Secretary Antony J. Blinken Virtual Remarks to Embassy London Staff

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

London, United Kingdom

U.S. Embassy

MS LEMPERT:  Good morning, everybody.  And thank you all for tuning in.  It is my great honor to introduce Secretary Blinken to this mission, and also to introduce Mission UK to Secretary Blinken.

Mr. Secretary, Embassy London is the largest American embassy in Europe, with 46 U.S. departments and agencies represented.  We’ve also got personnel virtually joining us today from our consulates in Belfast, Edinburgh, and Hamilton.  Altogether, Mission UK is comprised of almost 1,100 U.S. direct hire and locally employed staff, all working across the many facets of the U.S.-UK partnership to advance and strengthen our relationship with our closest ally.  We also have 700 American family members across Mission UK, many of whom are on the line this morning.

Colleagues, I learned yesterday that Secretary Blinken has a special history – dare I say special relationship – with Embassy London.  His mother worked here in our cultural affairs section in the 1950s.  Secretary Blinken’s storied public service career began at the State Department nearly 30 years ago, and he has served the U.S. Government in various roles since, to include deputy secretary of state and deputy national security advisor during the Obama administration.  So he has an insider’s knowledge of the work we do, the importance of that work, and also the importance of the U.S.-UK relationship and all the things our two countries can accomplish together.

He is a master of diplomacy, as well as a master of bad puns.  I’m hoping that we might be lucky enough to hear a few this morning.

Mr. Secretary, I know you’ve got a busy few days here, working on some of the most important global issues we face.  So thank you for finding the time to come here today to meet your team.  We can’t wait to hear from you.  Without further ado, the virtual floor is yours.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you so much, and good morning, everyone.  It is really wonderful to be here in London, to be with this team, even virtually.  It’s a little bit strange that we’re actually all here together and yet not quite, but we’re getting there.

I’m really struck to be – have the honor of speaking in front of this extraordinary work by Mark Bradford.  And you should know I feel a particular attachment to it.  When my wife, Evan Ryan, was assistant secretary for – at ECA some years ago, she was responsible for ultimately selecting the American artist who would represent us at the Venice Biennale, and Mark Bradford was the artist selected that year.  So it’s particularly good to be in this spot with this extraordinary backdrop.

But mostly I really want to thank everyone on the mission team for all the work that you’ve done making this visit already a success.  Yesterday, Foreign Secretary Raab and I had a very, very productive session, reaffirming the Special Relationship and covering as many issues as you can imagine.  Later today I’ll have a chance to meet with Prime Minister Johnson, and very much look forward to that.

After a series of mostly bilats yesterday, we’re spending today and tomorrow at the G7, where we should get a lot of good work done on everything from COVID to climate to China to Russia to other urgent issues facing our countries and indeed facing the world as a whole.

I’ve got some idea how much effort goes into a visit like this one – to lay the groundwork, to pull everything off, and then do all the follow-up after we’re wheels-up.  So I’m especially grateful to this entire team for making my first trip to the United Kingdom as Secretary of State such a productive one already.

I also know you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you during this so-called “year of leadership” for the United Kingdom, including President Biden’s first overseas trip, the G7 summit, the COP26 in Glasgow in November.

As you know, because you’re living it every day, the United States has no closer ally and partner than the United Kingdom.  And that’s thanks in large part to the work that you’re doing to keep this relationship strong.  This is one of the largest and busiest embassies we have in the world – 46 agencies, more than 1,600 employees and family members.

I also know that it’s been a tough year for a couple of reasons, and they’re no less significant for being obvious:  COVID-19 has in many ways turned life upside down.  I know folks have been isolated from each other.  Some of you have gotten sick; your loved ones have gotten sick.  Some of you have suffered losses.

I was saddened to hear of the loss of Mr. Jit Thapa, who was a guard here at our embassy.  I understand that his son, Parbin, is also a member of our local guard force.  Parbin, we are deeply sorry for your family’s loss, and the United States is very grateful for your father’s service here and to our country.

The UK was initially one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe.  You all stepped up.  The London Health Unit medevac center provided medical care to Mission UK and to posts throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East.  Your medical team has administered more than 1,400 COVID vaccines to mission personnel in the UK and also clinics in Brussels, Oslo, Reykjavik.  I want to commend Dr. Clay Crawford and the entire health unit for extraordinary service during this ordeal.

Meanwhile, the consular team repatriated and supported thousands of Americans during the pandemic.  Management, Security, and IRM teams worked together to keep employees as safe as possible and to make it possible for people to telework.  Simply put, everyone pulled together.  To borrow a phrase from our hosts, you kept calm and carried on.

And you make your country proud.  Amid the pandemic, there’s been another challenge facing this mission and that is Brexit.  Again, this team did great work to make sure everyone in Washington, including me, understands the full implications of the UK’s exit from the European Union.  So whatever section you work in, the embassy or consulates, thank you.  You play an indispensable role in advancing America’s interests and telling America’s story to the world.

I think this is an incredibly exciting time to work on what is an extraordinarily important relationship to the United States.  So many of the issues you’re dealing with day-in, day-out, whether it’s COVID recovery, sustainable, more equitable economic growth, addressing the challenges posed by Iran, Russia, China – all of these and more are on the cutting edge of our National Security policy.  And I just want to tell you that I’m grateful for everything each of you does to make the United States, United Kingdom, and the international community a little bit more secure, a little bit more prosperous.  And I’m particularly grateful to Yael Lempert for her extraordinary leadership of this mission.  We’ve been colleagues for a long time.  I’m grateful to have you here at this time.

And with that, let’s spend a few minutes at least having a chance to talk.  I’m eager to hear from you and to take any questions you’ve got.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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    GAO identified nine categories of contracting fraud schemes that occurred at the Department of Energy (DOE), including billing schemes, conflicts of interest, and payroll schemes. For example, a subcontractor employee at a site created fraudulent invoices for goods never received, resulting in a loss of over $6 million. In another scheme, a contractor engaged in years of widespread time card fraud, submitting inflated claims for compensation. The contractor agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle the case. DOE reported that it identified nearly $15 million in improper payments due to confirmed fraud in fiscal year 2019. However, due to the difficulty in detecting fraud, agencies—including DOE—incur financial losses related to fraud that are never identified or are settled without admission to fraud and are not counted as such. Fraud can also have nonfinancial impacts, such as fraudsters obtaining a competitive advantage and preventing legitimate businesses from obtaining contracts. DOE has taken some steps and is planning others to demonstrate a commitment to combat fraud and assess its contracting fraud risks, consistent with the leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. However, GAO found that DOE has not assessed the full range of contracting fraud risks it faces. Specifically, GAO found DOE's methods for gathering information about its fraud risks captures selected fraud risks—rather than all fraud risks—facing DOE programs. As shown in the figure, DOE's risk profiles for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 did not capture four of nine fraud schemes that occurred at DOE. For example, one entity did not include any fraud risks in its risk profiles, yet GAO identified six types of fraud schemes that occurred at the entity's site. DOE plans to expand its risk assessment process, but officials expect the new process will continue to rely on a methodology that gathers information on selected fraud risks. The Fraud Risk Framework states that entities identify specific tools, methods, and sources for gathering information about fraud risks. Without expanding its methodology to capture, assess, and document all fraud risks facing its programs, DOE risks remaining vulnerable to these types of fraud. Fraud Risks Identified in Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019 Risk Profiles Compared with Types of Fraud Schemes That Have Occurred at DOE DOE is planning to develop an antifraud strategy in fiscal year 2022 and has taken some steps to evaluate and adapt to fraud risks, consistent with leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. Part of DOE's effort to manage fraud risks includes adapting controls to address emerging fraud risks. Additionally, DOE is planning to expand its use of data analytics to detect contracting fraud, beginning in fiscal year 2022. DOE relies primarily on contractors to carry out its missions at its laboratories and other facilities, spending approximately 80 percent of its total obligations on contracts. GAO and DOE's Inspector General have reported on incidents of fraud by DOE contractors and identified multiple contracting fraud risks. GAO was asked to examine DOE's processes to manage contracting fraud risks. This report examines, for DOE, (1) types of contracting fraud schemes and their financial and nonfinancial impacts, (2) steps taken to commit to combating contracting fraud risks and the extent to which these risks have been assessed, and (3) steps taken to design and implement an antifraud strategy and to evaluate and adapt its approach. GAO reviewed relevant laws and guidance; reviewed agency media releases, Agency Financial Reports, and DOE Inspector General reports to Congress from 2013 through 2019; and reviewed documents and interviewed officials from 42 DOE field and site offices, contractors, and subcontractors, representing a range of sites and programs. GAO is making two recommendations, including for DOE to expand its fraud risk assessment methodology to ensure all fraud risks facing DOE programs are fully assessed and documented in accordance with leading practices. DOE concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Rebecca Shea at (202) 512-6722 shear@gao.gov or Allison B. Bawden at (202) 512-3841, bawdena@gao.gov.
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  • F-35 Sustainment: DOD Needs to Address Key Uncertainties as It Re-Designs the Aircraft’s Logistics System
    In U.S GAO News
    The Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) is integral to supporting F-35 aircraft operations and maintenance. However, F-35 personnel at 5 locations GAO visited for its March 2020 report cited several challenges. For example, users at all 5 locations we visited stated that electronic records of F-35 parts in ALIS are frequently incorrect, corrupt, or missing, resulting in the system signaling that an aircraft should be grounded in cases where personnel know that parts have been correctly installed and are safe for flight. At times, F-35 squadron leaders have decided to fly an aircraft when ALIS has signaled not to, thus assuming operational risk to meet mission requirements. GAO found that DOD had not (1) developed a performance-measurement process for ALIS to define how the system should perform or (2) determined how ALIS issues were affecting overall F-35 fleet readiness, which remains below warfighter requirements. DOD recognizes that ALIS needs improvement and plans to leverage ongoing re-design efforts to eventually replace ALIS with a new logistics system. However, as DOD embarks on this effort, it faces key technical and programmatic uncertainties (see figure). Uncertainties about the Future F-35 Logistics Information System These uncertainties are complicated and will require significant planning and coordination with the F-35 program office, military services, international partners, and the prime contractor. For example, GAO reported in March 2020 that DOD had not determined the roles of DOD and the prime contractor in future system development and management. DOD had also not made decisions about the extent to which the new system will be hosted in the cloud as opposed to onsite servers at the squadron level. More broadly, DOD has experienced significant challenges sustaining a growing F-35 fleet. GAO has made over 20 recommendations to address problems associated with ALIS, spare parts shortages, limited repair capabilities, and inadequate planning. DOD has an opportunity to re-imagine the F-35's logistics system and improve operations, but it must approach this planning deliberately and thoroughly. Continued attention to these challenges will help ensure that DOD can effectively sustain the F-35 and meet warfighter requirements. The F-35 Lightning II is DOD's most ambitious and costly weapon system in history, with total acquisition and sustainment costs for the three U.S. military services who fly the aircraft estimated at over $1.6 trillion. Central to F-35 sustainment is ALIS—a complex system that supports operations, mission planning, supply-chain management, maintenance, and other processes. A fully functional ALIS is critical to the more than 3,300 F-35 aircraft that the U.S. military services and foreign nations plan to purchase. Earlier this year, DOD stated that it intends to replace ALIS with a new logistics system. This statement highlights (1) current user challenges with ALIS and (2) key technical and programmatic uncertainties facing DOD as it re-designs the F-35's logistics system. This statement is largely based on GAO's March 2020 report on ALIS ( GAO-20-316 ), as well as previous F-35 sustainment work. GAO previously recommended that DOD develop a performance-measurement process for ALIS, track how ALIS is affecting F-35 fleet readiness, and develop a strategy for re-designing the F-35's logistics system. GAO also suggested that Congress consider requiring DOD to develop a performance-measurement process for its logistics system. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations and is taking actions to address them. For more information, contact Diana C. Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or maurerd@gao.gov.
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  • Science & Tech Spotlight: Consumer Electronics Recycling
    In U.S GAO News
    Why This Matters Consumer electronics contain critical materials whose supplies are limited, including gold, platinum, and rare earth metals. Domestic recycling of consumer electronics could extend the supply and reduce the current U.S. reliance on imports. New technologies are becoming available, but electronics recycling is complex and faces challenges, such as narrow profit margins. The Technology What is it? Recycling of consumer electronics—including smartphones, televisions, and computers—generally involves separating high-value metals from plastics and other low-value materials. Precious metals and rare earth metals are the economic driving force for consumer electronic recycling technology. These metals have high market values and limited supplies, and they can be reused across many industries, including the defense and energy sectors. Consumer electronic devices can also contain personally identifiable information (PII), including medical and financial data, which could be improperly disclosed if they are not destroyed prior to recycling. According to a study of selected consumer electronics, about 2.8 million tons were disposed of in the U.S. in 2017, of which about 36 percent was recycled. Figure 1. Selected valuable, hazardous, and digital materials contained within consumer electronics that can be recovered, disposed, or destroyed There is no federal standard requiring consumer electronics recycling. Some states have enacted electronics recycling laws requiring electronics producers to pay fees or contract with businesses to ensure electronic waste is collected for recycling. The U.S. recycles electronics domestically and also exports electronics for recycling abroad. How does it work? The high concentration of valuable material in certain consumer electronics is key to the economic viability of recycling these products. Cell phones, as one example, have more precious metal by weight than raw ore does. According to the EPA, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, and 75 pounds of gold can be recovered from a million recycled cell phones. Based on commodity market prices on August 12, 2020, these weights of metals are worth approximately $100,000, $290,000, and $2.1 million for copper, silver, and gold, respectively. In contrast, cathode ray tube (CRT) displays in older televisions and computer monitors have little recycling value, but they contain leaded glass and may be considered hazardous waste. In addition, recovery of certain valuable materials from consumer electronics is limited due to the high costs of technology and processing. Electronics recycling companies disassemble devices by shredding, which also destroys PII, or by hand. These companies then separate valuable materials for reuse (including gold, silver, platinum, and rare earth metals) from toxic materials for disposal (including brominated materials and lead). Traditional methods include burning to remove non-metal parts and separation using strong acids. New separation technologies are being used or piloted to recover precious and rare earth metals. For example, robotic disassembly uses machine learning and computer vision to more rapidly pick and sort items. Another new technology uses ultrasound to speed up the chemical removal of gold from cell phone SIM cards. Figure 2. Emerging separation technologies for recycled electronics Other technologies are emerging, like biometallurgy, which uses microorganisms to separate high-value metals from other materials, such as plastics, glass, and glue. For example, naturally occurring bacteria can oxidize gold in acidic solutions, making it soluble and thus easier to separate from other materials. Other advanced techniques, such as magnetic or electrochemical separation, are showing promise in the laboratory with existing technology. For example, in one study, researchers used ultrasound to dissolve nickel and gold within a SIM card. They then used a magnetic field to separate the dissolved nickel, which is magnetic, from the gold, which is not. Similarly, other techniques use electric fields to separate dissolved metals based on their weight and electric charge. How mature is it? Recycling technology is well established for some traditional single-stream processes, such as aluminum recycling. However, electronic devices are more complex and require disassembly and separation. At least one consumer electronics manufacturer is piloting robotic disassembly for its products. Emerging separation technologies such as ultrasound have come to market in the past decade and are being used. Manual disassembly and shredding are decades old. Biometallurgy is being tested in pilot plants, and new microorganisms are being developed in laboratories to treat electronic waste. Opportunities Increase supply and reduce imports. Recycling could increase the domestic supply of precious and rare earth metals and reduce the current U.S. reliance on overseas sources. Grow the green economy. Developing advanced recycling technologies could promote domestic business and employment. Reduce hazardous practices. A significant amount of recycling currently occurs in the developing world, where methods include open-pit burning. New technology could reduce the use of such methods, which are hazardous to the environment and human health. Lessen environmental impacts. Developing advanced recycling technologies could reduce the environmental impacts of raw ore mining and landfill disposal of hazardous materials such as lead and brominated materials. Challenges Market challenges. Markets for recovered materials may be limited, and the value of recovered materials may not be enough to cover the costs of equipment for collection, sorting, disassembly, and separation. Secure destruction of personal information. Many electronic devices contain PII. Shredding them may effectively destroy PII but may also make high-value material harder to recover. Counterfeit electronic parts. Exported used electronics may serve as a source of counterfeit electronic parts, which, as GAO previously reported, could disrupt parts of the Department of Defense supply chain and threaten the reliability of weapons systems. (See GAO-16-236, linked below.) Rapid technological development. As consumer electronics made with new materials get smaller, new technologies for separation may be needed to recycle valuable materials. Policy Context and Questions With the volume of electronic waste expected to grow, questions include: How can programs to support technological innovation, economic development, and advanced manufacturing be leveraged to promote a more robust domestic electronics recycling industry? What efforts can the federal government, states, and others make to incentivize recycling rather than disposal? What are the potential benefits and challenges of such policies? What strategies can the public and private sectors implement to address the risk that exports of used electronics will contribute to unsafe recycling practices, disclosure of PII, and counterfeit electronics? How can reductions in exports bolster job growth? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.
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  • Defense Budget: Opportunities Exist to Improve DOD’s Management of Defense Spending
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO's previous work has shown that a number of opportunities exist for the Department of Defense (DOD) to strengthen management of defense spending, which would help the department address the challenges it faces, especially in a constrained budget environment. These opportunities include: Improving budgeting execution of funds. DOD does not fully obligate the funds appropriated to it and can improve both its budgeting for and its use of the resources that are provided to it. For example, GAO found that DOD has left billions of dollars in appropriated amounts unspent over the past 10 fiscal years. Better estimating annual budget requirements and obligating appropriations provided by Congress within the period of availability established by Congress would help DOD minimize these cases of under-execution. More clearly determining future resource requirements related to overseas contingency operations. DOD and Congress need a clearer determination of DOD's future resource requirements, in particular how and whether to incorporate enduring Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) costs—costs that will endure beyond ongoing contingency operations—into DOD's base budget. These costs could total tens of billions of dollars a year. However, few details exist as to what makes up these enduring costs or how they were derived, raising questions about how much should be included as future requirements. Reducing improper payments. Addressing improper payments—payments that should not have been made or were made in an incorrect amount—is an area where better financial management could save DOD billions of dollars. In its fiscal year 2020 agency financial report, DOD estimated that it paid about $11.4 billion in improper payments, or about 1.7 percent of all payments it made that year. DOD has taken steps to reduce improper payments in some areas, but DOD's estimates of its improper payments in other areas indicate more remains to be done. Sustaining and refining department-wide business reform efforts. DOD must transform its overall business operations so that it can more efficiently and effectively use its resources. In recent years, DOD reported notable achievements from its most recent department-wide business reform efforts, including $37 billion in savings from fiscal years 2017 to 2021 as a result of these efforts. However, GAO previously found that while DOD's reported savings were largely reflected in its budget materials, the analyses underlying these estimates were not always well documented and the savings were not always the result of business reform. Moreover, uncertainty about the leadership structure at DOD for overseeing and reforming business operations, including the recent elimination of the Chief Management Officer position, calls into question whether efforts to fundamentally transform how the department does business can be realized and sustained. GAO has previously highlighted the importance of DOD providing clear department-wide guidance on roles, responsibilities, authorities, and resources for business reform efforts will be necessary for DOD to make progress in these efforts. Decisions by DOD and Congress regarding long-term defense needs will have a meaningful impact on the nation's fiscal future. As the single largest category of discretionary spending, defense spending is likely to play a large role in any discussion of future federal spending. GAO and others have found that DOD faces challenges that are likely to put pressure on its budget moving forward. DOD is the only major federal agency that has been unable to receive a clean audit opinion on its financial statements. This testimony provides information on how DOD can better manage defense spending, specifically related to its ability to (1) accurately estimate its budgetary requirements and execute its appropriated funds, (2) determine resource requirements related to overseas contingency operations, (3) reduce improper payments, and (4) sustain and refine department-wide reform efforts. For this testimony, GAO reviewed and summarized its recent work on DOD budget and financial management issues and departmental reform efforts. In prior work on which this testimony is based, GAO made recommendations that DOD take steps to better estimate its annual budget requirements and future fiscal needs for OCO, reduce improper payments, and refine and formalize its departmental reform efforts. DOD generally concurred with these recommendations and is working toward implementing them. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.
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