Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Hillary Clinton, “You and Me Both with Hillary Clinton” Podcast

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Via Teleconference

SECRETARY CLINTON:  So, Secretary Blinken, welcome.  I cannot express how pleased I am to have this chance to talk with you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  I could not be happier to be able to spend some time with you.  I’ve had the good fortune to have spent a lot of time in these halls with you in the past, at the White House over many years, but it’s particularly fun to be connected via the podcast.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  Oh, I agree.  So let me ask you, what have your first few weeks as Secretary of State looked like and felt like to you?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, you know this better than anyone.  It’s a little bit like jumping onto a treadmill that’s already moving at 10 miles an hour, and partly it’s just trying to hold on.  But you know – obviously, because of COVID it’s been a challenge, and there’s a little bit of frustration that comes with that.  I remember so well when you became secretary, you were off almost immediately on that airplane visiting with, working with, engaging with our allies and partners and others around the world.  I wish I could do the same thing, but we’re grounded.

Now, the good news is I’ve been burning up the phone lines.  I’ve been saying that it’s a good thing the department’s on the family plan, otherwise I would have bankrupted the budget.  So there’s that.  But, of course, you know as well as anyone, better than anyone, it’s just not the same thing.  So I’m really looking forward to being able to get out there.

But what’s been so gratifying is because I’ve been doing this for a while – I started working for President Clinton in 1993, and my first job was here at the State Department working in the front office of the European Affairs Bureau, and so I’ve known the men and women of the department for a long time.  And the greatest pleasure I’ve had since I’m back is just reconnecting with people that you and I know so well.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  Yes.  Well, I can imagine what that’s like for them as well, Secretary, because it’s been a tough four years for our Foreign Service officers and our Civil Service officials, and it’s important to do what you’re doing, which is spending time with them, talking with them, listening to them.  I read where you said you felt confident and humble, and I thought that was a really good combination as you embark on this important job.

You run a department with tens of thousands of Foreign Service officers, as I say, civil servant officials, and we have national employees out around the world.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  And you’ve got to figure out how you’re going to make all of that work, especially since I think it’s fair to say you’re facing a deficit, a deficit of trust and a deficit of leadership, that the prior administration left you.  So how are you trying to prioritize the myriad of challenges and opportunities that you’re looking at?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, you’re exactly right that, in a sense, the first challenge is actually the building, the institution, the men and women of the department; the Foreign Service officers, the civil servants, and, as you rightly point out, what we call locally employed staff, the thousands – the tens of thousands – of extraordinary men and women from the countries that are hosting us who work with us and work for us.

And so one of the things that’s been so important in this early going is to make it very clear to all of our colleagues that we’re going to be relying and depending on them – their expertise, their experience, their professionalism.  And so I think one of the things we’re going to show and people will see in the weeks ahead as some of the senior appointments are made, we’re going to be relying heavily on career professionals.  They bring so much to the table, and it would be really to operate with our hands tied behind our backs if we didn’t rely on that and use that.

The other piece when it comes to the institution itself is, and this is something I feel very strongly about, we have to have a Foreign Service, we have to have career professionals, we have to have a State Department, that looks like the country it represents.  And that’s been a real deficiency for a long, long time.

So I’m about to appoint the very first chief diversity and inclusion officer, who will report directly to the Secretary of State.  We’re going to focus on making sure we’re recruiting effectively, we’re retaining people, and that there’s actual accountability for making progress.  If we get the human resource piece of this right, then we’re going to be so much more effective around the world in representing the country and in carrying out the President’s foreign policy.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  Well, starting with the work you’ve begun, I was fascinated about how both you and President Biden started close to home.  You reached out to our Canadian friends and our Mexican friends, And that’s so important because establishing that strong relationship, especially during a time of COVID, and obviously what we have going on our southern border, makes a lot of sense.  But you and the President have both reached out to Europe.  How are our friends and allies feeling with the new administration?  Can you give us any early updates on that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I think it’s fair to say that there’s been a very warm welcome for President Biden and for all of us who’ve come along with him, and quite honestly, a thirst almost palpable for American engagement.  And this is what I’ve heard in conversation after conversation.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have differences, we won’t have problems, we won’t have challenges, but I think there’s a recognition that, in fact, they’re better off when we’re engaged.  And, of course, we’re better off.

When we’re thinking about the world that we’re facing and confronting, I think two things really stand out, and this is what animates the President’s thinking, and as a result, animates our foreign policy.  The first is whether we like it or not, the world tends not to organize itself.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  Exactly.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And when we’re engaged and leading, we can help advance our own interests and values.  But when we’re not, then one or two things is likely to happen. Either some other country is going to try to take our place, but probably not in a way that advances the interests and values of the American people.  Or maybe just as bad, no one does, and then you’ve got a vacuum and it’s usually filled by bad things before it’s filled by good things.

So that premium on American engagement is really there.  But the related maybe flip side of that is – and again, I know this animated you so strongly as secretary – when we look at the things that are really going to have an impact on our fellow citizens’ lives, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s this pandemic, whether it’s the spread of a lethal – a really dangerous weapon of mass destruction, we know that not a single one of those challenges can be effectively dealt with by any one country acting alone, even the United States, and also that there really is no wall high enough or wide enough to guard against those problems.

So the other premium we find is on cooperation and finding new ways to get countries to work with us and to work with them.  And that’s kind of where the State Department comes in.  That’s our job.  The job of diplomats is to try to build that cooperation among countries to deal with the challenges that are actually going to have an impact on the lives of our fellow citizens.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  Well, that is exactly the definition of the job.  And I hope that during your service, that you, working with the President and others in the administration, can make that case more effectively.  Because it’s always a challenge to talk to the American people about what it is diplomats do, what development means, why it makes a difference.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yeah.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  People get the Pentagon, they get the Defense Department, but they’re not quite sure about what the other stuff is.  And to that point, I know that there are so many crises and conflicts that you are going to be facing from Afghanistan to Ethiopia, Syria, Venezuela, and then some long-term challenges posed by Russia, and most particularly China. And I was interested in some of what you and the President have been saying about Russia, and how you’re going to try to really send a clear message to Vladimir Putin that the former president is gone, we’re going to be imposing costs and consequences for behavior that is really out of bounds.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, unfortunately, we’ve seen that in so many different areas. And the bottom line is if we’re not standing up strongly when our interests are being challenged or when our values are being challenged, that creates a feeling of impunity.  And then the bad conduct continues and gets worse.  But in any of these things, it’s vitally important that we do it with our partners and allies, but just on Russia, we are in the midst of reviewing a series of egregious actions that they’ve taken.

Whether it is this SolarWinds cyber attack that’s been written about; whether it is what they’ve done to one of Mr. Putin’s leading political opponents, Alexey Navalny, using a chemical weapon to try to kill him; whether it is these reports of the Russians putting bounties on our troops in Afghanistan; whether it’s something you are all too familiar with: interference in our elections.  We are looking at all of this, and I can tell you with some confidence that we will take the appropriate actions as we see fit to make very clear that this kind of conduct is unacceptable for us, and we’ll do it with our allies and partners.

At the same time, we have other important stakes, including with Russia.  One of those is what we call in the business strategic stability, making sure that with our still significant arsenals, particularly of nuclear weapons, that we don’t do things that actually make conflict and, God forbid, a nuclear exchange more likely.  And so one of the very first things, as you know, that President Biden did is he extended the sole remaining but very important agreement between the United States and Russia, the so-called New START agreement that puts significant limitations on our strategic nuclear arsenals.  And that’s a very good thing for both countries.

And we’ll look for opportunities to do more.  But I think we have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time – stand up strongly against Russian aggression – Ukraine continues to be a huge problem, given Russia’s intervention there – but also look for opportunities, if they present themselves, to advance our security on things like nuclear weapons.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  It would also be really worth trying to get China for the first time into arms control agreements.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yep.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  How is the administration looking at China?  Because again, we have to cooperate where we can on climate change, on global health.  But then there is all the rest that we have to take some strong stands over.  How are you thinking about China, Secretary?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So as you know so well, it is both one of the most complicated relationships in the world, and arguably one of the most – if not the most – consequential.  And I think it’s important for people to see that there are different aspects to it.  There’s an adversarial aspect increasingly, because China has been acting more aggressively beyond its borders, and unfortunately more repressively within its borders.  There is certainly a competitive aspect to it.  But there is also a cooperative one, because on some big issues, including climate change, we both have an interest in finding ways to work together.

But here is the common denominator.  Whether it’s the adversarial piece, whether it’s the competitive piece, whether it’s the cooperative piece, we need to be approaching China from a position of strength.  And what I think that means is a few things.  It means with our partners and allies, not without them.  Those alliances, those partnerships are a source of strength in dealing with China.  When we bring the collective weight of our partnerships and alliances to bear, it’s a lot harder for China to ignore.

Also, as we were talking about just a few minutes ago, being engaged and leaning in as opposed to abdicating our responsibilities and pulling out of all of these international organizations that are actually shaping the rules that we all have to live by.  When we pull back, China fills in.  When we’re engaged and leading, that’s a source of strength.

Third, it’s a source of strength for us to actually stand up for the values we believe in.  So when we see in Xinjiang Uyghurs being put into concentration camps, when we see democracy being trampled in Hong Kong, it’s important that we stand up and point that out, that we don’t ignore it, and that we get others to join us.

And then finally, and maybe most importantly, we have to be investing in ourselves, in our own people, in our own workers, in our own companies, in our own competitiveness.  Because if we do that, and if we get a reasonably fair and level playing field, we’re going to do just fine in the competition.  I have tremendous confidence.  But if we don’t do it, that’s going to allow China to be acting from a position of strength, not the United States.

Oh, and there’s a last thing, too, that I think is so important.  We also have to be strong and resilient in terms of our own democracy.  Because when we’re questioning our own institutions, when we’re attacking each other, that is the surest way to undermine the strength that we need to bring to this strategic competition with China.

So I hope – particularly because this really is in many ways a bipartisan challenge – I hope that we can come together so we can do this smartly, effectively, and advance the interests of the country.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  Well, it needs to be bipartisan, even nonpartisan, because how we structure our relationship with China going forward will have such serious implications.  And you have several times stressed the importance of our alliances, working with our partners, and the significance of international agreements.  And I was really delighted to see that the administration quickly went back into the Paris accord on climate change, and I know you’ll be working very hard on that.  And you’re also working to see if we can somehow reconstitute the Iran agreement that put a lid on Iran’s efforts to get a nuclear arsenal.

And just to go to that point you made about working with others, when I was in the Senate for eight years, I voted for every sanction against Iran that was ever put up for vote.  And you were there working on – with Senator Biden at that time.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  And we did everything we could to try to limit their options, to put pressure on them.  But without the world, it didn’t matter.  And so as Secretary, I started working to put together international sanctions, which then the UN Security Council passed in June of 2010, and we began negotiations, which were then completed in the second term of President Obama.  And what people who pop up and talk about international agreements often really do an injustice to our understanding is to act as though there’s a perfect agreement somewhere and all we have to do is pick up a rock and find it.  Negotiations are difficult, they are time-consuming, and oftentimes, you don’t get 100 percent but you get as much as you can.  And with the Iran agreement, I think we got a long way towards stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, all of which was then thrown out the window by the Trump administration.

So do you look to see how you’re going to be able to bring that alliance back together, which included China and Russia by the way, to try to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Absolutely.  And to your point, I think it really is important to understand that by definition negotiations are always going to be imperfect.  No one gets 100 percent of what they want.  But as President Biden likes to say, “Don’t compare me to the Almighty.  Compare me to the alternative.”

SECRETARY CLINTON:  Yes.  (Laughter.)  Right.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And that’s really important.  So the foundation that you set, first in the Senate but then as secretary of state, is what allowed us to get the agreement that we reached.  And I feel very strongly that that was the right thing to do.  Because as we both know, before the agreement Iran was speeding toward the day when it would have the ability to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon on very short order.  At the time we reached the agreement, it was getting down toward weeks.  And that would have given us a very, very hard choice to face, either between allowing that to happen and Iran having a nuclear weapon or being on the threshold of having one, and thus feeling it could act with even greater impunity, or maybe having to take military action with all of the possible unintended consequences that flow from that to deal with it.

And so I think the best answer that we came up with was the agreement that was reached that put the nuclear program in a box and that cut off its pathways to being able to produce the material it would need for a weapon, and push that so-called breakout time past one year, so that if they did start back in that direction we’d have plenty of time to organize the world and to do something about it.  We had very strong sanctions that were poised to snap back if Iran violated the agreement, and maybe most important, the most intrusive monitoring and inspections regime that we’ve ever had for any arms control agreement.  And our own intelligence folks say it was – Iran was respecting its commitments, even if it’s doing a lot of other things that we don’t like.

So now, after we got out of the deal, Iran felt well, we can go ahead and no longer comply with the obligations that we undertook, and it is now getting back to that point where it could produce fissile material for a weapon on very short order.  So I think we have an interest in putting that back in a box and then seeing if we can actually build something even longer and stronger in terms of the duration of the agreement, and also dealing with some of the other actions that Iran takes that we have a real problem with – ballistic missiles, the actions it takes in its neighborhood.

The good news is because we’ve made a clear commitment that we’re prepared to re-engage in diplomacy, the very allies and partners we needed who were alienated from us because we got out of the diplomacy business are now back with us.  And that means they’re also prepared to join us in taking strong action as necessary against some of the other things Iran does that we don’t like.  So we’ll see.  We’re a long way from getting back to where we were.  We don’t know what Iran will do or won’t do.  But I think that it offers at least the possibility of dealing with the nuclear problem and then hopefully dealing with some of the other problems.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  When I look around the world and I think about everything on your plate and all that you are going to be addressing as Secretary of State, it’s these transnational global problems that you cannot imagine dealing with unless you have the kind of attitude you’ve just expressed, Mr. Secretary.

I worry a lot about the flow of migration, which we know is going to be exacerbated by climate change.  And we need to bring the world together to do something we used to do decades ago: kind of look ahead somewhat, convene some international efforts on several fronts.

One, obviously, what do we do about refugee flow?  How do we try to deal with the problems in the host country?  In our hemisphere, it’s primarily now Central America, even more than Mexico, that is unfortunately seeing people flee for a better life moving north toward our border.  In Europe, it’s Syria, it’s North Africa, it’s Afghanistan.  Can you think about some of the big areas that, maybe on a longer timeframe, you as Secretary, working with your counterparts around the world, could begin a process of trying to figure out?  What do we do about refugees?  What do we do about rebuilding the WHO, getting better prepared for the next pandemic?  What do we do to defend democracy?  Those are three big kind of cross-cutting issues.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yeah, absolutely.  And it really does go back to what we started talking about, which was both having a sense of humility and confidence at the same time.  I think they’re flip sides of the same coin.  Humility because we certainly don’t get everything right ourselves.  And a lot of these problems are also not in the first instance necessarily about us, even as they affect us, and we can’t just flip the switch and expect to solve them.  But confidence, because I still believe profoundly, as I know you did, that when the United States is acting at its best, we still have a greater ability than any country on Earth to mobilize others in collective action, to bring other countries together to try to solve problems.

And the big ones you just outlined are actually having a real effect on the lives of our fellow citizens, so we have an interest in doing something about them.

The refugee situation.  We have more people on the move around the planet than at any time since World War II, about 70 million who have been – felt compelled to leave their homes in one place or another.  That’s the magnitude of the problem.  And by definition, no one country can tackle it alone.

To your point, I think there’s a lot that we can do collectively.  For example, first of all, we want to try to do what we can with other countries to prevent, and if necessary, end conflicts that are, in many places, forcing people to flee.

Second, these countries that take them in – remarkable generosity.  You mentioned Syrian refugees.  As you know, if you go to Turkey, to Lebanon, to Jordan, you see populations that are – in some cases a quarter of the population is a Syrian refugee.  That puts huge strain on local economies, on local resources.  So I think collectively, we have an interest in helping these countries of first refuge be able to care for the refugees that they have, because on average, once someone’s a refugee, they tend to stay that way for well over a decade.

So we have to help these countries and then we have to put in place the support, the financing, and the United States has to do its part as well.  We have long been a beacon for refugees around the world.  That’s something that I know the President is committed to restoring, but we also have to be very mindful of our own borders, our own security, and we’re very focused on that.  The Northern Triangle countries – Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras – as you said, are increasingly the source of forced migration here.  And what’s the answer there?  The main answer is really trying to deal with some of the so-called root causes.

It’s always amazed me – some people seem to think in Washington, for example, that someone gets up in the morning and says gee, wouldn’t this be a great day to leave everything I know behind, to leave my language, my culture, my friends, my family, my city – put myself in the hands of traffickers, take this incredibly hazardous journey, and then maybe go someplace where I don’t know anyone and maybe I’m not so wanted.  It takes something extraordinary to compel people to feel that that’s the only choice they have.  So if you can help the countries in question deal with some of those drivers, deal with the corruption, deal with the crime and insecurity, deal with the lack of opportunity, and give people a reason to stay home and help build the future of their own country, that ultimately is how you get to the bottom of this.  But it takes time, it takes sustained effort, and that’s something I know President Biden’s committed to doing.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  Well, I know you’re going to have to get on to the important businesses of State.  Something that people don’t know about you, although it’s recently broken in the press, is that you have your own Spotify channel where you post music you’ve recorded.  So I have to ask:  Are you going to be able to keep this going as Secretary of State and maybe jam with other foreign ministers around the world, and even have a public performance on the eighth floor of the State Department where we do all of the entertaining?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It is hard to think of anything that would do more damage to our foreign policy and diplomacy than me doing that.  (Laughter.)  So I wouldn’t inflict that on my colleagues here or anyone abroad.  It’s been a lifelong passion, something I’ve taken immense enjoyment out of.  If I’d had a chance to actually do that as a career, I would have done it, and it turned out there was only one missing ingredient, which was talent – (laughter) –– it turns out also that the only people who seem to like or tolerate my music are extremely young children who haven’t yet developed critical faculty.  So that’s my – that’s the sweet spot.  That’s my demographic.  So I’ll play for my kids, but maybe not for anyone else.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  (Laughter.)  Keep playing for your kids.  I used to sing to my daughter when she was a baby until she learned to talk, and it was a memorable, tragic evening when I’m singing away to her, rocking her before I put her to bed, and she reaches up and puts her little finger on my mouth and says, “No sing, Mommy, no sing.”

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yeah.  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON:  So keep singing until you’re told otherwise.  And finally, what’s the best advice you’ve gotten since you’ve started this amazing, important job?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s funny.  I was thinking back, and actually, it’s really advice that I got when I first started working for President Clinton and first set foot actually in the White House way back in 1993.  And that’s advice that’s stayed with me and it still animates what I think about this job, which is:  Make sure you have reverence and appreciation for the institution that you’re working in and helping to lead, and that extraordinary responsibility and opportunity of doing a job with the American flag behind you every day.  But also never lose your sense of humor and never lose your sense of where you actually fit into that larger scheme and larger sweep of history.  And as long as you keep your eyes focused on both, you’ll do okay.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  Well, that really resonates with me because the late, great George Shultz, who served in the position that you hold and that I was honored to hold, came to see me one day in the ceremonial office on the seventh floor.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  And he brought with him a teddy bear and he said, “You’re going to face a lot of serious issues, you’re going to have a lot of problems, it’s not always going to go our way in the United States.  So just do the best you can.  But then remember,” and he punched the little paw of the teddy bear, and the teddy bear started to sing, “Don’t worry, be happy.”  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That is wonderful.  I can’t —

SECRETARY CLINTON:  If I could find another one, Tony, I’ll send it to you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I need one.  Please.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  I will look for – I’m looking for it right now.  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Please do.  And I can’t resist because you mentioned George Shultz, who I revered also, and the other wonderful story about Secretary Shultz was – before one of our new ambassadors was sent off to post to represent the United States, he as secretary would call them into that office – and you may remember he had a very large globe.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  Right.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And he would ask them to point to their country on the globe, and so our new ambassador would try to find South Africa or Poland and he would gently correct them and put their finger on the United States.

And maybe that’s the other most important piece of advice that I’ve gotten, and it’s from the President of the United States Joe Biden, which is:  Ultimately, our job is to be here on behalf of the American people and to make sure that everything we’re doing has them in mind.  Anything we’re doing around the world, is it going in some way – maybe even some small way – going to make their life a little bit better, a little bit safer, a little bit more prosperous, a little bit more hopeful?  And if we keep that in mind, we’ll have a good North Star and be pretty grounded in what we do.

SECRETARY CLINTON:  Wow, that’s a great way to end our conversation.  I am so delighted to have this chance to talk with you, but I’m even more thrilled that you are serving in this capacity, Secretary Blinken, and I join every well-meaning American in wishing you the very best as you tackle these problems on our behalf.  Thank you so much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, Madam Secretary.  Wonderful to be with you.

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    To combat money laundering, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a geographic targeting order (GTO) in 2016 that required title insurers to report information on certain all-cash purchases of residential real estate by legal entities in specified areas. According to FinCEN analysis, the use of legal entities to purchase high-value real estate, particularly in certain U.S. cities, was prone to abuse. FinCEN determined that imposing the real estate GTO reporting requirements on title insurers would cover a large number of transactions without unnecessary complexity. FinCEN renewed the real estate GTO multiple times—finding it has yielded information useful to law enforcement investigations—and periodically expanded the types of monetary instruments and geographic areas included and decreased the price reporting threshold (see fig.). Issuance and Renewals of the Real Estate Geographic Targeting Order (GTO) Unlike prior GTOs, which FinCEN officials said they issued at the request of and with the involvement of law enforcement agencies, FinCEN issued the real estate GTO on its own initiative. Thus, FinCEN had to take the lead in implementing and evaluating the GTO but lacked detailed documented procedures to help direct the GTO's implementation and evaluation—contributing to oversight, outreach, and evaluation weaknesses. For example, FinCEN did not begin examining its first title insurer for compliance until more than 3 years after issuing the GTO and did not assess whether insurers were filing all required reports. Similarly, while FinCEN initially coordinated with some law enforcement agencies, it did not implement a systematic approach for outreach to all potentially relevant law enforcement agencies until more than 2 years after issuing the GTO. FinCEN also has not yet completed an evaluation of the GTO to determine whether it should address money laundering risks in residential real estate through a regulatory tool more permanent than the GTO, such as a rulemaking. Strengthening its procedures for self-initiated GTOs should help FinCEN more effectively and efficiently implement and manage them as an anti-money laundering tool. Bad actors seeking to launder money can use legal entities, such as shell companies, to buy real estate without a loan. Doing so potentially can conceal the identities of bad actors and avoid banks' anti-money laundering programs. To better understand this risk and help law enforcement investigate money laundering, FinCEN issued its real estate GTO. Although GTOs are limited to 180 days, they may be renewed if FinCEN finds reasonable grounds for doing so. Because of concerns about the potential for bad actors to exploit regulatory gaps to launder money through the U.S. real estate market, GAO was asked to review FinCEN's real estate GTO. This report examines, among other things, the GTO's issuance and renewal, oversight, outreach, and evaluation. GAO reviewed FinCEN's records, orders, and policies and procedures; laws and regulations; and studies and other related materials. GAO also interviewed FinCEN, federal law enforcement agencies, and other stakeholders. GAO recommends that FinCEN provide additional direction for self-initiated GTOs, including how to plan for oversight, outreach, and evaluation. FinCEN concurred with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Michael E. Clements, (202) 512-8678, ClementsM@gao.gov.
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  • Surface Transportation Security: TSA Has Taken Steps to Improve its Surface Inspector Program, but Lacks Performance Targets
    In U.S GAO News
    According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Surface Transportation Security Inspector Operations Plan (TSA's plan), surface transportation security inspectors—known as surface inspectors—are to enter key details for program activities in the Performance and Results Information System (PARIS)—TSA's system of record for all surface inspector activities. In December 2017, GAO reported that TSA was unable to fully account for surface inspector time spent assisting with non-surface transportation modes, including aviation, due to data limitations in PARIS, and recommended TSA address these limitations. Since GAO's report, TSA updated PARIS to better track surface inspector activities in non-surface transportation modes. Transportation Security Administration Surface Inspectors Assess Security of a Bus System TSA's plan outlines steps to align work plan activities with risk assessment findings. However, TSA cannot comprehensively ensure surface inspectors are targeting program resources to high-risk modes and locations because it does not consistently collect information on entity mode or location in PARIS. According to officials, TSA plans to update PARIS and program guidance to require inspectors to include this information in the system by the end of fiscal year 2020. TSA's plan outlines performance measures for the surface inspector program, but does not establish quantifiable performance targets for all activities. Targets indicate how well an agency aspires to perform and could include, for example, entity scores on TSA security assessments, among others. By developing targets, TSA would be better positioned to assess the surface inspector program's progress in achieving its objective of increasing security among surface transportation entities. Surface transportation—freight and passenger rail, mass transit, highway, maritime and pipeline systems—is vulnerable to global terrorism and other threats. TSA is the federal agency primarily responsible for securing surface transportation systems. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires TSA to submit a plan to guide its Surface Transportation Security Inspectors Program. The Act includes a provision for GAO to review TSA's plan. This report examines the extent to which TSA's plan and its implementation: (1) address known data limitations related to tracking surface inspector activities among non-surface modes, (2) align surface operations with risk assessments, and how, if at all, TSA ensures inspectors prioritize activities in high-risk modes and locations, and (3) establish performance targets for the surface inspector program. GAO reviewed TSA's June 2019 plan and analyzed data on inspector activities for fiscal years 2017 through 2019. GAO interviewed officials in headquarters and a non-generalizable sample of 7 field offices selected based on geographical location and the presence of high-risk urban areas. GAO recommends that TSA establish quantifiable performance targets for the surface inspector program's activity-level performance measures. DHS concurred with our recommendation. For more information, contact Triana McNeil at (202) 512-8777 or McNeilT@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    According to the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) data for fiscal years 1995 through 2018, nine airport owners—also known as “airport sponsors”—lawfully diverted airport revenue amounts ranging from $0 to over $840 million by a sponsor in 1 year. These “grandfathered” airport sponsors are currently exempt from federal requirements to use all airport revenue solely for airport purposes (see figure). Together, these sponsors own 32 airports serving millions of passengers a year. Five of these sponsors are city or state governments, which regularly diverted airport revenue into their general funds for government programs and services. Four of these sponsors are transportation authorities, which diverted varying amounts for various transportation-related purposes, such as supporting maritime ports or transit systems. Three of the transportation authorities also secured bonds using revenue from their various activities, including airport revenue, to finance airport and non-airport assets. Airport Sponsors That Have Reported Grandfathered Revenue Diversion, as of 2018 According to selected stakeholders, a repeal of grandfathered revenue diversion would have complex legal and financial implications for transportation authorities. Transportation authority officials said that a repeal would inherently reduce their flexibility to use revenues across their assets and could lead to a default of their outstanding bonds if airport revenues could no longer be used to service debt; exempting outstanding bonds could alleviate some financial concerns. For city and state government sponsors, a loss in general fund revenue could result in reduced government services, though they said a phased-in repeal could help in planning for lost revenue. In 1982, a federal law was enacted that imposed constraints on the use of airport revenue (e.g., concessions, parking fees, and airlines' landing fees), prohibiting “diversion” for non-airport purposes in order to ensure use on airport investment and improvement. However, the law exempted “grandfathered” airport sponsors—those with state or local laws providing for such diversion—from this prohibition. Viewpoints vary on whether these airport sponsors should be allowed to continue to lawfully divert revenue. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 provides for GAO to examine grandfathered airport revenue diversion. This report examines: (1) how much revenue has been diverted annually by grandfathered airport sponsors and how these revenues have been used, and (2) selected stakeholders' perspectives on potential implications of repealing the law allowing revenue diversion. GAO analyzed FAA financial data on grandfathered airports' revenue diversion for fiscal years 1995 through 2018, all years such data were available. GAO also analyzed relevant documents such as state and local laws, and airport sponsors' bond documents. GAO interviewed FAA officials and relevant stakeholders, including officials from nine grandfathered airport sponsors and representatives from bond-rating agencies, airline and airport associations, and airlines that serve grandfathered airports that were selected based on those with the greatest passenger traffic. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or krauseh@gao.gov.
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    What GAO Found Deficiencies in internal control over financial reporting and other limitations on the scope of GAO's work resulted in conditions that prevented GAO from expressing an opinion on the Schedules of the General Fund as of and for the fiscal year ended September 30, 2020. Such scope limitations also prevented GAO from obtaining sufficient appropriate audit evidence to provide a basis for an opinion on the effectiveness of the Bureau of the Fiscal Service's (Fiscal Service) internal control over financial reporting relevant to the Schedules of the General Fund as of September 30, 2020. In addition, such scope limitations limited tests of compliance with selected provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements for fiscal year 2020. Fiscal Service was unable to readily provide sufficient appropriate evidence to support certain information reported in the accompanying Schedules of the General Fund. Specifically, Fiscal Service was unable to readily (1) identify and trace General Fund transactions to determine whether they were complete and properly recorded in the correct general ledger accounts and line items within the Schedules of the General Fund and (2) provide documentation to support the account attributes assigned to Treasury Account Symbols that determine how transactions are reported in the Schedules of the General Fund. The resulting scope limitations, the first of which GAO reported in its fiscal year 2018 audit, are the basis for GAO's disclaimer of opinion on the Schedules of the General Fund. As a result of these limitations, GAO cautions that amounts Fiscal Service reported in the Schedules of the General Fund and related notes may not be reliable. Three significant deficiencies in Fiscal Service's internal control over financial reporting relevant to the Schedules of the General Fund, which GAO reported in its fiscal year 2018 audit, continue to exist. One of the continuing significant deficiencies contributed to the first scope limitation discussed above. In addition, GAO identified four other control deficiencies, three newly identified and one reported in its fiscal year 2018 audit, which GAO does not consider to be material weaknesses or significant deficiencies. Fiscal Service worked extensively, both internally and with other federal agencies, to address two scope limitations from GAO's fiscal year 2018 audit, such that GAO no longer considers these to be scope limitations for fiscal year 2020. Fiscal Service also (1) took action to close six of the 12 recommendations that GAO issued as a result of its fiscal year 2018 audit, (2) is implementing plans for remediating the remaining six recommendations over the next few years, and (3) plans to develop corrective actions for the three new recommendations issued in this report. Fiscal Service expressed its commitment to remediating the scope limitations and significant deficiencies reported for fiscal year 2020, acknowledging that it expects to take several years to resolve them, given the nature and complexity of certain identified issues. In addition, GAO is issuing a separate LIMITED OFFICIAL USE ONLY report on information systems controls. Why GAO Did This Study Because GAO audits the consolidated financial statements of the U.S. government and the significance of the General Fund of the United States (General Fund) to the government-wide financial statements, GAO audited the fiscal year 2020 Schedules of the General Fund to determine whether, in all material respects, (1) the schedules are fairly presented and (2) Fiscal Service management maintained effective internal control over financial reporting relevant to the Schedules of the General Fund. Further, GAO tested compliance with selected provisions of laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements related to the Schedules of the General Fund. As the reporting entity responsible for accounting for the cash activity of the U.S. government, in fiscal year 2020, the General Fund reported over $23 trillion of cash inflows and nearly $22 trillion of cash outflows. It also reported a budget deficit of $3.1 trillion, the largest recorded federal deficit in history. The CARES Act, enacted in March 2020, and other COVID-19 pandemic relief laws, contained a number of funding provisions that resulted in a significant increase in the cash activity and budget deficit reported by the General Fund during fiscal year 2020.
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    The 24 agencies participating in the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) continue to report progress toward meeting OMB's goals for closing data centers and achieving the related cost savings. According to data submitted by the 24 agencies, almost all of them met or planned to meet their closure and cost savings goals for fiscal years 2019 and 2020. As of August 2020, the agencies reported that they expected to achieve 230 data center closures, resulting in $1.1 billion in savings, over the 2-year period. Agencies expected to realize a cumulative total of $6.24 billion in cost savings and avoidances from fiscal years 2012 through 2020. However, agencies have excluded approximately 4,500 data centers from their inventories since May 2019 due to a change in the definition of a data center. Specifically, in June 2019, OMB narrowed the definition of a data center to exclude certain facilities it had previously identified as having potential cybersecurity risks. GAO reported that each such facility provided a potential access point, and that unsecured access points could aid cyber attacks. Accordingly, GAO recommended that OMB require agencies to report those facilities previously reported as data centers so that visibility of the risks of these facilities was retained. However, OMB has not taken action to address the recommendation. Overall, GAO has made 125 recommendations since 2016 to help agencies meet their DCOI goals, but agencies have not implemented 53. The 24 agencies reported varied progress against OMB's data center optimization targets for fiscal year 2020 (see figure). Agency-Reported Progress towards Meeting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Data Center Optimization Targets, as of August 2020 Notes: Virtualization measures the number of servers and mainframes serving as a virtual host. Advanced energy metering counts data centers with metering to measure energy efficiency. A metric is not applicable if an agency does not have any agency-owned data centers or if its remaining centers are exempted from optimization by OMB. In June 2019, OMB revised the server utilization metric to direct agencies to develop their own definitions of underutilization, and then count their underutilized servers. As a result, agencies adopted widely varying definitions and were no longer required to report actual utilization, a key measure of server efficiency. In December 2014, Congress enacted federal IT acquisition reform legislation known as FITARA, which included provisions related to ongoing federal data center consolidation efforts. OMB's federal Chief Information Officer launched DCOI to build on prior data center consolidation efforts and improve federal data centers' performance. FITARA included a provision for GAO to annually review agencies' data center inventories and strategies. This report addresses (1) agencies' progress on data center closures and the related savings that have been achieved, and agencies' plans for future closures and savings; (2) agencies' progress against OMB's data center optimization targets; and (3) the effectiveness of OMB's metric for server utilization and how the agencies are implementing it. To do so, GAO reviewed the 24 DCOI agencies' data center inventories as of August 2020, their reported cost savings documentation and data center optimization strategic plans, and OMB's revised utilization metric. GAO reiterates that agencies need to address the 53 recommendations previously made to them that have not yet been implemented. GAO is making one new recommendation to OMB to revise its server utilization metric to more consistently address server efficiency. OMB had no comments on the report and the recommendation directed to the agency. Of the 24 DCOI agencies, five agreed with the information in the report, six did not state whether they agreed or disagreed, and 13 had no comments. For more information, contact Carol C. Harris at (202) 512-4456 or harriscc@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    The Venezuelan economy's performance has declined steadily for almost a decade and fallen steeply since the imposition of a series of U.S. sanctions starting in 2015. For example, the economy declined from negative 6.2 percent gross domestic product growth in 2015 to negative 35 percent in 2019 and negative 25 percent in 2020. The sanctions, particularly on the state oil company in 2019, likely contributed to the steeper decline of the Venezuelan economy, primarily by limiting revenue from oil production. However, mismanagement of Venezuela's state oil company and decreasing oil prices are among other factors that have also affected the economy's performance during this period. U.S. agencies have sought input from humanitarian organizations to identify the potential negative humanitarian consequences of sanctions related to Venezuela and taken steps to mitigate these issues. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Department of State (State) have solicited input from U.S.-funded humanitarian organizations on challenges they face, including the impact of sanctions. The U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and State have also taken steps to mitigate negative consequences. For example, Treasury issued licenses permitting various types of humanitarian assistance transactions in Venezuela (see figure). Treasury also maintains a call center and email account through which organizations can receive assistance with compliance issues or other challenges related to sanctions. While Treasury officials told GAO they respond to individual inquiries, Treasury does not systematically track and analyze information from these inquiries to identify trends or recurrent issues. Without collection and analysis of this information, Treasury and its interagency partners may be limited in their ability to develop further actions to ensure that U.S. sanctions do not disrupt humanitarian assistance. U.S. Humanitarian Assistance Supplies for Venezuelans U.S. sanctions related to Venezuela have likely had a limited impact, if any, on the U.S. oil industry. Despite an overall lower supply of oil in the U.S. market from the loss of Venezuelan crude oil due to sanctions, crude oil and retail gasoline prices in the U.S. have not increased substantially. Many other factors in addition to the sanctions simultaneously affected the oil market and the price of crude oil and retail gasoline prices, including production cuts in January 2019 by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and decreased demand for energy during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to industry officials to whom GAO spoke, U.S. refineries have adjusted to these changes by shifting to alternative sources and types of crude oil. Venezuela has been experiencing an economic, political, and humanitarian crisis. The U.S. government has imposed sanctions on Venezuela's state oil company, government, and central bank, among others, in response to activities of the Venezuelan government and certain individuals. Treasury and the Department of State lead the implementation of the sanctions program, and USAID is primarily responsible for implementing humanitarian assistance for Venezuelans. GAO was asked to review U.S. sanctions related to Venezuela. This report examines: (1) how the Venezuelan economy performed before and since the imposition of sanctions in 2015; (2) the steps U.S. agencies have taken to identify and mitigate potential negative humanitarian consequences of sanctions related to Venezuela; and (3) what is known about the impact of U.S. sanctions related to Venezuela on the U.S. oil industry. GAO analyzed economic indicators, reviewed documents, interviewed agency officials, and spoke with representatives from selected humanitarian organizations and the U.S oil industry. GAO recommends that Treasury systematically track inquiries made to its call center and email account, including the specific sanctions program and the subject matter of the inquiry to identify trends and recurring issues. Treasury concurred with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or GianopoulosK@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
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    In U.S GAO News
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  • Medicaid: CMS Needs More Information on States’ Financing and Payment Arrangements to Improve Oversight
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    States and the federal government share in financing Medicaid, a health care program for low-income and medically needy individuals. States finance the nonfederal share with state general funds and other sources, such as taxes on health care providers and funds from local governments. GAO's analysis showed a change in how states finance their Medicaid programs. In particular, states relied on provider taxes and local government funds for about 28 percent, or $63 billion, of the estimated $224 billion total nonfederal share of Medicaid payments in state fiscal year 2018—7 percentage points more than state fiscal year 2008. Nonfederal Share of Medicaid Payments from Provider Taxes and Local Government Funds, State Fiscal Years 2008 and 2018 Note: Percentages do not add up due to rounding. Furthermore, GAO estimated that states' reliance on provider taxes and local government funds decreased states' share of net Medicaid payments (total state and federal payments) and effectively increased the federal share of net Medicaid payments by 5 percentage points in state fiscal year 2018. It also resulted in smaller net payments to some providers after the taxes and local government funds they contribute to their payments are taken into account. While net payments are smaller, the federal government's contribution does not change. This effectively shifts responsibility for a larger portion of Medicaid payments to the federal government and away from states. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)—which oversees Medicaid—collects some information on states' sources of funds and payments, but it is not complete, consistent, or sufficiently documented, which hinders the agency's oversight. For example, CMS does not require states to report on the source of the nonfederal share for all payments. Absent complete, consistent, and sufficiently documented information about all Medicaid payments, CMS cannot adequately determine whether payments are consistent with statutory requirements for economy and efficiency, and with permissible financing, such as the categories of services on which provider taxes may be imposed. Medicaid cost $668 billion in fiscal year 2019. GAO has previously reported on concerns about states' use of various funding sources for the nonfederal share. Although such financing arrangements are allowed under certain conditions, they can also result in increasing the share of net costs paid by the federal government and decreasing reliance on state general funds. GAO was asked to review the sources of funds states used for Medicaid and the types of payments made to providers. This report describes states' reliance on provider and local government funds for these arrangements; the estimated effect of these arrangements on the federal share of net Medicaid payments; and the extent to which CMS collects information on these arrangements. To do this work, GAO reviewed CMS information; administered a questionnaire to all state Medicaid agencies; analyzed the estimated effects of reliance on provider and local government funds; and interviewed CMS officials, as well as Medicaid officials in 11 states selected, in part, on Medicaid spending and geographic diversity. The Administrator of CMS should collect and document complete and consistent information about the sources of funding for the nonfederal share of payments to providers. CMS neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO's recommendation, but acknowledged the need for additional financing and payment data for Medicaid oversight. For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or yocomc@gao.gov.
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  • Chinese National Charged with Criminal Conspiracy to Export US Power Amplifiers to China
    In Crime News
    An indictment was unsealed this week charging Cheng Bo, also known as Joe Cheng, a 45-year-old national of the People’s Republic of China, with participating in a criminal conspiracy from 2012-2015 to violate U.S. export laws by shipping U.S. power amplifiers to China. Cheng’s former employer, Avnet Asia Pte. Ltd., a Singapore company and global distributor of electronic components and related software, agreed to pay a financial penalty to the United States of $1,508,000 to settle criminal liability for the conduct of its former employees, including Cheng. As part of a non-prosecution agreement, Avnet Asia admitted responsibility for Cheng’s unlawful conspiracy to ship export-controlled U.S. goods with potential military applications to China, and also for the criminal conduct of another former employee who, from 2007-2009, illegally caused U.S. goods to be shipped to China and Iran without a license. This conduct violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
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  • Farmworkers: Additional Information Needed to Better Protect Workers from Pesticide Exposure
    In U.S GAO News
    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states ensure compliance with the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) primarily through inspections of farms. The states collect some information—such as the number of inspections they conduct—and provide that information to EPA as part of cooperative agreements between EPA and the states. The extent of use of the designated representative provision of the WPS, and its effect on the availability of pesticide information, are not known because EPA does not collect information on the use of the provision and does not coordinate with states to do so. EPA's guidance to states for conducting inspections encourages, but does not require, state inspectors to ask farmers and farmworkers about whether a designated representative has been used. EPA officials said that the agency has not asked states to collect information on the provision because the agency has focused on compliance with other aspects of the WPS. By coordinating with states, through the cooperative agreements or some another mechanism, to collect information on the use of the designated representative provision, EPA would be better positioned to determine whether the provision is serving its intended purpose. Some stakeholders have raised concerns about potential misuse of pesticide information, such as other farmers using the information obtained by a designated representative to gain a competitive advantage. However, EPA officials, state officials, and stakeholders told us they did not know of any instance in which a person serving as a designated representative misused the pesticide information obtained from farmers. Neither EPA's guidance nor its website explain the agency's expectations for appropriate use or describe how such information could be misused. EPA officials said that the agency has not explained what constitutes misuse. By explaining, in the agency's guidance, on its website, or through another mechanism, EPA's expectations about appropriate use of pesticide information obtained by designated representatives, including the misuse of such information, the agency could ensure designated representatives understand the importance of the information in reducing the consequences of pesticide exposure. Farmworkers Picking Strawberries at a Farm The use of pesticides contributes to U.S. agricultural productivity by protecting crops against pests or weeds, but this use may pose risks to human health. To reduce the consequences of pesticide exposure to farmworkers' health, EPA revised the WPS in 2015 to include a provision that allows a farmworker to identify a person who can request, for their benefit, certain pesticide information from their employer—this is called the designated representative provision. This report examines (1) what is known about the extent of use and effect of the designated representative provision on the availability of pesticide information and (2) what is known about any misuse of information obtained through the provision. GAO reviewed laws, regulations, and guidance, and interviewed officials from EPA and 13 selected states about how they implement and oversee compliance with the standard. GAO also interviewed stakeholders, such as farmer groups and farmworker advocacy groups. GAO is making two recommendations to EPA to (1) coordinate with states to collect information on the use of the designated representative provision and (2) take steps to explain, in guidance, on its website, or through another mechanism, the agency's expectations about appropriate use of pesticide information obtained by a designated representative and describe potential misuse of such information. EPA agreed, in part, to both recommendations. For more information, contact Steve D. Morris at (202) 512-3841 or morriss@gao.gov.
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  • The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion in Diplomacy: A Conversation with Security Engineering Officer Rahim Theriot
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  • Unaccompanied Children: Actions Needed to Improve Grant Application Reviews and Oversight of Care Facilities
    In U.S GAO News
    The Office of Refugee Resettlement's (ORR) grant announcements soliciting care providers for unaccompanied children—those without lawful immigration status and without a parent or guardian in the U.S. available to provide care and physical custody for them—lack clarity about what state licensing information is required. Further, ORR does not systematically confirm the information submitted by applicants or document a review of their past performance on ORR grants, when applicable, according to GAO's analysis of ORR documents and interviews with ORR officials. The grant announcements do not specify how applicants without a state license should show license eligibility—a criterion for receiving an ORR grant—or specify what past licensing allegations and concerns they must report. In addition, the extent to which ORR staff verify applicants' licensing information is unclear. In fiscal years 2018 and 2019, ORR awarded grants to approximately 14 facilities that were unable to serve children for 12 or more months because they remained unlicensed. In addition, ORR did not provide any documentation that staff conducted a review of past performance for the nearly 70 percent of applicants that previously held ORR grants. Without addressing these issues, ORR risks awarding grants to organizations that cannot obtain a state license or that have a history of poor performance. State licensing agencies regularly monitor ORR-funded facilities, but according to GAO's survey of these agencies, their information sharing with ORR is limited (see figure). State licensing agencies and ORR staff both said that improved information sharing would benefit their monitoring of facilities. Without such improvements, ORR may lack information about ongoing issues at its facilities. Key Survey Responses on Information-Sharing with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) by the 23 State Agencies That Licensed ORR-Funded Facilities in Fall 2019 ORR requires grantees to take corrective action to address noncompliance it identifies through monitoring, but ORR has not met some of its monitoring goals or notified grantees of the need for corrective actions in a timely manner. For example, under ORR regulations, each facility is to be audited for compliance with standards to prevent and respond to sexual abuse and harassment of children by February 22, 2019, but by April 2020, only 67 of 133 facilities had been audited. In fiscal years 2018 and 2019, ORR also did not meet its policy goals to visit each facility at least every 2 years, or to submit a report to facilities on any corrective actions identified within 30 days of a visit. Without further action, ORR will continue to not meet its own monitoring goals, which are designed to ensure the safety and well-being of children in its care. ORR is responsible for the care and placement of unaccompanied children in its custody, which it provides through grants to state-licensed care provider facilities. ORR was appropriated $1.3 billion for this program in fiscal year 2020. GAO was asked to review ORR's grant making process and oversight of its grantees. This report examines (1) how ORR considers state licensing issues and past performance in its review of grant applications; (2) state licensing agencies' oversight of ORR grantees, and how ORR and states share information; and (3) how ORR addresses grantee noncompliance. GAO reviewed ORR grant announcements and applications for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. GAO conducted a survey of 29 state licensing agencies in states with ORR facilities, and reviewed ORR monitoring documentation and corrective action reports. GAO also reviewed ORR guidance and policies, as well as relevant federal laws and regulations, and interviewed ORR officials. GAO is making eight recommendations to ORR on improving clarity in its grant announcements, communication with state licensing agencies, and monitoring of its grantees. ORR agreed with all eight recommendations. For more information, contact Kathryn A. Larin at (202) 512-7215 or larink@gao.gov.
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  • Immigration Detention: Actions Needed to Improve Planning, Documentation, and Oversight of Detention Facility Contracts
    In U.S GAO News
    In fiscal year 2019, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had detention contracts or agreements with 233 facilities, 185 of which it used to hold detainees, as shown below. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention Space Acquisition Methods, Fiscal Year 2019 Acquisition method Total facilities Facilities that held detainees Percentage of average daily population held in facility Intergovernmental service agreement 133 108 59 U.S. Marshals Service rider 85 62 17 Federal Acquisition Regulation-based contract 15 15 24 Total 233 185 100 Source: GAO analysis of ICE data. | GAO-21-149 ICE primarily uses intergovernmental service agreements (IGSA) to acquire detention space. Officials said IGSAs offer several benefits over contracts, including fewer requirements for documentation or competition. ICE has a process for obtaining new detention space, but it did not follow this process for most of its recent acquisitions and does not have a strategic approach to using guaranteed minimum payments in its detention contracts and agreements. From fiscal year 2017 through May 11, 2020, ICE entered into 40 contracts and agreements for new detention space. GAO's review of ICE's documentation found that 28 of 40 of these contracts and agreements did not have documentation from ICE field offices showing a need for the space, outreach to local officials, or the basis for ICE's decisions to enter into them, as required by ICE's process. Until ICE consistently uses its process, it will not have reasonable assurance that it is making cost-effective decisions that best meet its operational needs. ICE has increasingly incorporated guaranteed minimum payments into its contracts and agreements, whereby ICE agrees to pay detention facility operators for a fixed number of detention beds regardless of whether it uses them. However, ICE has not taken a strategic approach to these decisions and has spent millions of dollars a month on unused detention space. Planning for detention space needs can be challenging, according to ICE officials, because the agency must respond to factors that are dynamic and difficult to predict. A strategic approach to using guaranteed minimums could help position ICE to balance these factors and make more effective use of federal funds. ICE relies on Contracting Officer's Representatives (COR) to oversee detention contracts and agreements, but the COR's supervisory structure—where field office management, rather than headquarters, oversee COR work and assess COR performance—does not provide sufficient independence for effective oversight. CORs in eight of 12 field offices identified concerns including lacking resources or support, as well as supervisors limiting their ability to use contract enforcement tools and bypassing CORs' oversight responsibilities in contracting matters. Revising its supervisory structure could help ICE ensure that detention contract and agreement terms are enforced. The Department of Homeland Security's ICE detained approximately 48,500 foreign nationals a day, on average, for 72 hours or more in fiscal year 2019. ICE was appropriated about $3.14 billion in fiscal year 2020 to operate the immigration detention system. ICE has three ways of acquiring detention space—IGSAs with state or local government entities; agreements with Department of Justice U.S. Marshals Service to join an existing contract or agreement (known as a “rider”); or contracts. This report examines (1) what data show about the characteristics of contracts and agreements; (2) the extent to which ICE developed and implemented processes and a strategic approach to acquire space; and (3) the extent to which ICE has overseen and enforced contracts and agreements. GAO reviewed documentation of acquisition and oversight efforts at facilities used to hold detainees for 72 hours or more; analyzed ICE data for the last 3 fiscal years—2017 through 2019; conducted site visits to new and long-standing detention facilities; and interviewed ICE officials. GAO is making five recommendations, including that ICE include stakeholder input and document decision-making for new detention space acquisitions; implement a strategic approach to using guaranteed minimums; and revise its supervisory structure for contract oversight. DHS concurred with four recommendations and disagreed with revising its supervisory structure. GAO believes the recommendation remains valid, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or gamblerr@gao.gov.
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  • New York Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to File False Returns
    In Crime News
    A resident of Newburgh, New York, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to defraud the United States, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
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    In Crime News
    JOON LLC, d/b/a AJIN USA (Ajin), an auto-parts manufacturing company, was sentenced in federal court today in Montgomery, Alabama, after pleading guilty to a charge related to the death of a machinery operator.
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  • New Jersey Man Indicted for Promoting Tax Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Pemberton, New Jersey, man appeared in court yesterday on a federal grand jury indictment charging him with conspiring to defraud the United States, assisting in the filing of false tax returns, obstructing the internal revenue laws, and failing to file a tax return, announced Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division. The Sept. 2, 2020 indictment was unsealed following the court appearance.
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  • Indian Health Service: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Federal Facilities’ Decision-Making About the Use of Funds
    In U.S GAO News
    The Indian Health Service's (IHS) oversight of federally operated health care facilities' decision-making process about the use of funds has been limited and inconsistent. Funds include those from appropriations, as well as payments from federal programs, such as Medicaid and from private insurance, for care provided by IHS to American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN). While some oversight functions are performed at IHS headquarters, the agency has delegated primary responsibility for the oversight of health care facilities' decision-making about the use of funds to its area offices. Area office officials said the oversight they provide has generally included (1) reviewing facilities' scope of services, and (2) reviewing facilities' proposed expenditures. However, GAO's review found that this oversight was limited and inconsistent across IHS area offices, in part, due to a lack of consistent agency-wide processes. While IHS officials from all nine area offices GAO interviewed said they reviewed facilities' scope of services and coordinated with tribes when doing so, none reported systematically reviewing the extent to which their facilities' services were meeting local health needs, such as by incorporating the results of community health assessments. Such assessments can involve the collection and assessment of data, as well as the input of local community members and leaders to identify and prioritize community needs. These assessments can be used by facilities to assess their resources and identify priorities for facility investment. While IHS has identified such assessments as a priority, the agency does not require federally operated facilities to conduct such assessments or require the area offices to use them as they review facilities' scope of services. To ensure that facilities are effectively managing their resources, IHS has a process to guide its review of facilities' proposed construction projects that cost at least $25,000. However, IHS does not have a similar process to guide its oversight of other key proposed expenditures, such as those involving the purchase of major medical equipment, the hiring of providers, or the expansion of services. Specifically, GAO found limitations and inconsistencies with respect to requiring a documented justification for proposed expenditures; documenting the review and approval of decisions; and conducting an impact assessment on patient access, cost, and quality of care. The limitations and inconsistencies that GAO found in IHS's oversight are driven by the lack of consistent oversight processes across the area offices. Without establishing a systematic oversight process to compare federally operated facilities' current services to population needs, and to guide the review of facilities' proposed expenditures, IHS cannot ensure that its facilities are identifying and investing in projects to meet the greatest community needs, and therefore that federal resources are being maximized to best serve the AI/AN population. IHS, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, provides care to AI/AN populations through a system of federally operated and tribally operated health care facilities. AI/AN have experienced long standing problems accessing needed health care services. GAO has previously reported that IHS has not been able to pay for all eligible health care services; however, the resources available to federally operated facilities have recently grown. This report assesses IHS oversight of federal health care facilities' decision-making about the use of funds. GAO reviewed IHS policies and documents; and interviewed IHS officials from headquarters, nine area offices, and three federally operated facilities (two hospitals and one health clinic). GAO recommends that IHS develop processes to guide area offices in (1) systematically assessing how federally operated facilities will effectively meet the needs of their patient populations, and (2) reviewing federal facilities' spending proposals. HHS concurred with these recommendations. For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or farbj@gao.gov.
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  • The Department of Justice Announces Standards for Certifying Safe Policing Practices by Law Enforcement Agencies
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    Today, the Department of Justice announced Standards for Certification that will be used by credentialing bodies so they can begin certifying thousands of law enforcement agencies over the next three months. The Standards of Certification are a result of President Trump’s June Executive Order 13929, Safe Policing for Safe Communities.
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  • Arkansas Project Manager Pleads Guilty to Bank Fraud and False Statements in Connection with COVID-Relief Fraud
    In Crime News
    A project manager employed by a major retailer has pleaded guilty to bank fraud charges for filing fraudulent bank loan applications seeking more than $8 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
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  • Fair Labor Standards Act: Observations on the Effects of the Home Care Rule
    In U.S GAO News
    In response to the Department of Labor's Home Care Rule—which extended Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) minimum wage and overtime protections to more home care workers—some states made changes in their Medicaid programs, according to studies and GAO interviews with stakeholders and selected state officials. Many stakeholders said the rule led some states to limit home care workers' hours in their Medicaid programs to avoid overtime costs. For example, in Oregon, newly hired home care workers provided through Medicaid were generally limited to 40 hours per week, according to state documentation. Some states also budgeted additional funds for overtime pay. In addition, according to a few stakeholder groups, some states changed service delivery in their Medicaid programs, for example, by discontinuing services such as live-in care. In contrast, several stakeholders said some states did not make any major changes to their Medicaid programs' home care services. Provider agencies, workers, and consumers experienced changes after the Home Care Rule took effect. Specifically, some provider agencies restricted workers' hours to limit overtime costs, though this can result in the need to hire more workers, leading to increased costs of recruiting, training, and scheduling, according to several stakeholders. GAO's analysis of national survey data found that home care workers, when compared to occupations with similar education and training requirements, were more likely to work full-time but did not earn significantly higher earnings following the Home Care Rule (see figure). Many stakeholders GAO spoke with described ongoing challenges consumers face in obtaining home care services, such as difficulty finding workers to hire. Estimated Median Weekly Earnings of Employed Workers, 2010 through 2019 Note: The margins of error at the 95 percent confidence level are within plus or minus 7.2 percent of the estimate itself. Employment in home care is projected to grow nearly 40 percent over the next decade to meet demand from an increasing population of older adults and people with disabilities. Home care workers help those who need assistance with activities of daily living such as dressing, eating, or bathing. State Medicaid programs may allow home care for eligible individuals as an alternative to institutional care. The Department of Labor's (DOL) Home Care Rule, which went into effect in 2015, extended FLSA protections to more home care workers. GAO was asked to review the implementation and effects of the Home Care Rule. This report examines what is known about (1) changes states made to their Medicaid programs in response to the Home Care Rule; and (2) the Home Care Rule's effect on home care provider agencies, workers, and consumers. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed 2010 through 2019 national survey data on workers' hours and wages; interviewed stakeholders from 15 organizations that represent the different groups affected, DOL officials, and home care program officials from three states selected based on variation in their Medicaid programs and minimum wage levels; and reviewed studies on state strategies to implement the Home Care Rule. For more information, contact Melissa Emrey-Arras at (617) 788-0534 or emreyarrasm@gao.gov.
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