September 28, 2021

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken on National Land Use, Land Cover, and Ecosystems Monitoring System (SIMOCUTE) Initiative

25 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

San Jose, Costa Rica

Rutas Naturbanas

MODERATOR: Good afternoon. For Costa Rica it’s an honor to host the official visit of His Excellency Antony Blinken, Secretary of the United States of America. Also we are pleased to receive his distinguished delegation. For the Ministry of Environment and Energy, it’s a pleasure to host this event regarding nature-based solution for climate action in cities and its links with information systems. We give special thanks to the Central Bank of Costa Rica for being our meeting venue today. As mentioned before, we also greet Mrs. Claudia Dobles, first lady of the republic; Mrs. Andrea Meza, minister of environment and energy; Mr. Rodolfo Solano, minister of foreign affairs and worship; Mr. Andres Valenciano, minister of foreign trade; Mr. Rodrigo Cubero, president of the Central Bank of Costa Rica; and, of course, all the high authorities, members of diplomatic missions, private sector, non-state actors, ladies and gentlemen. With this, please now let’s hear our welcoming remarks from Mrs. Andrea Meza, minister of environment and energy. (Speaks in Spanish.)

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER MEZA: Good morning. Good morning to everyone here, and I will start by saying that all protocol is observed, so let’s feel free, in a comfortable place. We are between friends. Good morning, Secretary Blinken – (speaks in Spanish) – which is more than our first lady. She’s our team leader in sustainable mobility and green cities. (Speaks in Spanish) Rodolfo Solano, minister of foreign affairs; Andres Valenciano, minister of foreign trade; Rodrigo Cubero, thank you for hosting us, for hosting this event; deputy ministers, diplomatic representatives, U.S. delegation, friends, thank you for being here.

Secretary and friends, we’re so pleased to be sharing this wonderful setting where we can see the seeds of how we can be transforming our cities, making them greener, embracing nature with more public spaces, with sustainable buildings – cities planned for our citizens and not for our cars. And this is the vision for the future. This is the city that we want and the city that we are fighting for right now.

Yesterday, Secretary Blinken, we mentioned that Costa Rica wants to be a strategic partner to catalyze a more inclusive green resilient development model for the Central American region. And let me elaborate a little bit more of what we understand is this green resilient model. We understand that it needs a transformational change that will take us to a net zero emission and a nature-positive economy. We need to move from just trying to create growth to a more systemic approach to generate welfare for our citizens, to boost our economies, to generate jobs but within the planetary boundaries, and addressing inequalities, generating solutions that offer justice to the countries and communities that have done little to create the climate problem.

And we know we can achieve that vision, and it is critical to do it fast. This is what the science is telling us. But the good news is that we have the technology, we have the resources, and right now we have the political will. And this is what makes everything happen for this transformational change. We recognized yesterday that we need to put people in the center of our development model, and I would just add that it is people and nature.

This pandemic is showing us how interconnected we are. If we want to see and if we want to have healthy economics, we need – and healthy societies, we need healthy ecosystems. And if we want to address the climate crisis, we need nature-based solutions.

But this is also a matter of opportunities, and to build the economy of the future, which within is circular, green, and blue. We must acknowledge that nature is an asset, and that we’re doing a terrible job right now in managing this portfolio.

Let me just share one report, one data from the Dasgupta report. It says that between 1992 and 2014, produced capital per person doubled, and human capital per person increased by about 30 percent globally. But the stock of natural capital per person declined by nearly 40 percent.

Nature-related risk matters to the business community. And do you know why? There we have representatives from the business community here. Because over half of the world’s total GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature. And a nature-positive economy could create more than 400 million jobs by 2030, and we want those jobs for this region. And this is why we’re creating all this. We’re launching our decarbonization plan. We’re having specific packages of policies for short, medium, and long-term actions for strategic sectors – transport, energy, industry, construction, circular economy, agriculture, and nature-based solutions.

But the implementation of these measures needs a whole-of-government approach, and a whole-of-society approach. This is why we’re working with the different sectorial ministries – transport, agriculture. We’re working with the central bank. We’re working with foreign trade. Because we need alignment in these policies. And we are committed with the goals of the Paris Agreement. And we are also clear that we need to generate these good enabling conditions to facilitate engagement of the private sector and civil society in this agenda.

And this is why we selected this place, because Rutas Naturbanas, the project behind this, it’s an example of how we can integrate these kind of visions. Rutas Naturbanas is a grassroots, citizen-led initiative that was started in 2016 by a group of people and organizations committed to climate action and urban renewal, with the mandate – and this is so nice; I love the mandate – to connect people to the city through nature. And here we have Federico Cartin, who is one of the leaders. And we also have Daniel Mikoski as our representative from some of the private sector that it is supporting the initiative.

What I will say is that this project is showing us that it is possible to have public-private partnerships to be transforming the city and to be implementing decarbonization visions.

We also have other good examples through the different, nice stories that we have with CRUSA and the support with a lot of different entrepreneurs, SMEs, so they can adopt green practices, and with other of our strategic partners, such as AED. They are here.

And the other element that has been very interesting with Rutas Naturbanas is that many of the partners are (inaudible) members. And crowdfunding by the foundation has been majorly made possible through American contributions. So we want to thank these.

And the other element for this transformation is to have a robust, good, technical information. We strongly believe in science and data-based policy-making processes. And this is why we’re celebrating the launch of the formalization of the Costa Rica Comprehensive National Land Use, Land Cover, and Ecosystem Monitoring System, SIMOCUTE, with the official announcement of the executive decree that was signed by the president, the minister of agriculture, justice, and by myself – again, another instrument that is showing that it is possible to have this integrated approach.

But this is – this was possible because of the long-term presence and sustained funding from the U.S. Government, and alongside other international agencies like FAO, so thank you very much for the support.

This is the other element that it is critical: whole of government, whole of society, good information. So Secretary Blinken, thank you for all the support the U.S. has given us at the national level. Thank you for continuing your leadership in mobilizing climate finance for nature-based solutions.

As we mentioned yesterday, we welcome the LEAF Coalition presented by the United Kingdom, the U.S., and Norway. We’re working to submit a proposal soon. Count on us to accelerate climate action. Count on us in the multilateral arena to continue raising ambition on our way to Glasgow. We want to have a success COP and we are committed to that. Count on us to work in the Central American region. We’re partners that share values. Thank you. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: Muchas gracias, Minister. Thank you, Minister Meza.

We invite His Excellency Antony Blinken, Secretary of State of the United States of America to give his remarks. Excellency.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good afternoon, everyone, and first, Madam Minister, thank you. Thank you for not just your good words, but your important words, and also thank you for the partnership that we have, the United States and Costa Rica, on maybe the most critical issue of our times, and that is preserving and protecting our environment, combating climate change, and saving our planet. We value this partnership and we look to it, I think, more and more in the years ahead.

And let me say, first of all, greetings to everyone. Madam Minister, First Lady, thank you for honoring us with your presence today, and I very much enjoy the opportunity to speak as we were walking down this extraordinary corridor that I think is an example, really, to the world of how you bring people together with their cities through nature. It’s a very powerful idea, but it’s not – it’s more than an idea. We see it realized right here.

And as we were discussing, there is a powerful impact on all of our lives when we have an opportunity, especially those of us who live in cities, to spend some time surrounded by green, to be near the water and the extraordinary rivers that you have, to hear that sound. It has a profound, positive effect, I think, on all of us, and it’s wonderful to see this realized in a practical way right here.

But to both of you, to my colleague Rodolfo, and to all of the ministers here today, I think your presence speaks to Costa Rica’s recognition that all parts of government and all parts of our society, including the private sector, have a role to play in tackling the climate crisis – and more than tackling it, bringing nature and people together in meaningful ways.

I’m also delighted to celebrate the launch of Costa Rica’s National Land Use, Land Cover, and Ecosystems Monitoring System, as the minister mentioned, SIMOCUTE.

This system will make it possible for Costa Rica to collect and integrate high-quality data on natural, agricultural, and biodiversity resources across the entire country. And the aim is not just to measure the impact of greenhouse gas emissions but also to inform better decision making when it comes to managing forests and lands.

Its origins can be traced back to a partnership between Costa Rican experts, a U.S. Government climate fellow, Dr. Randy Hamilton, and several Costa Rican and U.S. Government agencies including, I’m pleased and proud to say, the United States Department of State. And the effort incorporated a range of partners including from the UN Food and Agricultural Organizations and 25 Costa Rican institutions – some of whom I know are represented here today.

This is precisely the kind of collaboration and knowledge sharing across borders, public and private institutions that’s essential to effectively tackling the climate challenge and the climate crisis.

The data it generates will be available online for all to access allowing experts and citizens alike to study them, to track whether government and private actors are actually meeting their commitments. That degree of transparency – and engagement of the citizens – I think is a model that others can and should aspire to.

Of course, SIMOCUTE program is just a small part of Costa Rica’s longstanding global leadership on climate. That’s evident in the targets that Costa Rica has set to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Its proactive role in international climate change negotiations is pioneering use of debt-for-nature swaps.

And of course, what we know too is the powerful use and reliance on renewable energy here also sets a very, very strong example. Protecting nature by creating additional value for forests is at the heart of a new initiative the United States recently announced together with the United Kingdom, Norway, and nine leading companies at the climate summit that President Biden convened in April. And the minister referred to it – the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance Coalition. It’s a mouthful but the acronym, LEAF, is quite wonderful. It aims to mobilize at least a billion dollars this year to support tropical and subtropical countries in their efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

The concept is straightforward: generating verified emissions reductions can be rewarded with payments. These are the kinds of emissions SIMOCUTE is well placed to track. And given Costa Rica’s longstanding efforts to reduce deforestation and restore forests, we hope this is another area where indeed we can work together.

With nearly one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions today coming from forests, from agriculture, and other lands, this is an area where we must make significant and swift progress if we are going to avert a climate catastrophe.

I’d also like to thank Ambassador Lyster-Binns from the UK who I think is here today – somewhere – Ambassador. Good to see you. Thank you for your government’s partnership on this initiative.

I think we both know that this is not a battle that countries like Costa Rica can wage alone. Big emitters have their part to do.

The United States is prepared to lead by example, as President Biden demonstrated in the recent targets that he set for our country to cut emissions by at least half in 2030; to double the public international climate finance we provide, to $5.7 billion annually, by 2024.

And that brings me to my last point, which is why we are making such massive investments. Efforts to reduce emissions and build climate resilience are sometimes, maybe even often, presented as an impediment to growth, a strain on economies. But we believe that the climate crisis should be seen differently – as a once-in-generations opportunity to generate good-paying, sustainable jobs, something the minister also alluded to.

Every country in the world needs to reduce emissions, invest in climate resilience, capture more carbon dioxide. That’s an open space for innovation and broad-based growth – if only we seize it.

And I think that’s been Costa Rica’s experience, as Minister Meza pointed out at the climate summit, when she highlighted the millions of dollars in revenue that Costa Rica’s protected areas generate for communities, and the sustainable livelihoods that they support.

It is, as I said at the start, both a pleasure but also I think important that we are partnered in this effort. This is not just a once-in-a-generations opportunity, it’s in a sense a once-in-a-lifetime obligation that we have before us to try to get this right. We’re only going to succeed if we do it together, if we work in partnership, if we all meet our responsibilities and, in doing that, finding incredible opportunity in those responsibilities. So thank you so much for the warm welcome, but more important, thank you for what we’re doing, the United States and Costa Rica, every day to make progress for our people and for our planet. Thank you. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: Thank you, your excellency. With this, now invite to the stage Mrs. Claudia Dobles, our first lady of the republic, to give her closing speech. Claudia.

MRS DOBLES: Good day to everybody. Your excellency, Mr. Antony Blinken, Secretary of State of the United States, thank you so much for your visit for you and your team. Good day to all the ministers, vice ministers, and everybody from the government, from civil society, from all the institutions that work with us as a team. Thank you for being here today.

I would like to start saying that Costa Rica, it’s very well known for pioneering innovative policies, like abolishing the army more than 70 years ago, for investing and focusing on our health care which is universal and is free. That has been a enormous pillar in fighting this sanitary crisis. Also, that we invested in our people. That is the best resources that we have in Costa Rica is the talent of our people. So we don’t have oil, we don’t have other natural resources possibly; we don’t even want to explore that because we are pretty much focusing on our people and our human talent.

President Alvarado when we started this administration said very accurately that climate crisis is a challenge of this generation and that we really need to act and we need to act now. And we are in a pivotal point to make decisions for the future. That’s why we focusing on how to make a more equitable society, how to put our communities in the center, how to put our people in the center, how to put the services that we needed to provide in the center while lowering our carbon emissions, transitioning in a very just and fair transition towards a decarbonized economy; how to provide a new system, a new paradigm. So that’s why facing that we launch a little bit more than two years ago our national decarbonization plan. And it is important to say that while this is going to tackle climate crisis, it’s more of a social economical development based on sustainability and based on our people that we are talking about. So that is very important and this is something that we keep saying to our communities, that these type of interventions, that providing this type of quality of life, this is decarbonization, this is our national decarbonization plan. It’s part of it.

It’s important to say that Costa Rica, it’s pretty well-known – I was saying to Secretary Blinken that Costa Rica, it’s pretty much well-known for our biodiversity, our beaches, our mountains, our rivers. And we have done a very good job on nature-based solutions, on carbon capture, on reforestation, conservation. But if we really wanted to achieve the goals that we have in our national decarbonization plan, we really needed to focus on our urban agenda and we really need to start talking about urban planning, territorial planning. We need to start talking about how can we interconnect the public services that we provide to our people in order to provide better quality of life in order to enhance public transportation to incorporate the concepts of sustainable mobility. How can we work with the national government and the local governments and the rest of our society to provide answers bottom-up?

If we really want to tackle our goals, we need to focus on this urban agenda. That’s why under the leadership of the wonderful minister of environment, which I really want to thank you for your leadership, I have to say that this has been a team work, a whole government that is completely committed, that shared a vision, that really is working to achieve that vision and to create enabling conditions to continue this transition while – before we move to the next administration so the next administration can continue this transformation.

So thank you to all the government and the staff members that have been – made this possible. I really – I really have to say that this is teamwork. It’s even more important when we think about the recovery plans that we need to provide in a post-COVID era, and that we really need to focus on a green recovery, and when we – when we were talking about our national decarbonization plan, we provided specific actions that provided investment plans for a resilient infrastructure that will create new jobs, that will create new markets, that will create new industries based on new, clean technologies, based on the culture of knowledge, and based on sustainability. So I think our national decarbonization plan is also our green recovery plan post-COVID.

And Secretary Blinken said something that I think is very important. Costa Rica cannot do it alone. We have a strong voice and I am very proud to say that Costa Rica has a strong voice on sustainability. But we are not fighting this fight alone. We know that this is a global fight and we know that we have strategic partners in this, and we are very, very happy and I think the world is very happy to see that under President Biden’s administration, the U.S. has a strong commitment, a huge commitment in climate – in climate change and climate crisis.

So thank you very much, Secretary Blinken, for you and your team, and I am sure that we will keep working together. As the Minister Meza said, count on us because we’re committed, and we share the vision, and we share the values. Thank you so much for your visit, and we’ll keep working. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: Muchas gracias, Dona Claudia. Ladies and gentlemen, with this we have concluded the event. Thank you for being here and have a great afternoon.

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    GAO found that the completeness and accuracy of Transformed Medicaid Statistical Information System (T-MSIS) data have improved. Over the past decade, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has been implementing T-MSIS, which is the agency's initiative to improve state-reported data available for overseeing Medicaid. CMS's assessment of two key T-MSIS data sources reflect these improvements. I. Priority items. Priority items are areas of data CMS identified as critical for program oversight, such as beneficiary eligibility and managed care. CMS's assessment of states' data submissions for the first 12 priority items identified significant improvement in meeting CMS data standards over a 22-month period. CMS's assessments of additional priority items similarly indicate improved completeness and accuracy. Improvements in the Number of States Meeting CMS Standards for Transformed Medicaid Statistical Information System Priority Items One through 12 Number of priority items that met standards Number of states as of October 2018 Number of states as of August 2020 10 or more 6 41 7 to 9 26 10 6 or less 18 0 Source: GAO analysis of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) priority item data. │ GAO-21-196 Note: CMS assessed data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. CMS excluded Wisconsin from its October 2018 assessment, because the state had not submitted sufficient data. II. Analytic files. Analytic files are publicly available, research-ready T-MSIS data. GAO's review of CMS's assessments found that all states submitted some data for 67 of the 69        topics relevant to their Medicaid programs. This is an improvement from what GAO found in 2017, when none of the six states reviewed submitted all T-MSIS data applicable to their programs. GAO also found that states' data for 52 of the 69 topics were acceptable—meaning that CMS determined most states' data did not have significant problems that would affect their usability. While CMS's assessments of priority item and analytic file data indicate improvement in the completeness and accuracy of T-MSIS data, GAO also found that these assessments highlight areas where data do not meet the agency's standards. For example, 30 states did not submit acceptable data for inpatient managed care encounters. Accurate encounter data are critical to ensuring that Medicaid managed care beneficiaries obtain covered services and that payments to managed care organizations are appropriate. GAO has made at least 13 recommendations related to improving T-MSIS data and expediting their use for program oversight. CMS has addressed five of these recommendations, and has not fully addressed eight—including recommendations to improve data for overseeing payments to providers and managed care organizations. Implementing these recommendations would help CMS strengthen program oversight through improved T-MSIS data. Since adding Medicaid to its High Risk List in 2003, GAO has identified multiple limitations in program data affecting CMS's ability to ensure beneficiaries' access to care and proper payments to health care providers. CMS intends T-MSIS be a national repository of data to manage and oversee Medicaid, which served approximately 77 million individuals at an estimated cost of $673 billion in fiscal year 2020. Prior GAO work found issues with the completeness and accuracy of T-MSIS data and recommended that CMS expedite efforts to improve T-MSIS data and to use them for program oversight. CMS has taken steps to improve T-MSIS data and has made some T-MSIS data publicly available. Yet, questions remain about the usability of T-MSIS data for program oversight. Under the Comptroller General's authority, GAO initiated this review to examine what is known about the completeness and accuracy of T-MSIS data. GAO reviewed CMS's assessments of two T-MSIS data sources: (1) states' submissions of T-MSIS priority items; and (2) the 2016 T-MSIS analytic files, which was the most recent analytic file data available when GAO began this work. GAO also reviewed CMS documents, prior GAO reports, and reports published by others examining T-MSIS data. GAO interviewed officials from CMS and seven states selected based on variation in their progress submitting complete and accurate priority item data, among other factors. The Department of Health and Human Services provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which GAO incorporated. For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or yocomc@gao.gov.
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  • Global War On Terrorism: Fiscal Year 2006 Obligation Rates Are Within Funding Levels and Significant Multiyear Procurement Funds Will Likely Remain Available for Use in Fiscal Year 2007
    In U.S GAO News
    Because of broad congressional interest, GAO is examining the costs of military operations in support of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) under the Comptroller General's authority to conduct evaluations on his own initiative. In September 2005, GAO reported the Department of Defense (DOD) cannot ensure reported GWOT obligations are complete, reliable, and accurate, and recommended improvements. In this report, GAO (1) compared supplemental and annual appropriations identified for GWOT in fiscal year 2006 to the military services' reported obligations as of June 2006 and their cost projections for the remainder of the fiscal year, and (2) examined DOD's efforts to improve the reliability of GWOT obligation data. For this engagement, GAO analyzed fiscal year 2006 GWOT related appropriations and reported obligations, and DOD's corrective actions.As of June 2006, which represents 9 months (75 percent) of fiscal year 2006, the military services have reported obligating about $51.6 billion (55 percent) of the $93.3 billion they received for GWOT in supplemental and annual appropriations for military personnel, operation and maintenance, and procurement. Our analysis of reported obligations and the military services' forecasts of their likely costs for fiscal year 2006 suggest that the rates of obligation for military personnel and operation and maintenance are within fiscal year 2006 GWOT funding levels and significant amounts of multiyear procurement funds will likely remain available for use in fiscal year 2007. The rates of obligation for military personnel are within funding levels for all military services except the Army, which plans to transfer about $591 million in funds from other appropriations accounts to cover its military personnel obligations. The rates of obligation for operation and maintenance are within funding levels for all military services. As of June, the military services reported obligating about 85 percent of military personnel funds and 60 percent of operation and maintenance funds. For various reasons, most notably being that supplemental funds were not appropriated until June 2006, the military services do not expect to obligate a large portion of procurement funds, which generally are available for multiple years, and therefore these funds will remain available in fiscal year 2007. The military services received about 32 percent ($6.8 billion) of procurement funding in annual appropriations and 68 percent ($14.7 billion) in the supplemental appropriation. As of June, the military services reported obligating about 68 percent of the procurement funds received in the annual appropriation. DOD and the military services have taken specific steps intended to improve the accuracy and reliability of their reported GWOT obligation data. Some problems remain with transparency over certain costs and inaccuracies in reported obligations. In response to GAO's prior recommendations, DOD now requires components to perform a monthly variance analysis to identify and explain significant changes in obligations and to attest to the accuracy of monthly obligation reports, and affirm it provides a fair representation of ongoing activities. Because these efforts are in the early stages of implementation, GAO has not fully evaluated their impact. Existing cost reporting procedures limit transparency of certain obligations because DOD continues to report large amounts in miscellaneous "other" categories. Also, DOD's cost reports for fiscal year 2005 understated total GWOT obligations for that year because they did not initially include about $1.1 billion in obligations tied to the training and equipping of Afghan and Iraqi security forces. Without transparent and accurate cost reporting, Congress and DOD will continue to be unable to reliably know how much the war is costing, examine details on how appropriated funds are being spent, or have historical data useful in considering future funding needs. On the basis of GAO's work, DOD updated its guidance on the reporting of obligations in miscellaneous "other" categories and revised its September 2005 cost-of-war report to more fully reflect past obligations.
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  • Military Personnel: Perspectives on DOD’s and the Military Services’ Use of Borrowed Military Personnel
    In U.S GAO News
    Policies on the use of borrowed military personnel vary among military services. Borrowed military personnel refers to military personnel used for duties outside their assigned positions, such as security protection. DOD policy acknowledges that there may be instances in which military personnel can be used to appropriately satisfy a near-term demand but that DOD must be vigilant in ensuring that military personnel are not inappropriately utilized, particularly in a manner that may degrade readiness. Additionally, the Army and the Marine Corps have their own policies that describes how military personnel may be used on a temporary basis. DOD and the Army, Navy, and Air Force do not centrally track their use of borrowed military personnel, nor do they assess any impacts of that use on the readiness of units and personnel to accomplish their assigned missions. According to DOD and Army officials, the relatively limited use of borrowed military manpower, their limited impacts on readiness, and the existence of other readiness reporting mechanisms serve to obviate the need to collect and analyze this information centrally—especially given the resources that would be required to establish and maintain such a reporting process. The House Armed Services Committee has questioned whether DOD continues to divert servicemembers from their unit assignments to perform nonmilitary functions that could be performed by civilian employees. House Report 116-120, accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to assess the levels and impacts of borrowed military personnel. This report examines DOD's and the military services' policies on the use of borrowed military personnel, the tracking and reporting of their use of borrowed military personnel, and any impacts of that use on readiness. For more information, contact Cary Russell at (202)512-5431 or RussellC@gao.gov.
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  • Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan and Iraq
    In U.S GAO News
    U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) are designed to help improve stability in Afghanistan and Iraq by increasing the host nation's capacity to govern; enhancing economic viability; and strengthening local governments' ability to deliver public services, such as security and health care. PRTs are a means of coordinating interagency diplomatic, economic, reconstruction, and counterinsurgency efforts among various U.S. agencies in Afghanistan and Iraq. PRTs are intended to be interim structures; after a PRT has achieved its goal of improving stability, it may be dismantled to allow traditional development efforts to occur. In Afghanistan, the first PRTs were created in 2002 with the mission of facilitating security and reconstruction by helping the central government extend its authority to the provinces. Since then, PRTs have expanded their purpose to include strengthening local governance and community development. In Iraq, PRTs were initiated in 2005 with the mission to increase the capacity of provincial and local governments to govern effectively and, for newer embedded PRTs (ePRT), to support moderates and assist in the military's counterinsurgency efforts. To accomplish their missions, PRTs engage in and fund a variety of activities, such as developing the capacity of local governments through engagement with local stakeholders; promoting budget execution, business development, agriculture, public health initiatives, and governance; and supporting the delivery of basic social services. This report describes (1) the organization, staffing, and funding for PRTs in Afghanistan and (2) the organization, staffing, and funding for PRTs in Iraq. It excludes information marked "Sensitive but Unclassified" in our September 26, 2008, report on PRTs. Due to broad congressional interest in issues related to Iraq and Afghanistan, we completed this report under the Comptroller General's authority to conduct evaluations on his own initiative.Afghanistan, as of May 2008, the United States was leading 12 of 26 PRTs and 13 other coalition countries were leading the remaining 14 PRTs. All PRTs in Afghanistan are under ISAF's operational command, but individual nations, including the United States, lead PRTs and determine their size and structure. U.S.-led PRTs in Afghanistan are led by DOD and are composed primarily of U.S. military personnel. As of April 2008, 10 of the 12 U.S.-led PRTs included 88 or more military personnel--the majority of whom provide security and other support for the PRTs--and 3 civilian personnel from State, USAID, and USDA. The total number of U.S. government personnel assigned to U.S. PRTs in Afghanistan increased slightly from 1,023 personnel in 2007 to 1,055 personnel in 2008--which includes 1,021 military personnel from DOD and 34 civilian personnel from State, USAID, and USDA. DOD is responsible for paying nearly all of the costs associated with operating PRTs, such as providing their security and life support. However, DOD officials reported that DOD does not track PRT operating costs separately from other operational costs for Afghanistan. State, USAID, and USDA do not reimburse DOD for its support to civilian PRT officials in Afghanistan. PRTs have one source of programmatic funding available for projects in Afghanistan. PRT commanders can approve the use of funds for projects under DOD's Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) up to $25,000 per project. PRTs in Afghanistan may also coordinate with other U.S.-funded programs, including other commanders' CERP projects and USAID programs, such as the Local Governance and Community Development project. In Iraq, as of August 2008, the United States was leading 28 of 31 PRTs and other coalition countries were leading 3 PRTs. As of August 2008, three types of U.S.-led PRTs were operating in Iraq: 11 PRTs at the provincial level of government; 13 ePRTs embedded with U.S. brigade combat teams and operating in local governments in Baghdad, Anbar, Babil, and Diyala provinces; and 4 Provincial Support Teams (PST), which are smaller PRTs that cannot be based in the intended province due to security concerns. According to State and DOD officials, the number of personnel assigned to PRTs and ePRTs in Iraq increased from an estimated 100 to 125 personnel in early 2007 to about 450 in July 2008. This increase was the result of the Administration's decision in January 2007 to create ePRTs and to increase the size of PRTs in support of The New Way Forward. DOD and civilian agencies have staffed the PRTs with a mix of U.S. government employees--permanent and temporary--and contractors. State reimburses DOD for some operating costs of ePRTs and most PRTs, based on a quarterly estimate for each PRT member. State's reimbursements do not cover the costs of PRT security and transportation provided by the U.S. military. According to DOD, as of April 2008, State had reimbursed $11 million to DOD for operating costs--$5.9 million for fiscal year 2007 and $5.1 million for the first quarter of fiscal year 2008. State had also obligated $125 million for PRT movement security from September 2005 through May 2008 for PRTs in Iraq that are not embedded with U.S. military units or do not have access to military movement assets.
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  • Four Additional Members of Los Angeles-Based Fraud Ring Indicted for Exploiting COVID-Relief Programs
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Los Angeles returned a superseding indictment, which was unsealed Thursday, charging four additional individuals for their alleged participation in a scheme to submit over 150 fraudulent loan applications seeking over $21.9 million in COVID-19 relief funds guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
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  • Judge Jack Weinstein Mourned as Champion of Justice
    In U.S Courts
    Since the death of Judge Jack B. Weinstein on June 15 at age 99, his legendary life and legal career have been celebrated by fellow judges, who hailed him as a role model and champion of justice, and others of more humble standing who remember him as an “incredibly thoughtful” gentleman who stood up for “little guys.”
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  • Government Contractor Admits Scheme to Inflate Costs on Federal Projects and Pays $11 Million to Resolve Criminal and Civil Probes
    In Crime News
    Schneider Electric Buildings Americas Inc. (Schneider Electric), a nationwide provider of electricity solutions for buildings and data centers with its principal place of business in Carrollton, Texas, will pay $11 million to resolve criminal and civil investigations relating to kickbacks and overcharges on eight federally-funded energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs), the Department of Justice announced today. Under the contracts, Schneider Electric was to install a variety of energy savings upgrades, such as solar panels, LED lighting, and insulation, in federal buildings.
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  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo with Hrvoje Kresic of N1 TV
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