Secretary Antony J. Blinken to State Department Employees

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, DC

C Street Lobby Harry S Truman Building

AMBASSADOR SMITH:  Good morning, everyone, and welcome.  It is my honor and privilege today to welcome back to the Department of State our new Secretary of State Tony Blinken.  Secretary Blinken is a familiar face in these halls having served previously first in the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs and most recently as Deputy Secretary of State.  He is, as we say in the department, well and favorably known to the Department of State and to our career professionals, and we are excited to have him as our new Secretary of State.

This is an unusual event today.  Normally this room would be packed with thousands of cheering State Department employees.  I assure you, we had to take extraordinary measures in order to keep them away at this time, but don’t let that deceive you in any way.  There is enormous enthusiasm on the part of the career professionals who have known and worked with Secretary Blinken over the course of his career.  He is a man of honor and integrity, vision, and character.  And he will lead this department and advance the interests of the American people with great vigor and great passion.

So on behalf of the career professionals of the Department of State, Foreign Service, Civil Service, our locally employed staff around the world, it is my great honor and privilege to present to you the 71st Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Dan, thank you so much for that incredibly warm welcome – and more importantly, for serving as Acting Secretary of State, for leading the transition here at the State Department.  The Department’s been in excellent hands with you, and I thank you very, very much for that.

I am honored to begin work as our nation’s 71st Secretary of State.  I’m excited about all that lies ahead.  It’s a new day for America.  It’s a new day for the world.

And today does feel a little bit like a homecoming.

Twenty-eight years ago I walked through those doors for the first time to start my job as a special assistant in the EUR front office, a little awed, a little bit intimidated by a legendary institution and a new culture.

It didn’t take me long to figure out one thing, and that’s how much the talent and expertise that resides in this building is so important, and it’s so important to listen to the men and women of the State Department when thinking about America’s place in the world and our foreign policy.

Your knowledge, your experience, your generosity was the springboard that brought me and landed me here today.

Two decades later, as a proud husband, I watched my wife Evan Ryan lead the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and I gained an even deeper appreciation for how people‑to‑people exchanges bring our world closer together and convey the best of America to the world, especially to its young people.

As Deputy Secretary of State, I learned what it means to help lead an institution as vital as this one – how to safeguard what makes it great, invest in its future, and leave it just a little bit stronger than when you found it.  I take that work very seriously.  As Secretary, I will not let you down.

To all the State Department personnel worldwide, to the men and women of USAID whose work exemplifies America at its best, I want you to know how proud I am of every single one of you and how proud I am to be on your team.

Whether you’re diplomats or development workers, members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service, locally employed staff, contractors, you do hard things very, very well.

These jobs demand sacrifice.  They can be dangerous.  The names engraved on the walls here in our lobby remind us of that every single day.  We honor them by coming to work every day and doing our absolute best for the American people and for each other.

I know the State Department that I’m walking into today is not the same one that I left four years ago.  A lot has changed.  The world has changed.  The department has changed, and we need only look around to see that.

I’m speaking, as Dan said, to a nearly empty lobby.  The people who are here are all wearing masks.  To date, the pandemic has claimed the lives of five State Department American employees and 42 locally employed staff around the world.  Many more have gotten sick.

And outside our doors, our government buildings are surrounded by new barricades.

We’ve never been in a moment quite like this before.  The President is committed to getting us through it as quickly as possible, so that very soon, we can all gather in person again and have confidence that the foundations of our democracy are strong.

We at State have a role to play in all of this, and I believe it starts with rebuilding morale and trust.  This is a priority for me, because we need a strong department for the United States to be strong in the world.

To that end, we have to invest significantly in building a diverse and inclusive State Department.  We need the most talented people.  We need the most creative workforce.  We cannot do our job of advancing America’s interests, values, and commitment to democracy without a State Department that is truly representative of the American people.

Now, I can’t promise that you will support every choice I make as your Secretary.  But I can promise an open door and an open mind.

I’ll be forthright with you, because transparency makes us stronger.  I’ll seek out dissenting views and listen to the experts, because that’s how the best decisions are made.  And I will insist that you speak, and speak up, without fear or favor.  And I will have your back.

One of the great attributes of our Foreign and Civil Services throughout history has been your nonpartisanship.  You serve Democratic and Republican presidents alike because you put country over party.  All we ask is that you serve the United States, the Constitution, and the President to the best of your ability.  I know you’ll do that.

The world is watching us intently right now.  They want to know if we can heal our nation.  They want to see whether we will lead with the power of our example, if we’ll put a premium on diplomacy with our allies and partners to meet the great challenges of our time – like the pandemic, climate change, the economic crisis, threats to democracies, fights for racial justice, and the danger to our security and global stability posed by our rivals and adversaries.

The American people are watching us, too.  They want to see that we’re safeguarding their wellbeing, that we care about their interests, that our foreign policy is about them and their lives.

We will do right by them – by pursuing a foreign policy that delivers real benefits to American families, protects their safety, advances their opportunities, honors their values, and leaves their children and grandchildren a healthier and more peaceful world.

So we’ve got our work cut out for us.  But I am confident we will succeed.

The United States has enormous sources of strength – we’re going to build upon them.

America’s values are noble and powerful – and we will recommit to them.

And America’s leadership is needed around the world, and we’ll provide it, because the world is far more likely to solve problems and meet challenges when the United States is there.  America at its best still has a greater capacity than any other nation on Earth to mobilize others for the better.

The State Department will be central to all of this.  I know you’re ready.  I am too.  We’re in the arena together.  We do work that matters.  So let’s meet this moment – our moment – with joy.

Thank you all for being part of this great endeavor.  I am honored to be your Secretary.  Now let’s get to work.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

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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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  • Air Pollution: Opportunities to Better Sustain and Modernize the National Air Quality Monitoring System
    In U.S GAO News
    The ambient air quality monitoring system is a national asset that provides standardized information for implementing the Clean Air Act and protecting public health. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state and local agencies cooperatively manage the system, with each playing different roles in design, operation, oversight, and funding. For example, EPA establishes minimum requirements for the system, and state and local agencies operate the monitors and report data to EPA. Officials from EPA and selected state and local agencies identified challenges related to sustaining the monitoring system. For example, they said that infrastructure is aging while annual EPA funding for state and local air quality management grants, which cover monitoring, has decreased by about 20 percent since 2004 after adjusting for inflation (see fig.). GAO found inconsistencies in how EPA regions have addressed these challenges. GAO's prior work has identified key characteristics of asset management, such as identifying needed resources and using quality data to manage infrastructure risks, which can help organizations optimize limited resources. By developing an asset management framework that includes such characteristics, EPA could better target limited resources toward the highest priorities for consistently sustaining the system. Annual Inflation-Adjusted EPA Funding for State and Local Air Quality Management Grants Air quality managers, researchers, and the public need additional information so they can better understand and address the health risks from air pollution, according to GAO's review of literature and interviews GAO conducted. These needs include additional information on (1) air toxics to understand health risks in key locations such as near industrial facilities; and (2) how to use low-cost sensors to provide real-time, local-scale air quality information. EPA and state and local agencies face persistent challenges meeting such air quality information needs, including challenges in understanding the performance of low-cost sensors. GAO illustrated this challenge by collecting air quality data from low-cost sensors and finding variability in their performance. EPA has strategies aimed at better meeting the additional air quality information needs of managers, researchers, and the public, but the strategies are outdated and incomplete. For example, they do not clearly define roles for meeting additional information needs. GAO's prior work on asset management suggests that a more strategic approach could help EPA modernize the system to better meet the additional information needs. By developing a modernization plan that aligns with leading practices for strategic planning and risk management, such as establishing modernization goals and roles, EPA could better ensure that the system meets the additional information needs of air quality managers, researchers, and the public and is positioned to protect public health. The national ambient air quality monitoring system shows that the United States has made progress in reducing air pollution but that risks to public health and the environment continue in certain locations. The system consists of sites that measure air pollution levels around fixed locations across the country using specific methods. Since the system began in the 1970s, air quality concerns have changed—such as increased concern about the health effects of air toxics. GAO was asked to evaluate the national air quality monitoring system. This report examines the role of the system and how it is managed, challenges in managing the system and actions to address them, and needs for additional air quality information and actions to address challenges in meeting those needs. GAO reviewed literature, laws, and agency documents; conducted a demonstration of low-cost sensors; and interviewed EPA officials, selected state and local officials, representatives from air quality associations, and stakeholders. GAO is making two recommendations for EPA to (1) establish an asset management framework for the monitoring system that includes key characteristics and (2) develop an air quality monitoring modernization plan that aligns with leading practices. In written comments on the report, EPA generally agreed with the recommendations. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.
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  • Beam Suntory Inc. Agrees to Pay Over $19 Million to Resolve Criminal Foreign Bribery Case
    In Crime News
    Beam Suntory Inc. (Beam), a Chicago-based company that produces and sells distilled beverages, has agreed to pay a criminal monetary penalty of $19,572,885 to resolve the department’s investigation into violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).
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    In Crime News
    The Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) held its annual awards ceremony to highlight the past year’s achievements.
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  • Operation Legend: Case of the Day
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    On Aug. 27, 2020, Andrew Sheperd was charged by a federal grand jury with being a felon in possession of a firearm, with being in possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, and possessing with intent to distribute fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine .
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  • Defense Transportation: DOD Can Better Leverage Existing Contested Mobility Studies and Improve Training
    In U.S GAO News
    From 2016 through 2019, the Department of Defense (DOD) conducted or sponsored at least 11 classified or sensitive studies on contested mobility— the ability of the U.S. military to transport equipment and personnel in a contested operational environment. The studies resulted in more than 50 recommendations, and DOD officials stated they believed that some of the recommendations had been implemented. However, officials did not know the exact disposition of the recommendations, as they are not actively tracking implementation activities. Further, no single DOD oversight entity evaluated the studies' recommendations and tracked implementation across the department. As a result, DOD may be missing an opportunity to leverage existing knowledge on mobility in contested environments across organizations, and strengthen its mobility efforts for major conflicts as envisioned in the National Defense Strategy. DOD has updated aspects of wargame exercises and mobility training to prepare for a contested environment, but has not updated training for the surge sealift fleet—ships owned by DOD and the Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration (MARAD) and crewed by contracted mariners. These crews are primarily trained and qualified to operate the ship, but receive limited contested mobility training. While DOD has updated air mobility training and other aspects of mobility training, sealift crew training requirements have not been updated by DOD and MARAD to reflect contested environment concerns because DOD has not conducted an evaluation of such training. Since sealift is the means by which the majority of military equipment would be transported during a major conflict, it is important that crews be trained appropriately for contested mobility to help ensure that ships safely reach their destinations and complete their missions. C-17 Performing Defense Maneuvers DOD has begun to mitigate contested environment challenges through improved technology and related initiatives. The Navy is acquiring improved technologies to deploy on surge sealift ships and replacement ships. The Air Force is equipping current mobility aircraft (see photo above) with additional defensive technologies and planning for the development of future replacement aircraft. According to U.S. Transportation Command, the command is revising its contracts with commercial partners to address cyber threats, and funding research and development projects that address contested mobility concerns. Many of these efforts are nascent and will take years to be put in place. China and Russia are strengthening their militaries to neutralize U.S. strengths, including mobility—the ability of U.S. military airlift and air refueling aircraft and sealift ships to rapidly move equipment and personnel from the United States to locations abroad to support DOD missions. Senate Report 116-48 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's ability to operate in a contested mobility environment. This report assesses the extent to which DOD has studied contested mobility and tracked the implementation of study recommendations, assesses the extent to which DOD has revised its training to incorporate contested mobility challenges, and describes the technologies that DOD uses to mitigate contested mobility challenges. GAO identified contested mobility studies conducted or sponsored by DOD; evaluated DOD's processes for monitoring implementation of study recommendations; analyzed training and exercise documents from DOD combatant commands, the Air Force, and the Navy; and reviewed DOD plans for technological improvements to its mobility forces. GAO recommends that DOD designate an oversight entity to track the implementation of study recommendations, and that DOD and MARAD evaluate and update sealift training. DOD and the Department of Transportation concurred or partially concurred with each recommendation. GAO believes each recommendation should be fully implemented, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Cary Russell at (202) 512-5431 or RussellC@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
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  • Man Pleads Guilty to COVID-19 Relief Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Washington man pleaded guilty today to perpetrating a scheme to fraudulently obtain COVID-19 relief guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
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    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice today announced a coordinated international law enforcement action to disrupt a sophisticated form of ransomware known as NetWalker.
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  • Maryland Tax Preparer Indicted for Preparing False Returns
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Greenbelt, Maryland, returned an indictment today charging an Upper Marlboro tax return preparer with conspiracy to defraud the United States and aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur.
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