Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Nino Scalia of Madison’s Notes Podcast

Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State

Via Teleconference

QUESTION:  Hello and welcome back to Madison’s Notes.  I’m your host, Nino Scalia, and we have with us today two very distinguished guests who truly need no introduction:  Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon, the chair of the U.S. Department of State’s Commission on Unalienable Rights.

Professor Glendon, Secretary Pompeo, welcome to Madison’s Notes.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Great, thank you.  Good to be with you.

AMBASSADOR GLENDON:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Secretary Pompeo, I’d like to begin with you, and I’d like to take us back to July 8th, 2019.  On that day, you announced the establishment of the Department of State’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, and to my knowledge, this was unprecedented for a secretary of state to commission such a study of the principles informing our approach to human rights and foreign policy.  So tell us, why did you choose to establish this commission?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Nino, I’d say two things.  One was I had observed that the central understandings about human rights that had come to be widely adhered to over time, that regime was in crisis and I wanted to see if there were things that the United States couldn’t do to right that ship.  And then second, I had seen that even in American foreign policy, it was a model that was – it was a bit of a mess because it wasn’t – the way the United States approached this problem set with respect to human rights had become unmoored from the American tradition and even a central understanding of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

And so I asked Professor Glendon and some others to join me in trying to identify the principles that made the American rights tradition distinctive and why they mattered, and then second, to place that in the context of the work that we do all around the world and help identify those principles that might begin to resolve this crisis in human rights that I had observed.

QUESTION:  Sure.  And this commission was not a monolith.  Sitting on this commission were men and women representing a wide variety of religious and philosophical backgrounds, certainly with different political opinions.

Professor Glendon, as I mentioned, you served as chair of this commission, so I’m curious, what sort of effect did being able to draw from these different perspectives have on the process of drafting the report and on the final report itself?

AMBASSADOR GLENDON:  As you may imagine, Nino, the commission’s diversity led to some pretty lively discussions.  We are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents like myself.  We were of different races, ethnic and religious backgrounds.  And like other Americans, we have different views on the hot-button issues of the day.  But we all shared one conviction, and that is that there is an urgent need for the United States to vigorously champion human rights in its foreign policy.

And in the end, those different perspectives enriched the report that I believe will advance that goal and even have – inspire other countries to do the same, especially liberal democracies that lately have had a tendency to subordinate human rights considerations to other interests.

QUESTION:  Let’s talk about whether or not we’ve seen other countries answer this call.  In August of 2020, the commission’s final report was released.  Secretary Pompeo, what impact has the commission’s report had so far?  Have you seen evidence that other nations, perhaps especially other liberal democracies, are willing to more vigorously defend these unalienable rights?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, Nino, it’s still pretty early, but we’ve received lots of responses.  I’ll characterize them maybe this way:  First, we received a lot of feedback – you might even call it prebuttals – from some of the traditional organizations that fancy themselves the forebearers of the human rights tradition.  They were very concerned about what we were doing.  They were concerned that it would – the Trump administration that was engaged in this, I think.

And I’d urge everybody who gets a chance to hear this to go read the report.  I think they will be heartened by what Professor Glendon said, the diversity of thought that went into this that actually seriously undertook a principled review of the American human rights tradition and how America must lead on this across the world.

And so the after-effects of the report coming out have been really remarkable.  We’ve seen nations from Europe, from Africa, from Southeast Asia.  Professor Glendon and I had the joy to travel to Indonesia now, goodness, a handful of weeks back and to watch them appreciate the work that we had done.  And we can talk about this more:  Every nation has its own tradition with respect to human rights.  Every nation has a unique founding and creation.  We honor that here, the sovereignty of every country, but what we set down were these markers, these things that are unalienable, as our founders described them, because they’re different from other rights.  They’re the most fundamental rights.  They’re the things that are natural rights, because every human being has dignity, and we’ve seen other nations take that and begin to place it in their human rights tradition.  And I am hopeful that in the months and years ahead, the work that we did will provide a guide star, a North Star for them to consider their own nations’ human rights tradition and work alongside the United States to further that.

QUESTION:  Wonderful.  And Professor Glendon, you have experience as a diplomat yourself, having served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, and now you’ve been at the vanguard, so to speak, in sharing this report.  Secretary Pompeo there mentioned your trip to Indonesia.  And the Secretary is right that it is early, but what have you seen so far?  What impact have you seen?

AMBASSADOR GLENDON:  Well, there are a couple of very recent and particularly gratifying developments.  One is that the world’s largest network of political parties, Centrist Democrat International – formerly the Christian Democrat International – has adopted a resolution commending the report, and it is currently organizing several events to showcase the report in various countries around the world in 2021.  And in fact, we’ve just received a letter from the president of that organization saying that they unreservedly embrace our report.

Another potentially very important endorsement is from the world’s largest independent Muslim organization.  This is a 90-million-member Indonesia-based group that supports religious freedom and condemns the use of religion as a pretext for violence.  And as the Secretary mentioned, it sponsored a conference on the report in Jakarta where the Secretary and I had the chance to speak and exchange views with the movement’s leadership, and they too are interested in following up with further dialogue in 2021.

QUESTION:  That’s tremendous.  That’s tremendous.  Descending now from unalienable rights generally to a specific unalienable right:  Secretary Pompeo, you’ve made clear that defending religious freedom must remain at the core of American foreign policy.  That’s your phrasing.  Why has this been a priority of yours, and what successes do you point to?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  We have at the State Department during my tenure prioritized this work because it is something that transcends any single nation, but in fact honors the sovereignty of these countries, but demands of them the simple task that they permit the people of their nation, their citizens, to practice their faith – or not to practice their faith, as they see fit.

If you get this part right, Nino, if you get religious freedom right across the world – something that frankly too many places don’t have today – if you get it right, these nations will be stronger.  They’ll be better partners and allies for the United States.  There will be less conflict.  I believe this deeply.  Our Founders understood that it should be placed in the First Amendment to our constitution, because it promotes not merely toleration for a diversity of faith and forms of worship, but welcomes persons of all faiths and citizens.  This is a central understanding.  We’ve created a wonderful forum at the State Department that we do annually now called the Religious Freedom Ministerial, where we bring in hundreds and hundreds of people – the largest human rights gatherings in the history of the State Department – from all faiths to come and talk about their country and how they can expand the capacity for their people to have religious freedom.  This will benefit the United States and our national security, and I am very confident we’ll make the world a more prosperous, safer place.

QUESTION:  And Professor Glendon, you’ve long written and spoken about the importance of religious freedom.  What can you say about the importance of the United States defending this most fundamental right in our foreign policy, and what successes of this administration and Secretary Pompeo’s State Department stand out to you in this field?

AMBASSADOR GLENDON:  Well, the first thing to point out is that for many years, religious freedom was often regularly ordinated to other interests in U.S. foreign policy despite clear direction from Congress in 1998 – a unanimous Congress, by the way – that religious freedom should have a special role in U.S. foreign policy.  Secretary Pompeo’s measures, the ministerials leading to an international cooperative religious freedom alliance, are tremendously important because one country speaking alone doesn’t command as much attention as a unified position.

So these measures have been a giant step toward delivering on the obligation imposed by Congress and toward restoring religious freedom to its proper place among other unalienable rights.  And just in time, because gross violations of religious freedom are at their highest level in many years.

QUESTION:  Secretary Pompeo, as was mentioned, you asked the commission to ground its work in part in the principles of the American founding.  And this commitment to America’s founding principles is also readily apparent in your speeches.  How do America’s founding principles inform her foreign policy today?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  They’re what makes us unique.  As I travel the world as the Secretary of State for the United States, it’s why leaders around the world want to see me.  They appreciate that our country, the civilization founded here in the United States, our culture, our founding traditions are things that they want to grab a hold of, they want to aspire to them.  Even with some countries that you might not think that are authoritarian regimes, they understand that this American experience teaches that while human rights is a never-ending struggle, it’s something that they want to hang onto and grasp.

So it’s really important that we don’t walk away from that and that leaders in America speak to our founding.

There is a counter-narrative that has been proposed by some here in the United States, not just recently but for a long time, about fatal flaws in our tradition and in our founding.  I reject that wholeheartedly.  We are an imperfect nation.  That’s why our founders talked about moving towards a more perfect union.  But make no mistake about it, this remains a nation that was founded on a set of principles that are unique and are wonderful and are blessed, and this Judeo-Christian tradition that America has we must hold on to, and we should speak about it as we engage with our counterparts around the world to help them understand our tradition and to help them find ways that they can help create an expansive space for human dignity in their countries as well.

QUESTION:  You said there that we must hold on to this tradition.  Unfortunately today, it seems that many Americans are no longer holding on to that tradition or, as you mentioned, maybe they just think this tradition was no good to begin with.  So Secretary Pompeo, what are the risks both to America and to the world if Americans stray from or lose faith in our founding principles?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  America has always been a beacon.  President Reagan talked about it being that special place.  It is the case that the United States is a nation that all countries look to.  They want to see that we honor the commitments that we have made to our history and to our traditions so that they can do the same inside of their countries, and they can see that the path towards improvement for improving the lives of their own people is one that America has understood the capacity for our little communities, right – our PTA boards and our school boards, our little league teams, our churches all across America – those are the things that have made America this special place.  They’re the things that both fundamentally protect our human rights in democratic states and human dignity.

If we walk away from those things, if we step away – and Professor Glendon operates a true mission field at America’s – in a – one of America’s elite educational institutions.  These are places we must protect.  We have to get back to this idea that America is this special place.  It is the greatest nation in the history of civilization.  And when we do that, nations around the world will want to be our friends, our trading partners, our security partners, all the things that protect and create prosperity here at home in America.

QUESTION:  Professor Glendon, these unalienable rights are central to the American tradition, right?  It’s right there in our Declaration of Independence:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”  And of course, this was a focal point of the commission’s work.

Professor Glendon, how do we know that these unalienable rights exist?

AMBASSADOR GLENDON:  Interestingly, as you’ve mentioned, our Declaration of Independence declares that these unalienable rights are self-evident, but after two devastating world wars, the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights spoke rather of affirming faith in human rights.  But underlying both of those approaches is a very old experience-based insight that goes all the way back to antiquity that if there are no rights that exist independently of the sovereign, then we are in a world where the strong do what they will and the weak and the vulnerable suffer the consequences.

QUESTION:  Secretary Pompeo, we know that you’re busy, so we have just one final question for you:  So many Americans today are anxious, anxious about our standing in the world, anxious about our domestic politics.  You’ve served our country for almost your entire adult life – in the Army, as a congressman, director of the CIA, and now as Secretary of State.  What would you say to these Americans who are so anxious about where our nation is today?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Look, I would remind them that America is a rambunctious place.  It always has been.  When I was a congressman, people would say it’s just – it’s nastier than it’s always been.  I would remind them that no congressman had actually pulled a firearm on another congressman in a couple hundred years, so we should always be careful about characterizing today as the worst of all time.  It’s a little too naive.

But the truth of the matter is Americans should be concerned about it and should use that concern to take effective action.  Each of us has a responsibility to our families, to our local communities, all the places that truly make a difference, where you can go – any American citizen can go knit the small platoons together in the most important ways.

I have enormous confidence in America.  As I have traveled in these now two and a half years-plus as America’s Secretary of State, I’ve watched – when I land, I’ve watched these leaders around the world want to understand what’s going on in America, to – they appreciate what’s going on in America, they look to us to lead, and we must get it right here at home to do that.  We have to return to the central understandings that have made America so special.  And when we do that, and I am very confident that we will, I’m confident that the tradition on which this nation was founded will carry us forward and we will continue to be a beacon to those that – who are oppressed and those living difficult lives around the world for years and years to come.

QUESTION:  Well, Secretary Pompeo, you’ve done wonderful work so far.  I know there is still work to be done.  So cognizant of your time, we’ll draw to a close here.

Our guests today have been Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mary Ann Glendon, the chair of the U.S. Department of State’s Commission on Unalienable Rights.  Professor Glendon, Secretary Pompeo, thank you so much for joining us today on Madison’s Notes.

AMBASSADOR GLENDON:  Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Nino, thank you.  Mary Ann, thank you, too.  So long.

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    For over a decade, Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom (UK) have developed and implemented national approaches—including strategies, laws, and policies—to support family caregivers, according to experts GAO interviewed. Specifically, experts noted that these efforts could help caregivers maintain workforce attachment, supplement lost income, and save for retirement. As a result, their retirement security could improve. For example, experts said: Care leave allows employees to take time away from work for caregiving responsibilities. Australia's and Germany's policies allow for paid leave (10 days per year of work or instance of caregiving need, respectively), and all three countries allow for unpaid leave though the duration varies. Caregivers can receive income for time spent caregiving. Australia and the UK provide direct payments to those who qualify. Germany provides indirect payments, whereby the care recipient receives an allowance, which they can pass on to their caregiver. Other Countries' Policies to Support Caregivers Experts in all three countries cited some challenges with caregiver support policies. For example, paid leave is not available to all workers in Germany, such as those who work for small firms. In Australia and the UK, experts said eligibility requirements for direct payments (e.g., limits on hours worked or earnings) can make it difficult for someone to work outside their caregiving role. Experts in all three countries said caregivers may be unaware of available supports. For example, identifying caregivers is a challenge in Australia and the UK. As required under the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) convened the Family Caregiving Advisory Council (FCAC)—a stakeholder group that is to jointly develop a national family caregiving strategy. As of July 2020, HHS and the FCAC reported limited information on other countries' approaches, and neither entity had concrete plans to collect more. In September 2020, HHS officials provided sources they recently reviewed on selected policies in other countries, and they further noted that HHS staff, FCAC members, and collaborating partners have subject-matter expertise and bring perspectives about other countries' efforts into their discussions. Family caregivers play a critical role in supporting the elderly population, which is growing at a rapid rate worldwide. However, those who provide eldercare may risk their own long-term financial security. Other countries have implemented policies to support caregivers. In recognition of challenges caregivers face in the United States, Congress directed HHS, in consultation with other federal entities, to develop a national family caregiving strategy. GAO was asked to provide information about other countries' efforts that could improve the retirement security of parental and spousal caregivers. This report examines (1) other countries' approaches to support family members who provide eldercare, (2) challenges of these approaches, and (3) the status of HHS' efforts to develop a national family caregiving strategy. GAO conducted case studies of three countries—Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom—selected based on factors including rates of informal care (i.e., help provided to older family members or friends) and the types of policies they have that could improve caregivers' retirement security. GAO interviewed government officials and experts and reviewed relevant federal laws, research, and documents. GAO's draft report recommended that HHS collect additional information about other countries' experiences. In response, in September 2020, HHS provided an update on its efforts to do so. As a result, GAO removed the recommendation and modified the report accordingly. For more information, contact Tranchau (Kris) T. Nguyen at or nguyentt@gao.gov.
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  • Nuclear Weapons: NNSA Plans to Modernize Critical Depleted Uranium Capabilities and Improve Program Management
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Energy's (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is taking steps to establish a new supply of high-purity depleted uranium (DU) to modernize the nuclear weapons stockpile. DU for fabrication of weapons components must be in high-purity metal form. Producing DU metal generally involves first converting a byproduct of uranium enrichment, known as “tails,” into a salt “feedstock,” which is then converted into metal. (See figure.) To reestablish a supply of feedstock, NNSA plans to install conversion equipment in an existing facility at DOE's Portsmouth site in Ohio. DOE initially estimated costs of $12 million to $18 million to design and install the equipment, with operations beginning in fiscal year 2022. However, in March 2020, NNSA requested an increase in conversion capacity, and an updated proposal in July 2020 estimated costs of $38 million to $48 million and a slight delay to the start of operations. NNSA plans to convert the feedstock into DU metal using a commercial vendor at a cost of about $27 million annually. Conversion of a Byproduct of Uranium Enrichment into Metal NNSA is also taking steps to reestablish and modernize DU component manufacturing capabilities, but it risks delays that could affect the timelines of nuclear stockpile modernization programs, according to officials. NNSA has reestablished processes for manufacturing some DU components but not for components made with a DU-niobium alloy, a material for which NNSA has no alternative. Thus, restarting the alloying process—a complicated, resource-intensive process that has not been done in over a decade—is NNSA's top priority for DU and presents a very high risk to timely supply of components for certain nuclear stockpile modernization programs, according to NNSA documents and officials. NNSA is also developing more efficient manufacturing technologies, in part because the current alloyed component process wastes a very high percentage of the materials and NNSA cannot recycle the waste. For its DU activities, NNSA has requested an increase in funding from about $61 million in fiscal year 2020 to about $131 million in fiscal year 2021. Until recently, NNSA had not managed DU activities as a coherent program in a manner fully consistent with NNSA program management policies. Since October 2019, however, NNSA has taken actions to improve program management. For example, NNSA has consolidated management and funding sources for DU activities under a new office and DU Modernization program with the goal of better coordinating across the nuclear security enterprise. Further, NNSA appointed two dedicated Federal Program Managers to gather and organize information for required program management and planning documents. High-purity DU is an important strategic material for ongoing and planned modernizations of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile. However, according to NNSA estimates, NNSA has a very limited supply of DU feedstock, and its current supply of DU metal will be exhausted in the late 2020s. NNSA also does not have the full range of capabilities needed to manufacture DU into weapon components needed for modernizing the stockpile. GAO has previously reported that NNSA has experienced challenges in restarting some technical manufacturing processes. A Senate committee report accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 included a provision for GAO to examine NNSA's management of DU for nuclear stockpile modernization. GAO's report examines (1) the status of NNSA's efforts to obtain the necessary quantities of DU to meet stockpile modernization requirements; (2) the status of NNSA efforts to develop DU component manufacturing capabilities to meet stockpile modernization requirements; and (3) the extent to which NNSA is managing DU activities as a program, consistent with agency policy. GAO reviewed relevant agency documents; interviewed NNSA officials and contractor representatives; and conducted site visits at headquarters and at research, development, and production locations. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken steps to track reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault involving its federal civilian employees, but its visibility over both types of incidents is hindered by guidance and information-sharing challenges. While employees may not report all incidents for a variety of reasons, DOD also lacks visibility over those incidents that have been reported. For example, from fiscal years 2015 through 2019, DOD recorded 370 civilian employees as victims of sexual assault and 199 civilian employees as alleged offenders. However, these data do not include all incidents of sexual assault reported over this time period. Specifically, based on DOD guidance, examples of incidents that could be excluded from these data include those involving civilian employee victims (1) occurring in the continental United States, (2) employed by DOD components other than the military services, such as defense agencies, and (3) who are also military dependents. Without guidance that addresses these areas, DOD does not know the extent to which its civilian workforce has reported work-related sexual assault worldwide. Number of Department of Defense Federal Civilian Employees Recorded as Victims or Alleged Offenders in Reported Sexual Assault Incidents, Fiscal Years 2015-2019 While DOD has developed policies and procedures to respond to and resolve sexual harassment and sexual assault incidents involving federal civilian employees, gaps exist. For example, DOD issued guidance in June 2020 directing components to establish anti-harassment programs, but it lacks details regarding how such programs should be structured. Without clarifying guidance, components can establish programs that do not align with U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance for model anti-harassment programs. Additionally, GAO found that DOD civilian employees' ability to make restricted reports of sexual assault—confidential disclosures that do not initiate official investigations, but allow the victim to receive DOD-provided sexual assault support services—varies across components. According to DOD officials, they have not taken action to resolve this variation due to conflicts with federal statute, among other things. By reporting to and requesting any needed actions from Congress to resolve any conflicts with statute, the department can alleviate such inconsistencies and minimize legal risks for DOD components. With nearly 900,000 federal civilian employees around the world, DOD has responsibilities for preventing and responding to sexual harassment and assault within its workforce. In fiscal year 2018, DOD estimated that about 49,700 civilian employees experienced sexual harassment and about 2,500 civilian employees experienced work-related sexual assault in the prior year. House Report 116-120 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's prevention of and response to sexual harassment and assault involving DOD federal civilian employees. GAO's report examines, among other things, the extent to which DOD has (1) visibility over such reported incidents, and (2) developed and implemented policies and procedures to respond to and resolve these incidents. GAO reviewed policies and guidance; analyzed program data from fiscal years 2015 through 2019; interviewed officials at a nongeneralizable sample of five military installations; evaluated DOD training materials; and interviewed DOD, service, and civilian officials. GAO is making 19 recommendations, including that DOD issue guidance for comprehensive tracking of civilian work-related sexual assaults, enhance guidance on the structure of anti-harassment programs for civilians, and report to and request any needed actions from Congress on the ability of civilian employees to make restricted reports of sexual assault. As discussed in the report, DOD generally concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or farrellb@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    According to the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) data for fiscal years 1995 through 2018, nine airport owners—also known as “airport sponsors”—lawfully diverted airport revenue amounts ranging from $0 to over $840 million by a sponsor in 1 year. These “grandfathered” airport sponsors are currently exempt from federal requirements to use all airport revenue solely for airport purposes (see figure). Together, these sponsors own 32 airports serving millions of passengers a year. Five of these sponsors are city or state governments, which regularly diverted airport revenue into their general funds for government programs and services. Four of these sponsors are transportation authorities, which diverted varying amounts for various transportation-related purposes, such as supporting maritime ports or transit systems. Three of the transportation authorities also secured bonds using revenue from their various activities, including airport revenue, to finance airport and non-airport assets. Airport Sponsors That Have Reported Grandfathered Revenue Diversion, as of 2018 According to selected stakeholders, a repeal of grandfathered revenue diversion would have complex legal and financial implications for transportation authorities. Transportation authority officials said that a repeal would inherently reduce their flexibility to use revenues across their assets and could lead to a default of their outstanding bonds if airport revenues could no longer be used to service debt; exempting outstanding bonds could alleviate some financial concerns. For city and state government sponsors, a loss in general fund revenue could result in reduced government services, though they said a phased-in repeal could help in planning for lost revenue. In 1982, a federal law was enacted that imposed constraints on the use of airport revenue (e.g., concessions, parking fees, and airlines' landing fees), prohibiting “diversion” for non-airport purposes in order to ensure use on airport investment and improvement. However, the law exempted “grandfathered” airport sponsors—those with state or local laws providing for such diversion—from this prohibition. Viewpoints vary on whether these airport sponsors should be allowed to continue to lawfully divert revenue. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 provides for GAO to examine grandfathered airport revenue diversion. This report examines: (1) how much revenue has been diverted annually by grandfathered airport sponsors and how these revenues have been used, and (2) selected stakeholders' perspectives on potential implications of repealing the law allowing revenue diversion. GAO analyzed FAA financial data on grandfathered airports' revenue diversion for fiscal years 1995 through 2018, all years such data were available. GAO also analyzed relevant documents such as state and local laws, and airport sponsors' bond documents. GAO interviewed FAA officials and relevant stakeholders, including officials from nine grandfathered airport sponsors and representatives from bond-rating agencies, airline and airport associations, and airlines that serve grandfathered airports that were selected based on those with the greatest passenger traffic. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or krauseh@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    The interagency process for acquiring private land for border barrier construction along the southwest border involves the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Border Patrol and the Department of Defense's U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) as well as the Department of Justice. The key acquisition steps are (1) identifying the landowners affected by planned barriers, (2) contacting landowners to obtain access to their property for surveying and other due diligence activities, (3) negotiating with landowners, and (4) concluding the acquisition preferably through negotiated purchase or via condemnation. The government may acquire temporary access to or permanent ownership of property by initiating a condemnation proceeding in federal district court. In this judicial process, the government articulates the public use necessitating the acquisition and the estimated compensation for the landowner, among other things. Border Barrier Construction in South Texas GAO's analysis of USACE data shows that, as of July 2020, the federal government acquired 135 private tracts, or sections, of land and is working to acquire 991 additional tracts. The privately owned land the government acquired or is working to acquire totals about 5,275 acres or 8.2 square miles, and most of it—1,090 of 1,126 tracts—is in south Texas. The Border Patrol planned for private land acquisition in south Texas to take 21 to 30 months compared with 12 months for comparable land acquisitions in other regions. Border Patrol estimated private land acquisition in south Texas would take more time due to factors unique to south Texas, including: Barrier placement in south Texas. Additional time is needed for the government to work with landowners to ensure that they have access to and are justly compensated for any negative impact on the value of remaining property between the border barrier and the Rio Grande River, according to Border Patrol officials. Missing or incomplete land records. Border Patrol officials said that it often takes time to identify parties with interest in a tract of land due to missing or incomplete land records. In cases where the government is unable to identify interested parties, the government has to use the condemnation process to resolve title issues and acquire ownership. In January 2017, the President issued Executive Order 13767, which directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to immediately plan, design, and construct a wall or other physical barriers along the southwest border. These new barriers would add to or replace 654 miles of primary pedestrian and vehicular barriers constructed as of fiscal year 2015. Of the nearly 2,000-mile southwest border, roughly 30 percent is federal land. Private, tribal, and state-owned land constitutes the remaining 70 percent of the border. GAO was asked to review the U.S. government's efforts to acquire privately owned land along the southwest border for barrier construction. GAO's review focused on the government's acquisition of private land and did not address acquisition of federal, state, or tribal property. This report examines (1) federal agencies' process for acquiring private land identified for the construction of border barriers and (2) the status of federal acquisition of private land for the barrier construction. GAO reviewed key documents; interviewed Border Patrol, USACE, and Department of Justice officials; and interviewed stakeholder organizations and landowners. GAO also analyzed data on the status of private land acquisition and conducted a site visit to areas in south Texas. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or GamblerR@gao.gov.
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