 and outlines GAO's near-term and future work priorities. Introduction This section includes the letter from the Comptroller General and a statement attesting to the completeness and reliability of the performance and financial data in this report and the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting. This section also includes a summary discussion of our mission, strategic planning process, and organizational structure, strategies we use to achieve our goals, and process for assessing our performance. Management's Discussion and Analysis This section discusses our agency-wide performance results and use of resources in fiscal year 2020. It also includes, among other things, information on our internal controls and the management challenges and external factors that affect our performance. Performance Information This section includes details on our performance results by strategic goal in fiscal year 2020 and the targets we are aiming for in fiscal year 2021. Financial Information This section includes details on our finances in fiscal year 2020, including a letter from our Chief Financial Officer, audited financial statements and notes, and the reports from our external auditor and Audit Advisory Committee. This section also includes an explanation of the information each of our financial statements conveys. Inspector General's View of GAO's Management Challenges This section includes our Inspector General's perspective on our agency's management challenges. Appendixes This section provides the report's abbreviations and describes how we ensure the completeness and reliability of the data for each of our performance measures. For more information, contact Timothy Bowling (202) 512-6100 or bowlingt@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Elections in Ethiopia
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Eastern Kentucky Doctor Sentenced to Prison for Unlawfully Distributing Controlled Substances
    In Crime News
    A Kentucky doctor and his former office manager were sentenced to 60 and 32 months respectively in prison Wednesday for their roles in unlawfully distributing controlled substances during a time when the defendants did not have a legitimate medical practice.
    [Read More…]
  • Public Designation of Current and Former Members of the Guatemalan Congress Due to Involvement in Significant Corruption
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Four Individuals Plead Guilty to RICO Conspiracy Involving “Bulletproof Hosting” for Cybercriminals
    In Crime News
    Four Eastern European nationals have pleaded guilty to conspiring to engage in a Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) arising from their providing “bulletproof hosting” services between 2008 and 2015, which were used by cybercriminals to distribute malware and attack financial institutions and victims throughout the United States.
    [Read More…]
  • Federal Contractor Agrees to Pay More Than $6 Million to Settle Overbilling Allegations
    In Crime News
    Virginia-based Information Innovators Inc. (Triple-I) has agreed to pay the United States $6.05 million to resolve allegations that a predecessor company, Creative Computing Solutions Inc. (CCSi), violated the False Claims Act by knowingly overbilling the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for work performed by CCSi employees who lacked required job qualifications.
    [Read More…]
  • Man Pleads Guilty to Stealing Nude Photos of Dozens of Victims
    In Crime News
    A New York man pleaded guilty Monday to computer fraud and aggravated identity theft related to his hacking of online social media accounts and theft of nude images of dozens of female victims.
    [Read More…]
  • Department of Justice Issues Statement Announcing Decision to Appeal Terkel v. CDC
    In Crime News
    More from: February 27, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • New Data Confirm 2020 SO to Be the Upper Centaur Rocket Booster From the 1960’s
    In Space
    The object, discovered [Read More…]
  • Air Pollution: Opportunities to Better Sustain and Modernize the National Air Quality Monitoring System
    In U.S GAO News
    The ambient air quality monitoring system is a national asset that provides standardized information for implementing the Clean Air Act and protecting public health. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state and local agencies cooperatively manage the system, with each playing different roles in design, operation, oversight, and funding. For example, EPA establishes minimum requirements for the system, and state and local agencies operate the monitors and report data to EPA. Officials from EPA and selected state and local agencies identified challenges related to sustaining the monitoring system. For example, they said that infrastructure is aging while annual EPA funding for state and local air quality management grants, which cover monitoring, has decreased by about 20 percent since 2004 after adjusting for inflation (see fig.). GAO found inconsistencies in how EPA regions have addressed these challenges. GAO's prior work has identified key characteristics of asset management, such as identifying needed resources and using quality data to manage infrastructure risks, which can help organizations optimize limited resources. By developing an asset management framework that includes such characteristics, EPA could better target limited resources toward the highest priorities for consistently sustaining the system. Annual Inflation-Adjusted EPA Funding for State and Local Air Quality Management Grants Air quality managers, researchers, and the public need additional information so they can better understand and address the health risks from air pollution, according to GAO's review of literature and interviews GAO conducted. These needs include additional information on (1) air toxics to understand health risks in key locations such as near industrial facilities; and (2) how to use low-cost sensors to provide real-time, local-scale air quality information. EPA and state and local agencies face persistent challenges meeting such air quality information needs, including challenges in understanding the performance of low-cost sensors. GAO illustrated this challenge by collecting air quality data from low-cost sensors and finding variability in their performance. EPA has strategies aimed at better meeting the additional air quality information needs of managers, researchers, and the public, but the strategies are outdated and incomplete. For example, they do not clearly define roles for meeting additional information needs. GAO's prior work on asset management suggests that a more strategic approach could help EPA modernize the system to better meet the additional information needs. By developing a modernization plan that aligns with leading practices for strategic planning and risk management, such as establishing modernization goals and roles, EPA could better ensure that the system meets the additional information needs of air quality managers, researchers, and the public and is positioned to protect public health. The national ambient air quality monitoring system shows that the United States has made progress in reducing air pollution but that risks to public health and the environment continue in certain locations. The system consists of sites that measure air pollution levels around fixed locations across the country using specific methods. Since the system began in the 1970s, air quality concerns have changed—such as increased concern about the health effects of air toxics. GAO was asked to evaluate the national air quality monitoring system. This report examines the role of the system and how it is managed, challenges in managing the system and actions to address them, and needs for additional air quality information and actions to address challenges in meeting those needs. GAO reviewed literature, laws, and agency documents; conducted a demonstration of low-cost sensors; and interviewed EPA officials, selected state and local officials, representatives from air quality associations, and stakeholders. GAO is making two recommendations for EPA to (1) establish an asset management framework for the monitoring system that includes key characteristics and (2) develop an air quality monitoring modernization plan that aligns with leading practices. In written comments on the report, EPA generally agreed with the recommendations. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S. Trustee Program Reaches Agreements with Three Mortgage Servicers Providing More than $74 Million in Remediation to Homeowners in Bankruptcy
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s U.S. Trustee Program (USTP announced today that it has entered into national agreements with three mortgage servicers to address past mortgage servicing deficiencies impacting homeowners in bankruptcy.
    [Read More…]
  • Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives Releases Status Report
    In Crime News
    The Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) today released a status report detailing accomplishments during its first year and outlining its strategy for the next 12 months. The President’s Executive Order (E.O.) 13898, set forth a range of tasks to be completed over the two-year life of the Task Force, with required reports at the end of each year. Attorney General William P. Barr and Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt transmitted the status report to President Trump, and notably characterized these accomplishments as, “a productive first year of Task Force operations.”
    [Read More…]
  • United States Charges Russian Military Intelligence Officers for Cyber Crimes
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • The U.S. Reaches $1.5 Billion Settlement with Daimler AG Over Emissions Cheating in Mercedes-Benz Diesel Vehicles
    In Crime News
    The U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced today a proposed settlement with German automaker Daimler AG and its American subsidiary Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC (collectively, “Daimler”) resolving alleged violations of the Clean Air Act and California law associated with emissions cheating. 
    [Read More…]
  • Texan sentenced in CARES Act unemployment fraud scheme
    In Justice News
    A 29-year-old Corpus [Read More…]
  • Pride Month
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • After 40 Years of Progress, It Is Time to End the HIV Epidemic
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    As we mark the 40th [Read More…]
  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo with Hrvoje Kresic of N1 TV
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Pompeo’s Call with Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Locsin
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Azerbaijan Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Sargeant Marine Inc. Pleads Guilty and Agrees to Pay $16.6 Million to Resolve Charges Related to Foreign Bribery Schemes in Brazil, Venezuela, and Ecuador
    In Crime News
    Sargeant Marine Inc., an asphalt company formerly based in Boca Raton, Florida, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and agreed to pay a criminal fine of $16.6 million to resolve charges stemming from a scheme to pay bribes to foreign officials in three South American countries.
    [Read More…]
  • Sierra Leone Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Defense Budget: Opportunities Exist to Improve DOD’s Management of Defense Spending
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO's previous work has shown that a number of opportunities exist for the Department of Defense (DOD) to strengthen management of defense spending, which would help the department address the challenges it faces, especially in a constrained budget environment. These opportunities include: Improving budgeting execution of funds. DOD does not fully obligate the funds appropriated to it and can improve both its budgeting for and its use of the resources that are provided to it. For example, GAO found that DOD has left billions of dollars in appropriated amounts unspent over the past 10 fiscal years. Better estimating annual budget requirements and obligating appropriations provided by Congress within the period of availability established by Congress would help DOD minimize these cases of under-execution. More clearly determining future resource requirements related to overseas contingency operations. DOD and Congress need a clearer determination of DOD's future resource requirements, in particular how and whether to incorporate enduring Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) costs—costs that will endure beyond ongoing contingency operations—into DOD's base budget. These costs could total tens of billions of dollars a year. However, few details exist as to what makes up these enduring costs or how they were derived, raising questions about how much should be included as future requirements. Reducing improper payments. Addressing improper payments—payments that should not have been made or were made in an incorrect amount—is an area where better financial management could save DOD billions of dollars. In its fiscal year 2020 agency financial report, DOD estimated that it paid about $11.4 billion in improper payments, or about 1.7 percent of all payments it made that year. DOD has taken steps to reduce improper payments in some areas, but DOD's estimates of its improper payments in other areas indicate more remains to be done. Sustaining and refining department-wide business reform efforts. DOD must transform its overall business operations so that it can more efficiently and effectively use its resources. In recent years, DOD reported notable achievements from its most recent department-wide business reform efforts, including $37 billion in savings from fiscal years 2017 to 2021 as a result of these efforts. However, GAO previously found that while DOD's reported savings were largely reflected in its budget materials, the analyses underlying these estimates were not always well documented and the savings were not always the result of business reform. Moreover, uncertainty about the leadership structure at DOD for overseeing and reforming business operations, including the recent elimination of the Chief Management Officer position, calls into question whether efforts to fundamentally transform how the department does business can be realized and sustained. GAO has previously highlighted the importance of DOD providing clear department-wide guidance on roles, responsibilities, authorities, and resources for business reform efforts will be necessary for DOD to make progress in these efforts. Decisions by DOD and Congress regarding long-term defense needs will have a meaningful impact on the nation's fiscal future. As the single largest category of discretionary spending, defense spending is likely to play a large role in any discussion of future federal spending. GAO and others have found that DOD faces challenges that are likely to put pressure on its budget moving forward. DOD is the only major federal agency that has been unable to receive a clean audit opinion on its financial statements. This testimony provides information on how DOD can better manage defense spending, specifically related to its ability to (1) accurately estimate its budgetary requirements and execute its appropriated funds, (2) determine resource requirements related to overseas contingency operations, (3) reduce improper payments, and (4) sustain and refine department-wide reform efforts. For this testimony, GAO reviewed and summarized its recent work on DOD budget and financial management issues and departmental reform efforts. In prior work on which this testimony is based, GAO made recommendations that DOD take steps to better estimate its annual budget requirements and future fiscal needs for OCO, reduce improper payments, and refine and formalize its departmental reform efforts. DOD generally concurred with these recommendations and is working toward implementing them. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • The United States Impedes Hizballah Financing by Sanctioning Seven Individuals
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Acting Assistant Secretary Reeker’s Travel to Lithuania
    In Crime News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Tajikistan Foreign Minister Muhriddin
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Sao Tome and Principe Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to Sao [Read More…]
  • Belarus Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider Travel due to [Read More…]
  • U.S Department of Agriculture-Office of Inspector General and Justice Department Conduct Animal Welfare Criminal Investigations Training
    In Crime News
    On Sept. 14 to 18, criminal investigators and attorneys from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General (USDA-OIG) and the U.S. Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) collaborated to put on a week-long training for USDA-OIG criminal investigators, as well as other federal law enforcement agencies on animal welfare criminal investigations and prosecutions.
    [Read More…]
  • North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Do not travel to North [Read More…]
  • Mali Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Do not travel to Mali [Read More…]
  • Medicare and Medicaid: COVID-19 Program Flexibilities and Considerations for Their Continuation
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency responsible for overseeing Medicare and Medicaid, made widespread use of program waivers and other flexibilities to expand beneficiary access to care. Some preliminary information is available on the effects of these waivers. Specifically: Medicare. CMS issued over 200 waivers and cited some of their benefits in a January 2021 report. For example, CMS reported that: Expansion of hospital capacity. More than 100 new facilities were added through the waivers that permitted hospitals to provide care in non-hospital settings, including beneficiaries' homes. Workforce expansion. Waivers and other flexibilities that relaxed certain provider enrollment requirements and allowed certain nonphysicians, such as nurse practitioners, to provide additional services expanded the provider workforce. Telehealth waivers. Utilization of telehealth services—certain services that are normally provided in-person but can also be provided using audio and audio-video technology—increased sharply. For example, utilization increased from a weekly average of about 325,000 services in mid-March to peak at about 1.9 million in mid-April 2020. Medicaid. CMS approved more than 600 waivers or other flexibilities aimed at addressing obstacles to beneficiary care, provider availability, and program enrollment. GAO has reported certain flexibilities such as telehealth as critical in reducing obstacles to care. Examples of other flexibilities included: Forty-three states suspended fee-for-service prior authorizations, which help ensure compliance with coverage and payment rules before beneficiaries can obtain certain services. Fifty states and the District of Columbia waived certain provider screening and enrollment requirements, such as criminal background checks. While likely benefitting beneficiaries and providers, these program flexibilities also increase certain risks to the Medicare and Medicaid programs and raise considerations for their continuation beyond the pandemic. For example: Increased spending. Telehealth waivers can increase spending in both programs, if telehealth services are furnished in addition to in-person services. Program integrity. The suspension of some program safeguards has increased the risks of fraud, waste, and abuse that GAO previously noted in its High-Risk report series. Beneficiary health and safety. Although telehealth has enabled the safe provision of services, the quality of telehealth services has not been fully analyzed. Why GAO Did This Study Medicare and Medicaid—two federally financed health insurance programs—spent over $1.5 trillion on health care services provided to about 140 million beneficiaries in 2020. Recognizing the critical role of these programs in providing health care services to millions of Americans, the federal government has provided for increased funding and program flexibilities, including waivers of certain federal requirements, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to conduct monitoring and oversight of the federal government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, GAO has issued a series of government-wide reports from June 2020 through March 2021. GAO is continuing to monitor and report on these services. This testimony summarizes GAO's findings from these reports related to Medicare and Medicaid flexibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as preliminary observations from ongoing work related to telehealth waivers in both programs. Specifically, the statement focuses on what is known about the effects of these waivers and flexibilities on Medicare and Medicaid, and considerations regarding their ongoing use. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed federal laws, CMS documents and guidance, and interviewed federal and state officials. GAO also interviewed six provider and beneficiary groups, selected based on their experience with telehealth services. GAO obtained technical comments from CMS and incorporated them as appropriate. For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or farbj@gao.gov or Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or yocomc@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Gulf Coast Health Care Fraud Strike Force Expanded to Include Eastern District of Texas
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced the expansion of the Criminal Division, Fraud Section’s existing Gulf Coast Health Care Fraud Strike Force to include the Eastern District of Texas.
    [Read More…]
  • North Carolina Return Preparers Plead Guilty to Conspiring to Defraud the IRS
    In Crime News
    Two Durham, North Carolina, return preparers pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Department of Justice’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Matthew G.T. Martin of the Middle District of North Carolina.
    [Read More…]
  • VA Real Property: Preliminary Observations on Challenges Limiting VA’s Ability to Effectively Manage Its Assets
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO has identified key characteristics of an asset management framework designed to optimize funding and decision-making related to capital assets. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to have challenges meeting at least three of these key characteristics. Staffing resources. This key characteristic calls for organizational leadership to provide the necessary resources for asset management to succeed. Previously, VA officials described problems resulting from low levels of staffing resources, including project delays and difficulties in managing projects. VA has taken some actions to improve staffing levels, such as establishing special salary rates for engineers, and VA's vacancy rate for general engineers has improved, decreasing from 17.2 percent in fiscal year 2019 to 12.6 percent in fiscal year 2020. VA officials, however, continue to describe staffing difficulties in planning and executing projects and limits on the number of projects that facilities can undertake. Communication and collaboration. This key characteristic calls for organizations to promote a culture of information-sharing across traditional agency boundaries to help ensure that agencies make effective, enterprise-wide decisions regarding their assets. VA has taken steps to improve communication among offices with asset management responsibilities, such as by issuing an asset management directive that VA officials said would help to facilitate such collaboration. However, in current work GAO has found instances of insufficient communication, such as lack of (1) collaboration early in project development between local offices and the Office of Construction and Facilities Management and (2) coordination between construction offices and the Office of Information and Technology when bringing facilities online. Measurement and evaluation. This key characteristic calls for agencies to continuously evaluate the performance of their asset management systems and implement necessary improvements to optimize the assets' value and ensure the assets reflect the organization's current goals. VA previously developed goals and measures for its program of inspections to identify maintenance and repair needs in health care settings. However, currently VA lacks goals with related measures that would evaluate its asset management processes and point the way to necessary improvements. Why GAO Did This Study VA manages a vast portfolio of real property assets, including a healthcare system that provides care at 171 VA medical centers and 1,112 outpatient sites to over 9 million veterans enrolled in the VA health care program. VA has pressing infrastructure needs, including adapting to changes in veterans' demographics and maintaining or replacing aging facilities. GAO's key characteristics of an asset management framework state that effectively managing assets requires, among other things, maintaining leadership support that provides the necessary resources; a collaborative organizational culture; and a system for evaluating and improving asset management performance. However, GAO's previous and ongoing work has found that VA continues to face challenges on these fronts. Although VA has implemented some GAO recommendations, several priority recommendations remain outstanding in areas related to asset management, such as staffing and capital planning. GAO was asked to testify about VA's management of its capital asset portfolio. This statement summarizes GAO's findings from prior reports and preliminary observations from ongoing work examining VA's capital asset management. In ongoing work, GAO reviewed VA documentation and interviewed officials from VA headquarters offices involved in asset management. GAO also interviewed personnel at a selection of eight VA medical centers and seven regional offices and from four Veterans Service Organizations about VA's asset management. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Joint Statement from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security Assessing the Impact of Foreign Interference During the 2020 U.S. Elections
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), released today key findings and recommendations from a joint report to the President issued last month on the impact of foreign governments and their agents on the security and integrity of the 2020 U.S. federal elections.
    [Read More…]
  • Northern Ohio Health System Agrees to Pay Over $21 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations for Improper Payments to Referring Physicians
    In Crime News
    Akron General Health System (AGHS), a regional hospital system based in Akron, Ohio, will pay $21.25 million to resolve allegations under the False Claims Act of improper relationships with certain referring physicians, resulting in the submission of false claims to the Medicare program. AGHS was acquired at the end of 2015 by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation (Clinic) through a full member substitution agreement.
    [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…]
  • Arkansas Businessman Pleads Guilty to Income Tax Evasion
    In Crime News
    A Bentonville, Arkansas, resident pleaded guilty today to income tax evasion announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
    [Read More…]
  • The Bahamas Independence Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Comoros National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Joint Statement on the Eighth U.S.-UAE Economic Policy Dialogue  
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • At the Virtual Launch of the Inaugural U.S.-UAE Strategic Dialogue
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Vanuatu Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • President of Commercial Flooring Company Pleads Guilty to Rigging Bids in Violation of Federal Antitrust Laws
    In Crime News
    Delmar E. Church Jr., the president and one of the principal owners of a Chicago-area commercial flooring company, pleaded guilty for his role in a conspiracy to rig bids and fix prices for commercial flooring services and products sold in the United States, the Department of Justice announced. The defendant is cooperating with the department’s ongoing investigation.
    [Read More…]
  • Amec Foster Wheeler Energy Limited Agrees to Pay Over $18 Million to Resolve Charges Related to Bribery Scheme in Brazil
    In Crime News
    Amec Foster Wheeler Energy Limited (Amec Foster Wheeler or the Company), a subsidiary of John Wood Group plc (Wood), a United Kingdom-based global engineering company, has agreed to pay $18,375,000 to resolve criminal charges stemming from a scheme to pay bribes to officials in Brazil in exchange for an approximately $190 million contract to design a gas-to-chemicals complex.
    [Read More…]
  • NASA’s Cold Atom Lab Takes One Giant Leap for Quantum Science
    In Space
    A new study describes [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with the United Arab Emirates Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Lead Paint in Housing: HUD Has Not Identified High-Risk Project-Based Rental Assistance Properties
    In U.S GAO News
    During fiscal years 2018 and 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) obligated about $421 million through two grant programs to state and local governments to help identify and control lead paint hazards in housing for low-income households. HUD also issued guidelines for evaluating and controlling lead paint hazards, generally encouraging abatement (such as replacing building components containing lead) as the preferred long-term solution. HUD has supported research on lead paint hazard control and provided education and outreach to public housing agencies, property owners, and the public through publications and training events. HUD monitors lead paint-related risks in its Project-Based Rental Assistance Program, one of HUD's three largest rental assistance programs, through management reviews and periodic physical inspections, but has not conducted a comprehensive risk assessment to identify properties posing the greatest risk to children under the age of 6. HUD's management reviews include assessing property owners' compliance with lead paint regulations—such as by reviewing lead disclosure forms, records of lead inspections, and plans to address lead paint hazards. Inspectors from HUD's Real Estate Assessment Center also assess the physical condition of properties, including identifying damaged paint that could indicate lead paint risks. According to HUD officials, they have not conducted risk assessments in project-based rental assistance housing because they believe the program has relatively few older and potentially riskier properties. However, GAO's analysis of HUD data found that 21 percent of project-based rental assistance properties have at least one building constructed before 1978 (when lead paint was banned in homes) and house over 138,000 children under the age of 6. If HUD used available program data to inform periodic risk assessments, HUD could identify which of the properties pose the greatest risk of exposure to lead paint hazards for children under the age of 6. Unless HUD develops a strategy for managing the risks associated with lead paint and lead paint hazards in project-based rental assistance housing, it may miss the opportunity to prevent children under the age of 6 from being inadvertently exposed to lead paint in those properties. Project-Based Rental Assistance Properties with at Least One Building Built before 1978 and That House Children under Age 6, as of December 31, 2019 Note: Children under the age of 6 are at the greatest risk of lead exposure because they have frequent hand-to-mouth contact, often crawl on the floor, and ingest nonfood items. Lead paint exposure in children under the age of 6 can cause brain damage, slowed development, and learning and behavioral problems. Exposure to lead paint hazards can cause serious harm to children under 6 years old. HUD is required by law to reduce the risk of lead paint hazards in HUD-assisted rental housing—including project-based rental assistance (subsidies to make privately owned multifamily properties affordable to low-income households). The 2019 Consolidated Appropriations Act Joint Explanatory Statement includes a provision for GAO to review, among other things, HUD's oversight of lead paint and related hazards in affordable rental housing. This report (1) describes how HUD programs and guidance address lead paint hazards in HUD-assisted and other low-income rental housing, and (2) examines HUD's oversight procedures for assessing risk for lead paint hazards in project-based rental assistance housing. GAO reviewed HUD and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lead paint regulations and documents on lead programs and methods for addressing lead paint hazards. GAO reviewed HUD oversight policies and procedures and analyzed HUD data on building and tenant age. GAO interviewed staff at HUD, EPA, and organizations that advocate for safe affordable housing. GAO recommends that HUD (1) conduct periodic risk assessments for the Project-Based Rental Assistance Program and (2) develop and implement plans to proactively manage identified lead paint risks. HUD agreed to conduct periodic risk assessments and develop and implement a plan to proactively manage risks. For more information, contact John H. Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or pendletonj@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Statement by Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson on the Pakistani Supreme Court’s Ruling Relating to the Abduction and Murder of Daniel Pearl
    In Crime News
    Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson has released the following statement:
    [Read More…]
  • Pakistan Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • 2020 Indo-Pacific Business Forum Promotes Free and Open Indo-Pacific
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]