Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Anne Claire Coudray of TF1

Office of the Spokesperson

Quai d’Orsay

Paris, France

Via Translation

QUESTION:  Antony Blinken, good evening.  Thank you very much for agreeing to answer our questions.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s my pleasure.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  So, when Joe Biden appointed you head of American diplomacy, we, French people, wanted to see it as a sign because you speak absolutely perfect French.  You lived in France, in Paris, when you were a student.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Actually, you are too nice.  In fact, the good thing is that since January, I have had the opportunity to practice my French, especially when collaborating with my friend Jean-Yves Le Drian and with other French colleagues.  Indeed, I came to France at the age of 9.  I stayed until I was 18.  I passed my baccalaureate in Paris and then obviously, I’ve kept in touch ever since.  I even came back when I was 30 before starting a career in government.  I spent two more years in Paris.  I made friends then who are still friends today.

QUESTION:  Precisely, it is often said that the French and the Americans are like cousins.  And yet, in recent years, we have also discovered sometimes rather brutally that we do not always think the same.  You are familiar with both ways of thinking.  What would you say? What makes us different sometimes?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Sometimes there are differences – nuances, changes in tactics, sometimes on issues.  That’s normal.  It’s normal in a family.  It’s normal with friends.  But, more important than our differences, are the things that bring us together on a deeper level.  That is what I learned in my youth. 

There are certain values, ​​and we use these words very easily, but there is something behind these values, which we, French and Americans, are trying to implement.  Liberty, equality, fraternity. That means something.  The obligation to support human rights means something.  And most importantly, right now we both live in democracies that are being significantly challenged, both internally and externally.  I think we both see the same challenge: it is to show through our actions, and especially our collective actions, to our citizens, that we can obtain results that will improve their lives and, hopefully, the lives of people around the world.

QUESTION:  Antony Blinken, the French people know you too, since you appear in one of the most famous photos of the last ten years, in the Situation room, near Barack Obama during the assault on Osama bin Laden. Would you say that it is the highlight of your career?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s mostly – it’s true that it was a highlight. The strongest? I don’t know, but it’s something that I remember because it was a moment of justice, if you will, because he was the one who led the attack on the United States for seven years. So it was a moment of justice for him, for us and above all, of course, there was some tension because the mission was complicated.  And finally, it was a relief.  But it is indeed an important moment. 

That being said, I have to tell you that a few weeks after this photo was taken – I am in the background.  We have a TV show, back home, in the evening, with a comedian called David Letterman, you may also know him in France, who showed a close-up of this photo.  One of my government colleagues was on set with him.  He pointed at me, and he said, “Who is that guy in the back of the picture? Is this someone who got lost because he was trying to visit the White House?” So, this moment is both a moment I will remember all my life, and one that will keep things in perspective.

QUESTION:  Joe Biden has chosen to travel to Europe for the first time for the sake of the Europeans, with a very strong message: to restore a relationship of trust battered by the four years of Donald Trump’s mandate.  How do you assess the damage caused by this Trump mandate in your mission?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m totally focused on today and tomorrow and the work we need to do together to face the challenges…

QUESTION:  But when you arrive in a country, you must feel that these four years have been difficult and that they have damaged this relationship between Europe and America.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I remember two things.  First of all, there is a resurgence of confidence between the United States and our closest allies.  And especially with France.  This is very important, and this for a very practical reason.  When we look at the challenges that we’re facing – whether it be the challenge of this COVID pandemic, the climate, the emergence of new technologies that have major impacts on the lives of our citizens – we find that there is no one country acting alone that has the capacity to deal effectively with these problems and there is no wall that we can build high enough, strong enough, to avoid them. 

So, at the moment, I think there is a need to work together, to find the means to cooperate, to coordinate, to work together.  And that’s why President Biden wanted to focus on our partnerships during the first six months, our alliances with our closest friends, and our oldest ally: France.

QUESTION:  Will it be a more balanced relationship? It is true that before, the United States appeared to be masters of the world.  During these four Trump years, there was also a lot of humiliation. The Europeans have been forced to find another balance.  It implies that you can’t go back to the same relationship as before.  Do we need a more balanced relationship?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  In any case, you can’t go back because the world has changed and is changing extremely quickly.  So, above all what we need is to work and face these challenges together and not look back.  And that also involves, maybe, doing things differently. Listening is as important as talking. And I think we have done some important work, especially these last six months, not only in terms of our commitment to our partners and friends, but above all by listening to them – whether it is bilaterally, or in the G7, in NATO, in the EU – and that allows us to establish a joint approach much more effectively.

QUESTION:  There is one point that we do not quite agree upon, and that is the way you see China.  It is true that you consider this country an adversary, even a commercial enemy, and it is true that it is a tone with which the Europeans take a little distance, in particular Emmanuel Macron.  Do you think we are being naive with China?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  What I’ve seen, especially these last few weeks, is a convergence with regard to the approach to China and I think we see it the same way.  It is, for all our countries, a very complicated relationship that cannot be simplified with a single word or a single sentence.  But what I will say, and I think we have the same point of view with France, is that there are antagonistic elements in the relationship, competitive elements, and elements of cooperation.  And what’s important, whether it’s antagonistic, whether it’s competitive, whether it’s cooperative, is that we will have a lot more impact when we approach China together than if we act alone.  And whether it is at the G7, NATO, or the EU, I think that we have seen a convergence in the declarations and in the decisions that have been made.

And I want to be clear on this, our goal is not to hold China back. It is not to establish a policy against China.  It is to support a free and open system based on the rules and standards that France and the United States established after WWII, and which have served us well.  Because if we don’t have a system where countries act according to the rules, respecting the agreements they have made, the alternative is war. It’s a jungle, it’s the law of the jungle, the survival of the fittest.  And we know from our common history that it leads somewhere we no longer want to go.  So, for us, the idea is to support this system with our allies and partners, not against China, but for a positive vision of the future and relations between countries.

QUESTION:  I have two final questions.  There is one area in which our cooperation is unprecedented.  It is the military.  France and the United States are working together, and in particular in the Sahel.  We know that France is imagining another form of engagement in the field.  Will the United States participate in the future coalition, particularly in terms of intelligence and logistical support? How are you prepared to continue helping us in the Sahel?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  The answer is simple.  Quite simply: yes, we have a very important partnership with France in the Sahel.  We have a lot of appreciation for the leadership of France.  I think it makes perfect sense to rework the strategy.  It’s obviously been eight years now since France has been involved with the Sahel and above all, we are trying to strengthen the capacity of our partners on the ground, not only to strengthen their military capacities, but also their capacities for governance and to create a future for their people.  I believe this is the right thing to do, while obviously maintaining what it takes to counter terrorism, and we will do it together.

QUESTION:  Joe Biden will receive Angela Merkel on July 15 at the White House.  It is said that the United States chose Germany as their main partner in Europe.  You yourself, a few days ago, said that there was no better friend of America than Germany.  Isn’t that a little surprising given our common history?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  No, our common history is that France is our oldest friend.  When we founded our country —

QUESTION:  Independence.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  France was there for our independence.  Something we never forget.  The best symbol of our democracy is the Statue of Liberty from France.

QUESTION:  Will there be a meeting between Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes, absolutely, there has obviously already been a meeting in Cornwall.  A very, very, not only positive, but productive meeting.

QUESTION:  Do you have an invitation to give to Emmanuel Macron?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I am sure and convinced that we will have the opportunity and the chance to receive the President of the French Republic.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much Antony Blinken for agreeing to answer our questions.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

 

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    In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and an August decision to end data collection about 30 days earlier than planned, the Census Bureau (Bureau) has made late design changes to the 2020 Census. The Bureau also announced it would accelerate its response processing operations, which improve the completeness and accuracy of census results. According to the Bureau, late design changes introduce risk to census quality and costs. The compressed time frames for field operations and data processing raise a number of issues that will require the Bureau's attention. It will be important for the Bureau to hire and retain a sufficient workforce, manage operational changes to the Nonresponse Follow-up operation, ensure census coverage at the local level, evaluate risks in streamlining response processing, and ensure timely and quality processing of census responses. As the 2020 Census continues, GAO will monitor the remainder of field operations and the Bureau's response processing operations.  Like the rest of the country, the Bureau has been required to respond to COVID-19. Resulting delays, compressed time frames, implementation of untested procedures, and continuing challenges could undermine the overall quality of the count and escalate census costs. GAO was asked to testify on its ongoing work on implementation of the 2020 Census. This testimony examines the cost and progress of key 2020 Census operations critical to a cost-effective enumeration. Over the past decade, GAO has made 112 recommendations specific to the 2020 Census. To date, the Bureau has implemented 92. As of September 2020, 19 of the recommendations had not been fully implemented. For more information, contact J. Christopher Mihm at (202)512-6806 or mihmj@gao.gov.
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  • Hospital Researcher Sentenced to Prison for Conspiring to Steal Trade Secrets and Sell to China
    In Crime News
    An Ohio man was sentenced yesterday to 33 months in prison for conspiring to steal exosome-related trade secrets concerning the research, identification and treatment of a range of pediatric medical conditions.
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  • Federal Court Permanently Shuts Down Mississippi Tax Preparer
    In Crime News
    A federal court in the Northern District of Mississippi has permanently enjoined a Senatobia, Mississippi, tax return preparer from preparing returns for others and from owning, operating, or franchising any tax return preparation business in the future.
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  • Space Acquisitions: DOD Faces Challenges and Opportunities with Acquiring Space Systems in a Changing Environment
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) is making changes to its space-related processes and organization that will present both opportunities and challenges to the way it acquires its space systems. GAO has reported over the past decades on challenges DOD faces in its space acquisitions—including schedule delays, multibillion-dollar cost increases, significant reductions in capabilities, and in some cases cancelation—and made recommendations that have improved program outcomes. For example, DOD took actions to implement a GAO recommendation to use an incremental approach to acquiring space launch services. DOD's modified approach reduced risk by allowing it to incorporate knowledge gained from early launch competitions to inform subsequent competitions. Many of the most troubled programs are nearing completion, and DOD is starting new programs to develop the next generation of capabilities, some of which are being acquired under a streamlined acquisition process known as the middle-tier of acquisition pathway (see table below). Starting new programs is an opportunity to learn from past mistakes and take measures to put programs on successful paths. GAO's work has shown that in many cases, DOD is attempting to do so. Selected New DOD Space Programs and Near-Term Estimated Costs Dollars in billions New program Current estimated costs for 5-year middle-tier effort Evolved Strategic SATCOM (ESS) Protected satellite communications $1.4 Future Operationally Resilient Ground Evolution (FORGE) Ground control for Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared satellites $3.0 Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) Block 0 Missile warning, infrared intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance $8.4 Protected Tactical SATCOM (PTS) Protected satellite communications $1.0 Source: Department of Defense (DOD) data. | GAO-21-520T However, DOD faces challenges because it will be starting these new programs amid significant changes to the acquisition environment. Some of these changes are external to DOD, such as increased threats to on-orbit space systems. But over the past several years, DOD also initiated substantial organizational and acquisition process changes. While the Space Force offers an important opportunity to streamline lines of authority, accountability, and decision-making and avoid duplication of effort, many details will require careful consideration. In addition, adopting leading practices for acquisition, as previously recommended, could help DOD achieve faster delivery of new capabilities, especially if DOD balances new, streamlined acquisition processes with sufficient oversight to help ensure program success. Why GAO Did This Study DOD space systems provide critical capabilities that support military and other government operations. Space systems can be expensive to acquire and field, costing billions of dollars each year. The U.S. Space Force was recently established as the sixth branch of the U.S. military. As planned, the Space Force will consolidate leadership, planning, and management for some DOD space programs, as appropriate and authorized. This statement discusses the challenges and opportunities DOD faces as it acquires space systems amid changes to the acquisition environment. This statement is based on GAO reports issued over the past 10 years on DOD space programs. It also draws on recent work supporting GAO's 2021 annual report on the progress of major defense acquisition programs.
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  • Justice Department Reaches Agreement with Nevada to End Discriminatory Policies Against Inmates with HIV and Inmates with Disabilities
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today reached a settlement agreement with Nevada to ensure that inmates with HIV are not illegally segregated or otherwise discriminated against on the basis of HIV status and that inmates with disabilities are provided an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) programs.
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  • Forced Labor Imports: DHS Increased Resources and Enforcement Efforts, but Needs to Improve Workforce Planning and Monitoring
    In U.S GAO News
    Since 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has increased its resources to enforce a prohibition on importing goods made with forced labor, but has not determined its workforce needs. CBP formed the Forced Labor Division in 2018 to lead its efforts, and increased expenditures for the division from roughly $1 million in fiscal year 2018 to $1.4 million in fiscal year 2019. However, CBP has not assessed and documented the staffing levels or skills needed for the Forced Labor Division. For example, the division suspended some ongoing investigations due to a staff shortage and has plans to expand and train its workforce; however, the division has not assessed the number, type, locations, or specialized skills of positions it needs to achieve programmatic results. Without assessing its workforce needs, the division lacks reasonable assurance that it has the right number of people, with the right skills, in the right places. CBP has increased forced labor investigations and civil enforcement actions, but managers lack complete and consistent data summarizing cases. CBP detained shipments under 13 Withhold Release Orders (WRO) from 2016 through 2019, as shown in the figure below. However, the Forced Labor Division uses incomplete and inconsistent summary data to monitor its investigations. For example, data were missing on the sources of evidence collected for almost all active cases. Incomplete and inconsistent summary data on the characteristics and status of cases may hinder managers' effective monitoring of case progress and enforcement efforts. Figure: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Forced Labor Withhold Release Orders, 2016 through 2019 With regard to criminal violations, DHS's U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has increased its resources to investigate allegations of forced labor, including those related to U.S. imports. ICE coordinates criminal investigations of forced labor, conducted in the U.S. and abroad. ICE reported spending about $40 million on forced labor investigations in fiscal year 2019, an increase of over 50 percent since 2016. Forced labor investigations often involve a range of criminal violations, including violations that are not related to the importation of goods. As such, reported expenditures include costs for cases on related issues, such as human trafficking. Forced labor is a global problem in which individuals are exploited to perform labor or services. The International Labour Organization estimates that forced labor generates profits of $150 billion a year globally. CBP is responsible for enforcing Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930, which prohibits the importation of goods made with forced labor. CBP has authority to detain shipments when information indicates that forced labor produced the goods. ICE is responsible for investigating potential crimes related to forced labor, and importers may be subject to prosecution. GAO was asked to review the status of DHS resources for implementing the Section 307 prohibition on forced labor imports, following an amendment of the law in 2016. This report examines (1) the extent to which CBP assessed agency needs for the enforcement of the prohibition on forced labor imports, (2) the outcome of CBP enforcement activities and monitoring of such efforts, and (3) ICE resources for investigations on forced labor. GAO reviewed CBP and ICE documents and data, and interviewed agency officials. This is a public version of a sensitive report GAO issued in July 2020. Information that CBP deemed sensitive has been omitted. GAO is making three recommendations, including that CBP assess the workforce needs of the Forced Labor Division, and improve its forced labor summary case data. CBP concurred with all three recommendations. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or gianopoulosk@gao.gov.
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  • Vessel Operator and Engineers Sentenced for Oil Waste Discharge Offenses
    In Crime News
    A vessel operating company was sentenced today in Hagatna, Guam, for illegally discharging oil into Apra Harbor, Guam, and for maintaining false and incomplete records relating to the discharges of oily bilge water from the vessel Kota Harum.
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  • Federal Contractor Agrees to Pay More Than $6 Million to Settle Overbilling Allegations
    In Crime News
    Virginia-based Information Innovators Inc. (Triple-I) has agreed to pay the United States $6.05 million to resolve allegations that a predecessor company, Creative Computing Solutions Inc. (CCSi), violated the False Claims Act by knowingly overbilling the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for work performed by CCSi employees who lacked required job qualifications.
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  • Department of Justice Recognizes International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation
    In Crime News
    Female genital mutilation (FGM) has broad implications for the health and human rights of women and girls, as well as societies at large.
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  • This Week in Iran Policy
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • GAO Audits Involving DOD: Status of Efforts to Schedule and Hold Timely Entrance Conferences
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO began 37 new audits that involved the Department of Defense (DOD) in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020. Of GAO's 37 requested entrance conferences for those audits, DOD scheduled 33 within 14 days and held 34 within 30 days of GAO's notification. Entrance conferences are initial meetings between agency officials and GAO staff that allow GAO to communicate its audit objectives and enable agencies to assign key personnel to support the audit work. The four entrance conferences that were scheduled more than 14 days after notification were scheduled late due to either difficulties in identifying a primary action officer or aligning the schedules of GAO and DOD officials. The three entrance conferences that were held more than 30 days after notification were scheduled late due to difficulties in aligning the schedules of GAO and DOD officials. GAO's agency protocols govern GAO's relationships with audited agencies. These protocols assist GAO in scheduling entrance conferences with key agency officials within 14 days of their receiving notice of a new audit. The ability of the Congress to conduct effective oversight of federal agencies is enhanced through the timely completion of GAO audits. In past years, DOD experienced difficulty meeting the protocol target for the timely facilitation of entrance conferences. In Senate Report 116-48 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision for GAO to review DOD's scheduling and holding of entrance conferences. In this report, GAO evaluates the extent to which DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit, consistent with GAO's agency protocols, and held those conferences within 30 days. This is the final of four quarterly reports that GAO will produce on this topic for fiscal year 2020. In the first three quarterly reports, GAO found that DOD had improved its ability to meet the protocol target. GAO analyzed data on GAO audits involving DOD and initiated in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020 (July 1, 2020, through September 30, 2020). Specifically, GAO identified the number of notification letters requesting entrance conferences that it sent to DOD during that time period. GAO determined the number of days between when DOD received GAO's notification letter for each new audit and when DOD scheduled the entrance conference and assessed whether DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of notification, which is the time frame identified in GAO's agency protocols. GAO also determined the date that each requested entrance conference was held by collecting this information from the GAO team conducting each audit and assessed whether DOD held entrance conferences for new audits within 30 days of notification, which was the time frame identified in the mandate for this review. For more information, contact Elizabeth Field at (202) 512-2775 or Fielde1@gao.gov.
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  • Complaint Seeks Forfeiture of Iranian Oil Aboard Tanker Based on Connection to Terror Group
    In Crime News
    The United States filed a forfeiture complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging that all oil aboard a Liberian-flagged vessel, the M/T Achilleas (Achilleas), is subject to forfeiture based on U.S. terrorism forfeiture laws. The complaint alleges a scheme involving multiple entities affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to covertly ship Iranian oil to a customer abroad.  Participants in the scheme attempted to disguise the origin of the oil using ship-to-ship transfers, falsified documents, and other means, and provided a fraudulent bill of lading to deceive the owners of the Achilleas into loading the oil in question. 
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  • Defense Real Property: DOD-Wide Strategy Needed to Address Control Issues and Improve Reliability of Records
    In U.S GAO News
    As required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, the Department of Defense (DOD) for fiscal year 2019 underwent a financial statement audit. In the military services' full financial statement audit reports for fiscal year 2019, the independent public accountants reported serious control issues related to events that occur during the life cycle of real property, consisting of adding, disposing, reconciling, valuing, and performing physical inventory counts. These control issues affect not only the reliability of financial statement reporting but also the quality of property record data that DOD officials need to make decisions for budget and mission planning, space management, and buying versus leasing options. Further, with DOD having almost half of the government's buildings, better data could help the federal government identify opportunities to dispose of unneeded buildings and reduce lease costs, thus potentially saving it millions of dollars. DOD has not yet developed a comprehensive, department-wide strategy—an element of leading practices for enterprise-wide real property management—to address the reported real property issues. Instead, each of the military services is independently developing corrective actions to address control issues, without applying common solutions among the services or department-wide. A department-wide strategy for remediating control issues would better position DOD to develop sustainable, routine processes that help ensure accurate real property records and, ultimately, auditable information for financial reporting for the department. Additionally, a DOD-wide strategy could help the military services more effectively and efficiently address reported control issues, particularly for those categorized as DOD-wide issues. The Acting Secretary, noting that the services had not accurately accounted for DOD's buildings and structures, required existence and completeness (E&C) verifications to be performed for all real property for fiscal year 2019. Given the lack of department-wide instructions for how to carry out the requirement, the military services independently developed approaches for performing the E&C verifications. Their approaches differed in both scope (what assets were verified) and methodology (how the assets were verified), including the extent to which instructions were written. Reporting and monitoring of the results by service and department-level management also differed. Without department-wide instructions for performing the fiscal year 2019 E&C verifications, the results were not comparable among the military services. Further, DOD and the military services did not obtain the complete and consistent information needed to create a DOD real property baseline or to help ensure that the department's real property records are reliable. DOD-wide instructions would help DOD obtain complete and comparable E&C verifications results, which would help DOD achieve an auditable real property baseline and, ultimately, its objective of an unmodified (“clean”) audit opinion. DOD manages one of the federal government's largest portfolios of real property. This engagement was initiated in connection with the statutory requirement for GAO to audit the U.S. government's consolidated financial statements. DOD's uncorrected deficiencies, including those affecting real property, prevent DOD from having auditable financial statements, one of the three major impediments preventing GAO from expressing an opinion on the accrual-based consolidated financial statements of the U.S. government. This report (1) identifies the real property control issues that independent public accountants reported that may affect the ability of the military services to establish and maintain accurate and complete real property records, (2) examines the extent to which DOD had a strategy to address the control issues, and (3) assesses the extent to which DOD provided guidance for the required E&C verifications during fiscal year 2019 and how each military service implemented the directive. GAO analyzed fiscal year 2019 audit findings, reviewed key DOD documents, and interviewed DOD and military service officials. GAO is recommending that DOD (1) develop and implement an enterprise-wide strategy to remediate real property control issues and (2) issue DOD-wide instructions for the E&C verifications. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Kristen Kociolek at (202) 512-2989 or kociolekk@gao.gov.
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