Secretary Blinken’s Call with Danish Foreign Minister Kofod

Office of the Spokesperson

The below is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke today with Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod. Secretary Blinken emphasized the importance of advancing mutual goals, including combating climate change, developing green technology, enhancing defense cooperation, and continuing common efforts with the Kingdom of Denmark on the Arctic. The Secretary and Foreign Minister Kofod noted our shared commitment to strengthen the NATO alliance and support Secretary General Stoltenberg’s NATO 2030 agenda as well as to cooperate to address other challenges, including COVID-19 and energy security.

More from: Office of the Spokesperson

Hits: 1

News Network

  • Deputy Secretary Sherman’s Travel to Belgium, Turkey, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Hawaii
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Las Vegas Resident Sentenced to Prison for Elder Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Las Vegas resident who participated in a fraudulent prize-notification scheme that bilked victims out of more than $9 million was sentenced today to federal prison, the Department of Justice announced.
    [Read More…]
  • Taiwan Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Exercise normal [Read More…]
  • Singapore Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Statement by Attorney General William P. Barr on Senate Resolution
    In Crime News
    Online child sexual exploitation is a global crime that demands a continued global response. 
    [Read More…]
  • Now is the time: Catch-up to Get Ahead on Childhood Immunizations
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    During National [Read More…]
  • On the United Kingdom’s Establishment of a Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions Regime
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Music “tourist” sent to prison for cocaine trafficking
    In Justice News
    A 40-year-old felon from [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken Introductory Remarks for Youth Speaker Xiye Bastida
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov Before Their Meeting
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planet Found Hidden in Early NASA Kepler Data
    In Space
    While the star it orbits [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Gary Pruitt, President and CEO of the Associated Press
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Department of State Offers Reward for Information to Bring Mexican Transnational Criminal to Justice
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Rabbitt Delivers Remarks at the PPP Criminal Fraud Enforcement Action Press Conference
    In Crime News
    Over the course of the past six months, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc across our country and presented unprecedented challenges for ordinary Americans from all walks of life. 
    [Read More…]
  • Project Monitor and Abatement Supervisor Plead Guilty To Conspiring to Violate Asbestos Regulations
    In Crime News
    Two individuals pleaded guilty today to conspiring to violate federal and New York State regulations intended to prevent human exposure to asbestos.
    [Read More…]
  • Designating Officials and Entities in Connection with the Military Coup in Burma
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Department Renews Charter of Overseas Schools Advisory Council
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson Issues Statement on the Shootings of FBI Special Agents in Florida
    In Crime News
    This morning FBI Special Agent Daniel Alfin and Special Agent Laura Schwartzenberger were killed in the line of duty and three other agents were wounded while executing a federal court-ordered search warrant in a crimes against children investigation in Sunrise, Florida.  Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson issued the following statement:
    [Read More…]
  • Warsaw Process Humanitarian Issues and Refugees Working Group Convenes in Brasilia
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Eswatini Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Do not travel to [Read More…]
  • The United States Restricts Visas of 100 Nicaraguans Affiliated with Ortega-Murillo Regime
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Seeks to Shut Down Louisiana Tax Return Preparers
    In Crime News
    The United States has filed a complaint seeking to bar Louisiana tax return preparers from owning or operating a tax return preparation business and preparing tax returns for others, the Justice Department announced today. The civil complaint against Leroi Gorman Jackson and Mario Alexander, both individually and doing business as The Taxman Financial Services LLC, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
    [Read More…]
  • NASA’s Perseverance Rover Will Carry First Spacesuit Materials to Mars
    In Space
    In a Q&A, spacesuit [Read More…]
  • Crumbling Foundations: Extent of Homes with Defective Concrete Is Not Fully Known and Federal Options to Aid Homeowners Are Limited
    In U.S GAO News
    As of December 2019, at least 1,600 homes in Connecticut had confirmed pyrrhotite but the total number of affected homes is likely higher. According to one estimate, 4,000–6,000 more homes in Connecticut could develop crumbling foundations due to pyrrhotite. Affected homeowners may face total remediation costs of $150,000 or more and drops in property values of 25 percent or more. Connecticut established funding to provide homeowners with up to $175,000 towards the cost of foundation replacement, but affected homeowners are typically responsible for about one-third of total repair costs (which can include costs for replacing driveways and porches damaged during foundation replacement). Current funding is expected to assist 1,034 homeowners. Pyrrhotite Damage to a Basement and a Home Being Repaired Due to Pyrrhotite Damage GAO found that highly affected towns lost more than $1.6 million in tax revenue in 2018 due to lost assessment value of the houses affected by pyrrhotite, but town officials told us the losses have not yet significantly affected their budgets. However, officials were concerned that pyrrhotite could have long-term effects on their towns if the number of affected homes increased or homes were not remediated. GAO also found that homes located in highly affected towns and built when pyrrhotite-containing concrete was used sold for significantly less, on average, than similar homes in less-affected towns. Stakeholders told GAO that defaults and foreclosures related to pyrrhotite have been limited to date. Some federal funds have already been used for pyrrhotite testing and GAO identified eight additional federal programs that could be used to help mitigate financial impacts on homeowners. However, most of these programs have eligibility or funding restrictions that limit their potential for this purpose. Stakeholders with whom GAO spoke suggested other federal responses—in particular, declaring pyrrhotite damage a major disaster or establishing a federally backed insurance product. However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency determined that pyrrhotite damage did not qualify as a natural catastrophe, and a federally backed insurance program may not be feasible since it would serve a small population with high expected costs. Certain homes built in northeastern Connecticut and central Massachusetts between 1983 and 2015 have concrete foundations containing the mineral pyrrhotite. Pyrrhotite expands when it is exposed to water and oxygen and, over time, concrete foundations containing pyrrhotite may crack and crumble. The Explanatory Statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019 included a provision for GAO to study the financial impact of pyrrhotite. This report describes (1) what is known about the number of homes affected by pyrrhotite in the region; (2) the financial impact of pyrrhotite on homeowners; (3) the financial effects on towns, local housing markets, and the federal government; and (4) federal options to mitigate pyrrhotite's financial impact on affected homeowners. GAO analyzed data from state, local, and private entities about the extent of pyrrhotite in foundations and associated costs, and federal actions taken in response to pyrrhotite. GAO also interviewed federal, state, and local officials; homeowners; and other stakeholders such as banks and real estate agents. For more information, contact John Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or pendletonj@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Forced Labor Imports: DHS Increased Resources and Enforcement Efforts, but Needs to Improve Workforce Planning and Monitoring
    In U.S GAO News
    Since 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has increased its resources to enforce a prohibition on importing goods made with forced labor, but has not determined its workforce needs. CBP formed the Forced Labor Division in 2018 to lead its efforts, and increased expenditures for the division from roughly $1 million in fiscal year 2018 to $1.4 million in fiscal year 2019. However, CBP has not assessed and documented the staffing levels or skills needed for the Forced Labor Division. For example, the division suspended some ongoing investigations due to a staff shortage and has plans to expand and train its workforce; however, the division has not assessed the number, type, locations, or specialized skills of positions it needs to achieve programmatic results. Without assessing its workforce needs, the division lacks reasonable assurance that it has the right number of people, with the right skills, in the right places. CBP has increased forced labor investigations and civil enforcement actions, but managers lack complete and consistent data summarizing cases. CBP detained shipments under 13 Withhold Release Orders (WRO) from 2016 through 2019, as shown in the figure below. However, the Forced Labor Division uses incomplete and inconsistent summary data to monitor its investigations. For example, data were missing on the sources of evidence collected for almost all active cases. Incomplete and inconsistent summary data on the characteristics and status of cases may hinder managers' effective monitoring of case progress and enforcement efforts. Figure: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Forced Labor Withhold Release Orders, 2016 through 2019 With regard to criminal violations, DHS's U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has increased its resources to investigate allegations of forced labor, including those related to U.S. imports. ICE coordinates criminal investigations of forced labor, conducted in the U.S. and abroad. ICE reported spending about $40 million on forced labor investigations in fiscal year 2019, an increase of over 50 percent since 2016. Forced labor investigations often involve a range of criminal violations, including violations that are not related to the importation of goods. As such, reported expenditures include costs for cases on related issues, such as human trafficking. Forced labor is a global problem in which individuals are exploited to perform labor or services. The International Labour Organization estimates that forced labor generates profits of $150 billion a year globally. CBP is responsible for enforcing Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930, which prohibits the importation of goods made with forced labor. CBP has authority to detain shipments when information indicates that forced labor produced the goods. ICE is responsible for investigating potential crimes related to forced labor, and importers may be subject to prosecution. GAO was asked to review the status of DHS resources for implementing the Section 307 prohibition on forced labor imports, following an amendment of the law in 2016. This report examines (1) the extent to which CBP assessed agency needs for the enforcement of the prohibition on forced labor imports, (2) the outcome of CBP enforcement activities and monitoring of such efforts, and (3) ICE resources for investigations on forced labor. GAO reviewed CBP and ICE documents and data, and interviewed agency officials. This is a public version of a sensitive report GAO issued in July 2020. Information that CBP deemed sensitive has been omitted. GAO is making three recommendations, including that CBP assess the workforce needs of the Forced Labor Division, and improve its forced labor summary case data. CBP concurred with all three recommendations. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or gianopoulosk@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • District Court Orders Illinois Sprouts And Soybean Products Company To Comply With Food Safety Rules
    In Crime News
    A federal court permanently enjoined a Chicago firm from preparing and distributing adulterated sprouts and soybean products in violation of federal law, the Department of Justice announced today.
    [Read More…]
  • Three Peruvian Nationals Plead Guilty to Conspiring to Defraud Thousands of Spanish-Speaking U.S. Residents
    In Crime News
    Three Peruvian nationals pleaded guilty to operating a series of call centers in Peru that defrauded Spanish-speaking U.S. residents by threatening, among other things, arrest and deportation.
    [Read More…]
  • Former Advisor to Presidential Candidate Among Three Defendants Charged with Acting as Agents of a Foreign Government
    In Crime News
    A seven-count indictment was unsealed today in a New York federal court relating to the defendants’ unlawful efforts to advance the interests of the UAE in the United States at the direction of senior UAE officials by influencing the foreign policy positions of the campaign of a candidate in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election and, subsequently, the foreign policy positions of the U.S. government in the incoming administration, as well as seeking to influence public opinion in favor of UAE interests.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against Facebook for Discriminating Against U.S. Workers
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it filed a lawsuit against Facebook Inc. for discriminating against U.S. workers. 
    [Read More…]
  • Rewards for Justice – Reward Offer for Information on Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Final Member of Violent Baltimore “Trained to Go” Gang Sentenced to More Than 11 Years in Federal Prison for Racketeering and Drug Conspiracies
    In Crime News
    A Baltimore, Maryland, man was sentenced today to 138 montjhs in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release for federal charges of conspiring to participate in a violent racketeering enterprise known as Trained To Go (TTG), and for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances. 
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Issues Favorable Business Review Letter to Institute of International Finance for Sovereign Debt Information Sharing Principles
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division announced today that it has completed its review of the proposal by the Institute of International Finance (IIF) to promulgate voluntary guidelines, called the Principles for Debt Transparency (Principles), allowing for public disclosure of information regarding the issuance of sovereign debt. Based on the representations in IIF’s letter request, including its description of certain safeguards, the department has concluded that the principles are unlikely to harm competition. Therefore, the department does not presently intend to challenge IIF’s proposed principles.
    [Read More…]
  • Nowruz Message
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • LPR admits to smuggling fentanyl and heroin through Laredo
    In Justice News
    A 37-year-old legal [Read More…]
  • Operation Legend: Case of the Day
    In Crime News
    Each weekday, the Department of Justice will highlight a case that has resulted from Operation Legend.  Today’s case is out of the Western District of Missouri.  Operation Legend launched in Kansas City on July 8, 2020, in response to the city facing increased homicide and non-fatal shooting rates.
    [Read More…]
  • Patient Recruiter Convicted in $2.8 Million Telemedicine Scheme Against Medicare
    In Crime News
    The owner of an Orlando-area telemarketing call center was convicted for his role in a kickback scheme involving expensive genetic tests and fraudulent telemedicine services that resulted in the payment of approximately $2.8 million in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare.
    [Read More…]
  • Three Additional States Ask Court To Join Justice Department Antitrust Suit Against Google
    In Crime News
    Today, the Attorneys General of Michigan and Wisconsin filed for permission to join the antitrust lawsuit filed by the United States and eleven other state Attorneys General against monopolist Google. This follows a similar recent motion by the California Attorney General to join the lawsuit on December 11, 2020.
    [Read More…]
  • Former Owner of Florida Produce Business Pleads Guilty to Tax Evasion
    In Crime News
    A Florida man pleaded guilty today to tax evasion in federal district court in Fort Lauderdale. 
    [Read More…]
  • Venezuela: Additional Tracking Could Aid Treasury’s Efforts to Mitigate Any Adverse Impacts U.S. Sanctions Might Have on Humanitarian Assistance
    In U.S GAO News
    The Venezuelan economy's performance has declined steadily for almost a decade and fallen steeply since the imposition of a series of U.S. sanctions starting in 2015. For example, the economy declined from negative 6.2 percent gross domestic product growth in 2015 to negative 35 percent in 2019 and negative 25 percent in 2020. The sanctions, particularly on the state oil company in 2019, likely contributed to the steeper decline of the Venezuelan economy, primarily by limiting revenue from oil production. However, mismanagement of Venezuela's state oil company and decreasing oil prices are among other factors that have also affected the economy's performance during this period. U.S. agencies have sought input from humanitarian organizations to identify the potential negative humanitarian consequences of sanctions related to Venezuela and taken steps to mitigate these issues. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Department of State (State) have solicited input from U.S.-funded humanitarian organizations on challenges they face, including the impact of sanctions. The U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and State have also taken steps to mitigate negative consequences. For example, Treasury issued licenses permitting various types of humanitarian assistance transactions in Venezuela (see figure). Treasury also maintains a call center and email account through which organizations can receive assistance with compliance issues or other challenges related to sanctions. While Treasury officials told GAO they respond to individual inquiries, Treasury does not systematically track and analyze information from these inquiries to identify trends or recurrent issues. Without collection and analysis of this information, Treasury and its interagency partners may be limited in their ability to develop further actions to ensure that U.S. sanctions do not disrupt humanitarian assistance. U.S. Humanitarian Assistance Supplies for Venezuelans U.S. sanctions related to Venezuela have likely had a limited impact, if any, on the U.S. oil industry. Despite an overall lower supply of oil in the U.S. market from the loss of Venezuelan crude oil due to sanctions, crude oil and retail gasoline prices in the U.S. have not increased substantially. Many other factors in addition to the sanctions simultaneously affected the oil market and the price of crude oil and retail gasoline prices, including production cuts in January 2019 by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and decreased demand for energy during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to industry officials to whom GAO spoke, U.S. refineries have adjusted to these changes by shifting to alternative sources and types of crude oil. Venezuela has been experiencing an economic, political, and humanitarian crisis. The U.S. government has imposed sanctions on Venezuela's state oil company, government, and central bank, among others, in response to activities of the Venezuelan government and certain individuals. Treasury and the Department of State lead the implementation of the sanctions program, and USAID is primarily responsible for implementing humanitarian assistance for Venezuelans. GAO was asked to review U.S. sanctions related to Venezuela. This report examines: (1) how the Venezuelan economy performed before and since the imposition of sanctions in 2015; (2) the steps U.S. agencies have taken to identify and mitigate potential negative humanitarian consequences of sanctions related to Venezuela; and (3) what is known about the impact of U.S. sanctions related to Venezuela on the U.S. oil industry. GAO analyzed economic indicators, reviewed documents, interviewed agency officials, and spoke with representatives from selected humanitarian organizations and the U.S oil industry. GAO recommends that Treasury systematically track inquiries made to its call center and email account, including the specific sanctions program and the subject matter of the inquiry to identify trends and recurring issues. Treasury concurred with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or GianopoulosK@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Estonian National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • NASA’s InSight Flexes Its Arm While Its ‘Mole’ Hits Pause
    In Space
    Now that the [Read More…]
  • G7 Foreign Ministers’ Statement on Belarus
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • U.S. Attorney Transition Begins
    In Crime News
    Continuing the practice of new administrations, President Biden and the Department of Justice have begun the transition process for the U.S. Attorneys.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Chilean Foreign Minister Andres Allamand Before Their Meeting
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • KuuHuub Inc., Kuu Huub Oy and Recolor Oy to Pay Civil Penalty for Children’s Online Privacy Violations
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice, together with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), today announced that KuuHuub Inc., a Canadian corporation, and two Finnish corporations, Kuu Huub Oy and Recolor Oy, have agreed to a settlement to resolve alleged violations of the FTC Act and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) associated with the companies’ “Recolor” mobile app and digital coloring book.
    [Read More…]
  • Coordinator for Counterterrorism Ambassador Nathan A. Sales Designated Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • The United States Announces New Assistance to Respond to the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Appellate Court Agrees with Government that Supervised Injection Sites are Illegal under Federal Law; Reverses District Court Ruling
    In Crime News
    In a precedential opinion, the Third Circuit ruled yesterday that it is a federal crime to open a supervised injection site or “consumption room” for illegal drug use.  Local nonprofit Safehouse planned to open the nation’s first such consumption room in the City of Philadelphia, where individuals would be invited to inject heroin and use other drugs under supervision.  But the Third Circuit ruled that doing so “will break the law” because Safehouse knows and intends that visitors to its consumption room will have a significant purpose of using illegal drugs.  In agreeing with the government’s interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act, the Court explained that, “[t]hough the opioid crisis may call for innovative solutions, local innovations may not break federal law.”
    [Read More…]
  • High-Level Member of Hacking Group Sentenced to Prison for Scheme that Compromised Tens of Millions of Debit and Credit Cards
    In Crime News
    A Ukrainian national was sentenced today in the Western District of Washington to seven years in prison for his role in the criminal work of the hacking group FIN7. The defendant was also ordered by the court to pay restitution in the amount of $2,500,000.
    [Read More…]
  • COVID-19: Critical Vaccine Distribution, Supply Chain, Program Integrity, and Other Challenges Require Focused Federal Attention
    In U.S GAO News
    Since November 2020, the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has rapidly increased, further straining health care systems across the country. Between December 31, 2020, and January 13, 2021, new reported COVID-19 cases averaged about 225,000 per day—over 7 and 3 times higher than the surges the nation experienced during the spring and summer of 2020, respectively. (See figure.) The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions and turmoil as a result of the pandemic. As of December 2020, there were more than 10.7 million unemployed individuals, compared to nearly 5.8 million individuals at the beginning of the calendar year. Until the country better contains the spread of the virus, the pandemic will likely remain a significant obstacle to more robust economic activity. Reported COVID-19 Cases per Day in the U.S., Through January 13, 2021 As of January 2021, 27 of GAO’s 31 previous recommendations remained unimplemented. GAO remains deeply troubled that agencies have not acted on recommendations to more fully address critical gaps in the medical supply chain. While GAO recognizes federal agencies continue to take some steps, GAO underscores the importance of developing a well-formulated plan to address critical gaps for the remainder of the pandemic, especially in light of the recent surge in cases. In addition, implementation of GAO’s recommendation concerning the importance of clear and comprehensive vaccine distribution and communication plans remains a work in progress. Moreover, slow implementation of GAO’s recommendations relating to program integrity, in particular those made to the Small Business Administration (SBA) and Department of Labor (DOL), creates risk of considerable improper payments, including those related to fraud, and falls far short of transparency and accountability expectations. See appendix III for the status of GAO’s past recommendations. GAO is pleased that the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021—enacted in December of 2020—requires a number of actions that are consistent with several of GAO’s prior recommendations, including those related to the medical supply chain, vaccines and therapeutics, and COVID-19 testing. GAO will monitor the implementation of the act’s requirements. GAO’s new recommendations are discussed below. COVID-19 Testing Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is critical to controlling the spread of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. GAO found that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has not issued a comprehensive and publicly available national testing strategy. HHS’s national strategy documents are not comprehensive because they only partially address the characteristics that GAO has found to be desirable in an effective national strategy. For example, testing strategy documents do not always provide consistent definitions and benchmarks to measure progress, not all documents clearly define the problem and risks, and there is limited information on the types of resources required for future needs. Furthermore, some of the documents have not been made public. While the national testing strategy is formally outlined in a publicly available document, HHS has provided only Congress with the COVID-19 Testing Strategy Reports, which detail the implementation of the testing strategy. Stakeholders who are involved in the response efforts told GAO they were unaware of the existence of a national strategy or did not have a clear understanding of the strategy. Without a comprehensive, publicly available national strategy, HHS is at risk of key stakeholders and the public lacking crucial information to support an informed and coordinated testing response. GAO is recommending that HHS develop and make publicly available a comprehensive national COVID-19 testing strategy that incorporates all six characteristics of an effective national strategy. Such a strategy could build upon existing strategy documents that HHS has produced for the public and Congress to allow for a more coordinated pandemic testing approach. HHS partially concurred with this recommendation and agreed that it should take steps to more directly incorporate some of the elements of an effective national strategy. Vaccines and Therapeutics Multiple federal agencies, through Operation Warp Speed, continue to support the development and manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat COVID-19. As of January 8, 2021, two of the six vaccines supported by Operation Warp Speed have been authorized for emergency use, and vaccine distribution and administration have begun. (See figure below). However, distribution and administration fell short of expectations set for the end of the year. As of December 30, 2020, Operation Warp Speed had distributed (shipped) about 12.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine and providers reported administering about 2.8 million initial doses, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. In September 2020, GAO stressed the importance of having a plan that focused on coordination and communication and recommended that HHS, with the support of the Department of Defense, establish a time frame for documenting and sharing a national plan for distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccine, and among other things, outline an approach for how efforts would be coordinated across federal agencies and nonfederal entities.To date, this recommendationhas not been fully implemented. GAO reiterates the importance of doing so. Effective coordination and communication among federal agencies, commercial partners, jurisdictions, and providers is critical to successfully deploying COVID-19 vaccines and managing public expectations, especially because the initial supply of vaccine has been limited. Status of Development of Six Operation Warp Speed COVID-19 Vaccine Candidates, as of January 8, 2021 Medical Supply Chain The pandemic has highlighted vulnerabilities in the nation’s medical supply chain, which includes personal protective equipment and other supplies necessary to treat individuals with COVID-19. The Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) is an important piece of HHS’s recently developed strategy to improve the medical supply chain to enhance pandemic response capabilities. However, the department has yet to develop a process for engaging about the strategy with key nonfederal stakeholders that have a shared role for providing supplies during a pandemic, such as state and territorial governments and the private sector. GAO’s work has noted the importance of directly and continuously involving key stakeholders, including Congress, in the development of successful agency reforms and helping to harness ideas, expertise, and resources. To improve the nation’s response and preparedness for pandemics, GAO recommends that HHS establish a process for regularly engaging with Congress and nonfederal stakeholders—including state, local, tribal, and territorial governments and private industry—as the agency refines and implements its supply chain strategy for pandemic preparedness, to include the role of the SNS. HHS generally concurred with this recommendation and noted that the department regularly engages with Congress and nonfederal stakeholders. GAO maintains that capitalizing on existing relationships to engage these critical stakeholders as HHS refines and implements a supply chain strategy, to include the role of the SNS, will improve a whole-of-government response to, and preparedness for, pandemics. In August 2020, the President issued an Executive Order directing agencies to take steps toward the goal of strengthening domestic drug manufacturing and supply chains. Federal agencies have started implementing the Executive Order, but expressed concerns about their ability to implement some of the provisions. In particular, GAO found that federal agencies do not have complete and accessible information to identify supply chain vulnerabilities and to report the manufacturing supply chains of drugs that were procured by the agency. To help it identify and mitigate vulnerabilities in the U.S. drug supply chain, GAO recommends that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensure drug manufacturing data obtained are complete and accessible, including by working with manufacturers and other federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs and, if necessary, seek authority to obtain complete and accessible information. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. COVID-19 Data for Health Care Indicators The federal government does not have a process to help systematically define and ensure the collection of standardized data across the relevant federal agencies and related stakeholders to help respond to COVID-19, communicate the status of the pandemic with citizens, or prepare for future pandemics. As a result, COVID-19 information that is collected and reported by states and other entities to the federal government is often incomplete and inconsistent. The lack of complete and consistent data limits HHS’s and others’ ability to monitor trends in the burden of the pandemic across states and regions, make informed comparisons between such areas, and assess the impact of public health actions to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Further, incomplete and inconsistent data have limited HHS’s and others’ ability to prioritize the allocation of health resources in specific geographic areas or among certain populations most affected by the pandemic. To improve the federal government’s response to COVID-19 and preparedness for future pandemics, GAO recommends that HHS immediately establish an expert committee comprised of knowledgeable health care professionals from the public and private sectors, academia, and nonprofits or use an existing one to systematically review and inform the alignment of ongoing data collection and reporting standards for key health indicators. HHS partially concurred with this recommendation and agreed that it should establish a dedicated working group or other mechanism with a focus on addressing COVID-19 data collection shortcomings. Drug Manufacturing Inspections FDA is responsible for overseeing the safety and effectiveness of all drugs marketed in the U.S., including those manufactured overseas, and typically conducts more than 1,600 inspections of foreign and domestic drug manufacturing establishments every year. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, since March 2020, FDA has limited domestic and foreign inspections for the safety of its employees. (See figure below.) FDA has used alternative inspection tools to maintain some oversight of drug manufacturing quality while inspections are paused, including inspections conducted by foreign regulators, requesting and reviewing records and other information, and sampling and testing. Although FDA has determined that inspections conducted by certain European regulators are equivalent to an FDA inspection, other tools provide useful information but are not equivalent to an FDA inspection. As a result, FDA could be faced with a backlog of inspections, threatening the agency’s goal to maximize inspections prioritized by its risk-based site selection model each year. GAO recommends that FDA (1) ensure that inspection plans for future fiscal years identify, analyze, and respond to the issues presented by the backlog of inspections that could jeopardize its goal of risk-driven inspections, and (2) fully assess the agency’s alternative inspection tools and consider whether these tools or others could provide the information needed to supplement regular inspection activities or help meet the agency’s drug oversight objectives when inspections are not possible in the future. FDA concurred with both recommendations. Number of FDA-Conducted Domestic and Foreign Drug Manufacturing Establishment Inspections, Fiscal Years 2019–2020, by Month Federal Contracting Federal agencies are using other transaction agreements to respond to the pandemic, which are contracting mechanisms that can enable agencies to negotiate terms and conditions specific to a project. GAO found that HHS misreports its other transaction agreements related to COVID-19 as procurement contracts, including other transaction agreements with about $1.5 billion obligated for Operation Warp Speed and other medical countermeasures. HHS’s approach is inconsistent with federal acquisition regulations and limits the public’s insight into the agency’s contract spending. To ensure consistent tracking and transparency of federal contracting activity related to the pandemic, GAO recommends that HHS accurately report data in the federal procurement database system and provide information that would allow the public to distinguish between spending on other transaction agreements and procurement contracts. HHS concurred with this recommendation. Oversight of Worker Safety and Health GAO identified concerns about federal oversight of worker safety and health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has adapted its enforcement methods for COVID-19 to help protect agency employees from the virus and address resource constraints, such as by permitting remote inspections in place of on-site inspections of workplaces. However, gaps in OSHA’s oversight and tracking of its adapted enforcement methods prevent the agency from assessing the effectiveness of its enforcement methods during the pandemic, ensuring that its adapted enforcement methods do not miss violations, and ensuring that employers are addressing certain identified violations. To improve its oversight, GAO recommends that OSHA (1) develop a plan, with time frames, to implement the agency’s oversight processes for COVID-19-adapted enforcement methods, and (2) ensure that its data system includes comprehensive information on use of these enforcement methods to inform these processes. The agency neither agreed nor disagreed with these recommendations. Additionally, OSHA’s data do not include comprehensive information on workplace exposure to COVID-19. For example, OSHA does not receive employer reports of all work-related hospitalizations related to COVID-19, as disease symptoms do not appear within the required reporting time frames. Employers may also face challenges determining whether COVID-19 hospitalizations or fatalities are work-related because of COVID-19’s incubation period and the difficulties in tracking the source of exposure. GAO recommends that OSHA determine what additional datamay be neededfrom employers or other sources to better target the agency’s COVID-19 enforcement efforts. The agency neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Assistance for Fishery Participants The CARES Act appropriated $300 million in March 2020 to the Department of Commerce (Commerce) to assist eligible tribal, subsistence, commercial, and charter fishery participants affected by COVID-19, which may include direct relief payments. After administrative fees were assessed, $298 million of the $300 million appropriated was obligated for fishery participants.Widespread restaurant closures in the spring of 2020 led to a decrease in demand for seafood, adversely affecting the fisheries industry. As of December 4, 2020, all funds had been obligated and only about 18 percent ($53.9 million) of the CARES Act funding obligated for fishery participants had been disbursed, which is inconsistent with Office of Management and Budget guidance on the importance of agencies distributing CARES Act funds in an expedient manner. Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials said they expect that the vast majority of funds will be disbursed to fisheries participants by early 2021. However, the agency does not have the needed information centralized to help ensure that funds are being disbursed expeditiously and efficiently. GAO recommends that NOAA develop a mechanism to track the progress of states, tribes, and territories in meeting established timelines to disburse funds in an expedited and efficient manner. NOAA concurred with this recommendation. Program Integrity GAO continues to identify areas to improve program integrity and reduce the risk of improper payments for programs funded by the COVID-19 relief laws now that federal agencies have obligated a total of $1.9 trillion and expended $1.7 trillion of the $2.7 trillion appropriated for response and recovery efforts as of November 30, 2020. Federal relief programs remain vulnerable to significant risk of fraudulent activities because of the need to quickly provide funds and other assistance to those affected by COVID-19 and its economic effects. In this report, GAO identifies concerns about overpayments and potential fraud in the unemployment insurance (UI) system, specifically in the federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which provides UI benefits to individuals not otherwise eligible for these benefits, such as self-employed and certain gig economy workers. As of January 11, 2021, states that had submitted data to DOL reported more than $1.1 billion in PUA overpayments from March through December 2020. While DOL requires states to report data on PUA overpayments, as of the beginning of 2021, the agency was not tracking the amount of overpayments recovered, limiting insight into the effectiveness of states’ efforts to recoup federal funds. To better track the recovery of federal funds, GAO recommends that DOL collect data from states on the amount of PUA overpayments recovered. DOL concurred with this recommendation, and has taken the first step toward implementing it by issuing new guidance and updated instructions for states to report PUA overpayment recovery data. GAO also remains concerned about SBA’s management of internal controls and fraud risks in the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program. COVID-19 relief laws made qualifying small businesses and nonprofit organizations adversely affected by COVID-19 eligible for financial assistance from the EIDL program. Some approval requirements were also relaxed, such as requiring each applicant to demonstrate that it could not obtain credit elsewhere, through December 31, 2021. As of December 31, 2020, SBA officials said they had approved about 3.7 million applications for loans related to COVID-19, totaling about $200 billion. SBA rapidly processed loans and advances to millions of small businesses affected by COVID-19. GAO’s analysis of SBA data shows that the agency approved EIDL loans and advances for potentially ineligible businesses. For example, SBA approved at least 3,000 loans totaling about $156 million to potentially ineligible businesses in industries that SBA policies state were ineligible for the EIDL program, such as insurance and real estate development, as of September 30, 2020. GAO recommends that SBA develop and implement portfolio-level data analytics across EIDL loans and advances made in response to COVID-19 as a means to detect potentially ineligible and fraudulent applications. SBA neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. As of January 15, 2021, the U.S. had about 23 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and more than 387,000 reported deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted as of November 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of November 30, 2020, of the $2.7 trillion appropriated by these four laws, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.9 trillion and expended $1.7 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds, as reported by federal agencies. In December 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, provided additional federal assistance for the ongoing response and recovery. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines the federal government’s continued efforts to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials and stakeholders. GAO completed its audit work on January 15, 2021. GAO is making 13 new recommendations for agencies that are detailed in this Highlights and in the report. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC Andrea Mitchell Reports
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Opioid Manufacturer Purdue Pharma Pleads Guilty to Fraud and Kickback Conspiracies
    In Crime News
    Opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma LP (Purdue) pleaded guilty today in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, to conspiracies to defraud the United States and violate the anti-kickback statute.
    [Read More…]
  • Engineering Firm And Its Former Executive Indicted On Antitrust And Fraud Charges
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Raleigh, North Carolina returned an indictment charging Contech Engineered Solutions LLC and Brent Brewbaker, a former executive at the company, for participating in long-standing conspiracies to rig bids and defraud the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NC DOT), the Department of Justice announced.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Seeks to Shut Down San Diego Return Preparer
    In Crime News
    The United States has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California seeking to bar a San Diego tax return preparer from owning or operating a tax return preparation business and preparing federal income tax returns for others.
    [Read More…]
  • U.S. Announces Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • VA Disability Benefits: VA Should Continue to Improve Access to Quality Disability Medical Exams for Veterans Living Abroad
    In U.S GAO News
    The number of disability claims for veterans living abroad—in foreign countries or U.S. territories—increased 14 percent from fiscal years 2014 to 2019. During this time period, claims processing time frames improved. In fiscal year 2019, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) approved comparable percentages of disability claims for veterans living abroad and domestically—63 percent and 64 percent respectively. However, for a subset of these claims—those where veterans likely received a disability medical exam scheduled by Department of State (State) embassy staff—approval rates were often lower. Veterans' access to disability medical exams abroad improved as VBA has increasingly relied on contracted examiners, rather than embassy-referred examiners, to conduct these exams. According to VBA, this shift expanded the pool of trained examiners abroad and increased the frequency and depth of VBA's quality reviews for contract exams. These quality reviews help VBA and its contractor identify and address common errors, according to VBA and contractor officials. However, several factors continue to limit some veterans' ability to access quality disability medical exams (see figure). Factors That Impair the Access of Veterans Living Abroad to Quality Disability Medical Exams Unknown quality of certain exams: A subset of veterans living abroad receive disability medical exams from an embassy-referred provider. VBA does not systematically assess the quality of these exams. Without doing so, VBA cannot determine if such exams affect the approval rates of veterans who receive them or contribute to longer processing times and are unable to make informed decisions about their use. Travel reimbursement: Under current VA regulations, VA is not authorized to reimburse veterans for travel expenses for certain services incurred in foreign countries as it is for those incurred within the United States, including U.S. territories. Consequently, some veterans living in foreign countries may be unable to afford to travel to exams. Examiner reimbursement: The Veterans Health Administration's (VHA) Foreign Medical Program reimburses examiners referred by embassy staff via paper checks in U.S. currency. These checks may be slow to arrive and not accepted by foreign banks, according to State and other officials and staff we interviewed. Such payment issues can deter examiners from being willing to conduct disability medical exams and thus limit veterans' access to these exams in foreign countries. Of the roughly 1 million disability claims VBA processed in fiscal year 2019, 18,287 were for veterans living abroad. Veterans living abroad are entitled to the same disability benefits as those living domestically, but GAO previously reported that veterans living abroad may not be able to access disability medical exams as readily as their domestic counterparts. VBA uses medical exam reports to help determine if a veteran should receive disability benefits. GAO was asked to review the disability claims and exam processes for veterans living abroad. Among other things, this report examines disability claims trends for veterans living abroad and these veterans' ability to access quality disability medical exams. GAO analyzed VBA claims data for fiscal years 2014 to 2019; assessed data reliability; reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, policies, and contract documents; and interviewed employees of VBA, State, and other stakeholders. GAO is making five recommendations, including that VBA assess the quality of embassy-referred exams, VBA and VHA assess whether to reimburse beneficiaries for travel to disability medical exams in foreign countries, and that VBA and VHA pay examiners located by embassy staff electronically. The Department of Veterans Affairs concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth Curda at (202) 512-7215 or curdae@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • North Carolina Return Preparer Sentenced to Prison for Tax Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Kinston, North Carolina, woman was sentenced today to 30 months in prison for conspiring to file false tax returns for her clients.
    [Read More…]
  • Championing America’s First Freedom
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Home Depot to Pay $20,750,000 Penalty for Nationwide Failure to Follow Rules for Conducting Renovations Involving Lead Paint
    In Crime News
    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice today announced a proposed nationwide settlement with Home Depot U.S.A. Inc. resolving alleged violations of the EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule at home renovations performed by Home Depot’s contractors across the country. The States of Utah, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, which have EPA-authorized RRP programs, are joining the United States in this action.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Obtains $20,000 Settlement Against Tampa, Florida Towing Company for Unlawfully Selling Deployed Servicemember’s Car
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today announced that Target Recovery Towing Inc. (Target) has agreed to enter into a court-enforceable consent order to resolve allegations that it failed to obtain a legally required court order before auctioning off a car belonging to a U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant who was deployed overseas. 
    [Read More…]