Secretary Antony J. Blinken Introductory Remarks for Youth Speaker Xiye Bastida

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

The White House

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Mr. President, thank you very much.  And now it’s a true pleasure and honor to introduce another leader: climate activist Xiye Bastida.

Xiye grew up in the town of San Pedro Tultepec, in Mexico.  She’s a member of the Otomi-Toltec Nation.  She’s experienced first-hand the devastating impact of climate crisis.

When she was just 11 years old, her town was hit by back-to-back years of climate-driven drought.  Then the intense rains came.  And then the floods.  Her family was displaced, and she and her parents relocated to the United States, to New York.

These dramatic swings in extreme weather are just one of the consequences of the climate crisis we’re already experiencing across the world, including here in the United States, where, at the same time as Xiye’s town was experiencing droughts and floods, the American Southwest was in the middle of the worst drought since the 16th century.

After relocating to New York, Xiye came face to face with another impact of the climate crisis in the lasting damage left by Superstorm Sandy.  Wherever she went, she saw how changes driven by climate were hurting communities.

So Xiye joined the Fridays for the Future movement and was one of the young activists who led their fellow students and people of all ages to strike in order to wake up the world to the impacts of the climate emergency and to call on leaders like us to take action, before it’s too late.

In the time since, she has given much of herself the climate justice effort.  She mobilized 600 students from her school to join the March 2019 climate strike; she led a push for legislative change in her city and state; she launched a youth activism training program; she addressed the United Nations.

For Xiye, this isn’t a hobby; it’s a way of life.

Xiye is part of a rising generation of leaders who are pushing us to make the necessary changes that we have put off for too long.  She and her fellow young leaders have earned a seat at the table, not just because they will bear more of the consequences of climate change, or the world’s inaction on climate, but also because of the urgency, ingenuity, and total dedication that they have brought to this effort.

We’ve asked a lot of our young people; they’re delivering.  Now it’s time we ask more of ourselves.

Xiye comes from a line of environmental activists.  Her grandparents fought for decades to protect her indigenous nation’s sacred lands in Mexico.  Her parents were environmental advocates, too.  Something Xiye’s father told her continues to guide her activism to this day, and I quote: “Leave everything better than you found it.”

That’s also our responsibility.  It’s what this summit is all about, and it’s the underlying purpose behind all that we must do – in this crucial year, in this decisive decade.

If we act together, we can turn the need to reduce our emissions and adapt our communities into once-in-generations opportunity – to improve the lives of our people and build more just, equitable, and sustainable societies.

Xiye, thank you.  Thank you for all you’ve done to leave everything better than you found it.  We’re humbled and inspired by your service, and now we look forward to hearing from you.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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    What GAO Found Climate change is expected to have far-reaching effects on the electricity grid that could cost billions and could affect every aspect of the grid from generation, transmission, and distribution to demand for electricity, according to several reports GAO reviewed. The type and extent of these effects on the grid will vary by geographic location and other factors. For example, reports GAO reviewed stated that more frequent droughts and changing rainfall patterns may adversely affect hydroelectricity generation in Alaska and the Northwest and Southwest regions of the United States. Further, transmission capacity may be reduced or distribution lines damaged during increasing wildfire activity in some regions due to warmer temperatures and drier conditions. Moreover, climate change effects on the grid could cost utilities and customers billions, including the costs of power outages and infrastructure damage. Examples of Climate Change Effects on the Electricity Grid Since 2014, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have taken actions to enhance the resilience of the grid. For example, in 2015, DOE established a partnership with 18 utilities to plan for climate change. In 2018, FERC collected information from grid operators on grid resilience and their risks to hazards such as extreme weather. Nevertheless, opportunities exist for DOE and FERC to take additional actions to enhance grid resilience to climate change. For example, DOE identified climate change as a risk to energy infrastructure, including the grid, but it does not have an overall strategy to guide its efforts. GAO's Disaster Resilience Framework states that federal efforts can focus on risk reduction by creating resilience goals and linking those goals to an overarching strategy. Developing and implementing a department-wide strategy that defines goals and measures progress could help prioritize DOE's climate resilience efforts to ensure that resources are targeted effectively. Regarding FERC, it has not taken steps to identify or assess climate change risks to the grid and, therefore, is not well positioned to determine the actions needed to enhance resilience. Risk management involves identifying and assessing risks to understand the likelihood of impacts and their associated consequences. By doing so, FERC could then plan and implement appropriate actions to respond to the risks and achieve its objective of promoting resilience. Why GAO Did This Study According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, changes in the earth's climate are under way and expected to increase, posing risks to the electricity grid that may affect the nation's economic and national security. Annual costs of weather-related power outages total billions of dollars and may increase with climate change, although resilience investments could help address potential effects, according to the research program. Private companies own most of the electricity grid, but the federal government plays a significant role in promoting grid resilience—the ability to adapt to changing conditions; withstand potentially disruptive events; and, if disrupted, to rapidly recover. DOE, the lead agency for grid resilience efforts, conducts research and provides information and technical assistance to industry. FERC reviews mandatory grid reliability standards. This testimony summarizes GAO's report on grid resilience to climate change. Specifically, the testimony discusses (1) potential climate change effects on the electricity grid; and (2) actions DOE and FERC have taken since 2014 to enhance electricity grid resilience to climate change effects, and additional actions these agencies could take. GAO reviewed reports and interviewed agency officials and 55 relevant stakeholders.
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  • TSA Acquisitions: TSA Needs to Establish Metrics and Evaluate Third Party Testing Outcomes for Screening Technologies
    In U.S GAO News
    In 2013, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) introduced the concept of third party testing—having an independent testing entity verify that a security screening system meets certain requirements. The concept is that screening system vendors would take this additional step either prior to submitting their technologies to TSA or if their system failed TSA's test and evaluation process. The goal is for third party testing to reduce the time and resources that TSA spends on its own testing. However, since introduced, TSA has directed only three vendors that failed TSA tests to use third party testing, with varying outcomes. In two other cases, TSA supplemented its test capabilities by using third party testers to determine that systems installed at airports were working properly. TSA officials and industry representatives pointed to several reasons for third party testing's limited use since 2013, such as the cost to industry to use third party testers and TSA's reluctance to date to accept third party test data as an alternative to its own. Despite this, TSA officials told GAO they hope to use third party testing more in the future. For example, in recent announcements to evaluate and qualify new screening systems, TSA stated that it will require a system that fails TSA testing to go to a third party tester to address the identified issues (see figure). Example of Use of Third Party Testing When a System Experiences a Failure in TSA's Testing TSA set a goal in 2013 to increase screening technology testing efficiency. In addition, TSA reported to Congress in January 2020 that third party testing is a part of its efforts to increase supplier diversity and innovation. However, TSA has not established metrics to determine third party testing's contribution toward the goal of increasing efficiency. Further, GAO found no link between third party testing and supplier diversity and innovation. Some TSA officials and industry representatives also questioned third party testing's relevance to these efforts. Without metrics to measure and assess the extent to which third party testing increases testing efficiency, TSA will be unable to determine the value of this concept. Similarly, without assessing whether third party testing contributes to supplier diversity and innovation, TSA cannot know if third party testing activities are contributing to these goals as planned. TSA relies on technologies like imaging systems and explosives detection systems to screen passengers and baggage to prevent prohibited items from getting on board commercial aircraft. As part of its process of acquiring these systems and deploying them to airports, TSA tests the systems to ensure they meet requirements. The 2018 TSA Modernization Act contained a provision for GAO to review the third party testing program. GAO assessed the extent to which TSA (1) used third party testing, and (2) articulated its goals and developed metrics to measure the effects of third party testing. GAO reviewed TSA's strategic plans, acquisition guidance, program documentation, and testing policies. GAO interviewed officials from TSA's Test and Evaluation Division and acquisition programs, as well as representatives of vendors producing security screening systems and companies providing third party testing services. GAO is recommending that TSA develop metrics to measure the effects of third party testing on efficiency, assess its effects on efficiency, and assess whether third party testing contributes to supplier diversity and innovation. DHS concurred with GAO's three recommendations and has actions planned to address them. For more information, contact Marie A. Mak at (202) 512-4841 or MakM@gao.gov.
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  • Retirement Security: DOL Could Better Inform Divorcing Parties About Dividing Savings
    In U.S GAO News
    Although more than one-third of adults aged 50 or older have experienced divorce, few people seek and obtain a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), according to large plan sponsors GAO surveyed. A QDRO establishes the right of an alternate payee, such as a former spouse, to receive all or a portion of the benefits payable to a participant under a retirement plan upon separation or divorce. There are no nationally representative data on the number of QDROs, but plans and record keepers GAO interviewed and surveyed reported that few seek and obtain QDROs. For example, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation administered retirement benefits to about 1.6 million participants, and approved about 16,000 QDROs in the last 10 years. GAO's analysis of other survey data found about one-third of those who experienced a divorce from 2008 to 2016 and reported their former spouse had a retirement plan also reported losing a claim to that spouse's benefits. Many experts stated that some people—especially those with lower incomes—face challenges to successfully navigating the process for obtaining a QDRO, including complexity and cost. Individuals seeking a QDRO may be charged fees for preparation and review of draft orders before they are qualified as QDROs and, according to experts GAO interviewed, these fees vary widely. These experts cited concerns about QDRO review fees that they said in some cases were more than twice the amount of typical fees, and said they may discourage some from pursuing QDROs. Department of Labor (DOL) officials said the agency generally does not collect information on QDRO fees. Exploring ways to collect and analyze information from plans on fees could help DOL ensure costs are reasonable. Divorcing parties who pursue QDROs often had orders not qualified due to lacking basic information, according to plans and record keepers we surveyed (see figure). Plan Administrators and Record Keepers Reported Reasons for Not Qualifying a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) DOL provides some information to help divorcing parties pursue QDROs. However, many experts cited a lack of awareness about QDROs by the public and said DOL could do more to make resources available to divorcing parties. Without additional outreach by DOL, divorcing parties may spend unnecessary time and resources drafting orders that are not likely to be qualified, resulting in unnecessary expenditures of time and money. A domestic relations order (DRO) is a court-issued judgment, decree, or order that, when qualified by a retirement plan administrator, can divide certain retirement benefits in connection with separation or divorce and as such provide crucial financial security to a former spouse. DOL has authority to interpret QDRO requirements. GAO was asked to review the process for obtaining QDROs. This report examines what is known about (1) the number of QDRO recipients, (2) the fees and other expenses for processing QDROs, and (3) the reasons plans do not initially qualify DROs and the challenges experts identify regarding the QDRO process. To conduct this work, GAO analyzed available data, and a total of 14 responses from two surveys of large private sector plans and account record keepers, and interviewed 18 experts including practitioners who provide services to divorcing couples. GAO is recommending that DOL (1) explore ways to collect information on QDRO-related fees charged to participants or alternate payees, and (2) take steps to ensure information about the process for obtaining a QDRO is accessible. DOL generally agreed with our recommendations. For more information, contact Kris Nguyen at (202) 512-7215 or NguyenTT@gao.gov.
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  • Federal Prison Industries: Actions Needed to Evaluate Program Effectiveness
    In U.S GAO News
    The First Step Act of 2018 made new, nonfederal markets and potential buyers available to Federal Prison Industries (FPI), a government corporation organized within the Bureau of Prisons (BOP); however, various challenges could limit FPI's ability to sell to customers in these markets. FPI makes apparel, personal protective equipment, and furniture, among other products. FPI may now sell to the District of Columbia government, including, for example, to its firefighters; nonfederal, governmental entities for use in correctional settings or in response to a disaster or emergency, such as local jails and first responders; and nonprofit organizations, such as universities. However, a lack of information makes it difficult to estimate the dollar value of these new markets. The following figure depicts the new markets made available to FPI. New Markets for Federal Prison Industries' Products under the First Step Act Data on the size of most of the new markets are very limited. For example, GAO found no existing national information to help estimate the size and scope of relevant spending by nonfederal entities on disaster relief and emergencies. Also, challenges related to state and local government operations, for example, could limit FPI's ability to sell products in the new markets made available under the First Step Act. Specifically, state-level prison industries and in-state vendors often have preferential access to many of the procurement markets now available to FPI. FPI and the private sector share some similar operating requirements, such as those related to keeping workers safe. They also face different requirements and business practices, such as those related to the legal framework, security, and costs. Available data indicate that buyers are generally satisfied with the delivery and quality of FPI products. GAO analyzed 231 performance reports on FPI in the federal government's database for contractor performance, as of August 2019. Customers rated FPI's performance in the delivery schedule and quality categories as exceptional, very good, or satisfactory on about 80 and 90 percent, respectively, of performance reports. There were too few ratings on cost to analyze them. FPI aims to assist inmates in their reentry into society by providing marketable job skills, but BOP has not reviewed FPI's impact on recidivism in over 2 decades. BOP relies on outdated studies that assessed the impact of FPI on inmates released in the 1980s. In January 2020, BOP cited a 1992 study as the basis for the Attorney General's designation of FPI as an Evidence-Based Recidivism Reduction Program under the First Step Act 0f 2018 . BOP made a plan to evaluate FPI but the plan's timeline passed and the BOP has not set a new one. Without an updated plan for evaluating FPI, BOP continues to rely on outdated evaluations of FPI and has limited information about FPI's effectiveness amidst changes to its inmate population Additionally, while BOP has reported some descriptive statistics on recidivism rates, it has not developed a goal. Without a timeline for evaluation and a goal for reducing recidivism, BOP's ability to assess the effectiveness of FPI will be limited. FPI is a government owned corporation that, as a national reentry program, manages, trains, and rehabilitates inmates through employment. FPI sells inmate-produced goods and services primarily to federal government agencies. The First Step Act of 2018 authorized FPI to sell its products to new markets. A provision in the First Step Act of 2018 required GAO to review various aspects of FPI. This report addresses (1) the potential size and scope of the additional markets made available to FPI under the First Step Act; (2) the similarities and differences in selected requirements and business practices of FPI and private sector sellers of products and services; (3) customers' satisfaction with FPI regarding quality, price, and timely delivery of its products and services; and (4) the extent to which BOP has evaluated the effectiveness of FPI and other vocational programs in reducing recidivism and the results. GAO examined recidivism studies and data, analyzed performance data, conducted fieldwork at four FPI facilities selected based on security level and type of products produced, met with industry associations, and interviewed agency officials and employed inmates. GAO is making two recommendations: (1) BOP should update its evaluation plan for FPI by setting a new timeline for evaluation and (2) BOP should set a goal to reduce recidivism. DOJ concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Gretta L. Goodwin at (202) 512-8777 or goodwing@gao.gov or William T. Woods at (202) 512-4841 or woodsw@gao.gov.
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  • USAJOBS Website: OPM Has Taken Actions to Assess and Enhance the User Experience
    In U.S GAO News
    The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) uses a variety of sources to assess the user experience with USAJOBS, the central website for posting federal job openings. GAO found that OPM's assessments generally track key measures in accordance with selected government-wide guidance. Specifically, OPM collects data on most of the website performance measures recommended by selected guidance from Digital.gov, including the number of times pages were viewed, the percentage of users who use the USAJOBS search box, and overall customer experience. Additionally, consistent with guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), OPM surveys USAJOBS users about their experiences with the site. OPM also assesses user experience through usability testing, focus groups, and analysis of data on questions submitted to the USAJOBS help desk. Through these assessments, OPM found variations in user experience across the job search and application process, including variations in how people find job announcements and how long it takes them to complete job applications. Since the agency's redesign of USAJOBS in 2016, OPM has taken a number of actions in an effort to address feedback from these assessments and improve the USAJOBS user experience. For example, in 2017, OPM created a set of categories, called Hiring Paths, that describe who is eligible to apply for specific federal jobs and guide job seekers to positions for which they are eligible. Other OPM actions taken from 2016 to 2020 include implementing a new process for logging in to the system to improve website security; updating job search filters and adding a keyword autocomplete function, which suggests search terms as a job seeker types in the search box; revising its job announcement template for hiring agencies to help eliminate duplicative language, increase clarity, and avoid jargon; adding guidance to help job seekers complete federal applications and understand federal hiring authorities; and highlighting jobs related to COVID-19 response. OPM continues to update and refine these efforts. OPM also expects to take a number of additional actions intended to help enhance the USAJOBS website. For example, according to OPM officials, in early fiscal year 2021 they expect to add a “job status” indicator for each job announcement posted on USAJOBS. The job status indicator would provide information such as the number of applicants and when the job has been filled. According to OPM, this would improve transparency and accountability and also provide applicants with updates at each stage of the hiring process. GAO provided a draft of this report to OPM for review and comment. OPM stated that it did not have comments. The USAJOBS website, which is managed by OPM, is the entry point to the federal hiring process for most agencies. It facilitates hiring of new employees as well as the movement of talent across government through merit-based promotions and transfers. OPM uses USAJOBS to help achieve the agency's mission to recruit and retain a world-class government workforce. OPM is responsible for ensuring the usability of USAJOBS and collecting feedback on the user experience. Hiring agencies are responsible for the content of job opportunity announcements. Report language accompanying the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill, 2020, and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 included provisions for GAO to review the user experience on USAJOBS. This report examines (1) the extent to which OPM assesses the user experience with USAJOBS and the results of OPM's assessments; and (2) actions OPM has taken to improve the user experience with USAJOBS. GAO reviewed OPM data and documentation, interviewed OPM officials, and compared OPM's assessments of user experience to OMB guidance for federal service providers and selected guidance from Digital.gov on performance measures for federal websites. For more information, contact Michelle B. Rosenberg at (202) 512-6806 or rosenbergm@gao.gov.
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  • Covid-19: Data Quality and Considerations for Modeling and Analysis
    In U.S GAO News
    The rapid spread and magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic have underscored the importance of having quality data, analyses, and models describing the potential trajectory of COVID-19 to help understand the effects of the disease in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is using multiple surveillance systems to collect data on COVID-19 in the U.S. in collaboration with state, local, and academic and other partners. The data from these surveillance systems can be useful for understanding the disease, but decision makers and analysts must understand their limitations in order to interpret them properly. For example, surveillance data on the number of reported COVID-19 cases are incomplete for a number of reasons, and they are an undercount the true number of cases, according to CDC and others. There are multiple approaches to analyzing COVID-19 data that yield different insights. For example, some approaches can help compare the effects of the disease across population groups. Additional analytical approaches can help to address incomplete and inconsistent reporting of COVID-19 deaths as well. For example, analysts can examine the number of deaths beyond what would normally be expected in the absence of the pandemic. Examining higher-than-expected deaths from all causes helps to address limitations in the reporting of COVID-19 deaths because the number of total deaths is likely more accurate than the numbers of deaths from specific causes. The figure below shows actual deaths from the weeks ending January 1 through June 27, 2020, based on data from CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, compared with the expected deaths based on prior years’ data. Deaths that exceeded this threshold starting in late March are considered excess deaths that may be related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Higher-Than-Expected Weekly Mortality for 2020, as of July 14, 2020 Analysts have used several forecasting models to predict the spread of COVID-19, and understanding these models requires understanding their purpose and limitations. For example, some models attempt to predict the effects of various interventions, whereas other models attempt to forecast the number of cases based on current data. At the beginning of an outbreak, such predictions are less likely to be accurate, but accuracy can improve as the disease becomes better understood. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant loss of life and profoundly disrupted the U.S. economy and society, and the Congress has taken action to support a multifaceted federal response on an unprecedented scale. It is important for decision makers to understand the limitations of COVID-19 data, and the uses and limitations of various methods of analyzing and interpreting those data. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) includes a provision for GAO to, in general, conduct monitoring and oversight of the authorities and funding provided to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the effect of the pandemic on the health, economy, and public and private institutions of the U.S. This technology assessment examines (1) collection methods and limitations of COVID-19 surveillance data reported by CDC, (2) approaches for analyzing COVID-19 data, and (3) uses and limitations of forecast modeling for understanding of COVID-19. In conducting this assessment, GAO obtained publicly available information from CDC and state health departments, among other sources, and reviewed relevant peer reviewed and preprint (non-peer-reviewed) literature, as well as published technical data on specific models. For more information, contact Timothy M. Persons, PhD at (202) 512-6888 or PersonsT@gao.gov, SaraAnn Moessbauer at (202) 512-4943, or MoessbauerS@gao.gov, or Mary Denigan-Macauley, PhD at (202) 512-7114 or DeniganMacauleyM@gao.gov.
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