Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Jesper Steinmetz of TV2

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Copenhagen, Denmark

Marriott Hotel

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for your time and welcome to Copenhagen.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  How do you like it here?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s just wonderful to be here.  It’s always wonderful to be among friends and to feel that in the work we’re doing with the government but also with the people we are joined by so many of the same – the same values, the same interests.  And in a world that’s more and more complicated and more and more complex, I think the thing all of us want most and rely on most is friendship, partnership, collaboration, and the partnership between the United States and Denmark is remarkably strong.

QUESTION:  But see, I’ve heard that song before and that diplomatic speech before.  Let’s turn to the Arctic, because the former president wanted to buy Greenland, and apart from the rhetoric, what has actually changed in terms of the U.S. objective?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first I’m focused on looking forward, not backward, but here’s what I can say about how we’re thinking about things and how we’re acting on things.  First, we – President Biden believes strongly in the importance of U.S. engagement because in our absence we found that what’s likely to happen is someone else may try to fill the vacuum, and maybe not in ways that are good for the interests and values of the United States or Denmark, or —

QUESTION:  Russia?  China?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  For example.  Or maybe just as bad, no one does, and then you may have chaos.  But the flip side of that coin is just as important.

In all of the time that I’ve been engaged in these issues on foreign policy, I don’t think there’s ever been a time when cooperation and coordination among countries was more important.  And here’s why.  If you think about the really big problems that are actually having an impact on the lives of our citizens, Danes and Americans alike – climate change, this pandemic, the destructive impact of new technologies – not a single one of those can be addressed by any one country acting alone, whether it’s the United States, whether it’s Denmark, or anyone else.  So we know that we have to find new ways to cooperate, to coordinate, to collaborate, and that starts with our allies and partners.

QUESTION:  But what is it actually the U.S. wants in Greenland?  I mean, do you want more military presence?  Do you want more NATO soldiers, for instance?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We have a remarkably strong partnership with the Kingdom of Denmark.  And as part of that, I think we have a stronger relationship with Greenland.  We’ve made some investments that I think will ultimately lead to very concrete projects that will help develop more trade and investment between the United States and Greenland, more tourism, work on sustainable development, green technology – there – education, science, technology.  There are a host of very practical things that we hope to develop in partnership with Greenland.

QUESTION:  Greenland is also the visual proof of the climate problem —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  — that this world is facing.  President Biden has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s right.

QUESTION:  — but doesn’t it take the entire global community to adhere to the same rules in order to prevent climate change?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:   Yeah, it does.

QUESTION:  But how are you going to convince a country like China that they have to stop their emissions —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, this is exactly where the partnership, for example, between the United States and Denmark comes in, because Denmark is an extraordinary leader when it comes to climate change not just by the ambition of the targets but also the way you’re going about it, making sure that as economies have to transition away from old forms of energy to new ones that no one is left behind.  That’s a powerful example for the world.  And you’re right.  Everyone has to be honest because, look, take the United States.  We’re 15 percent of global emissions.  Even if we get everything right at home, it doesn’t answer the problem.  We need to bring along the other 85 percent.  And again, this is where leadership together with the United States and Denmark and other likeminded countries will help move other countries along.

QUESTION:  And the timeline is very short.  I mean, in order to deliver on your promises, you need to act fast —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  — and you need to convince the other countries to do the same.  What are you going to do?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, look at what we’ve already done.  First, we have to lead by example.  Part of that example is getting back into the Paris Climate Agreement, which we had gotten out of.  You saw that.  We convened – President Biden convened a leaders’ summit in Washington en route to Glasgow, the COP26 later this year.  And Prime Minister Frederiksen made a terrific presentation at that summit talking about the remarkable work that’s going on in Denmark on clean technology transition.  And that demonstrated, I think, our re-engagement on climate.  And I think it’s had a galvanizing effect.  Look at some of the countries in advance of that summit that raised their own ambitions, because you’re exactly right.  This is the decisive decade.  Whatever the goals we’ve set for 2050, if we don’t start to make material progress on them this decade, we’ll never get there.

QUESTION:  Let’s turn to the current situation in the Middle East, the deadly violence between Israel and the Palestinians.  In the past few days we’ve seen multiple civilian casualties on both sides, but mostly in Gaza.  You’re Jewish yourself.  Do you think that the Israeli response, their defense, is justified and proportional?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, we believe strongly that Israel has a right to defend itself.  And this false equivalence between a terrorist group – Hamas – that is indiscriminately launching rockets at civilians and Israel, which is responding to those attacks, I think we have to be very, very wary of.  That’s – it’s a false equivalence.  And again, I’ll give you another concrete example.  Israel has, I think by last count, launched about 2,000 attacks on terrorist targets in Gaza.  There were more than 3,000 rockets launched by Hamas from Gaza into Israel.

Having said that, I think Israel has an extra burden as a democracy to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties, especially to look out for children, and of course to make sure that journalists, medical personnel, are not harmed.  And so that’s vital.

And we also want to see this de-escalate.  We want to see the violence stop.  And we want to see the possibility of focusing on improving lives and improving Palestinian lives in a material way.  People have to have hope for a better future, and we all need to work on that.

QUESTION:  And you’re also going to help the Palestinians getting a better life?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes, absolutely.  This is – I think this is critical.  It is very, very difficult if you see no positive prospects.  And I think we all have an obligation, a responsibility to do that.

So the first thing is to stop the violence, return to calm, but then to work from there on making a material difference in people’s lives.

QUESTION:  A quick question about Afghanistan.  President Biden has just decided to withdraw all U.S. troops by September.  Denmark has lost more soldiers per capita than any other country.  How do you convince those who have lost a loved one that almost 20 years in Afghanistan have not been in vain?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, they haven’t been in vain at all.  And first of all, I’m incredibly moved by the sacrifice of so many allies and partners, starting with Denmark, in this joint endeavor.  We will never forget that when we were attacked on 9/11, it was our allies and partners that came to our defense.  Article 5 of NATO was invoked for the very first time in the Alliance’s history in defense of the United States.  That’s something we’ll never lose sight of.

But let’s also not lose sight of why we went to Afghanistan in the first place.  The reason is we needed to deal with those who attacked us on 9/11, and to try to make sure that it would not happen again from Afghanistan.  And those who made the remarkable sacrifice – they succeeded.  We have basically eliminated the threat posed by al-Qaida from Afghanistan.  Osama bin Laden was brought to justice 10 years ago, and we’ve been there 20 years.

So I would say that this was not in vain.  On the contrary, we succeeded in doing what we set out to do 20 years ago.

QUESTION:  But there’s still a huge risk that the Taliban will re-emerge and take over.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  There is a real risk here, right?  We are doing everything we can to, first of all, get negotiations toward a political settlement that would prevent that from happening.  Beyond that, we’re making sure that we have the resources in place so that if there were a re-emergence of terrorism directed at us, or you, or anyone else, we would be able to see it and we would be able to do something about.

But also – and this is important – even as we’re withdrawing our forces from Afghanistan, we are not withdrawing from Afghanistan.  Our embassy remains.  The programs that we have in place to support Afghanistan with humanitarian, economic, development, security assistance, including assistance focused on women and girls – all of that will remain.  And we’re working with other countries and other partners so that they sustain that support, too.

QUESTION:  Finally, I have to ask you the question that most Danes ask me, being based in the U.S.:  When can they come and visit the U.S. again?  When are you going to lift the travel ban?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, look, I hope, obviously, that it’s as soon as possible.  We follow the science.  We follow the directions from the Centers for Disease Control, our health experts.  They tell us when it’s safe to move, safe to change.  But I am increasingly hopeful that we’re getting – really getting to the light at the end of the tunnel.  In just a few hours, President Biden’s going to announce a major initiative on the United States and its leadership in making sure that more people around the world have access to vaccines.  That’s going to be very important.  It’s speeding up the ability of the world to get vaccinated, and to get to the end of this tunnel.

QUESTION:  So that they can come and visit you?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Absolutely.  We will – we welcome that; we look forward to that.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary, and safe travels.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Great to be with you.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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    What GAO Found In its March 2021 high-risk series update, GAO reported that significant attention was needed to improve the federal government's management of information technology (IT) acquisitions and operations, and ensure the nation's cybersecurity. Regarding management of IT, overall progress in addressing this area has remained unchanged. Since 2019, GAO has emphasized that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and covered federal agencies need to continue to fully implement critical requirements of federal IT acquisition reform legislation, known as the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), to better manage tens of billions of dollars in IT investments. For example: OMB continued to demonstrate leadership commitment by issuing guidance to implement FITARA statutory provisions, but sustained leadership and expanded capacity were needed to improve agencies' management of IT. Agencies continued to make progress with reporting FITARA milestones and plans to modernize or replace obsolete IT investments, but significant work remained to complete these efforts. Agencies improved the involvement of their agency Chief Information Officers in the acquisition process, but greater cost savings could be achieved if IT acquisition shortcomings, such as reducing duplicative IT contracts, were addressed. In March 2021, GAO reiterated the need for agencies to address four major cybersecurity challenges facing the nation: (1) establishing a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy and performing effective oversight, (2) securing federal systems and information, (3) protecting cyber critical infrastructure, and (4) protecting privacy and sensitive data. GAO identified 10 actions for agencies to take to address these challenges. However, since 2019, progress in this area has regressed—GAO's 2021 rating of leadership commitment declined from met to partially met. To help address the leadership vacuum, in January 2021, Congress enacted a statute establishing the Office of the National Cyber Director. Although the director position has not yet been filled, on April 12 the President announced his intended nominee. Overall, the federal government needs to move with a greater sense of urgency to fully address cybersecurity challenges. In particular: Develop and execute a more comprehensive federal strategy for national cybersecurity and global cyberspace. In September 2020, GAO reported that the cyber strategy and implementation plan addressed some, but not all, of the desirable characteristics of national strategies, such as goals and resources needed. Mitigate global supply chain risks. In December 2020, GAO reported that few of the 23 civilian federal agencies it reviewed implemented foundational practices for managing information and communication technology supply chain risks. Enhance the federal response to cyber incidents. In July 2019, GAO reported that most of 16 selected federal agencies had deficiencies in at least one of the activities associated with incident response processes. Why GAO Did This Study The effective management and protection of IT has been a longstanding challenge in the federal government. Each year, the federal government spends more than $100 billion on IT and cyber-related investments; however, many of these investments have failed or performed poorly and often have suffered from ineffective management. Accordingly, GAO added improving the management of IT acquisitions and operations as a high-risk area in February 2015. Information security has been on the high-risk area since 1997. In its March 2021 high-risk update, GAO reported that significant actions were required to address IT acquisitions and operations. Further, GAO noted the urgent need for agencies to take 10 specific actions on four major cybersecurity challenges. GAO was asked to testify on federal agencies' efforts to address the management of IT and cybersecurity. For this testimony, GAO relied primarily on its March 2021 high-risk update and selected prior work across IT and cybersecurity topics.
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  • Program Evaluation: Key Terms and Concepts
    In U.S GAO News
    Both the executive branch and congressional committees need evaluative information to help them make decisions about the programs they oversee—information that tells them whether, and why, a program is working well or not. The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA) and GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) established a framework for performance management and accountability within the federal government. Building on that foundation, Congress has since passed, among other laws, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) to strengthen the evidence-building efforts of executive branch agencies. This product updates our previous glossary (GAO-11-646SP) to highlight different types of evaluations for answering questions about program performance, as well as relevant issues to ensure study quality. This glossary can help agency officials better understand fundamental concepts related to evaluation and enhance their evidence-building capacity. For more information, contact Lawrance Evans, Jr. at 202-512-2700 or EvansL@gao.gov.
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  • Department of Energy Contracting: Improvements Needed to Ensure DOE Assesses Its Full Range of Contracting Fraud Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO identified nine categories of contracting fraud schemes that occurred at the Department of Energy (DOE), including billing schemes, conflicts of interest, and payroll schemes. For example, a subcontractor employee at a site created fraudulent invoices for goods never received, resulting in a loss of over $6 million. In another scheme, a contractor engaged in years of widespread time card fraud, submitting inflated claims for compensation. The contractor agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle the case. DOE reported that it identified nearly $15 million in improper payments due to confirmed fraud in fiscal year 2019. However, due to the difficulty in detecting fraud, agencies—including DOE—incur financial losses related to fraud that are never identified or are settled without admission to fraud and are not counted as such. Fraud can also have nonfinancial impacts, such as fraudsters obtaining a competitive advantage and preventing legitimate businesses from obtaining contracts. DOE has taken some steps and is planning others to demonstrate a commitment to combat fraud and assess its contracting fraud risks, consistent with the leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. However, GAO found that DOE has not assessed the full range of contracting fraud risks it faces. Specifically, GAO found DOE's methods for gathering information about its fraud risks captures selected fraud risks—rather than all fraud risks—facing DOE programs. As shown in the figure, DOE's risk profiles for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 did not capture four of nine fraud schemes that occurred at DOE. For example, one entity did not include any fraud risks in its risk profiles, yet GAO identified six types of fraud schemes that occurred at the entity's site. DOE plans to expand its risk assessment process, but officials expect the new process will continue to rely on a methodology that gathers information on selected fraud risks. The Fraud Risk Framework states that entities identify specific tools, methods, and sources for gathering information about fraud risks. Without expanding its methodology to capture, assess, and document all fraud risks facing its programs, DOE risks remaining vulnerable to these types of fraud. Fraud Risks Identified in Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019 Risk Profiles Compared with Types of Fraud Schemes That Have Occurred at DOE DOE is planning to develop an antifraud strategy in fiscal year 2022 and has taken some steps to evaluate and adapt to fraud risks, consistent with leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. Part of DOE's effort to manage fraud risks includes adapting controls to address emerging fraud risks. Additionally, DOE is planning to expand its use of data analytics to detect contracting fraud, beginning in fiscal year 2022. DOE relies primarily on contractors to carry out its missions at its laboratories and other facilities, spending approximately 80 percent of its total obligations on contracts. GAO and DOE's Inspector General have reported on incidents of fraud by DOE contractors and identified multiple contracting fraud risks. GAO was asked to examine DOE's processes to manage contracting fraud risks. This report examines, for DOE, (1) types of contracting fraud schemes and their financial and nonfinancial impacts, (2) steps taken to commit to combating contracting fraud risks and the extent to which these risks have been assessed, and (3) steps taken to design and implement an antifraud strategy and to evaluate and adapt its approach. GAO reviewed relevant laws and guidance; reviewed agency media releases, Agency Financial Reports, and DOE Inspector General reports to Congress from 2013 through 2019; and reviewed documents and interviewed officials from 42 DOE field and site offices, contractors, and subcontractors, representing a range of sites and programs. GAO is making two recommendations, including for DOE to expand its fraud risk assessment methodology to ensure all fraud risks facing DOE programs are fully assessed and documented in accordance with leading practices. DOE concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Rebecca Shea at (202) 512-6722 shear@gao.gov or Allison B. Bawden at (202) 512-3841, bawdena@gao.gov.
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  • VA Vet Centers: Evaluations Needed of Expectations for Counselor Productivity and Centers’ Staffing
    In U.S GAO News
    The Veterans Health Administration's (VHA) Readjustment Counseling Service (RCS) provides counseling through 300 Vet Centers, which can be found in community settings and are separate from other VHA facilities. RCS has set expectations for counselor productivity at Vet Centers. For example, one expectation is for counselors to achieve an average of 1.5 visits for each hour they provide direct services. However, RCS officials told GAO that they have not conducted, and do not have plans to conduct, an evaluation of the expectations. VA Vet Center Productivity Expectations for Counselors Although most counselors met the productivity expectations in fiscal year 2019, counselors GAO spoke with said the expectations led them to change work practices in ways that could negatively affect client care. For example, counselors at one Vet Center told GAO that, to meet productivity expectations, they spend less time with each client to fit more clients into their schedules. Without an evaluation of its productivity expectations, RCS lacks reasonable assurance that it is identifying any unintended or potentially negative effects of the expectations on counselor practices and client care. RCS officials told GAO that by the start of fiscal year 2021 they plan to implement a staffing model to identify criteria for determining staffing needs at Vet Centers. The model incorporates data on counselors' productivity (work hours and number of visits), and total clients to determine criteria for adding or removing a counselor position from a Vet Center. However, the model does not fully address key practices in staffing model design GAO identified in previous work. For example, the model does not include the input of Vet Center counselors, or client data associated with directors, who also provide counseling. As a result, RCS is at risk of making decisions about Vet Center staffing that may not be responsive to changing client needs. Shortages of mental health staff within VHA coupled with the increasing veteran demand for mental health services highlight the critical importance of ensuring appropriate Vet Center staffing. VHA's RCS provided counseling (individual, group, marriage, and family) and outreach services through Vet Centers to more than 300,000 veterans and their families in fiscal year 2019. In 2017, RCS implemented changes to expectations that it uses to assess Vet Center counselor productivity, setting expectations for counselors' percentage of time with clients and number of client visits. GAO was asked to review Vet Center productivity expectations for counselors and staffing. Among other issues, this report examines the extent to which VHA (1) evaluates its productivity expectations; and (2) assesses Vet Centers' staffing needs. To do this work, GAO reviewed RCS documentation regarding counselors' productivity expectations and analyzed RCS data on counselor productivity expectations and staffing, for fiscal year 2019. GAO interviewed RCS leadership, including district directors, and directors and counselors from 12 Vet Centers, selected for variation in geographic location and total number of clients, among other factors. GAO is making four recommendations, including that VHA (1) evaluate Vet Center productivity expectations for counselors; and (2) develop and implement a staffing model that incorporates key practices. The Department of Veterans Affairs concurred with GAO's recommendations and identified actions VHA is taking to implement them. For more information, contact Debra A. Draper at (202) 512-7114 or draperd@gao.gov.
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    A Florida man was arrested this morning on charges of conspiring with others in advance of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election to use various social media platforms to disseminate misinformation designed to deprive individuals of their constitutional right to vote.
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    In Crime News
    The United States has filed a complaint under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 and the False Claims Act against Nutter Home Loans, f/k/a James B. Nutter & Co. (Nutter), for forging certifications and using unqualified underwriters to approve Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM), the Department of Justice announced today. 
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    Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice announced a settlement with the Churchill Downs Louisiana Horseracing Company LLC, d/b/a Fair Grounds Corporation (Fair Grounds) that will resolve years of Clean Water Act (CWA) violations at its New Orleans racetrack. Under the settlement, Fair Grounds will eliminate unauthorized discharges of manure, urine and process wastewater through operational changes and construction projects at an estimated cost of $5,600,000. The company also will pay a civil penalty of $2,790,000, the largest ever paid by a concentrated animal feeding operation in a CWA matter.
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    Samantha Marie Elhassani, aka Samantha Sally, 35, formerly of Elkhart, Indiana, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Philip P. Simon to 78 months in prison and three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to Financing Terrorism, announced Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana Thomas L. Kirsch II, FBI Assistant Director of the Counterterrorism Division Jill Sanborn, and FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Indianapolis field office Paul Keenan.
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