Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Rene Pfister of Der Spiegel

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Berlin, Germany

Berlin Marriott Hotel

QUESTION:  Let me start with a more general question about the German-American relations.  I think as much as European and German officials appreciate U.S. being back on the world stage and re-engaging in multilateralism, there is the fear that the Biden administration might be only a brief return to normal before Trump or a Trumpian figure will take over the White House in ’25.  And my question is:  Do you share the concern that the U.S. democracy is still in a fragile condition, and Europe should therefore try to stand on its own feet?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think we all have to deal with the here and now and the challenges that we’re facing together to try to deal with the – both the problems and opportunities that our citizens are facing around the world.  And what I’ve seen in just the last few months as we’ve been working closely with Germany, with other allies and partners, is that we’re producing meaningful results for our own people and for people around the world.  And ultimately, that’s what matters.  If we continue to do that, if we demonstrate that our democracies can deliver effectively for people, then I think the approach that we’re taking will be sustained.  So our obligation is to actually deliver results.

What we’ve seen, I think, working together – the G7, the NATO summit, the U.S.-EU summit – is exactly that.  Whether it was at the G7, our commitments together to deliver a billion doses of the COVID vaccine with more on top of that; the commitment to stop financing coal-fired plants so that we can really get at climate change – it’s the single biggest source of emissions; the program to, as we call it, Build Back Better for the World, investments we’re making together in infrastructure in low and mid-income countries with a race to the top in terms of the standards of investment; the work that we did at the U.S.-EU summit to end or at least put on pause trade disputes that had been lingering for years – in the case of Airbus and Boeing for 17 years – the steel tariffs.

QUESTION:  Yeah.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Working together on trade and technology, setting standards, setting norms.  All of these things are concrete manifestations of the proposition that we not only can, we have to work together to deal with the challenges that are actually having an impact on the lives of our people.  And again, if we do that, if we show success, I think people will sustain that approach to policy and to international collaboration.

QUESTION:  Let me ask you one question.  I mean, obviously, the most difficult issue at the moment between Washington and Berlin is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.  You made it abundantly clear that President Biden opposes the project, and yet his administration waived sanction for the Nord Stream company and its CEO, Matthias Warnig.

And my question is:  Wasn’t that a huge mistake given the fact that Aleksey Navalny is still in prison, a court in Moscow banned Navalny’s anti-corruption organization, and just two weeks ago at an economic forum in Petersburg, Vladimir Putin made it perfectly clear that he is willing to use Nord Stream as a political weapon against Ukraine?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  First, as you know, the pipeline began construction in 2018.  By the time we took office in January of this year, it was more than 90 percent complete – the physical construction of the pipeline – and as we went ahead and sanctioned more entities under our law than had ever been sanctioned before.  But the reality of the physical completion of the pipeline was such that we looked to see:  Can we make something out of a very bad hand that we inherited?  Because yes, President Biden has long said that the pipeline is a bad idea, that it will potentially be a tool of Russian economic coercion and strategic coercion, a tool that can be used not only against Ukraine but indeed Europe as a whole to the extent it increases dependence on Russian gas.

But the question before us is what to actually do about this to mitigate or prevent the damage that the pipeline could do if used in the wrong way by President Putin and by Russia, and that’s exactly the conversation we’re now engaged in with Germany.  And I think it’s going to be very important to show by concrete actions that we’ll agree on together and potentially with others that we can prevent or mitigate damage that could be done by the pipeline.

QUESTION:  And I mean, obviously, you are paying a big political price for not imposing sanctions to Nord Stream 2.  I mean, you know the situation in Congress.  What do you expect from the German Government in return?  Could a moratorium be a compromise between Germany and the U.S. where the construction is finished but the pipeline would only be put into operation under certain circumstances – for example, the release of Aleksey Navalny?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’re in very active discussions with the German Government right now looking at a series of possible steps, actions, measures that we can take to make sure that the pipeline is not used for negative purposes as a tool of coercion or blackmail and that the interests of countries like Ukraine are protected both economically and strategically.  So there are a series of very practical things that we’re looking at, that we’re talking about, and my expectation is that we’ll agree on important measures that, again, can mitigate the – any damage that could be done.

The sanctions that we’ve – that we waived, those waivers can be rescinded.  We have to report again to our Congress in about a month’s time.  So I hope and expect that we’ll show real results from these conversations.

QUESTION:  Yeah, and one more question about Ukraine.  When one looks at the Ukraine crisis, it is very clear that the Normandy format talks that started in 2014 and include France, Germany and Ukraine and Russia, brought little to no progress at all.  And my question is:  Was it a mistake on President Obama’s part to leave the conflict basically to the Europeans?  And isn’t it – and is it now time for the U.S. to play a more active role perhaps in joining the Normandy format talks?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We were very engaged – the United States was very engaged in Ukraine in 2015, 2016.  We respected the proposition that the Normandy format would be the central vehicle for trying to advance the Minsk process, the agreements that were reached, which unfortunately have largely not been implemented by Russia over many years, but that that was the best way forward.  But we were working as well to try to advance that process.

President Biden discussed this with President Putin, and of course, he’s discussed it with Chancellor Merkel, with President Macron and others.  And what we’ve said is, look, if Russia is serious about implementing Minsk and we can be helpful, we’re fully prepared to do that.  But it really starts with the basic question of whether Russia is serious about it or not, or whether it prefers this frozen conflict where it can turn up the heat whenever it feels like it, as it did recently by massing the largest number of troops on Ukraine’s border since 2014.  So the real test is whether Russia is serious or not.

Irrespective of that, we’re committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty, its territorial integrity, its independence, and making sure that it has the means to defend itself from Russian aggression as well as supporting its efforts to deal with the internal aggression posed by corruption and other democratic deficiencies.  So we’re there for Ukraine.  My hope would be that Russia would actually be serious about the Minsk process.  In that case, I think, Normandy can continue to play a central role, but we’re also prepared to be engaged and to try to move it forward, but the question is really with Moscow.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Do you think about naming a special envoy for Ukraine?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, we will look to see how we can best be helpful, if there is actual work to be done, and whether that’s through an envoy, whether that’s through the very experienced and very senior team that we’re putting together, including people who have deep experience with Ukraine.  For example, we – our Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, one of our most senior officials, Victoria Nuland, is someone who has deep experience in Ukraine.  Our incoming Assistant Secretary of State for Europe when approved by Congress is also someone with deep experience.  So how we do it matters less than whether there’s an opportunity to really move – help move something forward and do it in very close collaboration with Germany, with France, with our partners.

MR PRICE:  Rene, we have time for a final question.

QUESTION:  Maybe one last question about the travel ban.  As a couple of days ago, American citizens are allowed to travel to Europe, but U.S. travel ban for citizens who want to travel to the U.S. is still in place.  Can you give us a timeline of when the ban will be lifted and what is the reason why European citizens who are vaccinated are not allowed to travel to the U.S.?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’re following the science and following the recommendations of our health authorities, principally the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control.  And that’s where we’re looking for guidance.  That’s where we’re looking for the best information possible upon which to make policy decisions.  We’re very anxious to have travel resume as robustly, as completely, as possible.  We have a working group with the European Union right now on this.  I can’t put a date on it.  I can tell you we’re working very, very actively on it, because we would like nothing better than to see travel pick up.  We have to all be deliberate about it and, again, make these decisions based on our best assessment of the science, our best assessment of health conditions.  That’s what we’re doing, but we’re doing it with the European Union.

QUESTION:  Okay.  If you have time, one last question about China.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Go ahead.  One last one and —

QUESTION:  Just before the Biden administration took over in January 20th, the EU and China agreed on a trade deal that should create new investment opportunities for EU companies in China.  Did you consider that as an unfriendly gesture on part of the EU?  Do you now expect Germany and the EU to take a tougher stance on China?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, what we’re focused on is not trying to contain China or to hold China back.  We’re focused on trying to hold up the free and open, rules-based international system that the United States and Germany together have helped to build and we’ve invested so much in over so many decades.  And if different aspects of that free and open rules-based system are being challenged by anyone, whether it’s China or any other country, then we think it’s important to stand up and defend what we built, because it’s delivered very important results for all of our citizens and can continue to do so.  So that’s the basic approach.  We also recognize that we all have very complicated relationships with China that can’t be summed up in one word or, as we like to say, on a bumper sticker of a car.

QUESTION:  Yeah.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  There are adversarial aspects, competitive ones, cooperative ones.  But whether it’s any of those three, our proposition is we’re much better off engaging China together.  We’re going to be much more effective in any of those areas if we’re doing it together.  So that’s what we’re looking towards.  We want to make sure that in any of our engagements with China that we’re upholding the basic norms and standards that bring us together, that we’re – if we’re in a race, it’s a race to the top, not a race to the bottom.  And that goes for the commercial relationship, that goes for the relationship on political and diplomatic issues, and so on.

So when it comes to something like the agreement that was reached, no, the question is not a hostile action.  We just want to make sure that we all have in mind some of the potential challenges that China poses, for example, when it comes to information technology that is so significant in all of our lives.  Unfortunately, if you’re doing business with a so-called private company from China, there is actually no distinction between private and the government.  The government has the ability to control and to elicit information from any of these companies.  And unfortunately, right now when it comes to norms and standards of human rights, of privacy, of intellectual property, the government in Beijing does not meet the standards that we’ve all set.  So I think we have to be careful.  So that’s all that we’re saying.

But what I think we’ve seen especially – just look at the last two weeks.  We’re seeing a convergence of views on the best ways to engage China.  The G7 summit – the last time the G7 leaders met in 2018, China was not even mentioned in the communique.  In this case, there were, I think, important things agreed to by the leaders when it comes to dealing with China.  Similarly at NATO just a couple of days later, the last time that NATO wrote a strategic concept back in 2010, China was not mentioned.  There’s focus on China in NATO as well.  And when we got to the U.S.-EU summit, we’ve agreed to establish between the United States and the EU a trade and technology council that’s going to make sure that when it comes to trade and technology, we’re working together on the norms, on the standards, on the rules in ways that reflect our values.  We re-established the U.S.-EU dialogue on China that had been dormant.

So what I’m seeing increasingly is a shared viewpoint but one that recognizes the complexity of the relationships, the fact that they’re consequential for all of us.  And we’re not asking people to choose between the United States and China.  We’re simply saying we have a common set of values and interests that have helped shape the international system for almost eight decades, and we need to continue to stand for freedom and for openness when it comes to that system and to do it together.

QUESTION:  So thank you so much for your time, Mr. Secretary, and I hope I see you in Washington.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  See you Washington.  Thank you.  Good to be with you.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Hits: 0

News Network

  • Architect of the Capitol: Efforts Have Begun to Update Cannon House Office Building’s Renovation Cost and Schedule Estimates
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Architect of the Capitol (AOC) has substantially completed three of five planned phases to renovate the Cannon House Office Building (Cannon project). AOC completed Phase 0 utility work; the Phase 1 work to renovate the building's west side, the Phase 2 work to renovate the building's north side; and work is underway on Phase 3 of the building's east side. Cannon House Office Building, Washington, D. C. From 2009 to 2018, AOC consistently estimated the project cost at $753 million, In 2014, GAO found that AOC's cost estimate of $753 million reflected several of GAO's leading practices for high-quality, reliable cost estimates, including that AOC had conducted a risk and uncertainty analysis. GAO found that AOC's cost estimating policies and guidance did not require a quantitative risk and uncertainty analysis nor the reporting of the resulting confidence level of the estimate. GAO made recommendations for AOC to incorporate leading practices into agency guidance and submit confidence levels of cost estimates to Congress. AOC implemented our recommendations. In January 2018, AOC updated its analysis of risks by undertaking an integrated cost-schedule risk analysis. AOC's 2018 analysis arrived at the same conclusion as its earlier analysis—that the project's estimated $753 million total cost was adequate to complete the project. However, AOC's 2018 analysis indicated that inaccurate estimates of costs for risk mitigations, unknown risks, and optimistic assumptions about the effect of risk mitigations on the project's cost and schedule could affect its total cost. AOC updated the analysis in December 2019 and estimated the project cost at $890 million. Two unknown risks materialized after the December 2019 estimate: the effect of COVID-19 and the January 2021 security events–their impact on the project is uncertain. In its March 2021 project summary, AOC reported that a revised budget would be formulated after the completion of an analysis in December 2021. Toward this end, in May 2021, AOC began updating its integrated cost-schedule risk analysis, with the aim of more accurately determining the extent to which the project's costs are increasing and its estimated cost at completion. Why GAO Did This Study In its Cannon project, the AOC intends to preserve the historic character while improving the functionality of the 113 year-old Cannon Building—the oldest congressional office building—as well as address deterioration to the building and its components. The project—nearing year 7 of its planned 10-year duration—is being implemented in five sequential phases with an initial phase (Phase 0) for utility work and four subsequent phases (Phases 1 through 4) to renovate the north-, south-, east-, and west-facing sides of the building. Each phase is scheduled around a 2-year congressional session. This statement describes: (1) the status of the Cannon project and (2) changes to the project's estimated cost at completion. This statement is based on GAO's prior reports in 2009 and 2014 and ongoing monitoring of the project. To monitor the project, GAO has been observing the ongoing construction, attending project meetings, and analyzing AOC documents.
    [Read More…]
  • COVID-19: HHS’s Collection of Hospital Capacity Data
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) made frequent and significant changes to the collection of hospital capacity data. In April 2020, HHS created a new data ecosystem—HHS Protect—to capture, among other things, national- and state-level data on inpatient and intensive care beds in use, supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), and COVID-19 treatments. Subsequently, HHS changed the methods through which data could be reported to HHS Protect and also changed reporting requirements. According to HHS officials, this was done to capture more complete data and to capture more information, such as data on influenza-related hospitalizations and COVID-19 vaccines administered. Reporting entities said they experienced multiple challenges implementing the changes, including a lack of clarity on the requirements and logistical challenges such as having to adapt their systems to provide the data. As HHS made changes, HHS issued updated guidance to clarify reporting requirements. HHS uses hospital capacity data to identify and address resource shortages and to inform the public. For example, according to HHS officials, HHS has used the data to provide assistance such as staff resources or supplies in 40 states. Additionally, HHS has shared the hospital capacity data to inform the public. However, public health stakeholders told GAO they have relied on state and local data for their purposes rather than data from HHS Protect. For example, epidemiological association officials said their members relied on state and local data for case investigation because they contained more detailed information and did not use HHS Protect data on hospital capacity. According to HHS officials, some states that may not be collecting their own data rely on HHS Protect capacity data to inform their public health response to the pandemic. HHS agency officials and stakeholders identified the need for stakeholder engagement and improved communication among key lessons learned to better ensure the collection of quality hospital capacity data during a public health emergency. For example, HHS officials told GAO that there is a need for dialogue and external validation to ensure data quality and accuracy. They also noted that the need for a system like HHS Protect will continue beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials GAO interviewed from stakeholder organizations and selected states noted that increased collaboration and communication—as well as more time to implement changes—would have facilitated the implementation of the changes to the data collection process. These lessons learned are consistent with GAO's January 2021 recommendation that HHS engage with stakeholders to review and inform the alignment of ongoing data collection and reporting standards through establishing an expert committee. HHS agreed with the recommendation, but as of June 2021, the department has not implemented it. Why GAO Did This Study The magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of having quality data to help the federal government understand the health care system's capacity to provide care and to inform the allocation of resources. HHS launched HHS Protect in April 2020 to capture hospital capacity data. Throughout the public health emergency HHS has made changes to how information is collected and used. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing COVID-19 monitoring and oversight efforts. GAO was asked to examine HHS's implementation of HHS Protect. In this report, GAO describes (1) HHS's implementation of HHS Protect hospital capacity reporting requirements and the challenges experienced by reporting entities; (2) HHS's and stakeholders' use of the data, if at all; and (3) lessons learned about ensuring the collection of quality hospital capacity data during a public health emergency. GAO reviewed agency guidance and HHS Protect hospital capacity dashboards and reports, and interviewed HHS officials as well as officials from three states that report or reported directly to HHS Protect on behalf of their hospitals. These states were selected for variation in geography and the mix of rural and non-rural hospital facilities. GAO also interviewed officials from public health stakeholder groups including hospital associations, epidemiological associations, and local health organizations. GAO provided a draft of this report to HHS for review and comment. HHS had no comments on the report. For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or farbj@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Local man who attempted to smuggle 13,000 rounds of ammunition sent to prison
    In Justice News
    A 40-year old Laredo man [Read More…]
  • Gang “enforcer” sentenced for trafficking a large amount of stolen marijuana
    In Justice News
    A Rio Grande City man [Read More…]
  • Laredo man sentenced for undocumented alien death due to car wreck
    In Justice News
    A 28-year-old Laredoan [Read More…]
  • Human smuggling recruiter sentenced for conspiracy
    In Justice News
    A 58-year-old Chandler [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi Before Their Meeting
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Biodefense: After-Action Findings and COVID-19 Response Revealed Opportunities to Strengthen Preparedness
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Key federal agencies, including the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Defense (DOD), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Agriculture (USDA), developed a range of interagency response plans to prepare for nationally significant biological incidents. These strategic, operational, and tactical level plans address responding to a broad spectrum of biological threats, including those that are intentional, accidental, or naturally occurring. DHS, DOD, HHS, and USDA conducted numerous interagency exercises to help prepare for and respond to a wide variety of biological incidents, such as anthrax attacks, influenza pandemics, and diseases affecting plants and animals. Specifically, GAO identified 74 interagency biological incident exercises conducted from calendar years 2009 through 2019. Number of Interagency Biological Incident Exercises Conducted, Calendar Years 2009 through 2019 GAO's analysis of after-action reports for selected interagency biological incident exercises and real-world incidents, as well as the COVID-19 response, identified long-standing biodefense challenges. GAO found that the nation lacked elements necessary for preparing for nationally significant biological incidents, including a process at the interagency level to assess and communicate priorities for exercising capabilities. Further, it determined that agencies do not routinely work together in monitoring results from exercises and real-world incidents to identify patterns and root causes for systemic challenges. Assessing and communicating exercise priorities and routinely monitoring the results of the exercises and incidents will help ensure the nation is better prepared to respond to the next biological threat. Why GAO Did This Study The COVID-19 pandemic shows how catastrophic biological incidents can cause substantial loss of life, economic damage, and require a whole-of-nation response involving multiple federal and nonfederal entities. The 2018 National Biodefense Strategy outlines specific goals and objectives to help prepare for and respond to such incidents. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to conduct monitoring and oversight of federal efforts to prepare for, respond to, and recover from COVID-19. This report addresses: (1) interagency plans key federal agencies developed, and exercises they conducted, to help prepare for biological incidents; and (2) the extent to which exercises and real-world incidents revealed opportunities to better achieve National Biodefense Strategy objectives. GAO reviewed biological incident plans and after-action reports from exercises and real-world incidents from calendar years 2009 through 2019, including a non-generalizable sample of 19 reports selected based on threat scenario and other factors. GAO interviewed federal and state officials to obtain their perspectives on plans, exercises, and the COVID-19 response.
    [Read More…]
  • Human Trafficking: DOD Should Address Weaknesses in Oversight of Contractors and Reporting of Investigations Related to Contracts
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The U.S. government has a zero tolerance policy for human trafficking, as established in a presidential directive, but trafficking in persons (TIP) of foreign workers on U.S. government contracts overseas persists. Selected Department of Defense (DOD) components have conducted limited oversight of contractors and not met combating trafficking in persons (CTIP) training requirements for contracts. Twelve of 14 Army and Navy contracting officers and contracting officer representatives (CORs) GAO spoke with said they were not aware of their CTIP oversight responsibilities, as set forth in CTIP guidance. DOD requires CORs to conduct contract oversight, but does not say how they should do so. Moreover, nine of 14 individuals said they took a CTIP training other than the required training for acquisition professionals. DOD CTIP guidance, as of fiscal year 2018, also no longer requires components to report the number or percentage of personnel trained, which may limit DOD's awareness about whether acquisition professionals have taken their required training. Until DOD provides guidance to explain how contracting personnel should oversee contractor CTIP compliance and ensures they take the correct training, contracting personnel may continue to be unaware of their CTIP responsibilities. Department of Defense (DOD) Combatting Trafficking in Persons Awareness Poster The Army, the Navy, and DOD's Office of Inspector General (DODIG) have systems for tracking investigations of TIP incidents, but the Army and DODIG did not report all TIP violations and investigations in contracts in annual self-assessments, as required by DOD guidance. For example, the Army and DODIG had incomplete reporting of closed TIP investigations in their annual reporting from fiscal years 2015 through 2020. Without complete reporting, DOD leadership lacks full information on TIP investigations. GAO also found that two investigations led to DOD taking action against the contractors, but the Army contracting officers did not report them as TIP violations in a federal database, as required. DOD guidance and federal regulations have different requirements for who is responsible for this reporting, and the Army has not developed clarifying guidance. Without accurate reporting of actions taken against contractors in this database, contracting officers will lack complete information when making future award decisions involving contractors that engaged in TIP. Why GAO Did This Study GAO and DODIG reports on overseas U.S. military operations have highlighted TIP among foreign workers employed on contracts. Congress included a provision in the conference report for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 for GAO to review DOD's efforts to combat TIP related to contracts. This report examines, among other things: the extent to which selected DOD components have implemented oversight and training requirements for CTIP in contracts and the extent to which selected DOD components have tracked and reported investigations of TIP incidents in contracts from fiscal years 2015 through 2020. GAO analyzed federal laws, and DOD guidance, regulations, contracts, and data related to CTIP. GAO also interviewed DOD officials, including Army and Navy officials responsible for overseeing contracts in U.S. Southern Command.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with Palauan President Whipps, Jr.
    In Crime Control and Security News
    The below is [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with UK Foreign Secretary Raab
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken and President of Palau Surangel Whipps, Jr. Before Their Meeting
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Participation in the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • The United States and ASEAN: Strategic Partners for the Indo-Pacific
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Man Sentenced for Receiving, Soliciting and Promoting Child Pornography
    In Crime News
    A Virginia man was sentenced today to 240 months, or 20 years, in prison, to be followed by a lifetime of supervised release, for downloading images and videos depicting children as young as 4 years old being sexually abused, and for utilizing the Dark Net to solicit and promote child pornography.
    [Read More…]
  • Executive Arrested and Charged for Bribery and Money-Laundering Scheme
    In Crime News
    A South Florida resident was arrested yesterday in Miami on charges related to his alleged role in a scheme to bribe Venezuelan officials and launder funds to obtain contracts from Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), and Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled food company that purchased food for Venezuela, Corporación de Abastecimiento y Servicios Agrícola (CASA).
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Obtains $1.25 Million Settlement from Oklahoma City Landlords to Resolve Claims of Sexual Harassment Against Female Tenants
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma have reached a $1.25 million agreement with defendants Rosemarie Pelfrey, Omega Enterprises LLC and Pelfrey Investment Company Inc. to resolve a Fair Housing Act lawsuit alleging that their agent, Walter Ray Pelfrey (Pelfrey), sexually harassed female tenants and prospective tenants while owning or managing dozens of Oklahoma City – area rental properties. Pelfrey died in 2018.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice and Interior Departments Take Next Steps in Implementation of Not Invisible Act
    In Crime News
    The Departments of Justice and the Interior today announced next steps in the implementation of the Not Invisible Act, including the publication of a solicitation for nominations of non-federal members to join a Joint Commission on reducing violent crime against American Indians and Alaska Natives to address the long-standing missing and murdered indigenous persons crisis. 
    [Read More…]
  • Briefing With Senior State Department Officials Previewing Secretary Blinken’s Participation in This Week’s ASEAN-Related Ministerials
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Department Press Briefing – August 2, 2021
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to the Press on the Announcement of a U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Priority 2 Designation for Afghan Nationals
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Bankruptcy Filings Plunged to Lowest Number Since 1985
    In U.S Courts
    Personal and business bankruptcy filings plummeted 32.2 percent for the 12-month period ending June 30, 2021. The number of filings was the lowest in a 12-month period since 1985.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with Muslim Frontline Workers on the Occasion of Eid al-Adha
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Afghan President Ghani
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Participation in the Mekong-U.S. Partnership Ministers’ Meeting
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Las Vegas Couple Indicted for Tax Evasion Scheme
    In Crime News
     A federal grand jury in Las Vegas, Nevada, returned an indictment today charging a Las Vegas husband and wife with conspiring to defraud the IRS, tax evasion, filing a false tax return, assisting in the filing of false tax returns, and failing to file tax returns and pay federal income taxes.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S. Foreign Service Member Indicted for Engaging in Illicit Sexual Conduct in the Philippines and Possession of Child Pornography
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia returned an indictment today charging a member of the U.S. Foreign Service with engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place and possession of child pornography.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Settles with Florida’s Volusia County School District to Protect Students with Disabilities from Classroom Removals and Other Discrimination
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today a settlement agreement with Florida’s Volusia County School District (VCS) to address the district’s systemic and discriminatory practices that punish students with disabilities for their disability-related behavior and deny them equal access to VCS’s programs and services.
    [Read More…]
  • Leader of Transnational Money-Laundering Network Pleads Guilty to Aiding Drug-Trafficking Organizations, While Co-Conspirator is Sentenced
    In Crime News
    A Chinese national and naturalized U.S. citizen pleaded guilty yesterday to his involvement in a conspiracy to launder at least $30 million in drug proceeds on behalf of foreign drug-trafficking organizations.
    [Read More…]
  • Briefing with Senior State Department Officials On the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Priority 2 (P-2) Designation for Afghan Nationals
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Virtual Summit of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Priority 2 Designation for Afghan Nationals
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Federal-State Settlement Resolves Environmental Violations at Hussey Copper Smelting Facility in Leetsdale, Pennsylvania
    In Crime News
    Hussey Copper has agreed to perform a comprehensive environmental audit, implement an updated environmental management system, and pay an $861,500 penalty to resolve alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law (PCSL) at its smelting facility in Leetsdale, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
    [Read More…]
  • 20 arrested for conspiracy to distribute thousands of pounds of marijuana
    In Justice News
    A total of 16 Laredoans [Read More…]
  • North Carolina Tax Preparer Pleads Guilty to Preparing False Returns
    In Crime News
    A Winston-Salem, North Carolina, tax preparer pleaded guilty today to aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false tax return and to filing a false personal income tax return. 
    [Read More…]
  • Former Labor Union Chief of Staff Convicted of Health Care Fraud
    In Crime News
    A federal jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia convicted an Arkansas man on Friday for fraudulently arranging for a labor union to provide health plan coverage to his girlfriend, who was never a union employee.
    [Read More…]
  • Mail-Order Diabetic Testing Supplier and Parent Company Agree to Pay $160 Million to Resolve Alleged False Claims to Medicare
    In Crime News
    Arriva Medical LLC (Arriva), at one point the nation’s largest Medicare mail-order diabetic testing supplier, and its parent, Alere Inc. (Alere), have agreed to pay $160 million to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act.
    [Read More…]
  • Former Chief Financial Officer of Publicly Traded Company Convicted of Securities and Accounting Fraud
    In Crime News
    A federal jury in the Eastern District of Wisconsin on Thursday convicted the former chief financial officer of Roadrunner Transportation Systems Inc. (Roadrunner), a publicly traded trucking and logistics company formerly headquartered in Cudahy, Wisconsin, on four counts of violating federal securities laws for his role in a complex securities and accounting fraud scheme.
    [Read More…]
  • Under Secretary Nuland’s Travel to South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, and Niger
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Attack on Mercer Street Vessel
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Swiss Confederation National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Lenderking’s Return from Saudi Arabia
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Sanctioning Cuban Police in Response to Violent Repression of Peaceful Protests
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • United States and Canada Forge Ahead on Critical Minerals Cooperation
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Harassment of Foreign Journalists in the People’s Republic of China
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Public Schedule – July 30, 2021
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya, Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle Ricardo Zuniga, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Deputy Assistant Secretary Marta Youth, and Senior Advisor to the USAID Administrator and Executive Director of the USAID Northern Triangle Task Force Michael Camilleri On the Collaborative Migration Management Strategy and Root Causes Strategy Toward Migration
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Marta Costanzo Youth, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Dr. Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah At a Joint Press Availability
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • July 29, 2021, letter commenting on AICPA’s February 2021 Exposure Draft, “Proposed Statements on Quality Management Standards – Quality Management”
    In U.S GAO News
    This letter provides GAO's response to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Auditing Standards Board's (ASB) Proposed Statement on Quality Management Standards – Quality Management: A Firm's System of Quality Management (SQMS No. 1); Proposed Statement on Quality Management Standards – Engagement Quality Reviews (SQMS No. 2); and Proposed Statement on Auditing Standards, Quality Management for an Engagement Conducted in Accordance with Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (QM SAS). GAO provides standards for performing high-quality audits of government organizations, programs, activities, and functions and of government assistance to contractors, nonprofit organizations, and other nongovernment organizations with competence, integrity, objectivity, and independence. These standards, often referred to as generally accepted government auditing standards (GAGAS), are to be followed when required by law, regulation, agreement, contract, or policy. For financial audits, GAGAS incorporates by reference the AICPA's Statements on Auditing Standards (SAS). For attestation engagements, GAGAS incorporates by reference the AICPA's Statements on Standards for Attestation Engagements.
    [Read More…]
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program: Additional Actions Needed to Improve Communication with Applicants and Address Fraud Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) applicants and recipients varied in terms of business size, years in operation, and industry, based on GAO's analysis of Small Business Administration (SBA) data from March 2020 through February 2021: Business size. A majority of EIDL applicants (about 81 percent) and EIDL recipients (about 86 percent) were smaller businesses (10 or fewer employees). Years in operation. A majority of EIDL applicants (about 63 percent) had been in operation for less than 5 years. However, businesses in operation for more than 5 years received the majority of total EIDL loan dollars and had higher approval rates compared to newer businesses. Industry. Businesses in the personal services and transportation industries made up the largest share of applicants, while those in the legal services and lodging industries were approved for loans at the highest rates (see figure). Top Loan Applicants and Approval Rates by Business Industry In addition, small businesses in counties with higher median household income, better internet access, and more diverse populations generally received more loans per 1,000 businesses and larger loans. EIDL applicants have faced a number of challenges, according to applicants and other business stakeholders GAO interviewed between August 2020 and February 2021. For example, applicants from five discussion groups and several stakeholders cited lack of information and uncertainty about application status as major concerns. In addition, until February 2021, SBA did not provide important information to potential applicants, such as limits on loan amounts and definitions of certain program terms. Lack of important program information and application status put pressure on SBA's resources and negatively affected applicants' experience. For example, SBA's customer service line experienced call surges that resulted in long wait times, and SBA's data showed that 5.3 million applications were duplicates. SBA's planning documents describe in general terms the public outreach to be conducted following disasters, but they do not detail the type or timing of the information to be provided. Developing and implementing a comprehensive communication strategy that includes these details could improve the quality, clarity, and timeliness of information SBA provides to its applicants and resource partners following catastrophic disasters. GAO's ongoing review of the EIDL program related to COVID-19 has found that the program is susceptible to providing funding to ineligible and fraudulent applicants. For example, as GAO reported in January 2021, SBA had approved at least 3,000 loans totaling about $156 million to businesses that SBA policies state were ineligible for the EIDL program, such as real estate developers and multilevel marketers, as of September 30, 2020. In addition, GAO found that between May and October 2020, over 900 U.S. financial institutions filed more than 20,000 suspicious activity reports related to the EIDL program with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Further, GAO's analysis of 51 Department of Justice cases involving fraud charges for EIDL loans as of March 2021 found that these cases involved identity theft, false attestation, fictitious or inflated employee counts, and misuse of proceeds. Over the course of its COVID-19 response, SBA has made some changes to address these risks. For example, beginning in June 2020, SBA took actions to improve loan officers' ability to withhold funding for applicants suspected of fraud. However, SBA has not yet implemented recommendations GAO has previously made to address EIDL program risks. In January 2021, GAO recommended that SBA conduct data analytics across the EIDL portfolio to detect potentially ineligible and fraudulent applications (GAO-21-265). SBA did not agree or disagree with this recommendation. However, in May 2021, SBA officials stated the agency was in the process of developing analysis to apply certain fraud indicators to all application data.   In March 2021, GAO recommended that SBA (1) implement a comprehensive oversight plan to identify and respond to risks in the EIDL program, (2) conduct and document a fraud risk assessment, and (3)  develop a strategy to address the program’s assessed fraud risks on a continuous basis (GAO-21-387). SBA agreed with all three recommendations. In May 2021, SBA officials stated that the agency had started to assess fraud risk for the program. Fully implementing these recommendations would help SBA to safeguard billions of dollars of taxpayer funds and improve the operation of the EIDL program. Why GAO Did This Study Between March 2020 and February 2021, SBA provided about 3.8 million low-interest EIDL loans and 5.8 million grants (called advances) totaling $224 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. Borrowers can use these low-interest loans and advances to pay for operating and other expenses. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to monitor funds provided for the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines, among other objectives, the characteristics of program applicants and recipients; the challenges EIDL applicants experienced and the extent to which SBA has addressed them; and the steps SBA has taken to address risks of fraud and provision of funds to ineligible applicants. GAO reviewed documents from SBA, an EIDL contractor, and two of its subcontractors. In addition, GAO analyzed loan application data, conducted five discussion groups with applicants, and interviewed staff from SBA, six Small Business Development Centers, and six business associations. GAO also analyzed socioeconomic, demographic, and geographic data on EIDL program participants.
    [Read More…]
  • National Flood Insurance Program: Congress Should Consider Updating the Mandatory Purchase Requirement
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The mandatory purchase requirement mandates flood insurance for certain high-risk properties and was established to increase the number of households with flood insurance. Lenders must verify that certain properties have flood insurance. At least 10 federal entities oversee lenders' compliance, including the federal banking regulators, among others (see figure). The most frequent violation the regulators identified was related to a lack of or insufficient flood insurance coverage for properties subject to the requirement. If regulators identify violations, lenders are required to take corrective actions, and if a pattern or practice of certain flood insurance violations is found, monetary penalties may be assessed against them. Oversight of the Mandatory Purchase Requirement The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), engages in a variety of efforts to help increase consumer participation in the flood insurance market (one of the agency's goals). However, FEMA does not effectively use information related to compliance with the requirement to identify ways to meet this goal. Information currently maintained by FEMA and other federal entities could help inform FEMA on noncompliance trends and patterns and help FEMA to develop strategies to address them. By using internal and external information to better understand compliance with the requirement, and facilitating the sharing of this information among the federal entities with responsibilities related to the requirement, FEMA may help reduce instances of noncompliance, increase consumer participation, and limit the federal government's fiscal exposure to future flood losses. FEMA's floodplain maps—which, by law, delineate those properties subject to the requirement—have limitations. For example, they may not reflect current flood hazards or the potential for flooding from some types of events, such as heavy rainfall. FEMA has efforts underway that can assess flood risk more comprehensively. However, FEMA has not evaluated how the new information could be incorporated into the requirement because the agency believes it has a limited role in implementing the requirement. In addition, changes to the maps for the purpose of implementing the requirement could impact other aspects of NFIP. An evaluation by FEMA of how its new flood risk information could be used to designate which properties are subject to the requirement could help Congress revise the requirement to better increase consumer participation and reduce future federal disaster assistance expenditures. Why GAO Did This Study Flood insurance plays a key role in helping homeowners reduce the financial effects of floods, reduces the need for federal disaster assistance, and lowers costs for American taxpayers. NFIP makes federally backed flood insurance available to property owners in qualifying communities. The mandatory purchase requirement requires property owners in NFIP communities to purchase flood insurance if, among other things, they have mortgages from federally regulated lenders. GAO was asked to review the implementation of the mandatory purchase requirement. This report (1) describes federal entities' oversight of the requirement, (2) examines the extent to which FEMA uses information about compliance with the requirement, and (3) examines the use of FEMA floodplain maps to determine who must purchase flood insurance. GAO reviewed documentation from federal entities, analyzed data on lender violations of the requirement, and interviewed officials and other stakeholders.
    [Read More…]
  • Economic Development: Opportunities Exist for Further Collaboration among EDA, HUD, and USDA
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Federal economic development programs and state business incentives approach economic development in different ways. In GAO's review of six large state business incentive packages ($50 million or more) in four states, federal economic development program funds were not directly used. Reasons for limited use could include differences in purposes and goals, and limitations on how federal funds can be used. For example, the goals of economic development programs administered by the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) do not completely align with the goals of state business incentives, the latter of which include attracting and retaining individual businesses. Although these incentive packages were not funded with federal economic development program funds, some of the businesses that received a large incentive package were highlighted in federal strategic plans as opportunities for investment and job growth in the local economy. The economic development programs of EDA, HUD, and USDA each encourage or require state and local communities to conduct strategic planning, which includes obtaining input from a range of public and private stakeholders and identifying ways to leverage other available resources, such as federal and state funding. Recognizing the similarities in what they require of grantees, in 2016, EDA and HUD entered into an interagency agreement to align planning requirements under their programs. The agencies implemented certain aspects of the agreement, such as issuing joint guidance to applicants. However, they have not implemented selected leading practices for effective interagency collaboration: Updating written agreements: EDA and HUD have not regularly monitored or updated their interagency agreement to reflect changing priorities of either agency. Officials stated the agencies have prioritized other areas for coordination, such as disaster relief, instead of state and local strategic planning processes. Including relevant participants: EDA and HUD have made limited efforts to involve USDA in their collaborative efforts. USDA also encourages strategic planning for local communities. Monitoring progress towards outcomes: EDA and HUD's agreement identifies specific outcomes, including effectively aligning federal, state, and local resources for economic development. However, the agencies have not monitored progress or addressed any related challenges in meeting the stated outcomes of the collaboration. By incorporating selected leading practices for effective collaboration, EDA and HUD can help grantees and local communities better manage fragmented efforts to meet federal requirements for strategic planning and more effectively align federal and state resources. Why GAO Did This Study States spend billions of dollars annually in business incentives to attract and retain individual businesses or industries. EDA, HUD, and USDA administer programs that support states' economic development goals and encourage strategic planning. In previous reports, we have identified concerns related to fragmentation in these agencies' efforts to collaborate on economic development programs with each other. GAO was asked to review issues related to these state and federal economic development efforts. This report examines the use of federal economic development programs to support state business incentives and how selected federal agencies collaborate on these programs, among other issues. GAO reviewed information on federal economic development programs and business incentives in four states (selected because the states offer incentives of $50 million or more and vary geographically). GAO interviewed federal and state agency officials and policy organizations.
    [Read More…]
  • The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Announces Award for Worldwide Architectural and Engineering Support Services
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Russian Government Actions Impacting U.S. Mission Russia
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Iranian National Charged with Illegally Exporting Laboratory Equipment to Iran
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned an indictment today charging a Canadian national with the unlawful export of laboratory equipment from the United States to Iran, through Canada and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
    [Read More…]
  • Man Sentenced for COVID-19 Relief Fraud
    In Crime News
    A Florida man was sentenced today to 33 months in prison for fraudulently seeking over $7,263,564 in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
    [Read More…]
  • United States Seizes Oil Tanker Used to Violate Sanctions Against North Korea
    In Crime News
    A New York federal court today entered a judgment of forfeiture regarding the M/T Courageous, a 2,734-ton oil-products tanker used to make illicit deliveries of petroleum products through ship-to-ship transfers with vessels flagged in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) and direct shipments to the North Korean port of Nampo.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S. Promoter of Foreign Cryptocurrency Companies Pleads Guilty for Role in Multimillion-Dollar Securities Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A California man pleaded guilty today in the Eastern District of New York for his participation in a coordinated cryptocurrency and securities fraud scheme through purported digital currency platforms and foreign-based financial accounts.
    [Read More…]
  • Antitrust Division Observes National Whistleblower Appreciation Day
    In Crime News
    The Antitrust Division today commemorates National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, which celebrates individuals who act with courage to speak out and report crimes, including antitrust violations like price-fixing, bid rigging and market allocation conspiracies.
    [Read More…]
  • Government Intervenes in False Claims Act Lawsuits Against Kaiser Permanente Affiliates for Submitting Inaccurate Diagnosis Codes to the Medicare Advantage Program
    In Crime News
    The United States has intervened in six complaints alleging that members of the Kaiser Permanente consortium violated the False Claims Act by submitting inaccurate diagnosis codes for its Medicare Advantage Plan enrollees in order to receive higher reimbursements.
    [Read More…]