September 22, 2021

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken On Afghanistan

31 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

Press Briefing Room

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good afternoon.  I’d like to give you all an update on the situation in Afghanistan and our ongoing efforts there, particularly as they relate to U.S. citizens, and then I’m very happy to take your questions.

Let me begin with my profound appreciation for our diplomats and service members who are working around the clock at the airport in Kabul and at a growing number of transit sites to facilitate the evacuation of Americans, their families, citizens of allied and partner nations, Afghans who have partnered with us over the last 20 years, and other Afghans at risk.  They are undertaking this mission under extremely difficult circumstances, with incredible courage, skill, and humanity.

Since August 14th, more than 82,300 people have been safely flown out of Kabul.  In the 24-hour period from Tuesday to Wednesday, approximately 19,000 people were evacuated on 90 U.S. military and coalition flights.  Only the United States could organize and execute a mission of this scale and this complexity.

As the President has made clear, our first priority is the evacuation of American citizens.  Since August 14th, we have evacuated at least 4,500 U.S. citizens and likely more.  More than 500 of those Americans were evacuated in just the last day alone.

Now, many of you have asked how many U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan who want to leave the country.  Based on our analysis, starting on August 14 when our evacuation operations began, there was then a population of as many as 6,000 American citizens in Afghanistan who wanted to leave.  Over the last 10 days, roughly 4,500 of these Americans have been safely evacuated along with immediate family members.  Over the past 24 hours, we’ve been in direct contact with approximately 500 additional Americans and provided specific instructions on how to get to the airport safely.  We will update you regularly on our progress in getting these 500 American citizens out of Afghanistan.

For the remaining roughly 1,000 contacts that we had who may be Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan, we are aggressively reaching out to them multiple times a day through multiple channels of communication – phone, email, text messaging – to determine whether they still want to leave and to get the most up-to-date information and instructions to them for how to do so.  Some may no longer be in the country.  Some may have claimed to be Americans but turn out not to be.  Some may choose to stay.  We’ll continue to try to identify the status and plans of these people in the coming days.

Thus, from this list of approximately 1,000, we believe the number of Americans actively seeking assistance to leave Afghanistan is lower, likely significantly lower.

Having said that, these are dynamic calculations that we are working hour by hour to refine for accuracy.  And let me, if I can, just take a moment to explain why the numbers are difficult to pin down with absolute precision at any given moment.  And let me start with Americans who are in Afghanistan and we believe want to leave.

First, as I think all of you know, the U.S. Government does not track Americans’ movements when they travel around the world.  When Americans visit a foreign country or if they reside there, we encourage them to enroll with the U.S. embassy.  Whether they do or not is up to them; it’s voluntary.  And then, when Americans leave a foreign country, it’s also up to them to de-enroll.  Again, that’s a choice, not a requirement.

Particularly given the security situation in Afghanistan, for many years we have urged Americans not to travel there.  We’ve repeatedly asked Americans who are in Afghanistan to enroll.  And since March of this year, we’ve sent 19 separate messages to Americans enrolled with the embassy in Kabul, encouraging and then urging them to leave the country.  We’ve amplified those direct messages on the State Department website and on social media.  We even made clear that we would help pay for their repatriation, and we’ve provided multiple communication channels for Americans to contact us if they’re in Afghanistan and want help in leaving.

The specific estimated number of Americans in Afghanistan who want to leave can go up as people respond to our outreach for the first time, and it can go down when we reach Americans we thought were in Afghanistan who tell us they’ve already left.  There could be other Americans in Afghanistan who never enrolled with the embassy, who ignored public evacuation notices, and have not yet identified themselves to us.

We’ve also found that many people who contact us and identify themselves as American citizens, including by filling out and submitting repatriation assistance forms, are not, in fact, U.S. citizens – something that can take some time to verify.  Some Americans may choose to stay in Afghanistan – some who are enrolled, and some who are not.  Many of them are dual nationals who may consider Afghanistan their home, who’ve lived there for decades, or who want to stay close to extended family.  And there are Americans who are still evaluating their decision to leave based on the situation on the ground that evolves daily – in fact, that evolves hourly.

Some are understandably very scared.  Each has a set of personal priorities and considerations that they alone can weigh.  They may even change their mind from one day to the next, as has happened and will likely continue to happen.

Finally, over the past 10 days we’ve been moving hundreds of American citizens out of Afghanistan every day, in most cases guided to the airport by us, in some cases getting there on their own, in other cases with the help of third countries or private initiatives.  We cross-check our list against flight manifests, against arrival records, against other databases.  There’s usually a lag of about 24 hours for us to verify their status.  So when you take into account all of these inputs that we use to arrive at our assessment of the number of Americans still in Afghanistan and who want to leave, you start to understand why this is a hard number to pin down at any given moment and why we’re constantly refining it.

And that’s also why we continue to be relentless in our outreach.  Since August 14th, we’ve reached out directly to every American enrolled with us in Afghanistan, often multiple times.  Hundreds of consular officers, locally employed staff, here in Washington, at dozens of embassies and consulates around the world, are part of what has been an unprecedented operation.  They’re phone banking, text banking, writing and responding to emails, working around the clock to communicate individually with Americans on the ground.

Since August 14th, we’ve sent more than 20,000 emails to enrolled individuals, initiated more than 45,000 phone calls, and used other means of communication, cycling through and updating our list repeatedly.  We’re also integrating information in real time that’s provided to us by members of Congress, by nongovernmental organizations, and U.S. citizens about Americans who may be in Afghanistan and want to get out.

These contacts are how we determine the whereabouts of Americans who may be in Afghanistan, whether they want to leave, whether they need help, and then to give them specific, tailored instructions on how to leave with real-time emergency contact numbers to use should they need it.

Now, let me turn to the number of Americans who have been evacuated.  As I said, we believe we’ve evacuated more than 4,500 U.S. passport holders as well as their families.  That number is also a dynamic one.  That’s because in this critical stretch, we’re focused on getting Americans and their families onto planes, out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible and then processing the total numbers when they’re safely out of the country.  We also verify our numbers to make sure that we aren’t inadvertently undercounting or double counting.

So I wanted to lay all that out because I know it is a fundamental question that so many of you have had, and it really merits going through the information, the explanation so you see how we arrive at it.

While evacuating Americans is our top priority, we’re also committed to getting out as many Afghans at risk as we can before the 31st.  That starts with our locally employed staff, the folks who’ve been working side by side in our embassy with our diplomatic team.  And it includes Special Immigrant Visa program participants and also other Afghans at risk.  It’s hard to overstate the complexity and the danger of this effort.  We’re operating in a hostile environment in a city and country now controlled by the Taliban, with the very real possibility of an ISIS-K attack.  We’re taking every precaution, but this is very high-risk.

As the President said yesterday, we’re on track to complete our mission by August 31st provided the Taliban continue to cooperate and there are no disruptions to this effort.  The President has also asked for contingency plans in case he determines that we must remain in the country past that date.  But let me be crystal-clear about this:  There is no deadline on our work to help any remaining American citizens who decide they want to leave to do so, along with the many Afghans who have stood by us over these many years and want to leave and have been unable to do so.  That effort will continue every day past August 31st.

The Taliban have made public and private commitments to provide and permit safe passage for Americans, for third-country nationals, and Afghans at risk going forward past August 31st.  The United States, our allies and partners, and more than half of the world’s countries – 114 in all – issued a statement making it clear to the Taliban that they have a responsibility to hold to that commitment and provide safe passage for anyone who wishes to leave the country – not just for the duration of our evacuation and relocation mission, but for every day thereafter.

And we’re developing detailed plans for how we can continue to provide consular support and facilitate departures for whose who wish to leave after August 31st.  Our expectation – the expectation of the international community – is that people who want to leave Afghanistan after the U.S. military departs should be able to do so.  Together we will do everything we can to see that that expectation is met.

Let me just close with a note on the diplomatic front.  In all, more than two dozen countries on four continents are contributing to the effort to transit, temporarily house, or resettle those who we are evacuating.  That didn’t just happen.  It’s the product of an intense diplomatic effort to secure, detail, and implement transit agreements and resettlement commitments.  We are deeply grateful to those countries for their generous assistance.

This is one of the largest airlifts in history, a massive military, diplomatic, security, and humanitarian undertaking.  It’s a testament both to U.S. leadership and to the strength of our alliances and partnerships.  We’ll be relying and building upon that strength moving forward as we work with our allies and partners to forge a unified diplomatic approach to Afghanistan.  That was a point the President underscored in yesterday’s G7 leaders’ meeting on Afghanistan and it’s one that I and other senior members of the State Department have made in our constant communication with allies and partners in recent days to ensure that we’re aligned and united as we move forward – not only when it comes to the immediate mission, but also on what happens after August 31st on counterterrorism, on humanitarian assistance, on our expectations of a future Afghan government.  That intense diplomatic work is ongoing as we speak and it will continue in the days and weeks ahead.

So I talked a lot about numbers this afternoon, but even as we’re laser-focused on the mission, we know that this is about real people, many scared, many desperate.  I’ve seen the images, I’ve read the stories, I’ve heard the voices, so much of that reported by you and your colleagues so courageously.  Like many of you, I read the report of the Afghan translator whose two-year-old daughter was trampled to death on Saturday while waiting outside the airport.  I’ve got two small kids of my own.  Reading that story and others was like getting punched in the gut.

All of us at the State Department and across the U.S. Government feel that way.  We know that lives and futures, starting with our fellow citizens – including the lives of children – hang in the balance during these critical days.  And that’s why everyone on our team is putting everything they have into this effort.  Thanks very much, and happy to take questions.

MR PRICE:  Matt.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  Thanks, Mr. Secretary, for coming down and doing this.  On your – two things really briefly.  I’ll try to be as brief as possible.  Two things.  On your numbers of the American citizens, does that include green card holders, LPRs?  And if it doesn’t or does —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  No, it does not.  Let me clear, it does not.

QUESTION:  Oh, it does not.  Okay.  Is there a way to get the number?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  These are blue passport holders.

QUESTION:  Okay.  But have LPRs also been contacted?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yep.

QUESTION:  And what about SIV applicants, people who are eligible?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We are in contact with —

QUESTION:  So we can get numbers for those even if you don’t —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — all of the different —

QUESTION:  And then —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Go ahead.  I’m sorry, Matt.

QUESTION:  It’s okay.  I don’t expect you to have all of the numbers.  But then since this whole thing began there’s been a lot of criticism of the administration over how it handled it, and there’s been a lot of pushback from people within the administration about the hand that you were basically dealt or what you say you were dealt by the previous administration in terms of the deal with the Taliban, in terms of the SIV program, in terms of the broader refugee program.  But you guys have been in office for almost eight months.  It’s been five months since the President’s decision was made.  Is there anything about the shortcomings that have been so readily identified by all sorts of people that you guys are actually willing to take responsibility for yourselves?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Matt.  Let me say two things.  First, with regard to the numbers and these different categories, as you’ve seen by how I’ve laid out how we get to the numbers of Americans, this is both incredibly complicated and incredibly fluid.  Any number I give you right now is likely to be out of date by the time we leave this briefing room.  So what we’re doing is very carefully tabulating everything we have, cross-checking it, referencing it, using different databases.  We will have numbers for all those different categories in the days ahead and after this initial phase of efforts to bring people out of Afghanistan ends.

And with regard to the second part of your question, about taking responsibility:  I take responsibility, I know the President has said he takes responsibility, and I know all of my colleagues across government feel the same way.  And I can tell you that there will be plenty of time to look back at the last six or seven months, to look back at the last 20 years, and to look to see what we might have done differently, what we might have done sooner, what we might have done more effectively.  But I have to tell you that right now, my entire focus is on the mission at hand.  And there’s going to be, as I said, plenty of time to do an accounting of this when we get through that mission.

MR PRICE:  Lara.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Could you speak today about the future of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, whether it will remain or American diplomats will remain in Kabul after the military withdrawal on the 31st?  And also more broadly, we’re already seeing women being repressed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, people being attacked, intimidated, being kept from getting to the airport.  I’m wondering if you can give us any concrete examples of steps that the United States is going to take to assure SIV applicants and other high-value – or I’m sorry, high-target, high-risk Afghans, that they’re not going to be forgotten when the United States military leaves.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  With regard to our diplomatic engagement, we’re looking at a series of options, and I’m sure we’ll have more on that in the coming days and weeks, but we’re looking at a variety of options.  And as I said earlier, particularly because the effort to bring out of Afghanistan those who want to leave does not end with the military evacuation plan on the 31st, we are very focused on what we need to do to facilitate the further departure of people who wish to leave Afghanistan, and that is primarily going to be a diplomatic effort, a consular effort, an international effort because other countries feel exactly the same way.

And I’m sorry, the second part of your question?

QUESTION:  Just if there are any concrete steps —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Oh, yes, I’m sorry.

QUESTION:  — that you can give to people who are very worried right now, understandably, about whether they’re just going to be forgotten, left behind, disappeared once the United States withdraws its military and can no longer protect their safe passage to the airport or their other livelihoods.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  The short answer is no, they will not be forgotten.  And as I said, we will use every diplomatic, economic assistance tool at our disposal working hand-in-hand with the international community, first and foremost to ensure that those who want to leave Afghanistan after the 31st are able to do so, as well as to deal with other issues that we need to be focused on, including counterterrorism and humanitarian assistance, and expectations of a future Afghan government.

I mentioned a few moments ago that we got 114 countries around the world to make clear to the Taliban the international expectation that people will continue to be able to leave the country after the military evacuation effort ends.  And we certainly have points of incentive and points of leverage with a future Afghan government to help make sure that that happens.  But I can tell you again – from my perspective, from the President’s perspective – this effort does not end on August 31st.  It will continue for as long as it takes to help get people out of Afghanistan who wish to leave.

QUESTION:  What’s your level of confidence today that the Taliban will actually abide by some of these requirements and expectations that the international community has put on it?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m not going to put a percentage on it.  I can just tell you again that the Taliban has made their own commitments.  They’ve made them publicly.  They’ve made them privately.  And again, I think they have a very strong self-interest in acting with a modicum of responsibility going forward.  But they will make their own determinations.

MR PRICE:  Andrea.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Andrea.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, thank you.  But the Taliban right now, focusing on the mission right now, are not living up to their commitments.  People are being stopped trying to get into the airport.  I’m talking about women, SIVs, others – Afghans, people with papers – and they’re being stopped outside the airport now.  There are total bottlenecks which seem to rise to the level of what the President said were the contingency – contingencies if the Taliban is not complying, if the flow can’t continue.  We’re loading planes, but some planes are leaving without – and some people are people who have private planes waiting for them with landing rights but can’t get into the airport.  As well as beyond the SIVs there are lawyers, there are judges, women lawyers, judges, educators – we’ve told them for 20 years you can live up to your potential, and now they feel abandoned.

And then finally, I’d like to ask you about the local hires.  We evacuated our embassy, and there have been cables back that I know you must be familiar with or your teams are of people who feel completely betrayed.  And these are thousands of people that we rely on in embassies all – embassies around the world.  The message is going forward that we will not be loyal.  They were not told about the evacuation.  They were not put on those choppers with our American staff.  And they were forced – many of them – to find their own way through the Taliban checkpoints and then get turned away at the airport, and some even got turned away once they were inside.

So what is the message to people working for the U.S. Government?  Veterans’ groups are angry about the SIVs, and then there are all the millions of Afghan women who have told their daughters and been raised under this promise of a future which the Taliban are already, according to Ambassador Verveer today, is – are denying.  There are horrifying examples from provinces and from inside Kabul of people being targeted door to door, people in safe houses being sought out.  And all this promise of you will be safe – the Taliban spokesman said stay in your homes because we haven’t told all of our people how to treat women, how to respect women.  They also say you can go to school, you can work, as long as you comply with Sharia law, which, under their interpretation, is the most extreme example of the Islamic code that is seen anywhere in the world.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Andrea, a few things.  First, of the 82,000-plus people who so far have been evacuated, about 45, 46 percent have been women and children, and we’ve been intensely focused particularly on making sure that we can get women at risk out of harm’s way.

Second, with regard to women and other Afghans at risk going forward, we will use, I will use, every diplomatic, economic, political, and assistance tool at my disposal, working closely with allies and partners who feel very much the same way, to do everything possible to uphold their basic rights.  And that’s going to be a relentless focus of our actions going forward.

Locally employed staff – along with American citizens, nothing is more important to me as Secretary of State than to do right by the people who have been working side-by-side with American diplomats in our embassy.  And I can tell you, Andrea, that we are relentlessly focused on getting the locally employed staff out of Afghanistan and out of harm’s way.  And let me leave it at that for now.

MR PRICE:  Rosiland.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, thank you.  I wanted to ask a more fundamental question about the Taliban.  Your spokesperson indicated in recent days that de facto the Taliban are in charge in Kabul, but there is no legal recognized government by the United States at this moment.  And it kind of begs the question:  Why does the United States even have to pay attention to what the Taliban wants?  It’s an SDGT; it’s sanctioned by many organizations.  It’s already losing access to Afghan government resources because of its past and current behavior.  Why should the United States even care what the Taliban wants to be done at the airport or, frankly, anywhere else in the country since they are not, in the U.S.’s eyes, a legally recognized government?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Our focus right now is on getting our citizens and getting other – our partners – Afghan partners, third-country partners who have been working in Afghanistan with us – out of the country and to safety.  And for that purpose, first, the Taliban, whether we like it or not, is in control – largely in control of the country, certainly in control of the city of Kabul.  And it’s been important to work with them to try to facilitate and ensure the departure of all those who want to leave, and that has actually been something that we’ve been focused on for – from the beginning of this operation, because as a practical matter it advances our interests.

Second, we’ve been engaged with the Taliban for some time diplomatically going back years in efforts, as you know, to try to advance a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan.  There’s still talks and conversations underway even now between the Taliban and former members of the Afghan government with regard, for example, to a transfer of power and some inclusivity in a future government.  And I think it’s in our interest where possible to support those efforts.

Going forward, we will judge our engagement with any Taliban-led government in Afghanistan based on one simple proposition: our interests, and does it help us advance them or not.  If engagement with the government can advance the enduring interests we will have in counterterrorism, the enduring interest we’ll have in trying to help the Afghan people who need humanitarian assistance, in the enduring interest we have in seeing that the rights of all Afghans, especially women and girls, are upheld, then we’ll do it.

But fundamentally, the nature of that engagement and the nature of any relationship depends entirely on the actions and conduct of the Taliban.  If a future government upholds the basic rights of the Afghan people, if it makes good on its commitments to ensure that Afghanistan cannot be used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks directed against us and our allies and partners, and in the first instance, if it makes good on its commitments to allow people who want to leave Afghanistan to leave, that’s a government we can work with.  If it doesn’t, we will make sure that we use every appropriate tool at our disposal to isolate that government, and as I said before, Afghanistan will be a pariah.

MR PRICE:  Francesco.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  What will happen on September 1st?  Will the U.S. keep any diplomatic and/or any other kind of presence in Kabul at all, and who will run the airport?  Is there any progress in the discussions with the Turks – who announced their withdrawal, their military withdrawal – with the Qataris, and with the Taliban on the airport?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks.  There are very active efforts on the way – underway on the part of regional countries to see whether they can play a role in keeping the airport open once our military mission leaves or, as necessary, reopening it if it closes for some period of time.  And that’s happening very actively right now.  The Taliban have made clear that they have a strong interest in having a functioning airport.  We and the rest of the international community certainly have a strong interest in that, primarily for the purpose of making sure that anyone who wants to leave can leave past the 31st using an airport.  And so that’s a very active effort that’s underway as we speak.  And again, with regard to our own potential presence going forward after the 31st, we’re looking at a number of options.

MR PRICE:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you all very much.

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    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Togo’s National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Information Security: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Has Made Progress, but Further Actions Are Needed to Protect Financial Data
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO FoundAlthough FDIC had implemented numerous controls in its systems, it had not always implemented access and other controls to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of its financial systems and information. FDIC has implemented controls to detect and change default user accounts and passwords in vendor-supplied software, restricted access to network management servers, developed and tested contingency plans for major systems, and improved mainframe logging controls. However, the corporation had not always (1) required strong passwords on financial systems and databases; (2) reviewed user access to financial information in its document sharing system in accordance with policy; (3) encrypted financial information transmitted over and stored on its network; and (4) protected powerful database accounts and privileges from unauthorized use. In addition, other weaknesses existed in FDIC’s controls that were intended to appropriately segregate incompatible duties, manage system configurations, and implement patches.An underlying reason for the information security weaknesses is that FDIC had not always implemented key information security program activities. To its credit, FDIC had developed and documented a security program and had completed actions to correct or mitigate 26 of the 33 information security weaknesses that were previously identified by GAO. However, the corporation had not assessed risks, documented security controls, or performed periodic testing on the programs and data used to support the estimates of losses and costs associated with the servicing and disposal of the assets of failed institutions. Additionally, FDIC had not always implemented its policies for restricting user access or for monitoring the progress of security patch installation.Because FDIC had made progress in correcting or mitigating previously reported weaknesses and had implemented compensating management and reconciliation controls during 2010, GAO concluded that FDIC had resolved the significant deficiency in internal control over financial reporting related to information security that was reported in GAO’s 2009 audit, and that the remaining unresolved issues and the new issues identified did not individually or collectively constitute a material weakness or significant deficiency in 2010. However, if left unaddressed, these issues will continue to increase FDIC’s risk that its sensitive and financial information will be subject to unauthorized disclosure, modification, or destruction.Why GAO Did This StudyThe Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has a demanding responsibility enforcing banking laws, regulating financial institutions, and protecting depositors. Because of the importance of FDIC’s work, effective information security controls are essential to ensure that the corporation’s systems and information are adequately protected from inadvertent misuse, fraudulent use, or improper disclosure.As part of its audits of the 2010 financial statements of the Deposit Insurance Fund and the Federal Savings & Loan Insurance Corporation Resolution Fund administrated by FDIC, GAO assessed the effectiveness of the corporation’s controls in protecting the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of its financial systems and information. To perform the audit, GAO examined security policies, procedures, reports, and other documents; tested controls over key financial applications; and interviewed key FDIC personnel.
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  • Statement of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division on the Closing of Its Investigation of London Stock Exchange Group and Refinitiv
    In Crime News
    Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice issued the following statement today in connection with the closing of the division’s investigation into the proposed acquisition of Refinitiv by the London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG): “After an extensive review of the proposed transaction, the Antitrust Division determined that the combination of LSEG and Refinitiv is unlikely to result in harm to competition or American consumers.”
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  • United States’ Actions To Press for the Resolution of the Crisis in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Releases Information on Election Day Efforts to Protect the Right to Vote and Prosecute Ballot Fraud
    In Crime News
    Continuing a longstanding Justice Department tradition, Attorney General William P. Barr today issued the following statement: “Americans have the opportunity once again to help shape the future of this nation by exercising their right to vote.  It is a right that forms the foundation of our democratic system of government, and is precious to all Americans.  The Department of Justice will work tirelessly alongside other federal, State, and local agencies to protect and vindicate that right as it is administered by State and local jurisdictions across the nation.”
    [Read More…]
  • Defense Headquarters: Guidance Needed to Transition U.S. Central Command’s Costs to the Base Budget
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO analysis of U.S. Central Command's (CENTCOM) and its service component commands' data shows considerable increases in the number of authorized positions over the past decade. The Department of Defense (DOD) is planning reductions, but the extent of these reductions has not been finalized. The number of authorized military and civilian positions at CENTCOM grew about 70 percent from almost 1,590 in fiscal year 2001 to almost 2,730 in fiscal year 2013, primarily driven by increases in the number of positions within CENTCOM's intelligence directorate and its theater special operations command. However, focusing solely on trends in authorized military and civilian positions provides an incomplete picture of the personnel dedicated to CENTCOM because the command relies heavily on temporary personnel and contractors to augment its headquarters. GAO analysis of CENTCOM's data found that the command headquarters had about 550 temporary personnel, who officials stated are primarily responsible for supporting the command's operations in Afghanistan and do not fill any permanent authorized positions, and 1,100 contractor personnel in fiscal year 2013. Additionally, GAO found that authorized military and civilian positions at CENTCOM's Army and Marine Corps service component commands had also increased. In response to the Secretary of Defense's direction to reduce headquarters spending, DOD is planning to decrease personnel at CENTCOM and its service component command headquarters. For example, CENTCOM is planning to reduce its total authorized positions by 353 positions from fiscal years 2015 through 2019. As DOD's headquarters reduction efforts continue and contingency operations in Afghanistan wind down, the department has recognized that CENTCOM and its service components' have enduring headquarters costs that are expected to continue after ongoing operations end, but the majority of the costs to operate and support CENTCOM, two of its service component commands, and its theater special operations command headquarters are funded with overseas contingency operations appropriations. For example, CENTCOM's Marine Corps service component command funded $34 million out of a total of $42 million in headquarters costs in fiscal year 2013 with overseas contingency operations appropriations. CENTCOM and its components have determined some of these costs are enduring and expected to continue after the end of contingency operations, such as for Isa Air Base in Bahrain, but the military services have not transitioned or developed a time frame to transition these enduring costs to DOD's base budget. DOD's base budget contains the department's priorities for allocating resources. DOD officials stated that the department has not issued guidance that addresses how to fund these costs or established a time frame for when to transition them from DOD's overseas contingency operations budget to its base budget because DOD is waiting on decisions about future military involvement in Afghanistan. Officials also stated that the constrained fiscal environment has contributed to the department's reluctance to transition overseas contingency operations costs to DOD's base budget. However, without guidance that addresses how to pay for enduring headquarters costs funded by overseas contingency operations appropriations and a time frame to transition these costs to DOD's base budget, DOD may not be able to fully resource these activities once the funding decreases or ceases. Why GAO Did This Study CENTCOM is one of six geographic combatant commands that DOD operates to perform its military missions. CENTCOM's geographic region is composed of countries located in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central and South Asia. CENTCOM and each of its service component commands' headquarters are composed of military and civilian personnel and receive millions of dollars in funding each year to accomplish assigned missions. GAO was mandated to review CENTCOM's resources. This report (1) identifies trends in personnel devoted to CENTCOM and its service component commands since fiscal year 2001 and any steps DOD is planning to take for reducing personnel in the future, and (2) assesses how DOD funds CENTCOM and its service component commands' headquarters costs. GAO analyzed data on authorized positions, temporary personnel, and headquarters costs for CENTCOM and its service component commands from fiscal years 2001 through 2013. GAO also interviewed DOD officials about commands' resources and plans for funding headquarters costs.
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  • 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.
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  • Justice Department Seeks to Shut Down Louisiana Tax Return Preparers
    In Crime News
    The United States has filed a complaint seeking to bar Louisiana tax return preparers from owning or operating a tax return preparation business and preparing tax returns for others, the Justice Department announced today. The civil complaint against Leroi Gorman Jackson and Mario Alexander, both individually and doing business as The Taxman Financial Services LLC, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
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