September 22, 2021

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Secretary Blinken’s Call with Italian Foreign Minister Di Maio

14 min read

Office of the Spokesperson

The below is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio today.  Secretary Blinken extended the United States’ deep appreciation for Italy’s support for evacuation and relocation operations from Afghanistan and discussed with Foreign Minister Di Maio plans for diplomatic, security, and humanitarian engagement in Afghanistan.

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  • Covid-19 Housing Protections: Moratoriums Have Helped Limit Evictions, but Further Outreach Is Needed
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    What GAO Found Eviction moratoriums at the federal, state, and local levels reduced eviction filings during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, some eligible renters may not have benefitted from a recent federal moratorium. GAO's analysis of 63 jurisdictions found that the median rate of eviction filings was about 74 percent lower in the last week of July 2020—when a moratorium included in the CARES Act expired—than in the same week in 2019. Eviction filings remained lower throughout 2020 (relative to 2019) but gradually increased during a separate moratorium ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in September 2020 (see fig.). During this moratorium, jurisdictions without separate state or local moratoriums experienced larger increases in eviction filings, which suggests that some renters may not fully understand how to use the CDC moratorium (completing required documentation). CDC extended its moratorium through March 31, 2021, but has taken few steps to promote awareness and understanding of the moratorium and its requirements. Clear, accurate, and timely information is essential to keep the public informed during the pandemic. Without a communication and outreach plan, including federal coordination, CDC will be missing an opportunity to ensure that eligible renters avoid eviction. Year-over-Year Percentage Change in Eviction Filings in 63 Jurisdictions Note: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) moratorium is active through March 31, 2021. Local moratoriums include separate state or local eviction moratoriums. Unlike the CARES Act, CDC's moratorium does not prohibit eviction filings, which could explain some increases. By late January 2021, Treasury had disbursed 99 percent of the $25 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance funds to state and other eligible grantees responsible for making rent and utility payments to recipients. Treasury's initial program guidance issued that month did not fully define some program requirements and included requirements that could have delayed the delivery of funds or deter participation. In late February 2021, Treasury updated its guidance to address several of these concerns, such as by providing grantees with flexibility for prioritizing lower income applicants and allowing written attestation of income. Although the guidance did not clarify certain data collection and spending requirements, officials said they will continue to update guidance to address stakeholder concerns and strike a balance between accountability and administrative efficiency. GAO will continue to actively monitor these efforts. Why GAO Did This Study Millions of renters and property owners continue to experience housing instability and financial challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. To address these concerns, Congress and CDC created eviction moratoriums, and Congress appropriated $25 billion to Treasury to disburse to state and local grantees to administer emergency rental assistance programs to help those behind on their rent. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to monitor federal efforts related to COVID-19. This report examines, among other objectives, (1) how eviction moratoriums have contributed to housing stability during the pandemic and (2) Treasury's implementation of the Emergency Rental Assistance program. GAO analyzed data on eviction filings and local policies in a sample of 63 jurisdictions (selected based on data availability) from January to December 2020. GAO also analyzed Census Bureau survey data on rental payments and data from federal housing entities on mortgage forbearance. GAO interviewed officials from CDC, Treasury, and organizations representing renters, property owners, and rental assistance grantees.
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    The 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, were held against the backdrop of growing concerns about international terrorism. Despite widespread fears of a potential terrorist attack on the Olympics, Greece hosted a safe and secure event with no terrorist incidents. To assist Greece in securing the 2004 Games, U.S. government agencies provided training and other support in the four years leading up to the Games. In addition, the U.S. government provided some security and other assistance to American athletes, spectators, and commercial investors, and expects to continue such support for future Olympics, including the upcoming 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. GAO was asked to (1) determine the U.S. approach and coordination efforts for providing security assistance to the 2004 Summer Olympics; (2) examine the roles of U.S. agencies in Athens Olympics security and their financial outlays; and (3) review lessons learned in providing security assistance in support of the Olympics and how they are being incorporated into preparations for future Olympics. The Departments of State, Homeland Security, Defense, and Justice concurred with the report or had no comments.In 2001, the United States began planning its security assistance for the 2004 Summer Olympics, responding to the heightened worldwide anxiety following the September 11 attacks and Greece's request for international advice on its security plan. The United States based much of its security assistance on knowledge gained through Greece's participation in the Department of State's Antiterrorism Assistance Program and through the staging of a major U.S. military exercise in March 2004. Based on these assessments, the United States employed a coordinated approach in providing security assistance to Greece for the Olympics. The U.S. Ambassador in Greece coordinated and led the U.S. interagency efforts in-country, while the State-chaired interagency working group in Washington, D.C., coordinated domestic contributions. Furthermore, the United States participated in a seven-country coordination group that aimed to identify potential areas of cooperation on security and support for Greece. Almost 20 entities and offices within a number of U.S. agencies provided more than $35 million in security assistance and support to the government of Greece. The Departments of State, Homeland Security, Defense, and Justice provided security training to various elements of the Greek government; the Departments of Energy and Justice provided crisis response assistance during the Olympics; and the State Department also provided special security and other assistance to U.S. athletes, spectators, and corporate sponsors. Following the 2004 Summer Games, these U.S. agencies identified a number of lessons learned, such as the importance of assessing host governments' security capabilities early to assist in planning U.S. support, appointing key personnel to craft unified messages for the U.S. security efforts, and coordinating with multilateral and other organizing entities. These lessons were then communicated by Washington, D.C.- and Athens-based personnel to U.S. officials in Italy who are preparing to support the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.
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  • Oil and Gas: Onshore Competitive and Noncompetitive Lease Revenues
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    Pursuant to federal law, the Department of the Interior's (Interior) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offers leases competitively through auction or noncompetitively for a fee if an adequate bid is not received. Competitive leases for oil and gas development on federal lands produced greater revenues, on average, than noncompetitive leases for fiscal years 2003 through 2019, according to GAO's analysis of revenues reported by Interior's Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) and leases from BLM. For this period, about 72,800 competitive leases produced about $14.3 billion in revenues—while total of 100,300 leases produced $16.1 billion. Average revenues from competitive leases over this time period were nearly 3 times greater than revenues from noncompetitive leases; about $196,000 and $66,000, respectively. Based on GAO's analysis of leases that started in fiscal years 2003 through 2009, competitive leases produced oil and gas more often than noncompetitive leases during the leases' 10-year primary term. Further, competitive leases with high bonus bids (bids above $100 per acre) were more likely to produce oil and gas in their 10-year primary terms than both competitive leases with lower bonus bids and noncompetitive leases. Specifically, about 26 percent of competitive leases that sold with bonus bids above $100 per acre produced oil and gas and generated royalties in their primary term compared with about 2 percent for competitive leases that sold at the minimum bid of $2 per acre and about 1 percent for noncompetitive leases. GAO's analysis showed that competitive leases with high bonus bids generated over 3 times the amount of cumulative, or total, royalties by the end of their primary term than all other competitive and noncompetitive leases combined (see fig.). Cumulative Royalties from Competitive Leases, by Bonus Bid, and Noncompetitive Leases That Started in Fiscal Years 2003 through 2009 According to BLM, federal onshore oil and gas leases generate about $3 billion annually in federal revenues, including royalties, one-time bonus bid payments, and rents. The Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act of 1987 requires that public lands available for oil and gas leasing first be offered under a competitive bidding process. BLM offers leases with 10-year primary terms competitively through auction or, if the tract of land does not receive an adequate bid, noncompetitively for a fee. The minimum bid is $2 per acre, and bids at or above the minimum are called bonus bids. ONRR is to collect revenues from oil and gas leases in accordance with the specific terms and conditions outlined in the leases, including revenues from rents and royalties. Lessees are to pay rent annually until production begins on the leased land and then pay royalties as a percentage of oil and gas production. Lease terms may be extended beyond the primary term if, for example, the lease is producing oil or gas. GAO was asked to review oil and gas leasing on federal lands. This report describes oil and gas revenues from competitive and noncompetitive leases for fiscal years 2003 through 2019. GAO analyzed federal lease and revenue data and interviewed Interior officials and four experts knowledgeable about federal oil and gas leasing. To consistently compare leases over their lifecycle, GAO analyzed revenues that occurred within the leases' primary term (first 10 years) for leases that started in fiscal years 2003 through 2009. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or RuscoF@gao.gov.
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    What GAO Found Drug manufacturers spent $17.8 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) for 553 drugs from 2016 through 2018, and spending was relatively stable at about $6 billion each year. Almost half of this spending was for three therapeutic categories of drugs that treat chronic medical conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, and depression. GAO also found that nearly all DTCA spending was on brand-name drugs, with about two-thirds concentrated on 39 drugs, about half of which entered the market from 2014 through 2017. Medicare Parts B and D and beneficiaries spent $560 billion on drugs from 2016 through 2018, $324 billion of which was spent on advertised drugs. Of the 553 advertised drugs, GAO found Medicare Parts B and D spending for 104 and 463 drugs, respectively. Among the drugs with the highest Medicare spending, some also had the highest DTCA spending. Specifically, among the top 10 drugs with the highest Medicare Parts B or D expenditures, four were also among the top 10 drugs in advertising spending in 2018: Eliquis (blood thinner), Humira (arthritis), Keytruda (cancer), and Lyrica (diabetic pain). Medicare Spending on Advertised Drugs, 2016 - 2018 GAO's review of four advertised drugs found that drug manufacturers changed their DTCA spending during key events, such as increasing spending when a drug was approved to treat additional conditions or decreasing spending following the approval of generic versions. GAO also found that DTCA may have contributed to increases in Medicare beneficiary use and spending among four selected drugs from 2010 through 2018. However, other factors likely contributed to a drug's Medicare beneficiary use and spending, making it difficult to isolate the relationship between drug advertising, use and spending. For example, GAO's review of four selected drugs showed that increases in unit prices were a factor, while stakeholders GAO interviewed cited other contributing factors such as doctors' prescribing decisions and manufacturers' drug promotions directed to doctors. Why GAO Did This Study Drug manufacturers use advertising on television and in other media to promote the use of their drugs to consumers and to encourage them to visit their doctors for more information. From 2016 through 2018, the Medicare program and beneficiaries spent $560 billion on drugs, and spending is projected to increase with the use of newer, more expensive drugs and an increase in beneficiaries. GAO was asked to examine DTCA and Medicare spending on advertised drugs. This report examines (1) drug manufacturer spending on DTCA; (2) Medicare spending on advertised drugs; and (3) changes in DTCA spending and Medicare use and spending for selected drugs. GAO analyzed DTCA spending data from Nielsen Media, and Medicare Parts B and D Drug Spending Dashboard data, from 2016 through 2018 (the most recent available data at the time of GAO's analysis). GAO also analyzed DTCA spending and Medicare data for a non-generalizable selection of four advertised drugs over a longer period—from 2010 through 2018. The four drugs were selected to reflect differences in DTCA and Medicare spending, beneficiary use, and medical conditions treated. GAO also interviewed or obtained information from officials representing 14 stakeholder groups (including research, trade, and physician organizations; and drug manufacturers of the four selected drugs) about DTCA spending and drug use and spending. The Department of Health and Human Services provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact John Dicken at (202) 512-7114 or dickenj@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has partially implemented selected leading practices to manage the work necessary to maintain and modernize the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile. GAO found that NNSA is in the early stages of initiating its portfolio management processes and has partially implemented leading practices, such as establishing a clearly defined portfolio of work. For example, NNSA officials stated that its Weapons Activities appropriations account is a portfolio of work. However, NNSA has not developed clearly defined and appropriately empowered governance roles, such as a portfolio manager, for its Weapons Activities portfolio. As NNSA continues to develop its approach to portfolio management, establishing a portfolio management framework—consistent with selected leading practices—may allow NNSA to fully implement all leading practices, better define how program offices will pursue strategic stockpile modernization objectives, and optimize portfolio performance in the event that budget trade-offs become necessary. NNSA's offices have undertaken four separate efforts to identify and assess the capabilities needed across the nuclear security enterprise to meet its stockpile maintenance and modernization mission, but NNSA has not developed a comprehensive or complete capability assessment that could support its portfolio management approach (see fig.). NNSA undertook three of these four independent efforts to identify and assess capabilities in response to different legislative direction and did not incorporate information on all elements of a capability (knowledge, human capital, and infrastructure) in any of the individual efforts. Working across the agency to conduct a comprehensive, complete capability assessment would provide NNSA with a portfolio-level view of the enterprise's capabilities and needs, allowing for planning that considers interdependencies that have been missed in the past when planning focused on individual programs or projects. Relationship between Capability Assessment and Portfolio Management Why GAO Did This Study NNSA is simultaneously modernizing the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile and the infrastructure on which weapons research and production programs depend. These efforts include multi-billion-dollar defense programs and projects that provide the capabilities needed for maintenance and modernization programs. Congress previously directed NNSA to identify its needed capabilities. The Senate report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 includes a provision for GAO to review NNSA's approach to managing its defense programs and to identifying capabilities. This report examines the extent to which NNSA (1) used selected portfolio management leading practices to manage its maintenance and modernization programs and projects and (2) developed a comprehensive and complete capability assessment to support portfolio management. GAO reviewed NNSA documentation related to portfolio management and capabilities and compared it with leading practices and legislative requirements. GAO also interviewed NNSA officials from six agency offices.
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    In U.S GAO News
    GAO performed 31 covert tests to selected sales representatives and stated that we had pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, and we requested coverage for these conditions to see if the sales representative directed GAO's undercover agents to a comprehensive Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)-compliant plan, or a PPACA-exempt plan that does not cover what we requested. As part of these tests, GAO gauged whether sales representatives engaged in potentially deceptive practices, such as making false or misleading statements about coverage or omitting material information about coverage. The results of the covert tests ranged from sales representatives appropriately explaining to GAO's undercover agents that a PPACA-exempt plan would not cover the pre-existing condition the undercover agents stated that they had, to engaging in potentially deceptive marketing practices that misrepresented or omitted information about the products they were selling. Specifically, in 21 of 31 covert tests, the sales representative appropriately referred undercover agents to a PPACA-compliant plan. In two of 31 covert tests, the sales representatives did not appear to engage in deceptive marketing practices but were not always consistent or clear in their explanation of the type of coverage and plans they were selling. In the remaining eight of 31 covert tests, the sales representatives engaged in potentially deceptive marketing practices, such as claiming the pre-existing condition was covered when the health plan documents GAO received after purchase said otherwise. GAO plans to refer these eight cases of potential deceptive marketing practices to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and corresponding state insurance commissioners' offices for follow-up as appropriate. Millions of Americans obtain health insurance coverage in the individual market, which consists mainly of private plans sold directly to consumers without access to group coverage. While generally regulated by states, starting in 2014, PPACA established a number of new federal requirements for the individual health insurance market. For example, PPACA prohibited insurers from excluding coverage or charging higher premiums for pre-existing conditions and required that individual market plans cover a set of essential health benefits, including coverage for mental health and substance abuse disorder services, prescription drugs, and maternity and newborn care. Certain types of health coverage arrangements that can be sold directly to consumers do not have to comply with some or all of PPACA's individual market requirements and, as a result, may be less expensive, but also offer more limited benefits compared to PPACA-compliant plans. Recent changes to federal law and regulations could result in the increased use of PPACA-exempt health coverage arrangements as alternatives to PPACA-compliant plans in the individual market. For example, in 2018, federal regulations expanded the availability of short term, limited duration insurance (STLDI) plans, a type of PPACA-exempt arrangement. In addition, starting January 1, 2019, individuals who fail to maintain "minimum essential coverage," as required by PPACA, no longer face a tax penalty. Further, the devastating economic effects of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic could create additional demand for affordable health coverage, including PPACA-exempt plans.  With these changes, and because of their lower relative costs, PPACA-exempt health coverage arrangements may be attractive to consumers, particularly those who find it difficult to afford PPACA-compliant plans. However, such arrangements generally do not need to follow PPACA's requirement that plans in the individual market be presented to consumers in defined categories outlining the extent to which they are expected to cover medical care. As a result, depending on how they are marketed and sold, PPACA-exempt arrangements could present risks for consumers, if, for example, they buy them mistakenly believing that coverage is as comprehensive as for PPACA-compliant plans. GAO was asked to obtain insights on the marketing and sales practices of insurance sales representatives who sell PPACA-exempt plans. In this report, GAO describes the results of covert tests we conducted involving selected sales representatives, when contacted by individuals stating that they had pre-existing conditions. In this regard, GAO agents performed a number of covert tests (i.e., undercover phone calls) from November 2019 through January 2020 posing as individuals needing to purchase health insurance to cover pre-existing conditions. GAO also discussed the marketing and oversight of PPACA-exempt arrangements with senior officials from federal agencies, including the FTC, and Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as well as the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)5. GAO provided a draft of this product to FTC, HHS, and NAIC for review and comment. FTC, HHS, and NAIC provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. HHS provided additional written comments on a draft of this report. For more information, contact Seto Bagdoyan at (202)-6722 or bagdoyans@gao.gov.
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