Secretary Antony J. Blinken Virtual Discussion with Students on Ice

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

MR GREEN: Good afternoon. Hello and bonjour, Secretary – Mr. Secretary. It’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Geoff Green, and I’m the founder and the president of the Students on Ice Foundation. I am joining you today from the National Capital Region of Canada, here in Gatineau, Quebec. And I’d like to begin by acknowledging that this is the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people, who have lived on this land and these waters, like the mighty Ottawa River not far from here, since time immemorial.

We are grateful and thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with you today and to be part of your virtual visit to Canada. Bienvenue. For the past 20 years, the Students on Ice Foundation has been leading educational expeditions to the Arctic and to the Antarctic, cornerstones of our global ecosystem. And by immersing youth in nature and connecting them to the land, to the ocean, to peers and mentors, and to challenges and opportunities facing our planet, this has been inspiring diverse young leaders, innovators, and global citizens.

Today, more than 3,300 alumni from 52 countries have participated, including hundreds of youth from across the United States. These expeditions have been life-changing, and they’re making a difference in remarkable ways. From indigenous-led research and conservation, engagement in the sustainable blue economy, to youth delegations that go to Arctic policy conferences and global climate change meetings.

Community-based efforts. Our alumni are taking action for a healthy and sustainable future at all levels. This includes the five exceptional youths from across Canada who I am proud to welcome to our roundtable discussion today: Julia Trombley, Will Sanderson, Enooyaq Sudlovenick, Nicholas Flowers, and Allisa Sallans. Our Students on Ice programs are possible thanks to many global partnerships, and this includes our great friends at the U.S. embassy in Canada who have been supporting youth and educators on our expeditions and have helped to make the event today possible. So thank you.

This and so many experiences with our biggest neighbor over the years has reinforced our friendship, shared values, and our shared commitment as Arctic nations to taking on climate change, environmental protection, and increasing collaboration awareness and support for the Arctic and its peoples.

So it is my honor to welcome the United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us today to discuss bilateral collaboration in the Arctic and a few other issues facing the Arctic and our two nations. So with that, I turn it over to you, and a very warm virtual welcome to Canada.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Geoff, thank you so much. And it’s wonderful to be with all of you virtually, if not in person. Thank you for letting our delegation join you here as well today. I’m anxious to be in Canada in person, but for now, given COVID, we’ll rely on technology. And I’m grateful that we have it and that we can get together this way. And I thank you – maybe it’s the wrong word for it given that this is Students on Ice, but thank you for the warm welcome – (laughter) – which is very, very much appreciated.

I have to tell you as well I’m really pleased that we have several Fulbright and International Visitor Leadership Program alumni here with us today. These are programs that I feel very, very strongly about. When I last worked at the State Department, it’s something I focused on. I’ve seen the extraordinary value they bring. Even if I didn’t I wouldn’t have much choice, because during President Obama’s administration my wife actually ran these programs at the State Department, so it’s something that’s really close to home.

But the truth of the matter is each of you represents these ties, personal ties, between our two countries. And that makes a huge difference, and it’s a lasting difference that I’ve seen over generations.

We’re, of course, not only neighbors but friends and allies. We share ideas and we share ideals in many ways, and we are constantly working together to find common solutions. I had the opportunity to spend some time with counterparts from the Canadian Government and with Prime Minister Trudeau just a short while ago, and it’s hard to think of two countries that are more in sync, more aligned, more in common in terms of their shared aspirations for our people and for the future. And that’s very, very gratifying.

The United States and Canada, of course, are Arctic nations. And as you all know a lot better than I do, since the Arctic makes up about 40 percent of Canadian territory, it really is a unique and important place where we have a responsibility, I think, to work closely together to address a lot of shared challenges but also, I think, shared opportunities.

Like Canada, the United States seeks sustainable economic development that supports local and indigenous communities and respects principles of good governance and transparency. These are very important principles for us that we share with you.

We’re cooperating closely between governments across the Arctic region and in regional institutions like the Arctic Council. We’re working together to try to promote safety and security, that sustainable economic growth that we both want, and continued cooperation among the Arctic states to try to support and strengthen a rules-based order throughout the region. And we throw these terms around easily, but they really do mean something in our lives and in the lives of our citizens. When countries are working together based on a shared set of rules and obligations and responsibilities, that’s how we’re going to make progress. If not, if we’re not doing that, we’re going to have a free-for-all, we’re going to have chaos, and we may well have conflict. So we both, I think, believe that very strongly and have a real stake in that.

But this goes beyond, of course, government-to-government work. My colleagues at the U.S. embassy and our consulates in Canada also contribute to this cooperation through cultural exchanges, academic exchanges, including the Fulbright Arctic Initiative with funds from both Canada and the United States, which is jointly led by an American and Canadian scholar, and we’ve got other programs in the region. Bringing together all of these different interested groups and individuals and stakeholders is something I think we also do very well together and something that makes a difference.

And of course, I’m very proud that we have been able to support Students on Ice for the better part of a decade now. One of the issues I just want to mention as we have a conversation, and maybe we can come back to it, is, of course, climate change, because it’s maybe the driving issue of our times. And I think you know the United States is re-engaged on climate and on helping to lead in the efforts and in international responsibilities. We rejoined, of course, the Paris accord. We’ll be holding a meeting of leaders in April, and then there’s a very, very important gathering at the – toward the end of the year that the United Kingdom will be hosting in Glasgow for the COP-26. But we’re determined to use this year to make real progress in assuring our common future in tackling climate change.

But I’m real eager to have a conversation, to hear from you, take any questions, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also make sure that you knew who’s here with me at the table. We have – and also on our video screen we have our charge d’affaires in Canada, Katherine Brucker, who is here, I think, on the screen. We have our senior official for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, Ambassador Marcia Bernicat, who is here with us today. We have our assistant secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung. We have an assistant secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Matthew Lussenhop, who is running the bureau that my wife used to run a few years ago, so he’s especially important today. And the chief of staff to the State Department Suzy George, and we’re very, very happy to be with all of you.

(In French.)

Let’s open it up to questions, comments, anything anyone wants to talk about.

MR GREEN: Merci beaucoup, Mr. Secretary. Boy, some wonderful words they have been. I’d love to dig into so much of that with you. I do have five students with me that are eager to ask you some questions, but I would just echo your points about the Arctic definitely does shape who we are as a country here in Canada, and I think the same applies to the United States, and it also shapes the world. That’s why it’s so important that we’re having this discussion and addressing these issues that we’re touching on today.

The first question I have comes from Julia Trombley. Julia was on our 2017 Arctic expedition. She’s from Fort Erie, Ontario, a recent graduate from the University of Guelph, and she was part of the Students on Ice delegation at the National Youth Reconciliation Conference and also just with us in Washington for the Arctic Futures 2050 Conference recently. Over to you, Julia.

QUESTION: Thank you, Geoff. And hi, Secretary Blinken. It’s a pleasure to meet you. The question I’d like to ask is if your 22-year-old self was living in the year 2021, what would he be passionate about, and what advice would you give him on pursuing that passion?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Wow. Well, that’s a – it’s a – that’s a wonderful question, Julia. First of all, it’s very good to see you. And gosh, I think there are a few things. So I think that in terms of what my passions would be, in many ways they’d probably be not dissimilar either now or then, which is to say I had a huge opportunity when I was growing up both to have a family that was really interested in goings on beyond the borders of the United States. They – conversations at the table often turned to questions of foreign policy and what different countries were doing.

And then when I was nine, I actually wound up moving from New York to France, to Paris, and so I grew up in Paris from age 9 to 18 before coming back to the United States for university. And that was in so many ways a remarkable experience, but in particular it gave me the opportunity to see my own country through the eyes of others, and it also I think turned me into a junior diplomat, because when you’re an American abroad or a Canadian abroad conversations come up, arguments come up, discussions come up about various things that your country is doing or not doing, and you wind up getting into those conversations, and it really I think got me interested in diplomacy and how different countries work together and how they deal with some of the differences that they have. So that was a passion that was deep-rooted. And now I get to give it some expression actually working on it every day here at the State Department.

I think the other advice – the advice that I would give probably now to my 22-year-old self was that besides the passion for foreign policy and diplomacy, I was very passionate about music and remain so. But when I was 22, I probably still harbored the vague ambition that I might somehow make a life and a career out of music. And my current self would probably say forget about it, the talent isn’t there. But that only came with hindsight.

But in all seriousness too, here’s what I would really say, and that’s one of the greatest blessings in life is to be passionate about something, and an even greater blessing if you’re able to act on that passion. And if you find that in your life, whatever it is, that will I think make for the most fulfilling, happiest, most rewarding life possible. And the hard truth is not everyone finds it, or even people who find it may not have the opportunity to really follow it.

But if you’re in that relatively small group of folks who really find the passion and have an opportunity to follow it, do it. It will be so remarkably rewarding, and it will take you to places, literally and figuratively, that you couldn’t even imagine when you’re 21 or 22. And certainly in my case, developing a passion early for foreign policy and government and international relations has taken me to places I never would have imagined.

MR GREEN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. And thank you, Julia, for that question. Inspiring words especially for youth setting off on their journeys in life.

The next question that we have for you comes all the way from Nunavut, from Enooyaq Sudlovenick from Iqaluit. And Enooyaq was part of our 2018 Arctic expedition. She has a master’s in veterinary medicine and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Manitoba, focusing on beluga whale health and the incorporation of Inuit knowledge with western science. Over to you, Enooyaq.

QUESTION: Thanks, Geoff. Unnuhatkut, good day, Mr. Secretary. It’s an honor to be here to speak to you today. And my question is: Last month President Biden announced a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. So will local indigenous communities be consulted on any future plans of natural resource development in the Arctic?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks so much for your question, and wonderful to meet you virtually. So when President Biden signed the executive order in question, one of the things he said is we’re going to review the oil and gas leasing program. And some of this gets a little bit complicated in terms of the different government institutions and entities that get involved, but basically, the order calls on our Secretary of the Interior to pause new oil and gas – natural gas leases on public land or in offshore waters pending this comprehensive review, and that includes the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

So what happens then is there’s kind of a process by which the Secretary of the Interior really sets up a way to consider this and to review this, and I think the President – President Biden – sent a very strong signal of his direction and the need to consult by nominating someone who may be known to you, and that is a remarkable congresswoman, Deb Haaland, for our interior secretary, and she is going to be a remarkable interior secretary, someone who is deeply experienced as a legislator but also an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, and I expect we’ll hear a lot more on her plans once she’s actually confirmed. We’re in the early days and she has to get into office.

But we had a meeting earlier this week with President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau and our teams, and we have a roadmap between our countries for a renewed partnership between the United States and Canada. And President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau also recognized the ecological importance of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and in particular, they agreed to work together to help safeguard the Porcupine caribou herd, the calving grounds that are truly invaluable to local people’s culture and subsistence. The prime minister and the President agreed also to be partners in protecting nature, including by supporting indigenous-led conservation efforts. So these were things that were front and center in the exchange that we had and the conversation we had.

They also agreed to work together on environmental restoration and conservation efforts, and to try to advance nature-based climate solutions. And that’s also critical. But in advancing climate solutions and protecting nature, I think both of them also agreed on the importance of doing this work with indigenous peoples, with subnational governments, with workers; with stakeholders, including civil society, including youth, including business, including industry.

The bottom line is on so many different things, including this, we have to bring everyone together who has an interest, who has a stake in the issue. If one group tries to do it while ignoring the needs, the concerns of others, it’s probably not going to be sustainable anyway. And so I think this is something that both President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau feel very, very strongly. We have to approach all of these challenges together and find ways to advance them together. So I think that’s the spirit as well as the practical way we’re going to approach this problem.

MR GREEN: (In Inuktitut.) And thank you, Secretary Blinken, for that excellent answer. I’m being told we only have time for one more question from the students, and that’s coming from Will Sanderson from Kingston, Ontario, who, in addition to taking part in our Arctic expedition in 2014, was a member of our youth delegation to the 2018 Arctic Circle Assembly in Iceland, and he’s also been part of our 2019 Climate Action Cohort, which is a program at Students on Ice helping to develop young climate leaders. So over to you, Will.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you very much, Geoff, and nice to meet you, Secretary Blinken. It’s an honor. In recent years, there’s been a greater push by the international community to look towards the Arctic for economic development, whether that be for resources exploration or to pursue newly open trade routes. I’m curious how you think Arctic nations like Canada and the United States should respond to these international pushes, and how we can ensure that Arctic conservation remains the top priority.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Will, thanks very much, and I – that’s an important question and one that I think we have to be very focused on. Because in the Arctic, as really anywhere else, but acutely in the Arctic, we have to be able to strike the right balance between conservation and development. And an integral part of that has to be, again, engagement with the communities most directly affected, with Arctic communities, and that respects their right to economic development, but also, of course, their profound interest in sustainability and in conservation of the habitat that they’re living in.

I also don’t think, at the end of the day, that development and conservation have to be mutually exclusive. It does not need to be a zero-sum game. And in many ways, they can even actually reinforce each other. If you’ve got the right incentives, if you’ve got the right oversight, conservation can deliver economic benefits to communities. And we see that parenthetically when we’re talking about dealing with climate change. We see that in the extraordinary opportunities afforded by the development of green technology. That can be a powerful economic tool as well as, of course, a powerful tool to dealing with climate change.

So I think that through bilateral country-to-country work, multilateral engagement in these international organizations and gatherings, including the launch of an expanded U.S.-Canada Arctic dialogue and cooperation in places like the Arctic Council, we can share a lot of experience on how to strike that balance, how to get it right, because it is so important. And I think we can also consider models of sustainable development that have worked in other regions and may have promise in the Arctic too.

We need to learn from our experience in other places, we need to learn from our mistakes, and we need to learn from others. No one has a monopoly on the right answers, and I think there’s a premium on making sure we’re taking in the experiences that others have had in trying to get this balance right. But the bottom line is you’re 100 percent right to be to be focused on this, but I do think we can do this in a way that is not one or the other.

MR GREEN: Thank you again, Secretary Blinken, and thank you, Will, for that question. I think we could ask you questions all day long, but, unfortunately, I don’t think the time will allow for that. So I do want to thank everyone for those questions, and Secretary Blinken for your thoughtful responses.

It’s clear how informed and engaged many of our – well, our students and Ice alumni are, and many youth are today – global youth addressing global issues, and that’s really important. Their voices and actions are critical now and in the future. And again, thank you to our alumni today, because they truly showcase the passion and concern that Canadian youth have for the Arctic, for the environment, and these other pressing challenges and opportunities ahead.

It’s been an honor to speak with you today, Mr. Secretary. We really look forward to a continued dialogue together, to seeing you here in Canada, and to strengthening U.S.-Canadian – this incredible partnership and friendship that we share. And perhaps we might even get you on to a Students on Ice Arctic expedition in the future.

So it’s now my pleasure to introduce Lynda Brown and Heidi Langille. They’re Inuit cultural ambassadors and throat singers, and they perform under the name Siqniup Qilautu.

Lynda and Heidi, the virtual stage is yours.

QUESTION: (In Inuktitut.) It’s a pleasure. (Inaudible) or any traditional throat singing was traditionally done between two women as a friendly competition, and you’re trying to trip the other person up, so there’s a leader and a follower. And the leader sets the rhythm, the pace, and the sound, and the follower comes about half a second afterwards. We have 3 different types of throat songs: imitations, competitions, and lullabies. And we’ll be demonstrating two different types: an imitation song from Northern Quebec and a lullaby from Nunavut.

So the first one we’re going to do is (inaudible).

(A song is sung.)

QUESTION: Lynda won that song. So that was part of the (inaudible). The next one we’re going to do for you is a lullaby. It comes from Baker Lake, which is the geographic center of Canada. And it’s a lullaby, so it’s much softer. And oftentimes, we would put our babies to sleep when they were in (inaudible) with this song. So this is the love song.

(A song is sung.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s wonderful and extraordinary. I am amazed at – there’s got to be a synthesizer or a lot of other people there. I can’t believe that – what you’re able to do just the two of you together. And the lullaby – so I may need to borrow that because I have a two-year-old and a one-year-old, and I want to try that out. So if we can get a recording or maybe just come on by next time you’re in Washington. Thank you so much.

MR GREEN: Thank you so much. I think Heidi and Linda actually have an album they can send you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Wonderful. And by the way, Geoff, for anyone who didn’t get a chance to ask a question or make a comment, please just send that along and I’ll find a way to get you an answer.

MR GREEN: Hey, that would be – that – it’s really appreciated. Both Nicholas and Allisa had some great questions for you. We’ll pass those on.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Please do.

MR GREEN: And all the best.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you all, and good luck. I’ve got to say, just in conclusion – and it’s to the point that Geoff was making a couple of minutes ago – your voice, your vision, your ideas have never been more important. There’s so many usually consequential and complicated changes going on in the world, and we need your engagement, we need your ideas, we need your passion. Because the longer you go on in life, sometimes you get a little bit set in your ways, and maybe set in your ideas and set in the way you look at things. And the great advantage of a new generation is to be able to bring fresh ideas, new ideas, perspectives, energy (inaudible).

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Hits: 2

News Network

  • U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Lenderking’s Return from Saudi Arabia
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Sanctioning Cuban Police in Response to Violent Repression of Peaceful Protests
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • United States and Canada Forge Ahead on Critical Minerals Cooperation
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Harassment of Foreign Journalists in the People’s Republic of China
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Public Schedule – July 30, 2021
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya, Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle Ricardo Zuniga, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Deputy Assistant Secretary Marta Youth, and Senior Advisor to the USAID Administrator and Executive Director of the USAID Northern Triangle Task Force Michael Camilleri On the Collaborative Migration Management Strategy and Root Causes Strategy Toward Migration
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Marta Costanzo Youth, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Dr. Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah At a Joint Press Availability
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • July 29, 2021, letter commenting on AICPA’s February 2021 Exposure Draft, “Proposed Statements on Quality Management Standards – Quality Management”
    In U.S GAO News
    This letter provides GAO's response to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Auditing Standards Board's (ASB) Proposed Statement on Quality Management Standards – Quality Management: A Firm's System of Quality Management (SQMS No. 1); Proposed Statement on Quality Management Standards – Engagement Quality Reviews (SQMS No. 2); and Proposed Statement on Auditing Standards, Quality Management for an Engagement Conducted in Accordance with Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (QM SAS). GAO provides standards for performing high-quality audits of government organizations, programs, activities, and functions and of government assistance to contractors, nonprofit organizations, and other nongovernment organizations with competence, integrity, objectivity, and independence. These standards, often referred to as generally accepted government auditing standards (GAGAS), are to be followed when required by law, regulation, agreement, contract, or policy. For financial audits, GAGAS incorporates by reference the AICPA's Statements on Auditing Standards (SAS). For attestation engagements, GAGAS incorporates by reference the AICPA's Statements on Standards for Attestation Engagements.
    [Read More…]
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program: Additional Actions Needed to Improve Communication with Applicants and Address Fraud Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) applicants and recipients varied in terms of business size, years in operation, and industry, based on GAO's analysis of Small Business Administration (SBA) data from March 2020 through February 2021: Business size. A majority of EIDL applicants (about 81 percent) and EIDL recipients (about 86 percent) were smaller businesses (10 or fewer employees). Years in operation. A majority of EIDL applicants (about 63 percent) had been in operation for less than 5 years. However, businesses in operation for more than 5 years received the majority of total EIDL loan dollars and had higher approval rates compared to newer businesses. Industry. Businesses in the personal services and transportation industries made up the largest share of applicants, while those in the legal services and lodging industries were approved for loans at the highest rates (see figure). Top Loan Applicants and Approval Rates by Business Industry In addition, small businesses in counties with higher median household income, better internet access, and more diverse populations generally received more loans per 1,000 businesses and larger loans. EIDL applicants have faced a number of challenges, according to applicants and other business stakeholders GAO interviewed between August 2020 and February 2021. For example, applicants from five discussion groups and several stakeholders cited lack of information and uncertainty about application status as major concerns. In addition, until February 2021, SBA did not provide important information to potential applicants, such as limits on loan amounts and definitions of certain program terms. Lack of important program information and application status put pressure on SBA's resources and negatively affected applicants' experience. For example, SBA's customer service line experienced call surges that resulted in long wait times, and SBA's data showed that 5.3 million applications were duplicates. SBA's planning documents describe in general terms the public outreach to be conducted following disasters, but they do not detail the type or timing of the information to be provided. Developing and implementing a comprehensive communication strategy that includes these details could improve the quality, clarity, and timeliness of information SBA provides to its applicants and resource partners following catastrophic disasters. GAO's ongoing review of the EIDL program related to COVID-19 has found that the program is susceptible to providing funding to ineligible and fraudulent applicants. For example, as GAO reported in January 2021, SBA had approved at least 3,000 loans totaling about $156 million to businesses that SBA policies state were ineligible for the EIDL program, such as real estate developers and multilevel marketers, as of September 30, 2020. In addition, GAO found that between May and October 2020, over 900 U.S. financial institutions filed more than 20,000 suspicious activity reports related to the EIDL program with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Further, GAO's analysis of 51 Department of Justice cases involving fraud charges for EIDL loans as of March 2021 found that these cases involved identity theft, false attestation, fictitious or inflated employee counts, and misuse of proceeds. Over the course of its COVID-19 response, SBA has made some changes to address these risks. For example, beginning in June 2020, SBA took actions to improve loan officers' ability to withhold funding for applicants suspected of fraud. However, SBA has not yet implemented recommendations GAO has previously made to address EIDL program risks. In January 2021, GAO recommended that SBA conduct data analytics across the EIDL portfolio to detect potentially ineligible and fraudulent applications (GAO-21-265). SBA did not agree or disagree with this recommendation. However, in May 2021, SBA officials stated the agency was in the process of developing analysis to apply certain fraud indicators to all application data.   In March 2021, GAO recommended that SBA (1) implement a comprehensive oversight plan to identify and respond to risks in the EIDL program, (2) conduct and document a fraud risk assessment, and (3)  develop a strategy to address the program’s assessed fraud risks on a continuous basis (GAO-21-387). SBA agreed with all three recommendations. In May 2021, SBA officials stated that the agency had started to assess fraud risk for the program. Fully implementing these recommendations would help SBA to safeguard billions of dollars of taxpayer funds and improve the operation of the EIDL program. Why GAO Did This Study Between March 2020 and February 2021, SBA provided about 3.8 million low-interest EIDL loans and 5.8 million grants (called advances) totaling $224 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. Borrowers can use these low-interest loans and advances to pay for operating and other expenses. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to monitor funds provided for the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines, among other objectives, the characteristics of program applicants and recipients; the challenges EIDL applicants experienced and the extent to which SBA has addressed them; and the steps SBA has taken to address risks of fraud and provision of funds to ineligible applicants. GAO reviewed documents from SBA, an EIDL contractor, and two of its subcontractors. In addition, GAO analyzed loan application data, conducted five discussion groups with applicants, and interviewed staff from SBA, six Small Business Development Centers, and six business associations. GAO also analyzed socioeconomic, demographic, and geographic data on EIDL program participants.
    [Read More…]
  • National Flood Insurance Program: Congress Should Consider Updating the Mandatory Purchase Requirement
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The mandatory purchase requirement mandates flood insurance for certain high-risk properties and was established to increase the number of households with flood insurance. Lenders must verify that certain properties have flood insurance. At least 10 federal entities oversee lenders' compliance, including the federal banking regulators, among others (see figure). The most frequent violation the regulators identified was related to a lack of or insufficient flood insurance coverage for properties subject to the requirement. If regulators identify violations, lenders are required to take corrective actions, and if a pattern or practice of certain flood insurance violations is found, monetary penalties may be assessed against them. Oversight of the Mandatory Purchase Requirement The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), engages in a variety of efforts to help increase consumer participation in the flood insurance market (one of the agency's goals). However, FEMA does not effectively use information related to compliance with the requirement to identify ways to meet this goal. Information currently maintained by FEMA and other federal entities could help inform FEMA on noncompliance trends and patterns and help FEMA to develop strategies to address them. By using internal and external information to better understand compliance with the requirement, and facilitating the sharing of this information among the federal entities with responsibilities related to the requirement, FEMA may help reduce instances of noncompliance, increase consumer participation, and limit the federal government's fiscal exposure to future flood losses. FEMA's floodplain maps—which, by law, delineate those properties subject to the requirement—have limitations. For example, they may not reflect current flood hazards or the potential for flooding from some types of events, such as heavy rainfall. FEMA has efforts underway that can assess flood risk more comprehensively. However, FEMA has not evaluated how the new information could be incorporated into the requirement because the agency believes it has a limited role in implementing the requirement. In addition, changes to the maps for the purpose of implementing the requirement could impact other aspects of NFIP. An evaluation by FEMA of how its new flood risk information could be used to designate which properties are subject to the requirement could help Congress revise the requirement to better increase consumer participation and reduce future federal disaster assistance expenditures. Why GAO Did This Study Flood insurance plays a key role in helping homeowners reduce the financial effects of floods, reduces the need for federal disaster assistance, and lowers costs for American taxpayers. NFIP makes federally backed flood insurance available to property owners in qualifying communities. The mandatory purchase requirement requires property owners in NFIP communities to purchase flood insurance if, among other things, they have mortgages from federally regulated lenders. GAO was asked to review the implementation of the mandatory purchase requirement. This report (1) describes federal entities' oversight of the requirement, (2) examines the extent to which FEMA uses information about compliance with the requirement, and (3) examines the use of FEMA floodplain maps to determine who must purchase flood insurance. GAO reviewed documentation from federal entities, analyzed data on lender violations of the requirement, and interviewed officials and other stakeholders.
    [Read More…]
  • Economic Development: Opportunities Exist for Further Collaboration among EDA, HUD, and USDA
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Federal economic development programs and state business incentives approach economic development in different ways. In GAO's review of six large state business incentive packages ($50 million or more) in four states, federal economic development program funds were not directly used. Reasons for limited use could include differences in purposes and goals, and limitations on how federal funds can be used. For example, the goals of economic development programs administered by the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) do not completely align with the goals of state business incentives, the latter of which include attracting and retaining individual businesses. Although these incentive packages were not funded with federal economic development program funds, some of the businesses that received a large incentive package were highlighted in federal strategic plans as opportunities for investment and job growth in the local economy. The economic development programs of EDA, HUD, and USDA each encourage or require state and local communities to conduct strategic planning, which includes obtaining input from a range of public and private stakeholders and identifying ways to leverage other available resources, such as federal and state funding. Recognizing the similarities in what they require of grantees, in 2016, EDA and HUD entered into an interagency agreement to align planning requirements under their programs. The agencies implemented certain aspects of the agreement, such as issuing joint guidance to applicants. However, they have not implemented selected leading practices for effective interagency collaboration: Updating written agreements: EDA and HUD have not regularly monitored or updated their interagency agreement to reflect changing priorities of either agency. Officials stated the agencies have prioritized other areas for coordination, such as disaster relief, instead of state and local strategic planning processes. Including relevant participants: EDA and HUD have made limited efforts to involve USDA in their collaborative efforts. USDA also encourages strategic planning for local communities. Monitoring progress towards outcomes: EDA and HUD's agreement identifies specific outcomes, including effectively aligning federal, state, and local resources for economic development. However, the agencies have not monitored progress or addressed any related challenges in meeting the stated outcomes of the collaboration. By incorporating selected leading practices for effective collaboration, EDA and HUD can help grantees and local communities better manage fragmented efforts to meet federal requirements for strategic planning and more effectively align federal and state resources. Why GAO Did This Study States spend billions of dollars annually in business incentives to attract and retain individual businesses or industries. EDA, HUD, and USDA administer programs that support states' economic development goals and encourage strategic planning. In previous reports, we have identified concerns related to fragmentation in these agencies' efforts to collaborate on economic development programs with each other. GAO was asked to review issues related to these state and federal economic development efforts. This report examines the use of federal economic development programs to support state business incentives and how selected federal agencies collaborate on these programs, among other issues. GAO reviewed information on federal economic development programs and business incentives in four states (selected because the states offer incentives of $50 million or more and vary geographically). GAO interviewed federal and state agency officials and policy organizations.
    [Read More…]
  • The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Announces Award for Worldwide Architectural and Engineering Support Services
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Russian Government Actions Impacting U.S. Mission Russia
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Iranian National Charged with Illegally Exporting Laboratory Equipment to Iran
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned an indictment today charging a Canadian national with the unlawful export of laboratory equipment from the United States to Iran, through Canada and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
    [Read More…]
  • Man Sentenced for COVID-19 Relief Fraud
    In Crime News
    A Florida man was sentenced today to 33 months in prison for fraudulently seeking over $7,263,564 in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
    [Read More…]
  • United States Seizes Oil Tanker Used to Violate Sanctions Against North Korea
    In Crime News
    A New York federal court today entered a judgment of forfeiture regarding the M/T Courageous, a 2,734-ton oil-products tanker used to make illicit deliveries of petroleum products through ship-to-ship transfers with vessels flagged in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) and direct shipments to the North Korean port of Nampo.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S. Promoter of Foreign Cryptocurrency Companies Pleads Guilty for Role in Multimillion-Dollar Securities Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A California man pleaded guilty today in the Eastern District of New York for his participation in a coordinated cryptocurrency and securities fraud scheme through purported digital currency platforms and foreign-based financial accounts.
    [Read More…]
  • Antitrust Division Observes National Whistleblower Appreciation Day
    In Crime News
    The Antitrust Division today commemorates National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, which celebrates individuals who act with courage to speak out and report crimes, including antitrust violations like price-fixing, bid rigging and market allocation conspiracies.
    [Read More…]
  • Government Intervenes in False Claims Act Lawsuits Against Kaiser Permanente Affiliates for Submitting Inaccurate Diagnosis Codes to the Medicare Advantage Program
    In Crime News
    The United States has intervened in six complaints alleging that members of the Kaiser Permanente consortium violated the False Claims Act by submitting inaccurate diagnosis codes for its Medicare Advantage Plan enrollees in order to receive higher reimbursements.
    [Read More…]
  • Corpus Christi woman gets 30 years for sexual exploitation of a child
    In Justice News
    A 55-year-old local [Read More…]
  • Trafficking meth with firearm lands felon back in prison
    In Justice News
    A Texas Syndicate gang [Read More…]
  • COVID-19 Pandemic: Actions Needed to Improve Federal Oversight of Assistance to Individuals, Communities, and the Transportation Industry
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Transportation (DOT), and Department of the Treasury (Treasury), among others, continue to provide financial assistance to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. FEMA reported obligating over $79 billion from its Disaster Relief Fund to respond to COVID-19. Through several programs, FEMA is providing help to individuals with funeral costs; reimbursing communities for vaccine distribution; and funding federal agencies' efforts to support communities, including National Guard deployments. DOT and Treasury continue to make available the over $200 billion appropriated by COVID-19 relief laws for financial assistance to the transportation sector, including to air carriers, airports and airport tenants, Amtrak, and transit agencies. Through several financial assistance programs, GAO's work has found DOT and Treasury have provided critical support to the transportation sector during a period of sharp declines in travel demand and uncertainty about the pace and nature of the recovery. Depending on the program, financial assistance has reportedly enabled recipients to avoid layoffs, maintain service, and ramp up operations as demand for their services improves. Based on GAO's prior work examining responses to public health and fiscal emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic, GAO has (1) identified key lessons learned that could improve the federal response to emergencies, and (2) made several related recommendations, including ones that highlight the importance of applying these lessons learned. For example, DOT has not developed a national aviation preparedness plan to coordinate, establish, and define roles and responsibilities for communicable diseases across the federal government. GAO recommended in 2015 that DOT work with federal partners to develop such a plan, but it has not taken any action. Without such a plan, the U.S. is less prepared to respond to future communicable disease events. In addition, FEMA has faced challenges collecting and analyzing data on requests for supplies, such as personal protective equipment, made through the federal government. In 2020, GAO recommended that FEMA work with relevant stakeholders to develop an interim solution to help states track the status of their supply requests and plan for supply needs. FEMA has not taken action on this recommendation, and until the agency develops a solution, states, tribes, and territories will likely continue to face challenges that hamper the effectiveness of their COVID-19 response. Why GAO Did This Study In response to the public health and economic crises created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress provided billions of dollars across a range of agencies to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. This included billions to: FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund to provide assistance to individuals as well as state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, and DOT and Treasury to provide financial assistance to the transportation sector. This statement describes: (1) the federal response and selected relief programs administered by FEMA, DOT, and Treasury and (2) lessons learned based on GAO's reviews of selected COVID-19 relief programs, including related recommendations and their implementation status. This statement is based on GAO's body of work on the CARES Act issued from June 2020 through July 2021.To update this information, GAO reviewed agency documentation; and interviewed agency officials, industry associations, and selected businesses that applied to these programs on the latest implementation efforts.
    [Read More…]
  • Private Security Contractors: DOD Needs to Better Identify and Monitor Personnel and Contracts
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has been unable to comprehensively identify private security contractor (PSC) contracts and personnel supporting contingency, humanitarian, peace-keeping, or other similar operations, limiting DOD's ability to readily and accurately identify the use of PSCs. DOD uses PSCs, which include companies and their personnel, hired to provide security services for the U.S. government. However, neither DOD nor GAO was able to use DOD's three PSC data sources to readily determine the universe of PSCs, the type of operation or exercise they support, or their functions, activities, and armed or unarmed status. For example, queries of DOD databases using the term “security guard” to identify PSC personnel excluded eight other job titles that may also perform private security functions. DOD has not comprehensively determined and communicated the contracted activities that fall within its definition of private security functions. Further, DOD does not have a means of readily identifying the contracts and personnel performing those activities in data sources. Without better identifying and tracking its PSC contracts and personnel, DOD will not be able to accurately determine its use of PSCs. Since 2009, DOD has established an oversight framework for its use of PSC contracts, but has not fully monitored the implementation of this framework. DOD's framework distributes oversight functions across the department as well as to organizations outside the department (see fig.). Roles and Functions of Entities to Oversee DOD's Use of Private Security Contractor (PSC) Contracts and Personnel However, DOD has not fully monitored whether and how it and the other entities have carried out their PSC oversight roles and functions. For example, GAO reviewed data for deployed contractor personnel with the job title of “security guard” and found that about 12 percent of those individuals were employed by companies not on a DOD list of certified PSC companies. Independent, third-party certification is a key oversight mechanism DOD relies on to ensure it contracts with companies that use approved personnel hiring, screening, training, and reporting practices. DOD lacks a single, senior-level position assigned to fully monitor whether DOD and various entities are carrying out their respective PSC oversight roles and functions. Without assigning this position, DOD increases the risk of incidents that its framework aims to prevent.  Why GAO Did This Study During Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001–2014 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003–2011, DOD significantly increased its use of PSCs. In 2008, the Swiss Government and the Red Cross issued the Montreux Document, which generally reaffirmed the obligation nations have to ensure that their PSCs respect international humanitarian law. PSCs supporting DOD have faced international attention resulting from incidents allegedly involving their personnel. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's use of PSCs. GAO assessed the extent to which DOD has (1) identified PSC contracts and personnel used to support contingency operations and (2) established a framework to oversee the department's use of PSC contracts. GAO analyzed DOD contract and personnel data for PSCs from 2009 through 2019, reviewed DOD guidance on PSC use, and conducted interviews with DOD officials and representatives from standards organizations.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Kuwait Television
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Saad Al-Enezi of Sky News Arabia
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Osman Ayfarah of Al Jazeera
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • South Padre Island man sentenced for child pornography convictions
    In Justice News
    A 25-year-old local man [Read More…]
  • Three charged in conspiracy to purchase $500,000 in weapons for cartel
    In Justice News
    Three men are now facing [Read More…]
  • Former Colorado Judge Sentenced for Obstructing Federal Investigation of Drug Trafficking Organization
    In Crime News
    A former Colorado state court judge was sentenced Wednesday in the District of Colorado to a year and one day in prison for obstructing a federal task force investigation of a large-scale cocaine trafficking organization.
    [Read More…]
  • Four Executives and Company Charged with Price Fixing in Ongoing Investigation into Broiler Chicken Industry
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Denver, Colorado, returned an indictment yesterday charging Koch Foods, headquartered in Park Ridge, Illinois, for participating in a nationwide conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chicken products.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Indrani Bagchi of The Times of India
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Local man guilty in $317 million N95 mask scam
    In Justice News
    A 56-year-old Houston [Read More…]
  • Cybersecurity and Informtion Technology: Federal Agencies Need to Strengthen Efforts to Address High-Risk Areas
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In March 2021, GAO issued its high-risk series update and emphasized that federal agencies' needed to implement numerous critical actions to strengthen the nation's cybersecurity and information technology (IT) management efforts. In the update, GAO reiterated the importance of agencies addressing four major cybersecurity challenges facing the nation: (1) establishing a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy and performing effective oversight, (2) securing federal systems and information, (3) protecting cyber critical infrastructure, and (4) protecting privacy and sensitive data. Overall, the federal government has to move with a greater sense of urgency to fully address key cybersecurity challenges. In particular: Develop and execute a more comprehensive federal strategy for national cybersecurity and global cyberspace . In September 2020, GAO reported that the White House's national cyber strategy and associated implementation plan addressed some, but not all, of the desirable characteristics of national strategies, such as goals and resources needed. Mitigate global supply chain risks . GAO reported in December 2020 that few of the 23 civilian federal agencies it reviewed implemented foundational practices for managing information and communication technology supply chain risks. Address weaknesses in federal agencies information security programs. GAO reported in July 2019 that 23 agencies almost always designated a risk executive, but had not fully incorporated other key risk management practices, such as establishing a process for assessing agency-wide cybersecurity risks. In its March update, GAO also stressed the importance of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and federal agencies fully implementing critical actions recommended to improve the management of IT to better manage tens of billions of dollars in IT investments. GAO emphasized, for example, that OMB had demonstrated its leadership commitment to improving IT management, but sustaining this commitment was critically important; twenty-one of 24 federal agencies had not yet implemented recommendations to fully address the role of Chief Information Officers, including enhancing their authorities; OMB and agencies needed to address modernization challenges and workforce planning weaknesses; and agencies could take further action to reduce duplicative IT contracts and reduce the risk of wasteful spending. Until OMB and federal agencies take critical actions to strengthen efforts to address these important high-risk areas, longstanding and pervasive weaknesses will likely continue to jeopardize the nation's cybersecurity and management of IT. Why GAO Did This Study The nation's critical infrastructures and federal agencies are dependent on IT systems and electronic data to carry out operations and to process, maintain, and report essential information. Each year, the federal government spends more than $100 billion on cybersecurity and IT investments. GAO has long stressed the continuing and urgent need for effective cybersecurity, as underscored by recent events that have illustrated persistent and evermore sophisticated cyber threats and incidents. Moreover, many IT investments have failed, performed poorly, or suffered from ineffective management. Accordingly, GAO has included information security on its high-risk list since 1997 and added improving the management of IT acquisitions and operations in 2015. In its March 2021 high-risk series update, GAO reported that significant attention was needed in both of these important areas. GAO was asked to testify on federal agencies' efforts to address cybersecurity and the management of IT. For this testimony, GAO relied on selected products it previously issued.
    [Read More…]
  • Medicare Advantage: Beneficiary Disenrollments to Fee-for-Service in Last Year of Life Increase Medicare Spending
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Under Medicare Advantage (MA), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) contracts with private MA plans to provide health care coverage to Medicare beneficiaries. MA beneficiaries in the last year of life disenrolled to join Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) at more than twice the rate of all other MA beneficiaries, GAO's analysis found. MA plans are prohibited from limiting coverage based on beneficiary health status, and disproportionate disenrollment by MA beneficiaries in the last of year life may indicate potential issues with their care. Stakeholders told GAO that, among other reasons, beneficiaries in the last of year life may disenroll because of potential limitations accessing specialized care under MA. While CMS monitors MA disenrollments, the agency does not specifically review disenrollments by beneficiaries in the last year of life. Doing so could help CMS better ensure the care provided to these beneficiaries. Medicare Advantage Beneficiary Disenrollments to Join Fee-for-Service, 2016-2017 Beneficiaries in the last year of life who disenrolled from MA to join FFS increased Medicare costs as they moved from MA's fixed payment arrangement to FFS, where payments are based on the amount and cost of services provided. GAO's analysis shows that FFS payments for such beneficiaries who disenrolled in 2016 were $422 million higher than their estimated MA payments had they remained in MA, and were $490 million higher for those that disenrolled in 2017. Estimated Medicare Advantage Payments for Beneficiaries in Last Year of Life that Disenrolled Compared to Fee-for-Service Payments, 2016-2017 Why GAO Did This Study In contrast to Medicare FFS, which pays providers for claims for services, CMS pays MA plans a fixed monthly amount per beneficiary to provide health care coverage. For beneficiaries with higher expected health care costs, MA payments are increased. In 2019, CMS paid MA plans about $274 billion to cover about 22 million beneficiaries. Prior GAO and other studies have shown that beneficiaries in poorer health are more likely to disenroll from MA to join FFS, which may indicate that they encountered issues with their care under MA. Beneficiaries in the last year of life are generally in poorer health and often require high-cost care. GAO was asked to review disenrollment by MA beneficiaries in the last year of life. In this report, GAO examined (1) disenrollments from MA to join FFS by beneficiaries in the last year of life, and CMS's associated monitoring; and (2) the costs of such disenrollments to Medicare. GAO analyzed CMS disenrollment and mortality data for 2015 through 2018—the most current data at the time of the analysis—to examine the extent of MA beneficiary disenrollment in the last year of life. To estimate the costs of disenrollment, GAO used CMS data to estimate payments for disenrolled beneficiaries had they remained in MA, and compared those estimates against those beneficiaries' actual FFS costs.
    [Read More…]
  • Veterans with Disabilities: VA Could Better Inform Veterans with Disabilities about Their Education Benefit Options
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Most school and veteran service organization (VSO) officials GAO interviewed stated that when given the choice between the Post 9/11 GI Bill (GI Bill) and the Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program, veterans with disabilities will base their choice on which program best suits their unique goals, preferences, and circumstances. For example, certain veterans may prefer the GI Bill's flexibility to independently select courses of study, whereas others may prefer to have the assistance of a counselor to select a course of study as part of an employment plan, as provided under VR&E. However, most officials GAO interviewed said veterans with disabilities often use the GI Bill for education benefits without knowing that the VR&E program exists, or that it can pay for education, provide assistive equipment for their disability, or offer unique benefits of working with a counselor. Selected Comments Regarding the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Veteran Readiness & Employment Programs “Had I known about VR&E I would have [used it.]” -Veteran with disabilities “I often think of VR&E as sort of a hidden program when it comes to education benefits.” -VSO official ”Veterans with disabilities are often not aware of the differences between the two programs.” -School official Source: GAO survey of veterans and GAO interviews with school and VSO officials | GAO-21-450 VA provides information about education benefits to veterans with disabilities through various methods, including in-person communication, online materials, and written communications. However, on the agency website, VA.gov, few webpages devoted to VR&E explicitly mention that it can help pay for a college degree. In addition, the letters that VA sends to veterans when they receive their disability rating do not specifically mention that VR&E can cover education costs for a college degree. VA's online GI Bill Comparison Tool allows veterans to learn more about the tuition amounts each program will cover for certain schools, but it does not inform veterans on the key differences in program features across the programs. Most school and VSO officials GAO interviewed said VA's efforts do not adequately inform veterans with disabilities about their potential education benefit options, as evidenced by the number of veterans with disabilities they encounter who are unaware that VR&E exists or who do not fully understand the benefits VR&E can provide. Including more information about how VR&E can help veterans pay for higher education, and facilitating direct comparison between the features of the GI Bill and VR&E, would help better position veterans with disabilities to choose the program that best meets their needs. Why GAO Did This Study VA offers education benefits to veterans with disabilities through the GI Bill, VA's largest education program, and VR&E, which helps veterans with service-connected disabilities re-enter the workforce. Each offers distinct features that may better serve veterans depending on their individual circumstances. However, veterans with disabilities may not know that VR&E can help pay for education as part of its employment services. GAO was asked to what extent eligible veterans are aware of the comparative features of the programs. This report examines (1) the reported factors that influence whether veterans with disabilities select the Post-9/11 GI Bill or VR&E, and (2) how VA informs veterans with disabilities about the education benefits available to them from each program, and the effectiveness of those efforts. For both programs, GAO reviewed relevant federal laws; analyzed participant data; conducted semi-structured interviews with officials from schools and VSOs selected for their depth of knowledge about veteran affairs, and reviewed relevant VA informational materials.
    [Read More…]
  • COVID-19 Contracting: Contractor Paid Leave Reimbursements Could Provide Lessons Learned for Future Emergency Responses
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found To help government contractors keep their workforce in a ready state during the COVID-19 pandemic, section 3610 of the CARES Act generally authorized government agencies to reimburse contractors for paid leave provided to contractor personnel and subcontractors during the national emergency. Section 3610 did not appropriate specific funding for this purpose. The four agencies GAO reviewed—the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, and NASA—reported use of section 3610 authority totaling at least $882.8 million over 14 months. The extent to which the agencies used the authority varied, from $1.4 million at Homeland Security to $760.7 million at Energy. Further, Defense officials estimated that defense contractors have more than $4 billion in paid leave costs that are potentially eligible for reimbursement under section 3610. Defense officials also noted, however, that the department does not plan to reimburse this full amount using existing funding. Agencies also based their reimbursement decisions on the nature of the work performed by contractors, such as whether telework was an option. Twelve out of the 15 contractors GAO interviewed reported that paid leave reimbursement had a great or moderate effect on their ability to retain employees (see figure), in particular those with specialized skills or clearances. Selected Contractors' Views on the Effect of Paid Leave Reimbursement on Workforce Retention Given the urgency of the pandemic, agencies prioritized quick implementation of section 3610 over a more deliberative process, resulting in variations such as how agencies tracked use of the authority. Officials from all four agencies said that they either have captured or intend to capture lessons learned from implementing section 3610 and are willing to share these with other federal agencies. However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)—which coordinates government-wide contracting policy—has not collected and shared lessons learned. With coordination from OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, the government could seize an opportunity to enhance implementation of paid leave reimbursement provisions that may be enacted as part of rapid federal responses to future emergencies. Why GAO Did This Study In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which provides over $2 trillion in emergency assistance for those affected by COVID-19. Section 3610 of the CARES Act enables agencies, at their discretion, to reimburse contractors for paid leave provided to their employees and subcontractors who are unable to access work sites due to facility closures or other restrictions, and whose duties cannot be performed remotely during the pandemic. The CARES Act also includes a provision for GAO to review federal contracting pursuant to authorities provided in the Act. In September 2020, GAO found that agencies had not made much use of section 3610 authority as of July 2020, and expectations of future use varied. This report (1) examines how selected federal agencies have used section 3610 authority and (2) presents selected contractors' perspectives on COVID-19 paid leave reimbursement. GAO reviewed guidance and data and interviewed cognizant officials from four agencies with contract obligations greater than $10 billion in fiscal year 2019. GAO also selected a non-generalizable sample of 15 contractors that received or requested section 3610 reimbursements from one or more of the selected agencies and conducted semi-structured interviews of contractor representatives.
    [Read More…]
  • COVID-19: VA Should Assess Its Oversight of Infection Prevention and Control in Community Living Centers
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) took steps—such as issuing guidance and trainings—to support the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Community Living Centers (CLC), which are VA-owned and -operated nursing homes. This guidance focused on, for example, limiting CLC entry and testing residents and staff for COVID-19, while the trainings were intended to prepare staff for, among other things, a surge in cases. However, the agency conducted limited oversight of infection prevention and control in these facilities during the first year of the pandemic, from March 2020 through February 2021. In particular, the agency suspended annual in-person inspections of CLCs before resuming them virtually in February 2021. The agency also required that CLCs conduct a one-time self-assessment of their infection prevention and control practices but did not review the results in a timely manner to make more immediate improvements. VA officials acknowledged these shortcomings as the agency responded in real time to the rapidly evolving pandemic. As VA has described this time as a “learning period,” it could benefit from assessing its decisions and actions related to oversight of infection prevention and control during the pandemic to identify any lessons learned. Such an assessment would align with VA's plans to assess and report on the agency's overall response to the pandemic as well as its strategic goal to promote continuous quality improvement in CLCs. Results from such an assessment—which could look at both successes and missed opportunities—could help VA better prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks in CLCs. Why GAO Did This Study Close to 8,000 veterans per day received nursing home care provided by VA in CLCs in fiscal year 2020. COVID-19 has posed significant risks to nursing home residents and staff, as residents are often in frail health, and residents and staff have close daily contact with each other. The CARES Act includes a provision that GAO monitor the federal response to the pandemic. This report describes, among other objectives, guidance and training VA has issued to help CLCs respond to the pandemic and examines VA's oversight of infection prevention and control in CLCs during the pandemic. GAO analyzed documents, including guidance, training-related materials, and CLC self-assessments of their infection prevention and control practices. GAO also interviewed VA officials and CLC staff, the latter from five facilities selected based on factors such as having been cited for infection prevention and control deficiencies prior to the pandemic.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S.-China Trade: USTR Should Fully Document Internal Procedures for Making Tariff Exclusion and Extension Decisions
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) developed a process in July 2018 to review tariff exclusion requests for some imported products from China and later developed a process to extend these exclusions. From 2018 to 2020, U.S. stakeholders submitted about 53,000 exclusion requests to USTR for specific products covered by the tariffs. USTR's process consisted of a public comment period to submit requests, an internal review, an interagency assessment, and the decision publication. USTR documented some procedures for reviewing exclusion requests. However, it did not fully document all of its internal procedures, including roles and responsibilities for each step in its review process. GAO reviewed selected exclusion case files and found inconsistencies in the agency's reviews. For example, USTR did not document how reviewers should consider multiple requests from the same company, and GAO's case file review found USTR performed these steps inconsistently. Another case file lacked documentation to explain USTR's final decision because the agency's procedures did not specify whether such documentation was required. Federal internal control standards state that agencies should document their procedures to ensure they conduct them consistently and effectively, and to retain knowledge. Without fully documented internal procedures, USTR lacks reasonable assurance it conducted its reviews consistently. Moreover, documenting them will help USTR to administer any future exclusions and extensions. USTR evaluated each exclusion request on a case-by-case basis using several factors, including product availability outside of China and the potential economic harm of the tariffs. According to USTR officials, no one factor was essential to grant or deny a request. For example, USTR might grant a request that demonstrated the tariffs would cause severe economic harm even when the requested product was available outside of China. USTR denied about 46,000 requests (87 percent), primarily for the failure to show that the tariffs would cause severe economic harm to the requesters or other U.S. interests (see figure). Further, USTR did not extend 75 percent of the tariff exclusions it had granted. USTR's Primary Reasons for Denying Exclusion Requests for Section 301 Tariffs on Products from China, 2018-2020 Note: Totals may not sum due to rounding. Why GAO Did This Study In July 2018, USTR placed tariffs on certain products from China in response to an investigation that found certain trade acts, policies, and practices of China were unreasonable or discriminatory, and burden or restrict U.S. commerce. As of December 2020, the U.S. imposed tariffs on roughly $460 billion worth of Chinese imports under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended. Because these tariffs could harm U.S. workers and manufacturers that rely on these imports, USTR developed a process to exclude some products from these additional tariffs. U.S. businesses and members of Congress have raised questions about the transparency and fairness of USTR's administration of this process. GAO was asked to review USTR's tariff exclusion program. This report (1) examines the processes USTR used to review Section 301 tariff exclusion requests and extensions and (2) describes how USTR evaluated those tariff exclusion requests and extensions, and the outcomes of its decisions. GAO analyzed USTR's public and internal documents relating to the exclusion and extension processes, including 16 randomly selected nongeneralizable case files, and data from USTR and the U.S. Census Bureau. GAO also interviewed agency officials.
    [Read More…]
  • Protests in Iran
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken Travels to Kuwait to Advance Regional Security and Economic Ties
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Finalists Announced for 2021 P3 Impact Award
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Zakka Jacob of CNN-News18
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Designation of Al-Qa’ida-Linked Financial Facilitators
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at a Joint Press Availability
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Imposing Sanctions in Defense of Human Rights in Syria
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to Mission India Staff
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Opening Remarks at a Civil Society Roundtable
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Texas Man Sentenced for $24 Million COVID-19 Relief Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Texas man was sentenced today to more than 11 years in prison for wire-fraud and money-laundering offenses in connection with his fraudulent scheme to obtain approximately $24.8 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.
    [Read More…]
  • Louisiana Tax Preparer Pleads Guilty to Second Tax Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Louisiana woman pleaded guilty today to a conspiracy to defraud the United States.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Requires Substantial Divestitures in Gray’s Acquisition of Quincy to Protect American Consumers and Small Businesses
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it will require Gray Television Inc. and Quincy Media Inc. to divest 10 broadcast television stations in seven local markets as a condition of resolving a challenge to Gray’s proposed $925 million acquisition of Quincy.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Files Retaliation Lawsuit Against Wilson County, North Carolina, Emergency Communications
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against Wilson County, North Carolina, alleging that Wilson County Emergency Communications (WCEC) engaged in unlawful retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it terminated an employee after she disclosed to supervisors that she had been sexually harassed while on the job.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Issues Guidance on Federal Statutes Regarding Voting Methods and Post-Election “Audits”
    In Crime News
    Today the U.S. Department of Justice announced the release of two guidance documents to ensure states fully comply with federal laws regarding elections, specifically federal statutes affecting methods of voting and federal constraints related to post-election “audits.”
    [Read More…]
  • Nine MS-13 Gang Members Indicted in Racketeering and Violent Crime Conspiracy
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Nashville, Tennessee, has returned a 60-count indictment charging nine members of La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) with a racketeering conspiracy spanning more than seven years.
    [Read More…]
  • Defense attorney convicted
    In Justice News
    A 48-year-old resident [Read More…]
  • Mobile Passport Control
    In Travel
      */ Mobile Passport [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Peru President-Elect Castillo
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Election of Fiame Naomi Mata’afa as Prime Minister of Samoa
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • U.S. Special Envoy and Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland’s Visit to Tripoli
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Tunisian President Kais Saied
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Supplemental Material for GAO-21-536: 2020 Federal Managers Survey: Results on Government Performance and Management Issues
    In U.S GAO News
    This product is a supplement to Evidence-Based Policymaking: Survey Data Identify Opportunities to Strengthen Capacity across Federal Agencies (GAO-21-536). Between July and December 2020, GAO surveyed nearly 4,000 federal managers on various organizational performance and management issues. The survey asked managers for their perspectives on their agencies' capacities to develop and use different types of data and information in decision-making activities, such as when allocating resources. In addition, the survey sought views on agency efforts to maintain operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. With a 56 percent response rate, the results are generalizable to the 24 major agencies included in the survey, and across the federal government. This product makes available the results from GAO's 2020 survey—at a government-wide level and for each agency. It also provides information about how and why GAO conducted the survey, and identifies other GAO products that analyzed and reported these survey results. For more information, contact Alissa H. Czyz at 202-512-6806 or czyza@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]