Secretary Antony J. Blinken Before Virtual Meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good morning.  Good afternoon, Mr. President.

STAFF:  Good afternoon.  The president will be here – two seconds.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Minister, good to see you.

FOREIGN MINISTER ONYEAMA:  Good to see you too, Secretary.  Excellent.  Looking well.  Congratulations also on your appointment and everything.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you so much.  And so great to be reconnected with you.  I appreciated our conversation on the phone of some weeks ago, and so good to be working with you again, Geoffrey.

Mr. President, very nice to see you, sir.  (Inaudible.)

PRESIDENT BUHARI:  Thank you very much.  (Laughter.).

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So good to see you again.

PRESIDENT BUHARI:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I have such strong and good memories of our first meeting in Abuja six years ago, when you were gracious enough to receive me, and it really is very, very good to see you again.  Given our shared democratic values, our wide-ranging bilateral relationship, and very rich people-to-people ties, I’m especially pleased to be able to make Nigeria part of my first visit, virtual visit, to Africa as Secretary of State and thank you so much to you and your team for making this visit such a good one.  And I really wish we could be meeting in person again in Abuja.  I look forward to the day when that’s possible but meanwhile, thank you for your virtual hospitality.  I also want to thank my friend the foreign minister for joining today and for our good conversations and I’m so pleased to be working with him again.

Your Excellency, Mr. President, our relations have been strong for 60 years, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to work with you and your team on building on that foundation and charting a shared vision to guide our strategic partnership for the coming years.  I look forward to discussing our cooperation in responding to a challenge to all of humanity, COVID-19, as well as our sustained efforts to strengthen global health security, so we’re better prepared for the next disease outbreak.  I also hope to discuss how we can build our economies back even better and stronger after the pandemic, growing them and making them more equitable.  Investing and protecting the most vulnerable communities in our countries I think contributes to our goal of building a lasting security for Americans and for Nigerians.

And of course, another challenge we face is the climate crisis.  We were very grateful to you for being able to participate in the leaders summit last week that President Biden convened.  We look forward to exploring ways that we can work together even more closely to reduce emissions and adapt to the inevitable changes to come.  Our binational commission between the United States and Nigeria gives us and gives our governments the chance to evaluate every year the progress that we’ve made toward our joint goals: strengthening democratic institutions; promoting economic diversification and trade; expanding our security cooperation.  We’re very much looking forward to the BNC later this year and the chance it offers to improve our cooperative effort.

So thank you again for the very warm welcome.  Thank you for hosting us, and I very much look forward to hearing from you and then at some point in the future hopefully seeing you in person again.

Mr. President.

PRESIDENT BUHARI:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary of State.  Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the government and people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I want to congratulate your Excellency on your appointment as Secretary of State of the United States and wish you a very successful tenure.

Nigeria attaches great importance to the relations with the United States.  Let me in this connection express appreciation to President Joe Biden for his welcome and recent decision to appeal the immigration – to repeal the immigration restriction known as the Muslim ban on travel and visas for citizens predominantly from Muslim nations and African countries, including Nigeria.

I also wish to congratulate the United States for rejoining the World Health Organization and Paris Agreement on climate change.  The leadership of the United States in these two organizations is crucial for international community.  This action is a demonstration of the United States commitment in championing and supporting international organization with the aim to build a better world for all.

In this regard, Nigeria remains resolute in our commitment to supporting global efforts as enshrined in the Paris Agreement on climate change, which seeks to limit global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The convening of the climate change summit last week by President Biden is a strong indication of the renewed interest of the United States to the Paris Agreement.

The security challenges in Nigeria remain of great concern to us and impact it more negatively by existing conflicts, negative pressures in the Sahel, Central Africa, and West Africa, as well as the Lake Chad region.  Compounded as the situation remains, Nigeria and our security forces remain resolutely committed to continue them and addressing their root causes.

The support of important and strategic partners like United States cannot be overstated as the consequences of insecurity will affect all nations, hence the imperative for concern, cooperation, and collaboration of all nations to overcome these challenges.

In this connection and considering the growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, the Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region, and the Sahel weighing heavily on Africa underscores the need for the United States to consider relocating AFRICOM headquarters from Stuttgart in Germany to Africa, and near the theater of operations.

On the part of Nigeria, I renew calls for enhanced collaboration in all forms with our friends and strategic partners to work together for greater security for all – the most significant condition for overcoming these existential challenges.

Thank you again, Mr. Secretary of State, for this meeting, and kindly extend my best wishes to President Biden.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much, Mr. President.  And I will certainly do so.  Thank you.

PRESIDENT BUHARI:  Thank you.

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    The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program has not produced timely chemical assessments, and most of its 15 ongoing assessments have experienced delays. As we reported in March 2019, the IRIS Program has taken some actions to make the assessment process more transparent, such as increasing communication with EPA offices and releasing supporting documentation for review earlier in the draft development process, but the need for greater transparency in some steps of the assessment process remains. Specifically, the IRIS Program does not publicly announce when assessment drafts move to certain steps in their development process or announce reasons for delays in producing specific assessments. Without such information, stakeholders who may be able to help fill data and analytical gaps are unable to contribute. This could leave EPA without potential support that could help overcome delays. Delays of Milestones by Quarter for a Selection of the Integrated Risk information System's Assessments in Development 2019 - 2024 In mid-2018, EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) instituted changes to the way it solicits nominations for chemical assessments prepared by the IRIS Program but did so without providing sufficient guidance or criteria, raising questions about its ability to meet EPA user needs. For example, ORD issued a new survey to EPA program and regional offices but did not provide them with guidance for selecting chemicals for nomination, and ORD did not make explicit the criteria it was using for selecting nominations to include in the IRIS Program's list of assessments in development. Furthermore, despite a significant decline in survey participation between 2018 and 2019, EPA did not indicate whether the agency has assessed the quality of information generated by the survey. Leading program management practices state that agency management should internally communicate the necessary, quality information to achieve the entity's objectives and should monitor and evaluate program activities. Without evaluating the quality of the information produced by the survey, ORD cannot know if the survey is achieving its intended purpose and whether ORD has the information necessary to meet user needs. EPA's IRIS Program prepares chemical toxicity assessments that contain EPA's scientific position on the potential human health effects of exposure to chemicals; at present, the IRIS database contains more than 570 chemical assessments. In March 2019, GAO reported on the IRIS Program's changes to increase transparency about its processes and methodologies, including the use of systematic review. However, GAO also found that EPA decreased the number of ongoing assessments in December 2018 from 22 to 13 and continued to face challenges in producing timely assessments. This report evaluates (1) EPA's progress in completing IRIS chemical assessments since 2018; and (2) EPA's recent actions to manage the IRIS Program, and the extent to which these actions help the Program meet EPA user needs. GAO reviewed and analyzed EPA documents and interviewed officials from EPA; GAO also selected three standards for program management, found commonalities among them, and compared ORD's management of the IRIS Program against these leading practices. GAO is making five recommendations, including that EPA provide more information publicly about where chemical assessments are in the development process; and issue guidance for selecting chemicals for nomination and criteria for selecting nominations for assessment. EPA partially agreed with two of our recommendations and disagreed with the other three. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.
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  • Federal Research Grants: OMB Should Take Steps to Establish the Research Policy Board
    In U.S GAO News
    As of January 2021, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had not established the Research Policy Board as required by the 21st Century Cures Act. The act requires OMB to establish the Board within 1 year of the December 13, 2016 enactment of the act. The Board is to provide information on the effects of regulations related to federal research requirements. OMB stated that it had not established the Board because of issues with the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) and other federal agencies’ full participation in the Board’s potential activities to develop or implement a modified approach to indirect cost policies. According to OMB, “the Board would necessarily delve into issues related to compliance burden and indirect cost reimbursement to entities that receive federal funding for research.” Specifically, OMB pointed to a statutory provision appearing in annual appropriations bills that it believes prohibits HHS and other agencies from taking action on issues that could implicate certain indirect cost provisions. According to OMB, this provision could, if continued in future bills, “complicate or even possibly prohibit HHS from participating in major elements of the Board’s process.” OMB stated that, without representation of a major research agency such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is part of HHS, “OMB would not be equipped to meet the statutory goals of the Board.” However, HHS stated in October 2020 that the indirect cost provision would not prohibit NIH’s participation on the Board and that the department was not aware of any other appropriations law provision that would prohibit such participation. GAO has no basis to disagree with HHS’s position. The 21st Century Cures Act does not specifically direct the Board to examine issues related to indirect costs, and we identified other issues that may fall within the scope of the Board’s activities. For example, the act specifies five activities that the Board may conduct, including creating a forum for the discussion of research policy or regulatory gaps, and identifying regulatory process improvements and policy changes. The Board could consider examining these or other issues related to streamlining and harmonizing regulations and reducing administrative burden in federally funded research in accordance with the 21st Century Cures Act. By not having established the Board, OMB is missing opportunities for the Board to provide information on the effects of regulations related to requirements for federally funded research, and to make recommendations to harmonize and streamline such requirements. Further, OMB has limited time to establish the Board and the Board may have insufficient time to complete its work before the Board is set to terminate on September 30, 2021. The 21st Century Cures Act requires OMB to establish an advisory committee, to be known as the Research Policy Board, that is responsible for making recommendations on modifying and harmonizing regulation of federally funded research to reduce administrative burden. The Board is to consist of both federal and non-federal members and include not more than 10 members from federal agencies, including officials from OMB, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), HHS, the National Science Foundation, and other departments and agencies that support or regulate scientific research, as determined by the OMB Director. The 21st Century Cures Act includes a provision for GAO to conduct an independent evaluation of the Board’s activities. This report examines the steps OMB has taken to establish the Board as required by the 21st Century Cures Act. GAO reviewed written responses and other information from OMB, HHS, and OSTP; the 21st Century Cures Act and other laws related to the Board and its establishment; relevant reports on issues related to administrative burden; and related documents such as memoranda and agency guidance. GAO submitted a draft report containing the results of its evaluation to Congress on December 10, 2020. Congress should consider extending the period of authorization for the Research Policy Board, giving OMB additional time to establish the Research Policy Board and complete its statutory mission under the 21st Century Cures Act. GAO recommends that OMB establish the Research Policy Board as mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act and report to Congress on the Board’s activities. OMB did not agree or disagree with this recommendation. We maintain that the evidence in this report shows the need for our recommendation. For more information, contact John Neumann at (202) 512-6888 or neumannj@gao.gov.
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  • Drinking Water: EPA Could Use Available Data to Better Identify Neighborhoods at Risk of Lead Exposure
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    GAO's statistical analysis indicates that areas with older housing and vulnerable populations (e.g., families in poverty) have higher concentrations of lead service lines in the selected cities GAO examined. By using geospatial lead service line data from the selected water systems and geospatial data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS), GAO identified characteristics of neighborhoods with higher concentrations of lead service lines. The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) guidance for water systems on how to identify the location of sites at high-risk of having lead service lines has not been updated since 1991 and many water systems face challenges identifying areas at risk of having lead service lines. By developing guidance for water systems that outlines methods for identifying high-risk locations using publicly available data, EPA could better ensure that public water systems test water samples from locations at greater risk of having lead service lines and identify areas with vulnerable populations to focus lead service line replacement efforts. (See figure for common sources of lead in home drinking water.) Common Sources of Lead in Drinking Water within Homes and Residences EPA has taken some actions to address the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act requirement, which include developing a strategic plan regarding lead in public water systems. However, EPA's published plan did not satisfy the statutory requirement that the agency's strategic plan address targeted outreach, education, technical assistance, and risk communication undertaken by EPA, states, and public water systems. For example, the plan does not discuss public education, technical assistance or risk communication. Instead, EPA's plan focused solely on how to notify households when EPA learns of certain exceedances of lead in their drinking water. Moreover, EPA's plan is not consistent with leading practices for strategic planning. For example, EPA's plan does not set a mission statement or define long-term goals. Developing a strategic plan that meets the statutory requirement and fully reflects leading practices for strategic planning would give EPA greater assurance that it has effectively planned for how it will communicate the risks of lead in drinking water to the public. Lead in drinking water comes primarily from corrosion of service lines connecting the water main to a house or building, pipes inside a building, or plumbing fixtures. As GAO reported in September 2018, the total number of lead service lines in drinking water systems is unknown, and less than 20 of the 100 largest water systems have such data publicly available. GAO was asked to examine the actions EPA and water systems are taking to educate the public on the risks of lead in drinking water. This report examines, among other things: (1) the extent to which neighborhood data on cities served by lead service lines can be used to focus lead reduction efforts; and (2) actions EPA has taken to address WIIN Act requirements, and EPA's risk communication documents. GAO conducted a statistical analysis combining geospatial lead service line and ACS data to identify characteristics of selected communities; reviewed legal requirements and EPA documents; and interviewed EPA officials. GAO is making four recommendations, including that EPA develop (1) guidance for water systems on lead reduction efforts, and (2) a strategic plan that meets the WIIN Act requirement. EPA agreed with one recommendation and disagreed with the others. GAO continues to believe the recommendations are warranted, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.
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    The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) develops allocation policies in the United States to determine which transplant candidates receive offers for organs, such as livers or lungs, that are donated from deceased donors. In July 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees OPTN, directed it to change the liver allocation policy to be more consistent with federal regulations. The liver allocation policy changed in February 2020 from a system that, in general, offered donated livers first to the sickest candidates within the fixed boundaries of a donation service area or region to a system based on a candidate's level of illness and distance from the donor hospital. The current liver allocation policy offers livers first to the sickest candidates within 500 nautical miles of the donor hospital using a series of distance-based concentric circles, called acuity circles. The processes used to develop the liver and lung allocation policies had various similarities and differences. For example, while the current liver allocation policy, the 2017 liver allocation policy, and the current lung allocation policy each had public comment periods, the length of these comment periods varied—25 days for the current liver allocation policy; two separate 62-day and 64-day periods for the 2017 liver allocation policy; and 61 days (retroactive) for the current lung allocation policy. In addition, the current lung allocation policy resulted in part from a federal district court order directing HHS to initiate emergency review of the policy. However, the 2017 liver allocation policy—that was approved but never implemented—resulted from a 2012 OPTN Board directive to reduce geographic disparities in organ allocation. HHS oversight of OPTN's processes were similar for all three allocation policies and included reviewing the proposed changes to the policies to ensure compliance with federal regulations, according to HHS officials. Timeline of Selected Events Related to Three Organ Allocation Policies Organ transplantation is the leading form of treatment for patients with severe organ failure. OPTN, a nonprofit entity that was established in 1984 under the National Organ Transplant Act, manages the nation's organ allocation system. In 2019, 32,322 organs were transplanted from deceased donors in the United States. Nevertheless, as of July 2020, close to 110,000 individuals remained on waiting lists for donor organs. Previously, donated livers and lungs were generally offered first to the sickest candidates in donation service areas. However, livers and lungs are now generally offered first to the sickest candidates based on distance. GAO was asked to review the changes to the liver and lung allocation policies. This report describes (1) changes to the liver allocation policy, and (2) similarities and differences in the processes OPTN used to change the liver and lung allocation policies, and federal oversight of these processes, among other things. GAO reviewed documents, including those related to the current liver and lung allocation policies, and the 2017 liver allocation policy; interviewed HHS officials and OPTN members; reviewed the National Organ Transplant Act and its implementing regulations; and conducted a literature review of studies published from January 2017 through April 2020 in peer-reviewed and other publications. HHS and the United Network for Organ Sharing (the contractor serving as OPTN) provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact James Cosgrove at (202) 512-7114 or cosgrovej@gao.gov.
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