Secretary Blinken’s Call with Guatemalan Foreign Minister Brolo

Office of the Spokesperson

The following is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:

Secretary Antony J. Blinken spoke with Guatemalan Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo today. Secretary Blinken emphasized the U.S. commitment to addressing the structural problems that trigger irregular migration – endemic corruption and impunity, lack of economic opportunity, and insecurity – and our countries’ shared interest in ensuring a safe, orderly, and humane approach to migration. The two leaders discussed the importance of securing an independent judiciary, through an open and transparent process, including by designating impartial candidates in the upcoming selection of Constitutional Court magistrates. Secretary Blinken also raised the need to improve democratic governance, promote respect for human rights, and root out high-level corruption in order to advance our shared goal of a more secure and prosperous Guatemala. He noted the strong bonds between the governments and peoples of the United States and Guatemala and reaffirmed our commitment to the bilateral relationship.

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    GAO has reported on the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) use of research to identify and add new illnesses to its list of presumptive conditions for both Gulf War Illness and Agent Orange—a tactical herbicide used extensively during the Vietnam Era. VA entered into agreements with the National Academy of Sciences to assess the link between certain exposures and illnesses experienced by veterans, and uses the Academy's findings to inform its lists of presumptive conditions. GAO also reported in 2017 that VA did not have a single set of uniform criteria to define Gulf War Illness (a case definition) that could improve research, clinical diagnosis, and treatment of Gulf War veterans. GAO recommended that VA prepare and document a plan to develop a single case definition. In response, VA convened a group of subject matter experts from VA and the Department of Defense to create a multi-step plan to develop a case definition. According to VA, it is in the final stages of the plan and will bring together experts in 2021 to review new research and work toward delineating a definition. Further, according to VA, the department continues to support research on conditions related to Gulf War service as well as Agent Orange exposure and will use the findings to consider future presumptive conditions. In 2017, GAO reported on challenges that VA faced in processing complex, presumptive disability claims for veterans who served in the Gulf War—claims that were being denied at higher rates than other disability claims. At the time of GAO's review, VA officials stated that Gulf War Illness claims may be denied at a higher rate, in part, because they are not always well understood by VA staff, and veterans sometimes do not have medical records to adequately support their claims. The challenges we identified included: Inconsistent requests for disability medical exams. VA claims processors can request that a veteran undergo a disability medical exam to help determine whether the conditions in the claim exist and are linked to service. GAO found that claims processors were inconsistent in asking for an exam, in part, due to confusion about the guidance. VA issued training on the topic and in April 2017 completed a review of Gulf War claims to assess the effectiveness of the training and help ensure future consistency. Inconsistent disability medical exam reports. Veterans Health Administration disability medical examiners did not always complete medical exam reports properly and sometimes offered a medical opinion when one was not necessary. GAO recommended that VA require all examiners to complete Gulf War medical exam training before conducting these exams, and VA implemented this recommendation. Since our 2017 report, VA has allowed contracted medical examiners to complete these exams, and in 2018 GAO found VA was not monitoring whether all contractors completed required training. GAO recommended VA improve its oversight of training, but the department has not fully implemented this recommendation from GAO's 2018 report. VA provides disability compensation to millions of veterans with service-connected disabilities. Veterans are generally entitled to these benefits if they can prove their injuries or illnesses were incurred or aggravated by active military service. For certain claims, VA presumes a condition is due to a veteran's service. For example, VA can provide benefits to any veteran with certain symptoms, from respiratory disorders to gastrointestinal issues, who served in Southwest Asia from 1990 to the present, without the veteran needing to prove cause. GAO refers to these as Gulf War Illness claims. In 2017, GAO issued Gulf War Illness: Improvements Needed for VA to Better Understand, Process, and Communicate Decisions on Claims ( GAO-17-511 ), which identified needed improvements in VA's processing of Gulf War Illness claims. In 2018, GAO issued Agent Orange: Actions Needed to Improve Accuracy and Communication of Information on Testing and Storage Locations ( GAO-19-24 ). This statement summarizes information from these reports on how VA determined certain presumptive conditions and challenges VA faced with processing Gulf War Illness claims. In GAO's 2017 report, it recommended that VA develop a plan to establish a single case definition of Gulf War Illness and make Gulf War Illness training mandatory for medical examiners. VA implemented the recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth Curda at (202) 512-7215 or curdae@gao.gov.
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  • Maryland Man Sentenced to Prison for Intentionally Damaging the Computers of His Former Employer
    In Crime News
    A Maryland man was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake today to 12 months and one day in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for illegally accessing and damaging the computer network of his former employer. Judge Blake also entered an order requiring Stafford to pay restitution in the amount of $193,258.10 to his former employer.
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    Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Eric S. Dreiband, issued the following statement:
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  • Military Housing: Actions Needed to Improve the Process for Setting Allowances for Servicemembers and Calculating Payments for Privatized Housing Projects
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) has established a process to determine basic allowance for housing (BAH) rates, which help cover the cost of suitable housing in the private sector for servicemembers. However, DOD has not always collected rental data on the minimum number of rental units needed to estimate the total housing cost for certain locations and housing types. GAO analysis found that 44 percent (788 of 1,806) of locations and housing types had fewer than the minimum sample-size target. Until DOD develops ways to increase its sample size, it will risk providing housing cost compensation that does not accurately represent the cost of suitable housing for servicemembers. DOD followed congressional requirements for calculating BAH reductions and payments to privatized housing projects. However, while the 2019 congressionally mandated payments lessened the financial effects of BAH reductions, as intended, they did not do so commensurate with the amount of the BAH reduction. GAO found that privatized housing projects received payments that were either over or under the amount of revenue lost from reductions made to BAH, in some cases by $1 million or more. (see figure) Number of Privatized Housing Projects and Amounts That Congressionally Mandated Payments Were Above or Below the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) Reduction Estimate (in 2019) These distortions occurred because the legal requirements for calculating the BAH reduction and the congressionally mandated payments differ. Specifically, the law requires that the BAH reduction be a set dollar amount, regardless of location, while payments to privatized housing projects are required to differ by location. This required method of calculating the BAH reduction amounts is consistent with how prior reductions were calculated. According to DOD, BAH rates were reduced so that servicemembers share a portion of housing costs, and that reduction amount was the same for servicemembers with the same pay grade and dependency status, regardless of location. Until Congress takes steps to ensure congressionally mandated payment calculations are consistent with how BAH reductions are calculated, some privatized housing projects will continue to receive more or less than was intended. DOD spent about $20 billion in fiscal year 2019 on BAH—often one of the largest components of military pay. BAH is designed to cover a portion of servicemembers' housing rental and utility costs in the private sector. Starting in 2015, DOD reduced BAH rates so that servicemembers share a portion of housing costs. The majority of servicemembers rely on the civilian housing market, while others rely on government housing or privatized housing projects. These projects rely on BAH as a key revenue source. In 2018-2020, Congress required DOD to make payments to these projects to help offset the BAH reduction. Senate Report 116-48 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's BAH process. This report evaluates, among other things, the extent to which (1) DOD established a process to determine BAH and (2) DOD's congressionally mandated payments to projects lessened the effects of BAH reductions. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed relevant guidance and other documents, analyzed key data, and interviewed cognizant DOD officials. GAO is making a matter for congressional consideration to revise statutory language to ensure payments to privatized housing projects are consistent with BAH reductions. GAO is also making three recommendations, including that DOD review its sampling methodology to increase sample size. DOD concurred with two recommendations. DOD also partially concurred with one recommendation, which GAO continues to believe is valid, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.
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  • Husband Sentenced to 188 Months in Prison for Human Trafficking Convictions Related to Forced Labor of Foreign Nationals
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today announced that former Stockton, California resident Satish Kartan, 46, was sentenced today to188 months in prison for forced labor violations. In addition, U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. ordered $15,657 be paid in restitution to three victims, in part to cover their back wages and other losses.
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  • Suburban Chicago Businessman Charged with Illegally Exporting Arms to Ukraine
    In Crime News
    A suburban Chicago businessman has been indicted on federal criminal charges for allegedly illegally exporting gun parts and other defense articles from the United States to a company in Ukraine.
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  • Insitu Inc. to Pay $25 Million to Settle False Claims Act Case Alleging Knowing Overcharges on Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Contracts
    In Crime News
    Insitu Inc., headquartered in Bingen, Washington, has agreed to pay $25 million to settle allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by knowingly submitting materially false cost and pricing data for contracts with the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the Department of the Navy (Navy) to supply and operate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), the Department of Justice announced today.
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  • Former Florida Resident Indicted for Tax Evasion and Failing to Report Foreign Bank Accounts
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury returned an indictment today charging Lucia Andrea Gatta, a former resident of Palm Beach County, Florida, with tax evasion and failing to file Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBARs), among other offenses, announced Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan for the Southern District of Florida.
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  • Law Clerk Hiring Plan Extended
    In U.S Courts
    The Judiciary’s Federal Law Clerk Hiring Pilot Plan, which makes the judicial clerkship hiring process more transparent and uniform, has been extended for two years after getting good reviews from both law school deans and judges.
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  • Assistant Attorney General Delrahim Delivers Remarks at the Antitrust Division’s Seventh Annual Diversity Celebration
    In Crime News
    Thank you, Matthew, for that kind introduction. And good afternoon everyone. It is great to be joined by so many colleagues from across the Antitrust Division and beyond.
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