Secretary Antony J. Blinken at Virtual Meet and Greet with Mission Republic of Korea Staff and Family Members

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Seoul, Republic of Korea

American Center Korea

MR RAPSON:  Hello, everyone.  Mission Seoul Colleagues, family members, thank you for being with us – or, I should say, Zooming in with us – for this afternoon’s very special occasion.  As our time is limited, though, let me get right to the point:  I’m absolutely delighted to introduce to you our Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who arrived in Korea just a couple of hours ago.  While no stranger to Korea, this is the Secretary’s first overseas visit in his new job, and for that we’re deeply honored and appreciative, as I know his Korean hosts are as well.  So with no further ado, Mr. Secretary, thank you for coming to Korea and thank you for engaging in this virtual conversation with our terrific and ever resilient community.  Our only wish is that we could have done this in person, but that’s for another time, perhaps your next visit to Korea.  So thank you, Mr. Secretary.  The Zoom is yours.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thank you very, very much.  It’s really wonderful to be back here, and in fact, in this very spot I think I spent some quality time on my last tour of duty.  And it’s very good to be back.  It’s particularly nice, Rob, to be with you, as well as the whole mission.  We’ve done some good work together in the past.  I’m looking forward to doing more going forward, and to the entire team, hello.  Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.

I want to say as well that I wish we were all together in person, but we’ll take advantage of the technology and at least have this virtual gathering.  And I can tell you this is not goodbye, it’s hello, and I suspect I’ll be back.  And so I hope the next time we will be able to get together in person.  But I do want to start by thanking the entire embassy team for helping to put this together under these rather different circumstances.  I know what goes into these visits, and of course, we tried to give you twice the fun, because Secretary of Defense Austin is also here.  I know you’re going to have a heck of a wheels up party when we get out of town.

But as the Chargé said, this is my first in-person travel overseas as Secretary, and it was important to come here first because Korea’s such an indispensable ally to the United States, and the work that you all are doing every single day is what makes our relationship with South Korea so strong.  You’ve heard President Biden talk a lot about leading by the power of our example, and I think what you’ve done as a mission in this unprecedented time is just that.  And I want to highlight a couple of examples that I know are well known to you, but it’s good for everyone to hear them.

First, your response to this pandemic.  Dr. Haas I know has led the mission in implementing measures to keep staff and loved ones safe and informed.  You put an innovative public clearance system in place to test new arrivals.  JT Tracy I’m told organized numerous COVID-safe community events that helped lift morale during the lockdown.  And Claire and Tanis Koscina who are just, I think, 16 and 14 years old set up soccer camps for kids on base.  CLO team helped families adapt to teleworking and remote schooling; Joseph Hwang organized his high school classmates to deliver groceries to families in quarantine. 

And even as you were doing all these things, most important, you kept the critical work of the embassy going, helping 150,000 U.S. citizens in this country navigate testing in quarantine, processing immigrant visa petitions from priority groups like U.S. service members and Korean orphan adoption visas; all the work of the political and economic sections, including marshaling a robust condemnation of the coup in Burma and helping secure a new special measures agreement, not to mention a lot of terrific reporting, some of which I’ve already benefited from.  So it really has been a remarkable all-hands-on-deck effort, and I just want to commend you for coming together, and not just coming together, coming together with ingenuity and coming together with heart.

Your dedication is all the more reason we owe it to you and your families to get you vaccinated as soon as possible, and we’ll probably have an opportunity to talk about that, but I just want to assure you that the administration is working as fast as possible to deliver vaccines to you.  There is nothing that we take more seriously, there is nothing that I take more seriously than your health and well-being, and we also want to make sure that we’re keeping you posted at every step along the way.  And that’s critically important.  The answers may not always be the ones that you’d like to hear, but we’ll always tell you what’s going on and what you need to hear.

A second example that I wanted to cite today is your leadership on diversity, inclusion, equity.  As a community, I know that you stood up against violence against black people in the United States.  You’ve stood with LGBTQI people here and around the world.  Some of your actions took real courage, and I want to commend you for them.  It’s deeply important to me that the State Department be a place where everyone is welcome, everyone is respected, everyone is treated with dignity.  That’s one reason we’ve made diversity and inclusion a major priority for this administration.  I strongly believe that America’s diversity is one of our core strengths as a nation and also a competitive advantage, and so we’ve got to have a diplomatic workforce that looks like the country it represents.  Otherwise, we will be conducting our diplomacy with one hand tied behind our back.

And I know you get that.  You’ve done work here to break down barriers, from the children’s book club you set up on D&I issues to the tough conversations that I know you’ve had on unconscious bias and white privilege.  Your council for diversity and inclusion even sent up a set of recommendations on how the State Department can foster a more inclusive workplace.  And this is really important because we need to learn from each other.  Across the entire State Department family, we’re finding that embassies, different bureaus are doing things that the whole community needs to know about, and so I really appreciate sharing from your own experience.

As I see it, from what I’ve learned about this mission and the work you’re doing, you really are a model for how our teams around the world can actually turn our values into concrete action and go the extra mile on behalf of the American people and each other.  So thank you.  Thank you for your service to our country.  Thank you for the way you’ve performed that service.  I’m very, very proud to be your Secretary, and now I’d really like to have a conversation and I’m anxious to hear from you.  So thank you.  It’s great to be here.  Thank you, Rob.  (Applause.)

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Hits: 0

News Network

  • NASA CubeSat Will Shine a Laser Light on the Moon’s Darkest Craters
    In Space
    To support the next wave [Read More…]
  • On the Occasion of Koningsdag in the Netherlands
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Maternal Mortality and Morbidity: Additional Efforts Needed to Assess Program Data for Rural and Underserved Areas
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Nationwide data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System from 2011-2016, the most recent data available at the time of GAO's review, indicate that deaths during pregnancy or up to 1 year postpartum due to pregnancy-related causes—are higher in rural areas compared to metropolitan areas. See figure. CDC data also showed higher mortality in underserved areas (areas with lower numbers of certain health care providers per capita). Pregnancy-Related Mortality Ratios in Rural and Metropolitan Areas, 2011-2016 Note: Micropolitan areas include counties with populations of 2,500 to 49,999. Noncore areas include nonmetropolitan counties that do not qualify as micropolitan. GAO also analyzed the most recent annual data available from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality for 2016-2018 on severe maternal morbidity (SMM)—unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery resulting in significant health consequences. Nationwide, these data showed higher estimated rates of SMM in metropolitan areas (72.6 per 10,000 delivery hospitalizations) compared to rural areas (62.9 per 10,000). CDC and another Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agency, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), fund several maternal health programs that aim to reduce maternal mortality and SMM, including some that target rural or underserved areas. CDC and HRSA collect program data, such as the percentage of women who received postpartum visits, to track progress in improving maternal health, but they do not systematically disaggregate and analyze program data by rural and underserved areas. By taking these actions, CDC and HRSA could help better ensure that program funding is being used to help address any needs in these areas. HHS has taken actions to improve maternal health through its funding of various programs and releasing an action plan in 2020. HHS also has two workgroups that aim to coordinate across HHS agencies on maternal health efforts, such as program activities that aim to reduce maternal mortality and SMM. Officials from HHS's two workgroups said they coordinated in developing the action plan, but they do not have a formal relationship established to ensure ongoing coordination. Officials from one of the workgroups noted that they often have competing priorities and do not always coordinate their efforts. By more formally coordinating their efforts, HHS's workgroups may be in a better position to identify opportunities to achieve HHS's action plan goal for reducing maternal mortality and objectives that target rural and underserved areas. Why GAO Did This Study Each year in the United States, hundreds of women die from pregnancy-related causes, and thousands more experience SMM. Research suggests there is a greater risk of maternal mortality and SMM among rural residents and that underserved areas may lack needed health services. GAO was asked to review maternal mortality and SMM outcomes in rural and underserved areas. This report examines, among other objectives, what is known about these outcomes; selected CDC and HRSA programs that aim to reduce these outcomes, as well as actions to collect and use relevant data; and the extent to which HHS is taking actions to improve maternal health and monitoring progress on its efforts. GAO analyzed HHS data, agency documentation, literature, and interviewed officials from a non-generalizable sample of three states and stakeholders to capture various perspectives.
    [Read More…]
  • Next Generation Combat Vehicles: As Army Prioritizes Rapid Development, More Attention Needed to Provide Insight on Cost Estimates and Systems Engineering Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    The four efforts within the Next Generation Combat Vehicles (NGCV) portfolio all prioritize rapid development, while using different acquisition approaches and contracting strategies. Some of the efforts use the new middle-tier acquisition approach, which enables rapid development by exempting programs from many existing DOD acquisition processes and policies. Similarly, the efforts use contracting strategies that include both traditional contract types as well as more flexible approaches to enable rapid development of technology and designs. Vehicles of the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Portfolio The two programs within the portfolio that recently initiated acquisitions—Mobile Protected Firepower and Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle—have taken some steps to mitigate risks in cost and technology consistent with GAO's leading practices. The Army's use of the middle-tier approach for these efforts may facilitate rapid development, but the programs could benefit from additional application of GAO's leading practices. For example, the programs identified some risks in their cost estimates, but because each presented a single estimate of the total cost—referred to as a point estimate—these estimates do not fully reflect how uncertainty could affect costs. Similarly, the programs took some steps to mitigate technical risk by limiting development to 6 years or less and incrementally introducing new technologies, steps consistent with GAO's leading practices. However, by delaying key systems engineering reviews, the programs took some steps not consistent with leading practices, which could increase technical risk. While trade-offs may be necessary to facilitate rapid development, more consistent application of GAO's leading practices for providing cost estimates that reflect uncertainty and conducting timely systems engineering reviews could improve Army's ability to provide insight to decision makers and deliver capability to the warfighter on time and at or near expected costs. The Army has taken actions to enhance communication, both within the Army and with Department of Defense stakeholders, to mitigate risks. Within the Army, these actions included implementing a cross-functional team structure to collaboratively develop program requirements with input from acquisition, contracting, and technology development staff. Program officials also coordinated with other Army and Department of Defense stakeholders responsible for cost and test assessment, even where not required by policy, to mitigate risk. The Army views the NGCV portfolio as one of its most critical and urgent modernization priorities, as many current Army ground combat vehicles were developed in the 1980s or earlier. Past efforts to replace some of these systems failed at a cost of roughly $23 billion. In November 2017, the Army began new efforts to modernize this portfolio. GAO was asked to review the Army's plans for modernizing its fleet of ground combat vehicles. This report examines (1) the acquisition approaches and contracting strategies the Army is considering for the NGCV portfolio, (2) the extent to which the Army's efforts to balance schedule, cost, and technology are reducing acquisition risks for that portfolio, and (3) how the Army is communicating internally and externally to reduce acquisition risks. GAO reviewed the acquisition and contracting plans for each of the vehicles in the portfolio to determine their approaches; assessed schedule, cost, and technology information—where available—against GAO's leading practice guides on these issues as well as other leading practices for acquisition; and interviewed Army and DOD officials. GAO is making three recommendations, including that the Army follow leading practices on cost estimation and systems engineering to mitigate program risk. In its response, the Army concurred with these recommendations and plans to take action to address them. For more information, contact Jon Ludwigson at (202) 512-4841 or ludwigsonj@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Proposed NASA Mission Would Visit Neptune’s Curious Moon Triton
    In Space
    One of four concepts [Read More…]
  • Hong Kong Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to the [Read More…]
  • Three Peruvian Nationals Plead Guilty to Conspiring to Defraud Thousands of Spanish-Speaking U.S. Residents
    In Crime News
    Three Peruvian nationals pleaded guilty to operating a series of call centers in Peru that defrauded Spanish-speaking U.S. residents by threatening, among other things, arrest and deportation.
    [Read More…]
  • Florida Return Preparers Charged with Defrauding the IRS
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale, Florida returned an indictment on Tuesday, March 16, 2021, charging two tax preparers with conspiring to defraud the United States and preparing false tax returns. The defendants made their initial court appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick M. Hunt today.
    [Read More…]
  • Department Of Justice Identifies New York City, Portland And Seattle As Jurisdictions Permitting Violence And Destruction Of Property
    In Crime News
    The U.S. Department of Justice today identified the following three jurisdictions that have permitted violence and destruction of property to persist and have refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract criminal activities: New York City; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington. The Department of Justice is continuing to work to identify jurisdictions that meet the criteria set out in the President’s Memorandum and will periodically update the list of selected jurisdictions as required therein.
    [Read More…]
  • Statement by Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall on the Passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
    In Crime News
    Acting Solicitor General [Read More…]
  • Djibouti Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Escalation of Violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Morgan Ortagus, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Borrell
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Tax Preparer Charged with COVID-19 Loan Fraud
    In Crime News
    A South Florida tax preparer was charged Tuesday by criminal information with wire fraud in connection with a scheme to obtain over 100 COVID-19-relief loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo Remarks to the Press
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Department Press Briefing – February 12, 2021
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Aviation Cybersecurity: FAA Should Fully Implement Key Practices to Strengthen Its Oversight of Avionics Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    Modern airplanes are equipped with networks and systems that share data with the pilots, passengers, maintenance crews, other aircraft, and air-traffic controllers in ways that were not previously feasible (see fig. 1). As a result, if avionics systems are not properly protected, they could be at risk of a variety of potential cyberattacks. Vulnerabilities could occur due to (1) not applying modifications (patches) to commercial software, (2) insecure supply chains, (3) malicious software uploads, (4) outdated systems on legacy airplanes, and (5) flight data spoofing. To date, extensive cybersecurity controls have been implemented and there have not been any reports of successful cyberattacks on an airplane's avionics systems. However, the increasing connections between airplanes and other systems, combined with the evolving cyber threat landscape, could lead to increasing risks for future flight safety. Figure 1: Key Systems Connections to Commercial Airplanes The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has established a process for the certification and oversight of all US commercial airplanes, including the operation of commercial air carriers (see fig. 2). While FAA recognizes avionics cybersecurity as a potential safety issue for modern commercial airplanes, it has not fully implemented key practices that are necessary to carry out a risk-based cybersecurity oversight program. Specifically, FAA has not (1) assessed its oversight program to determine the priority of avionics cybersecurity risks, (2) developed an avionics cybersecurity training program, (3) issued guidance for independent cybersecurity testing, or (4) included periodic testing as part of its monitoring process. Until FAA strengthens its oversight program, based on assessed risks, it may not be able to ensure it is providing sufficient oversight to guard against evolving cybersecurity risks facing avionics systems in commercial airplanes. Figure 2: Federal Aviation Administration's Certification Process for Commercial Transport Airplanes GAO has previously identified key practices for interagency collaboration that can be used to assess interagency coordination. FAA coordinates with other federal agencies, such as the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Homeland Security (DHS), and with industry to address aviation cybersecurity issues. For example, FAA co-chairs the Aviation Cyber Initiative, a tri-agency forum with DOD and DHS to address cyber risks across the aviation ecosystem. However, FAA's internal coordination activities do not fully reflect GAO's key collaboration practices. FAA has not established a tracking mechanism for monitoring progress on cybersecurity issues that are raised in coordination meetings, and its oversight coordination activities are not supported by dedicated resources within the agency's budget. Until FAA establishes a tracking mechanism for cybersecurity issues, it may be unable to ensure that all issues are appropriately addressed and resolved. Further, until it conducts an avionics cybersecurity risk assessment, it will not be able to effectively prioritize and dedicate resources to ensure that avionics cybersecurity risks are addressed in its oversight program. Avionics systems, which provide weather information, positioning data, and communications, are critical to the safe operation of an airplane. FAA is responsible for overseeing the safety of commercial aviation, including avionics systems. The growing connectivity between airplanes and these systems may present increasing opportunities for cyberattacks on commercial airplanes. GAO was asked to review the FAA's oversight of avionics cybersecurity issues. The objectives of this review were to (1) describe key cybersecurity risks to avionics systems and their potential effects, (2) determine the extent to which FAA oversees the implementation of cybersecurity controls that address identified risks in avionics systems, and (3) assess the extent to which FAA coordinates internally and with other government and industry entities to identify and address cybersecurity risks to avionics systems. To do so, GAO reviewed information on key cybersecurity risks to avionics systems, as reported by major industry representatives as well as key elements of an effective oversight program, and compared FAA's process for overseeing the implementation of cybersecurity controls in avionics systems with these program elements. GAO also reviewed agency documentation and interviewed agency and industry representatives to assess FAA's coordination efforts to address the identified risks. GAO is making six recommendations to FAA to strengthen its avionics cybersecurity oversight program: GAO recommends that FAA conduct a cybersecurity risk assessment of avionics systems cybersecurity within its oversight program to identify the relative priority of avionics cybersecurity risks compared to other safety concerns and develop a plan to address those risks. Based on the assessment of avionics cybersecurity risks, GAO recommends that FAA identify staffing and training needs for agency inspectors specific to avionics cybersecurity, and develop and implement appropriate training to address identified needs. develop and implement guidance for avionics cybersecurity testing of new airplane designs that includes independent testing. review and consider revising its policies and procedures for monitoring the effectiveness of avionics cybersecurity controls in the deployed fleet to include developing procedures for safely conducting independent testing. ensure that avionics cybersecurity issues are appropriately tracked and resolved when coordinating among internal stakeholders. review and consider the extent to which oversight resources should be committed to avionics cybersecurity. FAA concurred with five out of six GAO recommendations. FAA did not concur with the recommendation to consider revising its policies and procedures for periodic independent testing. GAO clarified this recommendation to emphasize that FAA safely conduct such testing as part of its ongoing monitoring of airplane safety. For more information, contact Nick Marinos at (202) 512-9342 or MarinosN@gao.gov, or Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or KrauseH@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Warns About Fake Unemployment Benefit Websites
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice has received reports that fraudsters are creating websites mimicking unemployment benefit websites, including state workforce agency (SWA) websites, for the purpose of unlawfully capturing consumers’ personal information.
    [Read More…]
  • Department Press Briefing – March 15, 2021
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • 5 Hidden Gems Are Riding Aboard NASA’s Perseverance Rover
    In Space
    The symbols, mottos, and [Read More…]
  • American Darknet Vendor and Costa Rican Pharmacist Charged with Narcotics and Money Laundering Violations
    In Crime News
    A dual U.S.-Costa Rican citizen and a Costa Rican citizen, both of whom reside in Costa Rica, were indicted by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia for their illegal sales of opioids on the darknet.
    [Read More…]
  • Strengthening the Ironclad U.S.-ROK Alliance
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Virtual Meeting with Japanese Women Entrepreneurs
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Settles with Minnesota-Based Company to Resolve Discrimination Claims Under the Immigration and Nationality Act
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it reached a settlement with WinCraft, Incorporated (WinCraft), a Minnesota-based sports manufacturing company with locations in Iowa, Florida, and Washington. The settlement resolves claims that WinCraft violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by requiring lawful permanent residents to provide specific work authorization documentation without any legal justification because of their immigration status. 
    [Read More…]
  • Annual Bankruptcy Filings Fall 29.7 Percent
    In U.S Courts
    Bankruptcy filings fell sharply for the 12-month period ending Dec. 31, 2020, despite a significant surge in unemployment related to the coronavirus (COVID-19).
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Files Complaint to Stop Distribution of Unapproved, Misbranded, and Adulterated “Poly-MVA” Products
    In Crime News
    The United States filed a civil complaint to stop a California company from distributing unapproved and misbranded drugs and adulterated animal drugs, the Department of Justice announced today.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Ghanaian Foreign Minister Botchwey
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • North Carolina Man Pleads Guilty to Violating Fair Housing Act and Threatening a Family Because of Their Race
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that Douglas Matthew Gurkins, 34, pleaded guilty today in federal court in the Eastern District of North Carolina to one count of criminal interference with the Fair Housing Act, for using threats of force against an African American family because of the family members’ race and because they were renting a dwelling.
    [Read More…]
  • Briefing with Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle Ricardo Zuniga on Ongoing Diplomatic Efforts to Address the Root Causes of Irregular Migration from Central America
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ricardo Zuniga, Special [Read More…]
  • Federal Research: Agencies Need to Enhance Policies to Address Foreign Influence
    In U.S GAO News
    U.S. research may be subject to undue foreign influence in cases where a researcher has a foreign conflict of interest (COI). Federal grant-making agencies can address this threat by implementing COI policies and requiring the disclosure of information that may indicate potential conflicts. GAO reviewed five agencies—which together accounted for almost 90 percent of all federal research and development expenditures at universities in fiscal year 2018—and found that three have agency-wide COI policies, while two do not (see figure). The three agencies with existing policies focus on financial interests but do not specifically address or define non-financial interests, such as multiple professional appointments. In the absence of agency-wide COI policies and definitions on non-financial interests, researchers may not fully understand what they need to report on their grant proposals, leaving agencies with incomplete information to assess the risk of foreign influence. GAO found that, regardless of whether an agency has a conflict of interest policy, all five agencies require researchers to disclose information—such as foreign support for their research—as part of the grant proposal that could be used to determine if certain conflicts exist. Elements of Conflict of Interest (COI) Policies at Agencies with the Most Federal Research Expenditures at Universities Based on a review of university documents, GAO found that all 11 of the universities in its sample have publicly available financial and non-financial COI policies for federally funded research. These policies often align with the financial COI policies or requirements of the grant-making agencies. All five agencies have mechanisms to monitor and enforce their policies and disclosure requirements when there is an alleged failure to disclose required information. All agencies rely on universities to monitor financial COI, and most agencies collect non-financial information such as foreign collaborations, that can help determine if conflicts exist. Agencies have also taken actions in cases where they identified researchers who failed to disclose financial or non-financial information. However, three agencies lack written procedures for handling allegations of failure to disclose required information. Written procedures for addressing alleged failure to disclose required information help agencies manage these allegations and consistently apply enforcement actions. In interviews, stakeholders identified opportunities to improve responses to foreign threats to research, such as harmonizing grant application requirements. Agencies have begun to address such issues. The federal government reportedly expended about $42 billion on science and engineering research at universities in fiscal year 2018. Safeguarding the U.S. research enterprise from threats of foreign influence is of critical importance. Recent reports by GAO and others have noted challenges faced by the research community to combat undue foreign influence, while maintaining an open research environment that fosters collaboration, transparency, and the free exchange of ideas. GAO was asked to review federal agency and university COI policies and disclosure requirements. In this report, GAO examines (1) COI policies and disclosure requirements at selected agencies and universities that address potential foreign threats, (2) mechanisms to monitor and enforce policies and requirements, and (3) the views of selected stakeholders on how to better address foreign threats to federally funded research. GAO reviewed laws, regulations, federal guidance, and agency and university COI policies and requirements. GAO also interviewed agency officials, university officials, and researchers. GAO is making nine recommendations to six agencies, including that grant-making agencies address non-financial conflicts of interest in their COI policies and develop written procedures for addressing cases of failure to disclose required information. Five agencies agreed with GAO's recommendations. The National Science Foundation neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO's recommendation, but identified actions it plans to take in response. For more information, contact Candice N. Wright at (202) 512-6888 or wrightc@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Prescription Drugs: U.S. Prices for Selected Brand Drugs Were Higher on Average than Prices in Australia, Canada, and France
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO's analysis of 2020 data found that, for 20 selected brand-name prescription drugs, estimated U.S. prices paid at the retail level by consumers and other payers (such as insurers) were more than two to four times higher than prices in three selected comparison countries. The U.S. prices GAO estimated for comparison reflect confidential rebates and other price concessions, which GAO refers to as net prices. Publicly available prices for the comparison countries were gross prices that did not reflect potential discounts. As a result, the actual differences between U.S. prices and those of the other countries were likely larger than GAO estimates. The price differences varied by drug. Specifically, while estimated U.S. net prices were mostly higher than the gross prices in other countries (by as much as 10 times), some were lower. The following figure illustrates comparisons for two of GAO's selected drugs. GAO found similar differences in estimated prices paid by final payers at the manufacturer level. Estimated U.S. Net Prices and Selected Comparison Countries' Gross Prices at the Retail Level for Two Selected Drugs and Package Sizes, 2020 GAO's analysis found consumers' out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs varied across and within all four countries but likely more within the U.S. and Canada where multiple payers had a role setting prices and designing cost-sharing for consumers, and not all consumers had prescription drug coverage. In Australia and France, prescription drug pricing was nationally regulated and prescription drug coverage was universal; thus, consumers' out-of-pocket costs within these countries for each drug were generally less varied. For example, in Australia, consumers typically paid one of two amounts for prescription drugs—either about 5 or 28 U.S. dollars in 2020. In the U.S., potential out-of-pocket costs for consumers could have varied much more widely depending on the type of coverage they had. For example, for one drug in GAO's analysis, considering only a few coverage options, consumers' out-of-pocket costs in 2020 could have ranged from a low of about 22 to a high of 514 U.S. dollars. GAO provided a draft to the Department of Health and Human Services for review and incorporated the Department's technical comments as appropriate. Why GAO Did This Study While spending on prescription drugs continues to grow worldwide, studies indicate the U.S. spends more than other countries. However, various factors—such as country-specific pricing strategies, confidential rebates to payers, and other price concessions—may obscure the actual prices of prescription drugs. GAO was asked to review U.S. and international prescription drug prices. This report (1) examines how prices at the retail and manufacturer levels in the U.S. compare to prices in three selected comparison countries—Australia, Canada, and France, and (2) provides information on consumers' out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs in these countries. GAO analyzed 2020 price data for a non-generalizable sample of 41 brand-name drugs among those with the highest expenditures and use in the U.S. Medicare Part D program in 2017. Twenty of these drugs had price data available in all four countries. For U.S. prices, GAO estimated the net prices paid using data from various sources, including estimates of Medicare Part D rebates and other price concessions, and commercially available data. Prices for the selected comparison countries were obtained from publicly available government sources. National prices were not available for Canada, so GAO used the prices from Ontario, Canada's most populous province, as a proxy for Canadian prices. GAO also reviewed country-specific guidance and other relevant information and interviewed researchers, manufacturers, and government officials. For more information, contact John E. Dicken at (202) 512-7114 or dickenj@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Supporting a Healthy, Sustainable Mekong River
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Secretary Pompeo’s Call with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Izumi Oguri of Nippon TV
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry to Mark Official U.S. Reentry into Paris Agreement
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Aviation Consumer Protection: Increased Transparency Could Help Build Confidence in DOT’s Enforcement Approach
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Transportation's (DOT) enforcement approach generally uses a range of methods to encourage compliance with consumer protection regulations, including conducting outreach and information-sharing, issuing guidance, and sending non-punitive warning letters for those violations that do not rise to the level that warrants a consent order. DOT usually enters into consent orders when it has evidence of systematic or egregious violations. Such orders are negotiated between DOT and violators (e.g., airlines) and typically include civil penalties. DOT officials see benefits from using consent orders, which can include credits for actions taken to benefit consumers or to improve the travel environment. Annual consent orders increased from 20 in 2008 to 62 in 2012, but then generally declined to a low of eight in 2019. GAO's analysis showed that the decline in consent orders was most marked among those issued against non-air carrier entities (e.g., travel agents), those addressing certain types of violations such as advertising, and orders containing smaller civil penalty amounts. DOT officials said that the agency did not change its enforcement practices during this time. Examples of DOT's Compliance Promotion and Enforcement Efforts Airlines and consumer advocates GAO interviewed said that DOT's enforcement process lacked transparency, including into how investigations were conducted and resolved and about when and why DOT takes enforcement actions. Moreover, DOT publishes limited information related to the results of its enforcement activities, notably information about the number and type of consumer complaints it receives as well as issued consent orders. DOT does not publish other information such as aggregated data about the number or nature of open and closed investigations or issued warning letters. DOT is taking some actions to increase transparency, such as developing a publicly available handbook, but none of those actions appears to fully address the identified information gaps such as information about the results of investigations. Some other federal agencies provide more information about enforcement activities, including publishing warning letters or data about such letters. Publishing additional information about how DOT conducts investigations and enforcement, and about the results of enforcement activities, could improve stakeholders' understanding of DOT's process and help build confidence in its approach. Consumer advocates, airlines, and other stakeholders have raised concerns about how DOT enforces aviation consumer protection requirements. DOT has the authority to enforce requirements protecting consumers against unfair and deceptive practices, discrimination on the basis of disability or other characteristics, and other harms. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 contained a provision for GAO to review DOT's enforcement of consumer protection requirements. This report examines: (1) DOT's approach to the enforcement of aviation consumer protections and the results of its efforts, and (2) selected stakeholder views on this approach and steps DOT has taken to address identified concerns. GAO reviewed DOT data on consent orders and consumer complaints; reviewed other DOT documentation related to its enforcement program; interviewed DOT officials and selected industry and consumer stakeholders, including advocacy organizations, which we identified from prior work and a literature review; and identified leading practices for regulatory enforcement. GAO is making two recommendations, including: that DOT publish information describing the process it uses to enforce consumer protections, and that DOT take additional steps to provide transparency into the results of its efforts. DOT concurred with these recommendations. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Remarks at the Keynote Session of B20 2021 Inception Meeting
    In Climate - Environment - Conservation
    John Kerry, Special [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Japanese Foreign Minister Motegi
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Report 2020
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Tunisia Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel [Read More…]
  • Political Donor Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison for Lobbying and Campaign Contribution Crimes, Tax Evasion, and Obstruction of Justice
    In Crime News
    A venture capitalist and political fundraiser was sentenced today to 144 months in federal prison for falsifying records to conceal his work as a foreign agent while lobbying high-level U.S. government officials, evading the payment of millions of dollars in taxes, making illegal campaign contributions, and obstructing a federal investigation into the source of donations to a presidential inauguration committee. Imaad Shah Zuberi, 50, of Arcadia, California, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips, who also ordered him to pay $15,705,080 in restitution and a criminal fine of $1.75 million.
    [Read More…]
  • Additional Restrictions on the Issuance of Visas for People’s Republic of China Officials Engaged in Human Rights Abuses
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Remarks at Munich Security Conference Special Session
    In Climate - Environment - Conservation
    John Kerry, Special [Read More…]
  • F-35 Sustainment: DOD Needs to Address Key Uncertainties as It Re-Designs the Aircraft’s Logistics System
    In U.S GAO News
    The Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) is integral to supporting F-35 aircraft operations and maintenance. However, F-35 personnel at 5 locations GAO visited for its March 2020 report cited several challenges. For example, users at all 5 locations we visited stated that electronic records of F-35 parts in ALIS are frequently incorrect, corrupt, or missing, resulting in the system signaling that an aircraft should be grounded in cases where personnel know that parts have been correctly installed and are safe for flight. At times, F-35 squadron leaders have decided to fly an aircraft when ALIS has signaled not to, thus assuming operational risk to meet mission requirements. GAO found that DOD had not (1) developed a performance-measurement process for ALIS to define how the system should perform or (2) determined how ALIS issues were affecting overall F-35 fleet readiness, which remains below warfighter requirements. DOD recognizes that ALIS needs improvement and plans to leverage ongoing re-design efforts to eventually replace ALIS with a new logistics system. However, as DOD embarks on this effort, it faces key technical and programmatic uncertainties (see figure). Uncertainties about the Future F-35 Logistics Information System These uncertainties are complicated and will require significant planning and coordination with the F-35 program office, military services, international partners, and the prime contractor. For example, GAO reported in March 2020 that DOD had not determined the roles of DOD and the prime contractor in future system development and management. DOD had also not made decisions about the extent to which the new system will be hosted in the cloud as opposed to onsite servers at the squadron level. More broadly, DOD has experienced significant challenges sustaining a growing F-35 fleet. GAO has made over 20 recommendations to address problems associated with ALIS, spare parts shortages, limited repair capabilities, and inadequate planning. DOD has an opportunity to re-imagine the F-35's logistics system and improve operations, but it must approach this planning deliberately and thoroughly. Continued attention to these challenges will help ensure that DOD can effectively sustain the F-35 and meet warfighter requirements. The F-35 Lightning II is DOD's most ambitious and costly weapon system in history, with total acquisition and sustainment costs for the three U.S. military services who fly the aircraft estimated at over $1.6 trillion. Central to F-35 sustainment is ALIS—a complex system that supports operations, mission planning, supply-chain management, maintenance, and other processes. A fully functional ALIS is critical to the more than 3,300 F-35 aircraft that the U.S. military services and foreign nations plan to purchase. Earlier this year, DOD stated that it intends to replace ALIS with a new logistics system. This statement highlights (1) current user challenges with ALIS and (2) key technical and programmatic uncertainties facing DOD as it re-designs the F-35's logistics system. This statement is largely based on GAO's March 2020 report on ALIS ( GAO-20-316 ), as well as previous F-35 sustainment work. GAO previously recommended that DOD develop a performance-measurement process for ALIS, track how ALIS is affecting F-35 fleet readiness, and develop a strategy for re-designing the F-35's logistics system. GAO also suggested that Congress consider requiring DOD to develop a performance-measurement process for its logistics system. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations and is taking actions to address them. For more information, contact Diana C. Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or maurerd@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Houthi Attacks Impacting Civilians
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Two Individuals And Two Companies Sentenced In Scheme To Fraudulently Sell Popular Dietary Supplements
    In Crime News
    A federal court in Texas sentenced two former dietary supplement company executives to prison and ordered two companies to pay a combined $10.7 million in criminal forfeiture for their roles in fraudulently selling popular workout supplements, the Justice Department announced today.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Pompeo’s Remarks to the Press
    In Crime News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Four Former Minneapolis Police Officers Indicted on Federal Civil Rights Charges for Death of George Floyd; Derek Chauvin Also Charged in Separate Indictment for Violating Civil Rights of a Juvenile
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Minneapolis, Minnesota returned two indictments that were unsealed today. The first indictment charges former Minneapolis Police Department officers Derek Chauvin, 45; Tou Thao, 35; J. Alexander Kueng, 27; and Thomas Lane, 38, with federal civil rights crimes for their roles in the death of George Perry Floyd Jr.
    [Read More…]
  • DOD Acquisition Reform: Increased Focus on Knowledge Needed to Achieve Intended Performance and Innovation Outcomes
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found As the Department of Defense (DOD) drives to deliver innovative capabilities faster to keep pace with evolving threats and emerging adversaries, knowledge—about programs' cost, schedule, and technology—increases the likelihood that these capabilities will be achieved. GAO annually assesses selected DOD weapon programs and their likely outcomes by analyzing: (1) the soundness of a program's business case—which provides evidence that the warfighter's needs are valid and the concept can be produced within existing resources—at program start, and (2) the knowledge a program attains at other key points in the acquisition process. For example, the Navy's Ford-class aircraft carrier program began with a weak business case, including an unrealistic cost estimate based on unproven technologies, resulting in over $2 billion in cost growth and years of delays to date for the lead ship. DOD's new acquisition framework uses six different acquisition pathways and offers programs a chance to tailor acquisition approaches, providing options to speed up the process. However, preliminary findings from GAO's 2021 annual assessment show that programs using the new middle-tier pathway face increasing risk that they will fall short of expected performance goals as a result of starting without sound business cases. While these programs are intended to be streamlined, business case information is critical for decision makers to know if a program is likely to meet its goals (see figure below). Completion of Key Business Case Documents by Selected Middle-tier Acquisition Programs The framework also introduces new considerations for program oversight and reporting. DOD has made some progress in developing its approach to oversight for programs using the new pathways, but questions remain about what metrics DOD will use for internal oversight and report to Congress for external oversight. Why GAO Did This Study DOD spends billions of dollars annually to acquire new major weapon systems, such as aircraft, ships, and satellites, and deliver them to the warfighter. GAO has reviewed individual weapon programs for many years and conducted its annual assessment of selected major DOD weapon programs for 19 years. GAO added DOD's weapon system acquisition process to its High-Risk List in 1990. This statement discusses: (1) the performance of selected DOD weapon programs and the role of a sound business case in that performance, (2) DOD's progress implementing recent acquisition reforms, (3) the status of DOD's actions to support innovation, and (4) DOD's efforts to improve data for acquisition oversight. This statement is drawn primarily from GAO's extensive body of work on DOD's acquisition of weapon systems, science and technology, and acquisition reforms conducted from 2004–2021, and observations from an ongoing annual review of selected DOD weapon programs. To perform this work, GAO reviewed DOD documentation, program information, and relevant legislation. GAO also interviewed DOD officials.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Wolf Blitzer of CNN’s The Situation Room
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Pompeo’s Call with Republic of Cyprus Foreign Minister Christodoulides
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Olena Removska of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Cryptocurrency Fraudster Pleads Guilty to Securities Fraud and Money Laundering Charges in Multi-Million Dollar Investment Scheme
    In Crime News
    A citizen of Sweden pleaded guilty to securities fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering charges that defrauded more than 3,500 victims of more than $16 million.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S.-Armenia-Azerbaijan Joint Statement
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Hospital Researcher Sentenced to Prison for Conspiring to Steal Trade Secrets, Sell Them in China
    In Crime News
    A former Dublin, Ohio, woman was sentenced in U.S. District Court today to 30 months in prison for conspiring to steal exosome-related trade secrets concerning the research, identification and treatment of a range of pediatric medical conditions. Li Chen, 47, also conspired to commit wire fraud. Chen admitted in her guilty plea in July 2020 to stealing scientific trade secrets related to exosomes and exosome isolation from Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Research Institute for her own personal financial gain.
    [Read More…]
  • Puerto Rico: Efforts to Improve Competition for Medicaid Procurement
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Like other U.S. territories and states, Puerto Rico implements major functions of its Medicaid program by procuring services from contractors, such as the delivery of managed care services to Medicaid beneficiaries. In 2018, procurement costs represented $2.4 billion of Puerto Rico's $2.5 billion in total Medicaid expenditures. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)—the federal agency that oversees Medicaid—requires states and territories to use the same process for Medicaid procurements as they do for their non-federal procurements. However, in February 2021, GAO found that CMS has not taken steps to ensure Puerto Rico has met this requirement. Instead, CMS has relied on Puerto Rico to oversee the territory’s procurement process and to attest to its compliance. CMS officials told GAO that states and territories are in the best position to ensure compliance with their respective procurement laws. A 2019 federal indictment alleging Puerto Rico officials unlawfully steered Medicaid contracts to certain individuals has also raised questions about Puerto Rico's Medicaid procurement process, including whether this process helps ensure appropriate competition. The Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, directed Puerto Rico to publish a Medicaid procurement reform plan to combat fraud, waste, and abuse, which the territory provided to Congress in December 2020. In its procurement reform plan, Puerto Rico acknowledges the need to improve competition and outlines future initiatives and general timeframes to do so. For example, Puerto Rico notes that by August 2021, it will identify the circumstances under which the use of noncompetitive contracts is justified, as well as the factors it might consider in making this determination. By April 2021, Puerto Rico intends to identify procurement information it will make public as part of its competitive procurement process and will make such information public by the end of 2021. Such changes—if implemented as planned—could address some of the issues GAO identified in its review of eight selected Puerto Rico procurements. In its review, GAO found that Puerto Rico did not include important steps to promote competition and mitigate the risk for fraud, waste, and abuse, underscoring the need for federal oversight. GAO and others have found that competition is a cornerstone of procurement. Using competition can reduce costs, improve contractor performance, curb fraud, and promote accountability. As Puerto Rico continues to develop and carry out its planned reforms, implementing GAO’s recommendation for ongoing, risk-based oversight of Puerto Rico’s Medicaid procurement process could enable CMS to promote competition and efficiency while preventing fraud, waste, and abuse in the program. Why GAO Did This Study This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO's February 2021 report, entitled Medicaid: CMS Needs to Implement Risk-Based Oversight of Puerto Rico’s Procurement Process (GAO-21-229). Specifically, the testimony discusses findings from the report as they relate to Puerto Rico’s Medicaid procurement reform plan.
    [Read More…]
  • Federal Contracting: Actions Needed to Improve Department of Labor’s Enforcement of Service Worker Wage Protections
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Labor (DOL) completed over 5,000 Service Contract Act (SCA) cases, which for many resulted in the awarding of back wages to federally contracted security guards, janitors, and other service workers, in fiscal years 2014 through 2019, according to available data. DOL enforces the SCA, which was enacted to protect workers on certain types of federal service contracts. DOL found SCA violations—primarily of wage and benefit protections—in 68 percent of cases. Employers across a range of service industries agreed to pay around $224 million in back wages (see figure for examples). Sixty cases resulted in debarment—a decision to prevent an employer from being awarded new federal contracts for 3 years. DOL's strategic plan emphasizes optimizing resources for resolving cases using all available enforcement tools. However, DOL does not analyze its use of enforcement tools, such as debarment or employer compliance agreements. Therefore, DOL may lack a complete picture of how it uses resources on different strategies for resolving SCA cases, as well as the effectiveness of these enforcement strategies. Back Wages Paid for SCA Cases in Example Industries, Fiscal Years 2014-2019 Note: Mail haul refers to surface mail transportation by contract carriers. Values are adjusted for inflation and expressed in fiscal year 2019 dollars using the Gross Domestic Product Price Index from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis. DOL reported various challenges to enforcing the SCA, including difficulty communicating with contracting agencies. For example, DOL officials told GAO that poor communication with contracting agencies—particularly with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS)—can affect and delay cases, though USPS officials told GAO they were unaware of any communication gaps. Without addressing communication issues between USPS and DOL, USPS's implementation and DOL's enforcement of the SCA may be weakened. GAO found that contracting agencies may face SCA implementation challenges, including not having key information about SCA debarments and violations from DOL. When recording SCA debarments, DOL does not always include the unique identifier for an employer so that contracting agencies can accurately identify debarred firms. DOL also does not have a process that consistently or reliably informs contracting agencies about SCA violations by employers. Without improved information sharing by DOL, an agency may award a contract to an employer without being aware of or considering its past SCA violations. The SCA ensures that service workers on certain federal contracts receive pay and benefits that reflect current employment conditions in their locality. From fiscal years 2014 through 2019, the U.S. government obligated over $720 billion on service contracts covered under the SCA. GAO was asked to review SCA implementation and enforcement. This report examines (1) what available data reveal about past SCA cases, (2) what challenges DOL reports facing in enforcing the SCA, and (3) how contracting agencies implement the SCA. GAO analyzed DOL and federal procurement data for fiscal years 2014 through 2019, the most recent years available; reviewed a nongeneralizable sample of contract performance assessments; examined practices at three agencies selected to represent a range of contracting services and agency size; interviewed DOL officials; and reviewed relevant federal laws, policy, and guidance. GAO is making six recommendations, including that DOL analyze its use of enforcement tools; that DOL and USPS implement written protocols to improve communication with each other; and that DOL improve its information sharing with contracting agencies on SCA debarments and investigation outcomes. DOL and USPS generally concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Thomas M. Costa at (202) 512-7215 or costat@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Study Coordinator Charged in Scheme to Falsify Clinical Trial Data
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Miami, Florida, returned an indictment today charging a Florida woman with conspiring to falsify clinical trial data regarding an asthma medication. 
    [Read More…]
  • U.S. Announces Additional Humanitarian Assistance for the Tigray Crisis Response
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Chinese Energy Company, U.S. Oil & Gas Affiliate and Chinese National Indicted for Theft of Trade Secrets
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury has returned an indictment alleging corporate entities conspired to steal technology from a Houston-area oil & gas manufacturer, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick and Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers of the Department of Justice’s National Security Division. Jason Energy Technologies Co. (JET) in Yantai, People’s Republic of China; Jason Oil and Gas Equipment LLC (JOG) USA and Chinese national Lei Gao aka Jason Gao, 45, are charged with conspiracy, theft of trade secrets and attempted theft of trade secrets. 
    [Read More…]