Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
Ramallah, West Bank
MODERATOR: Great. So thank you, everybody, for being here. I’m going to introduce our moderator, our Deputy Assistant Secretary Hady Amr. He’s going to take it from here. Thank you, sir.
MR AMR: Thank you so much. And great to have you all here. Good evening. I know some of you. My name’s Hady Amr, from Washington, working with Secretary Blinken. As I’ve said before, it’s been a painful few weeks here in this land. It’s been painful for us but I know it’s been much more painful for all of you. The conditions that we’ve all seen have been heartbreaking, and I know that you want change and we do too. As the Secretary said, as the President said, you all equally deserve to live in freedom, security, and prosperity. And so that’s what we’re here to talk about today, so it’s very, very special for me personally to introduce you to Secretary Blinken. He’s not just the Secretary of State. He’s a good man, he’s a father, and he’s got a heart. And so time is short, but I’d like the Secretary to maybe give some opening remarks and then go into a conversation. So Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Hady, thank you very, very much. And thank you all for being here. I’m really anxious to hear from you so I want to be brief so we can use the time to – for me to learn and to hear from you. But just a couple of things at the top.
One of the main purposes of my travel here at President Biden’s request is to renew ties between the United States and the Palestinian people, and to build on those ties going forward. One critical aspect of any democratic society is civil society, and that’s why I’m particularly anxious to have a chance to talk to you. Your voices, your experience, your insight, your advocacy I think are all critical components for the future.
And as Hady said a moment ago, we feel strongly that whether you’re Israeli, whether you’re Palestinian, you’re entitled to equal measures of peace, security, opportunity, and dignity. And I know that from your different perspectives, that’s exactly what you’re working on. So thank you for taking the time this evening. And I really do want to turn it over to the four of you to hear from you. So thank you.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, press.
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These funds have been used for, among other things, infrastructure repair of the electricity, oil, water, and health sectors; training and equipping of the Iraqi security forces; and administrative expenses. Specifically, the testimony focuses on (1) security, (2) management and reporting of the program to train and equip Iraqi security forces, (3) contracting and contract management activities, and (4) Iraqi capacity and commitment to manage and fund reconstruction and security efforts.Despite U.S. and Iraqi efforts to shift a greater share of the country's defense on Iraqi forces, the security situation continues to deteriorate. Poor security conditions have hindered the management of the more than $29 billion that has been obligated for reconstruction and stabilization efforts since 2003. Although the State Department has reported that the number of Iraqi army and police forces that has been trained and equipped has increased from about 174,000 in July 2005 to about 323,000 in December 2006, overall security conditions in Iraq have deteriorated and grown more complex. These conditions have hindered efforts to engage with Iraqi partners and demonstrate the difficulty in making political and economic progress in the absence of adequate security conditions. GAO's ongoing work has identified weaknesses in the $15.4 billion program to support the development and sustainment of Iraqi security forces. Sectarian divisions have eroded the dependability of many Iraqi units, and a number of Iraqi units have refused to serve outside the areas where they were recruited. Corruption and infiltration by militias and others loyal to parties other than the Iraqi government have resulted in the Iraqi security forces being part of the problem in many areas instead of the solution. While unit-level transition readiness assessments (TRA) provide important information on Iraqi security force capabilities, the aggregate reports DOD provides to Congress based on these assessments do not provide adequate information to judge the capabilities of Iraqi forces. The DOD reports do not detail the adequacy of Iraqi security forces' manpower, equipment, logistical support, or training and may overstate the number of forces on duty. Congress will need additional information found in the TRAs to assess DOD's supplemental request for funds to train and equip Iraqi security forces. DOD's heavy reliance on contractors in Iraq, its long-standing contract and contract management problems, and poor security conditions provide opportunities for fraud, waste, and abuse. First, military commanders and senior DOD leaders do not have visibility over the total number of contractors who are supporting deployed forces in Iraq. As we have noted in the past, this limited visibility can unnecessarily increase costs to the government. Second, DOD lacks clear and comprehensive guidance and leadership for managing and overseeing contractors. In October 2005, DOD issued, for the first time, department-wide guidance on the use of contractors that support deployed forces. Although this guidance is a good first step, it does not address a number of problems we have repeatedly raised. Third, key contracting issues have prevented DOD from achieving successful acquisition outcomes. There has been an absence of well-defined requirements, and DOD has often entered into contract arrangements on reconstruction efforts and into contracts to support deployed forces that have posed additional risk to the government. Further, a lack of training hinders the ability of military commanders to adequately plan for the use of contractor support and inhibits the ability of contract oversight personnel to manage and oversee contracts and contractors in Iraq. Iraqi capacity and commitment to manage and fund reconstruction and security efforts remains limited. Key ministries face challenges in staffing a competent and non-partisan civil service, fighting corruption, and using modern technology. The inability of the Iraqi government to spend its 2006 capital budget also increases the uncertainty that it can sustain the rebuilding effort.[Read More…]
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- Quantum Computing and Communications: Status and ProspectsBy Sam NewsOctober 19, 2021What GAO Found Quantum information technologies aim to use the properties of nature at atomic scales to accomplish tasks that are not achievable with existing technologies. These technologies rely on qubits, the quantum equivalent of classical computer bits. Scientists are creating qubits from particles, such as atoms or particles of light, or objects that mimic them, such as superconducting circuits. Unlike classical bits, qubits can be intrinsically linked to each other and can be any combination of 0 and 1 simultaneously. These capabilities enable two potentially transformational applications—quantum computing and communications. However, quantum information cannot be copied, is fragile, and can be irreversibly lost, resulting in errors that are challenging to correct. Examples of quantum computing hardware Some quantum computing and communications technologies are available for limited uses, but will likely require extensive development before providing significant commercial value. For example, some small error-prone quantum computers are available for limited applications, and a quantum communications technology known as quantum key distribution can be purchased. According to agency officials and stakeholders, additional quantum technology development may take at least a decade and cost billions, but such estimates are highly uncertain. Quantum computing and communications technologies will likely develop together because of some shared physics principles, laboratory techniques, and common hardware. Quantum computers may have applications in many sectors, but it is not clear where they will have the greatest impact. Quantum communications technologies may have uses for secure communications, quantum networking, and a future quantum internet. Some applications—such as distributed quantum computing, which connects multiple quantum computers together to solve a problem—require both quantum computing and communications technologies. Potential drawbacks of quantum technology include cost, complexity, energy consumption, and the possibility of malicious use. GAO identified four factors that affect quantum technology development and use: (1) collaboration, (2) workforce size and skill, (3) investment, and (4) the supply chain. The table below describes options that policymakers—legislative bodies, government agencies, standards-setting organizations, industry, and other groups—could consider to help address these factors, enhance benefits, or mitigate drawbacks of quantum technology development and use. Policy Options to Help Address Factors that Affect Quantum Technology Development and Use, or to Enhance Benefits or Mitigate Drawbacks Policy options and potential implementation approaches Opportunities Considerations Collaboration (report p. 37) Policymakers could encourage further collaboration in developing quantum technologies, such as collaboration among: Scientific disciplines Sectors Countries Collaboration among disciplines could enable technology breakthroughs. Collaboration could help accelerate research and development, as well as facilitate technology transfer from laboratories to the private sector, federal agencies, and others. International collaboration could bring mutual benefits to the U.S. and other countries by accelerating scientific discovery and promoting economic growth. Intellectual property concerns could make quantum technology leaders reluctant to collaborate. Institutional differences could make collaboration difficult. Export controls may complicate international collaboration, but are also needed to manage national security risks. Workforce (report p. 39) Policymakers could consider ways to expand the quantum technology workforce by, for example: Leveraging existing programs and creating new ones Promoting job training Facilitating appropriate hiring of an international workforce who are deemed not to pose a national security risk Educational programs could provide students and personnel with the qualifications and skills needed to work in quantum technologies across the private sector, public sector, and academia. Training personnel from different disciplines in quantum technologies could enhance the supply of quantum talent. International hiring could allow U.S. quantum employers to attract and retain top talent from other countries. Efforts to increase the quantum technology labor force may affect the supply of expertise in other technology fields with high demand. It may be difficult to adequately develop workforce plans to accommodate quantum technology needs. International hiring could be challenging because of visa requirements and export controls, both in place for national security reasons. Investment (report p. 41) Policymakers could consider ways to incentivize or support investment in quantum technology development, such as: Investments targeted toward specific results Continued investment in quantum technology research centers Grand challenges to spur solutions from the public More targeted investments could help advance quantum technologies. These may include investments in improving access to quantum computers and focusing on real-world applications. Quantum technologies testbed facility investments could support technology adoption, since testbeds allow researchers to explore new technologies and test the functionality of devices. Grand challenges have shown success in providing new capabilities and could be leveraged for quantum technologies. It may be difficult to fund projects with longer-term project timeframes. A lack of standards or, conversely, developing standards too early, could affect quantum technology investments. Without standards, businesses and consumers may not be confident that products will work as expected. Developing standards too early may deter the growth of alternative technology pathways. Supply Chain (report p. 43) Policymakers could encourage the development of a robust, secure supply chain for quantum technologies by, for example: Enhancing efforts to identify gaps in the global supply chain Expanding fabrication capabilities for items with an at-risk supply chain A robust supply chain could help accelerate progress and mitigate quantum technology development risks by expanding access to necessary components and materials or providing improved economies of scale. Quantum material fabrication capabilities improvements could ensure a reliable supply of materials to support quantum technology development. Facilities dedicated to producing quantum materials could help support scalable manufacturing of component parts needed for quantum technology development. The current quantum supply chain is global, which poses risks. For example, it is difficult to obtain a complete understanding of a component’s potential vulnerabilities. Some critical components, such as rare earths, are mined primarily outside of the U.S., which may pose risks to the supply chain that are difficult to mitigate. Quantum manufacturing facilities take a long time to develop and can be costly. Source: GAO. | GAO-21-104422 Why GAO Did This Study Quantum information technologies could dramatically increase capabilities beyond what is possible with classical technologies. Future quantum computers could have high-value applications in security, cryptography, drug development, and energy. Future quantum communications could allow for secure communications by making information challenging to intercept without the eavesdropper being detected. GAO conducted a technology assessment on (1) the availability of quantum computing and communications technologies and how they work, (2) potential future applications of such technologies and benefits and drawbacks from their development and use, and (3) factors that could affect technology development and policy options available to help address those factors, enhance benefits, or mitigate drawbacks. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed key reports and scientific literature; interviewed government, industry, academic representatives, and potential end users; and convened a meeting of experts in collaboration with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. GAO is identifying policy options in this report. For more information, contact Karen L. Howard at (202) 512-6888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Afghanistan Development: USAID Continues to Face Challenges in Managing and Overseeing U.S. Development Assistance ProgramsBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021This testimony discusses oversight of U.S. assistance programs in Afghanistan. Strengthening the Afghan economy through development assistance efforts is critical to the counterinsurgency strategy and a key part of the U.S Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign Plan for Afghanistan. Since fiscal year 2002, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded over $11.5 billion in support of development assistance programs in Afghanistan. Since 2003, GAO has issued several reports and testimonies related to U.S. security, governance, and development efforts in Afghanistan. In addition to reviewing program planning and implementation, we have focused on efforts to ensure proper management and oversight of the U.S. investment, which are essential to reducing waste, fraud, and abuse. Over the course of this work, we have identified improvements that were needed, as well as many obstacles that have affected success and should be considered in program management and oversight. While drawing on past work relating to U.S. development efforts in Afghanistan, this testimony focuses on findings in our most recent report released yesterday on the USAID's management and oversight of its agricultural programs in Afghanistan. It will address (1) the challenges the United States faces in managing and overseeing development programs in Afghanistan; and (2) the extent to which USAID has followed its established performance management and evaluation procedures.Various factors challenge U.S. efforts to ensure proper management and oversight of U.S. development efforts in Afghanistan. Among the most significant has been the "high-threat" working environment, the difficulties in preserving institutional knowledge due to the lack of a formal mechanism for retaining and sharing information during staff turnover, and the Afghan government ministries' lack of capacity and corruption challenges. USAID has taken some steps to assess and begin addressing the limited capacity and corruption challenges associated with Afghan ministries. In addition, USAID has established performance management and evaluation procedures for managing and overseeing its assistance programs. These procedures, among other things, require (1) the development of a Mission Performance Management Plan (PMP); (2) the establishment and approval of implementing partner performance indicators and targets; and (3) analyses and use of performance data. Although USAID disseminated alternative monitoring methods for projects in high-threat environments such as Afghanistan, USAID has generally required the same performance management and evaluation procedures in Afghanistan as it does in other countries in which it operates. Summary USAID has not consistently followed its established performance management and evaluation procedures. There were various areas in which the USAID Mission to Afghanistan (Mission) needed to improve upon. In particular, we found that the Mission had been operating without an approved PMP to guide its management and oversight efforts after 2008. In addition, while implementing partners have routinely reported on the progress of USAID's programs, we found that USAID did not always approve the performance indicators these partners were using, and that USAID did not ensure, as its procedures require, that its implementing partners establish targets for each performance indicator. For example, only 2 of 7 USAID-funded agricultural programs active during fiscal year 2009, included in our review, had targets for all of their indicators. We also found that USAID could improve its assessment and use of performance data submitted by implementing partners or program evaluations to, among other things, help identify strengths or weaknesses of ongoing or completed programs. Moreover, USAID needs to improve documentation of its programmatic decisions and put mechanisms in place for program managers to transfer knowledge to their successors. Finally, USAID has not fully addressed the risks of relying on contractor staff to perform inherently governmental tasks, such as awarding and administering grants. In the absence of consistent application of its existing performance management and evaluation procedures, USAID programs are more vulnerable to corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse. We reported in 2009 that USAID's failure to adhere to its existing policies severely limited its ability to require expenditure documentation for Afghanistan-related grants that were associated with findings of alleged criminal actions and mismanaged funds. To enhance the performance management of USAID's development assistance programs in Afghanistan, we have recommended, among other things, that the Administrator of USAID take steps to: (1) ensure programs have performance indicators and targets; (2) fully assess and use program data and evaluations to shape current programs and inform future programs; (3) address preservation of institutional knowledge; and (4) improve guidance for the use and management of USAID contractors. USAID concurred with these recommendations, and identified steps the agency is taking to address them. We will continue to monitor and follow up on the implementation of our recommendations.[Read More…]
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