Secretary Antony J. Blinken Intervention at Arctic Council Ministerial

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Reykjavik, Iceland

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, thank you very much, and I recognize that we’re the only thing standing between us and the signing ceremony, so we’ll try to be brief.

Foreign ministers, permanent participant heads of delegation, working group representatives, Arctic Council observers and guests, it really is an honor to join you for this meeting of the Arctic Council.  And I’m especially pleased to be here today with Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, a longstanding leader and expert on Arctic issues.

Gudlaugur, thank you so much for your incredibly warm hospitality, and to you and to Iceland for remarkably strong and effective leadership of the council during your chairmanship despite, as everyone has noted, the hardships of COVID-19.

The breadth and depth of the work that’s been completed during Iceland’s chairmanship is simply remarkable.  I think it exemplifies the best of our governments, our scientists, our communities.  Iceland deserves a great deal of credit for leaving the Arctic Council stronger than they found it.  Thank you.

Now, the United States welcomes Russia’s chairmanship of the council.  We look forward to implementing the council’s first-ever strategic plan in cooperation with Russia and all of our partners.  It’s fitting that we would adopt this 10-year plan for the council’s 25th anniversary.  It represents an important step forward in ensuring that the council becomes even more effective and cooperative for the future.

And I do want to echo what several of my fellow ministers have already said.  We’re committed to advancing a peaceful Arctic region where cooperation prevails on climate, the environment, science and safety, and where sustainable economic development benefits the people of the region themselves.

This council is indispensable to this vision.  This is the preeminent forum for the eight Arctic states and six permanent participants to cooperate and address shared priorities together.  Let me quickly just mention a few of the priorities from our perspective.

One is effective governance and the rule of law to ensure that the Arctic remains a region free of conflict, where countries act responsibly.  Another is stopping COVID-19 and making sure that we’re better prepared for future global health emergencies.  The council has analyzed the health, economic, and social impacts of COVID-19 on Arctic communities and reinforced our understanding of what communities need to respond effectively to the pandemic.

Another priority, of course, that everyone has touched on, and it’s a focus of our work, is the climate crisis.  The Arctic, as others have noted, is warming at three times the global average, which adds even greater urgency to our efforts.  Reducing emissions of black carbon and methane is particularly important.  I’m proud that the most recent report on the United States black carbon emissions was 34 percent below 2013 levels, the largest reported black carbon reduction by any Arctic state.  And we’re grateful to the council for being on the leading edge of assessing and reporting impacts of climate change in the Arctic.

In addition to climate, we need to protect the environment of the Arctic.  And on that front, I want to applaud the work of the council’s six working groups and one expert group, which has increased the council’s preparedness to handle the risks that come with increased human activity in the region.  The United States intends to provide up to a million dollars to support the council’s climate environmental protection work, and we’ll work with and notify Congress of our intent.

Additionally, under Iceland’s leadership, the council has increased its work on marine litter and plastic pollution, as others have noted.  It’s conducted exercises to prepare for possible oil spills and search and rescue events, signed a statement of cooperation with the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, and the U.S. Coast Guard is a proud partner in that work.  And the council has increased its focus on wildland fires, which are one of the most significant early impacts of climate change in the Arctic.

There are now projects underway across multiple working groups, and critically, indigenous knowledge is being incorporated.  That’s vital.  Indigenous peoples have generations worth of knowledge about how to be good stewards of the Arctic.  We must be true and equal partners in this work.  And we have to bring the same partnership to bear in pursuing economic development in a sustainable and transparent way that directly benefits indigenous communities. That’s the core test of this council.  I’m confident that we can meet it together.

Let’s take a step back for just a moment.  The council has proven itself to be responsive and adaptable, to make good use of expertise, to be partners to indigenous leaders and communities.  Our cooperation has become stronger.  At the same time, the Arctic as a region for strategic competition has seized the world’s attention, but the Arctic is more than a strategically or economically significant region.  It’s home to our people.  Its hallmark has been and must remain peaceful cooperation.  It’s our responsibility to protect that peaceful cooperation and to build on it as neighbors and as partners.

So let me close by thanking everyone who has contributed to the broad range of Arctic Council initiatives, including government officials, permanent participants, working groups, expert groups, secretariats, observers.  Thank you all for your diligence and commitment.  The United States shares your commitment to the Arctic region.  We look forward to working with you through this council for many years to come.  Thank you.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) directed individual offices to implement the Compliance Program, and FAA has increasingly used compliance actions rather than enforcement actions to address violations of safety standards since starting the Compliance Program. FAA revised agency-wide guidance in September 2015 to emphasize using compliance actions, such as counseling or changes to policies. Compliance actions are to be used when a regulated entity is willing and able to comply and enforcement action is not required or warranted, e.g., for repeated violations, according to FAA guidance. FAA then directed its offices—for example, Flight Standards Service and Drug Abatement Division—to implement the Compliance Program as appropriate, given their different responsibilities and existing processes. Under the Compliance Program, data show that selected FAA offices have made increasing use of compliance actions. Total Number of Federal Aviation Administration Enforcement Actions and Number of Compliance Actions Closed for Selected Program Offices, Fiscal Years 2012-2019 No specific FAA office or entity oversees the Compliance Program. FAA tasked a working group to lead some initial implementation efforts. However, the group no longer regularly discusses the Compliance Program, and no office or entity was then assigned oversight authority. As a result, FAA is not positioned to identify and share best practices or other valuable information across offices. FAA established goals for the Compliance Program—to promote the highest level of safety and compliance with standards and to foster an open, transparent exchange of data. FAA, however, has not taken steps to evaluate if or determine how the program accomplishes these goals. Key considerations for agency enforcement decisions state that an agency should establish an evaluation plan to determine if its enforcement policy achieves desired goals. Three of eight FAA offices have started to evaluate the effects of the Compliance Program, but two offices have not yet started. Three other offices do not plan to do so—in one case, because FAA has not told the office to. FAA officials generally believe the Compliance Program is achieving its safety goals based on examples of its use. However, without an evaluation, FAA will not know if the Compliance Program is improving safety or having other effects—intended or unintended. FAA supports the safety of the U.S. aviation system by ensuring air carriers, pilots, and other regulated entities comply with safety standards. In 2015, FAA announced a new enforcement policy with a more collaborative and problem-solving approach called the Compliance Program. Under the program, FAA emphasizes using compliance actions, for example, counseling or training, to address many violations more efficiently, according to FAA. Enforcement actions such as civil penalties are reserved for more serious violations, such as when a violation is reckless or intentional. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 included a provision that GAO review FAA's Compliance Program. This report examines (1) how FAA implemented and used the Compliance Program and (2) how FAA evaluates the effectiveness of the program. GAO analyzed FAA data on enforcement actions agency-wide and on compliance actions for three selected offices for fiscal years 2012 to 2019 (4 years before and after program start).GAO also reviewed FAA guidance and interviewed FAA officials, including those from the eight offices that oversee compliance with safety standards. GAO is making three recommendations including that FAA assign authority to oversee the Compliance Program and evaluate the effectiveness of the program in meeting goals. FAA concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or krauseh@gao.gov.
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    The Department of Justice today announced it has awarded nearly $101 million, through the department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) in funding to combat human trafficking and provide vital services to trafficking victims throughout the United States.
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  • Study Coordinator Charged in Scheme to Falsify Clinical Trial Data
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    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. 
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  • Jeffrey Lowe and Tiger King LLC Ordered to Relinquish Big Cat Cubs to United States for Placement in Suitable Facilities
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    On Jan. 15, 2021, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction in favor of the United States and against Jeffrey and Lauren Lowe, Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park LLC, and Tiger King LLC based on claimed violations of the Endangered Species Act and the Animal Welfare Act.
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  • Military Lodging: DOD Should Provide Congress with More Information on Army’s Privatization and Better Guidance to the Military Services
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Since privatizing its domestic on-base hotels, referred to as lodging, the Army has made a variety of improvements, including the replacement of lodging facilities with newly constructed hotels (see fig.). However, improvements have taken longer than initially anticipated, development plans have changed, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) has not included key information about these delays and changes in reports to Congress. If OSD were to provide this additional information, Congress would be better able to determine whether the Privatized Army Lodging (PAL) program has achieved its intended objectives or fully consider whether the other military services should privatize their respective lodging programs. Room at an Army Lodging Facility before Privatizing and Room at the New Candlewood Suites Hotel Built at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ, in 2013 The Army does not estimate cost savings from the PAL program, but instead produces an annual cost avoidance estimate to demonstrate some of the financial benefits resulting from the privatization of its lodging program. Army officials stated that they calculate cost avoidance by comparing the room rate it charges for its lodging—which is limited to 75 percent of the average local lodging per diem rate across its installations—to the maximum lodging per diem that could be charged for that location. However, by using this approach, the Army is likely overstating its cost avoidance, because off-base hotels do not always charge 100 percent of per diem. Until the Army evaluates the methodology it uses to calculate its cost avoidance, decision makers in the Department of Defense (DOD) and Congress cannot be sure that the reported financial benefits of privatization have actually been achieved. OSD's oversight of lodging programs has been limited in some cases. First, OSD and the military services lack standardized data that would be useful for making informed decisions about the lodging programs. Second, DOD requires both servicemembers and civilian employees to stay in on-base lodging when on official travel, with some exceptions. Yet, according to OSD, many travelers are staying in off-base lodging, and OSD has not done the in-depth analysis needed to determine why and how much it is costing the government. Without an analysis that assesses the extent to which travelers are inappropriately using off-base lodging and why it is occurring, as well as a plan to address any issues identified, neither DOD nor Congress can be sure that the department is making the most cost-effective use of taxpayer funds. Why GAO Did This Study In 2009, the Army began to privatize its lodging with the goal of addressing the poor condition of facilities more quickly than could be achieved under continued Army operation. The Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force currently have no plans to privatize their lodging programs. The Senate Armed Services Committee report accompanying a bill for the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act included a provision for GAO to review improvements made to Army lodging, among other things. This report examines the extent to which (1) the Army has improved its lodging facilities since privatizing; (2) OSD reported complete information about the Army's development plans to Congress; (3) the Army has reliably determined any cost savings or cost avoidance as a result of its privatized lodging program; and (4) there are limitations in OSD's oversight of the military services' lodging programs. GAO reviewed policies and guidance; analyzed lodging program data for fiscal years 2017 through 2019 (the 3 most recent years of complete and available information); and interviewed DOD officials.
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  • State-Sponsored Iranian Hackers Indicted for Computer Intrusions at U.S. Satellite Companies
    In Crime News
    An indictment was unsealed today charging three computer hackers, all of whom were residents and nationals of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran), with engaging in a coordinated campaign of identity theft and hacking on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization, in order to steal critical information related to U.S. aerospace and satellite technology and resources.
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  • Justice Department Requires Divestiture of Tufts Health Freedom Plan in Order for Harvard Pilgrim and Health Plan Holdings to Proceed With Merger
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it would require Harvard Pilgrim Health Care (Harvard Pilgrim) and Health Plan Holdings (fka Tufts Health Plan) to divest Tufts Health Freedom Plan Inc. (Tufts Freedom), in order to proceed with their merger. Tufts Freedom is Health Plan Holdings’ commercial health insurance business in New Hampshire. The department has approved UnitedHealth Group Inc. (United), as the buyer. Health insurance is an integral part of the American healthcare system, and the proposed settlement will maintain competition for the sale of commercial health insurance to private employers in New Hampshire with fewer than 100 employees.
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  • Whistleblower Protection: Actions Needed to Strengthen Selected Intelligence Community Offices of Inspector General Programs
    In U.S GAO News
    The six Intelligence Community (IC)-element Offices of Inspectors General (OIG) that GAO reviewed collectively received 5,794 complaints from October 1, 2016, through September 30, 2018, and opened 960 investigations based on those complaints. Of the 960 investigations, IC-element OIGs had closed 873 (about 91 percent) as of August 2019, with an average case time ranging from 113 to 410 days to complete. Eighty-seven cases remained open as of August 2019, with the average open case time being 589 days. The number of investigations at each IC-element OIG varied widely based on factors such as the number of complaints received and each OIG's determination on when to convert a complaint into an investigation. An OIG may decide not to convert a complaint into an investigation if the complaint lacks credibility or sufficient detail, or may refer the complainant to IC-element management or to another OIG if the complaint involves matters that are outside the OIG's authority to investigate. Four of the IC-element OIGs—the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) OIG, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) OIG, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) OIG, and the National Security Agency (NSA) OIG—have a 180-days or fewer timeliness objective for their investigations. The procedures for the remaining two OIGs—the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community (ICIG) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) OIG—state that investigations should be conducted and reported in a timely manner. Other than those prescribed by statute, the ICIG and NGA OIG have not established timeliness objectives for their investigations. Establishing timeliness objectives could improve the OIGs' ability to efficiently manage investigation time frames and to inform potential whistleblowers of these time frames. All of the selected IC-element OIG investigations units have implemented some quality assurance standards and processes, such as including codes of conduct and ethical and professional standards in their guidance. However, the extent to which they have implemented processes to maintain guidance, conduct routine quality assurance reviews, and plan investigations varies (see table). Implementation of Quality Assurance Standards and Practices by Selected IC-element OIG Investigations Units   ICIG CIA OIG DIA OIG NGA OIG NRO OIG NSA OIG Regular updates of investigation guidance or procedures — — — ✓ — ✓ Internal quality assurance review routinely conducted — — ✓ — — — External quality assurance review routinely conducted — ✓ — — — — Required use of documented investigative plans ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ — ✓ Legend: ✓ = standard or practice implemented; — = standard or practice not implemented. Source: GAO analysis of IC-element OIG investigative policies and procedures. | GAO-20-699 The Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency's (CIGIE) Quality Standards for Investigations states that organizations should facilitate due professional care by establishing written investigative policies and procedures via handbooks, manuals, or similar mechanisms that are revised regularly according to evolving laws, regulations, and executive orders. By establishing processes to regularly update their procedures, the ICIG, CIA OIG, DIA OIG, and NRO OIG could better ensure that their policies and procedures will remain consistent with evolving laws, regulations, Executive Orders, and CIGIE standards. Additionally, CIGIE's Quality Standards for Federal Offices of Inspector General requires OIGs to establish and maintain a quality assurance program. The standards further state that internal and external quality assurance reviews are the two components of an OIG's quality assurance program, which is an evaluative effort conducted by reviewers independent of the unit being reviewed to ensure that the overall work of the OIG meets appropriate standards. Developing quality assurance programs that incorporate both types of reviews, as appropriate, could help ensure that the IC-element OIGs adhere to OIG procedures and prescribed standards, regulations, and legislation, as well as identify any areas in need of improvement. Further, CIGIE Quality Standards for Investigations states that case-specific priorities must be established and objectives developed to ensure that tasks are performed efficiently and effectively. CIGIE's standards state that this may best be achieved, in part, by preparing case-specific plans and strategies. Establishing a requirement that investigators use documented investigative plans for all investigations could facilitate NRO OIG management's oversight of investigations and help ensure that investigative steps are prioritized and performed efficiently and effectively. CIA OIG, DIA OIG, and NGA OIG have training plans or approaches that are consistent with CIGIE's quality standards for investigator training. However, while ICIG, NRO OIG, and NSA OIG have basic training requirements and tools to manage training, those OIGs have not established training requirements for their investigators that are linked to the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities, appropriate to their career progression, and part of a documented training plan. Doing so would help the ICIG, NRO OIG, and NSA OIG ensure that their investigators collectively possess a consistent set of professional proficiencies aligned with CIGIE's quality standards throughout their entire career progression. Most of the IC-element OIGs GAO reviewed consistently met congressional reporting requirements for the investigations and semiannual reports GAO reviewed. The ICIG did not fully meet one reporting requirement in seven of the eight semiannual reports that GAO reviewed. However, its most recent report, which covers April through September 2019, met this reporting requirement by including statistics on the total number and type of investigations it conducted. Further, three of the six selected IC-element OIGs—the DIA, NGA, and NRO OIGs—did not consistently document notifications to complainants in the reprisal investigation case files GAO reviewed. Taking steps to ensure that notifications to complainants in such cases occur and are documented in the case files would provide these OIGs with greater assurance that they consistently inform complainants of the status of their investigations and their rights as whistleblowers. Whistleblowers play an important role in safeguarding the federal government against waste, fraud, and abuse. The OIGs across the government oversee investigations of whistleblower complaints, which can include protecting whistleblowers from reprisal. Whistleblowers in the IC face unique challenges due to the sensitive and classified nature of their work. GAO was asked to review whistleblower protection programs managed by selected IC-element OIGs. This report examines (1) the number and time frames of investigations into complaints that selected IC-element OIGs received in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, and the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have established timeliness objectives for these investigations; (2) the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have implemented quality standards and processes for their investigation programs; (3) the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have established training requirements for investigators; and (4) the extent to which selected IC-element OIGs have met notification and reporting requirements for investigative activities. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in June 2020. Information that the IC elements deemed sensitive has been omitted. GAO selected the ICIG and the OIGs of five of the largest IC elements for review. GAO analyzed time frames for all closed investigations of complaints received in fiscal years 2017 and 2018; reviewed OIG policies, procedures, training requirements, and semiannual reports to Congress; conducted interviews with 39 OIG investigators; and reviewed a selection of case files for senior leaders and reprisal cases from October 1, 2016, through March 31, 2018. GAO is making 23 recommendations, including that selected IC-element OIGs establish timeliness objectives for investigations, implement or enhance quality assurance programs, establish training plans, and take steps to ensure that notifications to complainants in reprisal cases occur. The selected IC-element OIGs concurred with the recommendations and discussed steps they planned to take to implement them. For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604, farrellb@gao.gov or Brian M. Mazanec at (202) 512-5130, mazanecb@gao.gov.
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  • Indiana Man Pleads Guilty to Distributing Pesticides
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    An Indiana man who distributed unregistered pesticides to the tenants and managers of an apartment building he owned has pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).
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  • Kansas Man Indicted on Federal Child Pornography Charges
    In Crime News
    A resident of Topeka, Kansas, has been indicted by a federal grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas on federal child pornography charges, Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division announced today.
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  • Pharmacy Owner Pleads Guilty to $6.5 million Health Care Fraud Schemes
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    A New York woman pleaded guilty today to perpetrating schemes to defraud health care programs, including obtaining more than $6.5 million from Medicare Part D Plans and Medicaid drug plans.
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  • Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen Regarding the Overrunning of the U.S. Capitol Building
    In Crime News
    Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen issued the following statement: "The violence at our Nation’s Capitol Building is an intolerable attack on a fundamental institution of our democracy.  From the outset,  the Department of Justice has been working in close coordination with the Capitol Police and federal partners from the Interior Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Guard, as well as the Metropolitan Police and other local authorities.  Earlier this afternoon, the Department of Justice sent hundreds of federal law enforcement officers and agents from the FBI, ATF, and the U.S. Marshals Service to assist the Capitol Police in addressing this unacceptable situation, and we intend to enforce the laws of our land."
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    A Maryland man pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise by murdering a suspected rival gang member and attempting to murder two other victims, in connection with his MS-13 gang activities. 
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