Special Representative Khalilzad Travels to Qatar, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan

Office of the Spokesperson

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad departed for travel to South and Central Asia as well as the Middle East on July 9.  

In his travel, Ambassador Khalilzad will continue to engage in determined diplomacy and the pursuit of a peace agreement between the Islamic Republic and the Taliban. As part of the United States’ ongoing support of the peace process, he will work with all parties and with regional and international stakeholders to further advance a consensus on a political settlement. 

Political accommodation on the part of all sides remains urgent. The sooner the sides can agree to a negotiated settlement, the sooner Afghanistan and the region can reap the benefits of peace, including expanded regional connectivity, trade, and development.

In Tashkent, Ambassador Khalilzad will participate in an international conference hosted by the Government of Uzbekistan on regional connectivity.

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    What GAO Found In fiscal year 2020, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) made progress toward achieving its delivery and testing goals for some of the individual systems—known as elements—that combine and integrate to create the Missile Defense System (also known as the Ballistic Missile Defense System). However, MDA did not complete its overall planned deliveries or annual testing. The figure below shows MDA's progress delivering assets and conducting flight tests against its fiscal year 2020 plans. Percentage of Missile Defense Agency Planned Deliveries and Flight Tests Completed for Fiscal Year 2020 Deliveries— In fiscal year 2020, MDA delivered many assets it had planned. Specifically, MDA was able to deliver 82 missile interceptors for 3 elements. However, MDA was not able to deliver all planned interceptors, including one originally planned for 2018 for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program, as the program experienced delays related to qualifying parts from a new supplier. Flight testing— MDA conducted two planned flight tests, but neither was successful. The issues were due to problems with non-MDA assets, but the agency was able to collect important data. In addition, COVID-19 restrictions also affected the planned schedule. However, the delays continue a trend of MDA's inability to conduct planned annual flight testing, resulting in assets and capabilities that are subsequently delayed or delivered with less data than planned. Ground testing— In fiscal year 2020, MDA continued to implement a new ground testing approach that the agency began in fiscal year 2019. In addition, MDA successfully completed three planned ground tests demonstrating defense capabilities for the U.S., U.S. forces and regional allies. However, MDA delayed two other ground tests to future fiscal years and expects disruptions in fiscal year 2021, in part due to ongoing COVID-19 disruptions. Cyber— Despite failing to meet annual operational cybersecurity assessments since 2017, MDA canceled its planned fiscal year 2020 operational assessments, instead taking steps to implement a new approach designed to improve cyber system requirements while streamlining cyber test planning. It is premature to assess whether this new approach will achieve its intended goals. Why GAO Did This Study For over half a century, the Department of Defense has funded efforts to defend the U.S. from ballistic missile attacks. This effort consists of diverse and highly complex land-, sea-, and space-based systems and assets located across the globe. From 2002 through 2019, MDA—the agency charged with developing, testing, integrating, and fielding this system of systems—received about $162.5 billion. The agency also requested about $45 billion from fiscal year 2020 through fiscal year 2024. In fiscal year 2020, MDA's mission broadened to include evolving threats beyond ballistic missiles such as defending against hypersonic missile attacks. With the inclusion of non-ballistic missile threats, the Ballistic Missile Defense System is in the process of transitioning to the Missile Defense System. Congress included a provision in statute that GAO annually assess and report on MDA's progress. This, our 18th annual review, addresses the progress MDA made in achieving fiscal year 2020 delivery and testing goals. GAO reviewed planned fiscal year 2020 baselines, along with program changes due to COVID-19 restrictions, and other program documentation and assessed them against responses to GAO detailed question sets and program and baseline reviews. GAO also interviewed officials from MDA and various Department of Defense Combatant Commands. We do not make any new recommendations in this report but continue to track the status of prior recommendations. For more information, contact John D. Sawyer at (202) 512-4841 or SawyerJ@gao.gov.
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    Why This Matters Air quality sensors are essential to measuring and studying pollutants that can harm public health and the environment. Technological improvements have led to smaller, more affordable sensors as well as satellite-based sensors with new capabilities. However, ensuring the quality and appropriate interpretation of sensor data can be challenging. The Technology What is it? Air quality sensors monitor gases, such as ozone, and particulate matter, which can harm human health and the environment. Federal, state, and local agencies jointly manage networks of stationary air quality monitors that make use of sensors. These monitors are expensive and require supporting infrastructure. Officials use the resulting data to decide how to address pollution or for air quality alerts, including alerts during wildfires or on days with unhealthy ozone levels. However, these networks can miss pollution at smaller scales and in rural areas. They generally do not measure air toxics—more localized pollutants that may cause cancer and chronic health effects—such as ethylene oxide and toxic metals. Two advances in sensor technologies may help close these gaps. First, newer low-cost sensors can now be deployed virtually anywhere, including on fences, cars, drones, and clothing (see fig. 1). Researchers, individuals, community groups, and private companies have started to deploy these more affordable sensors to improve their understanding of a variety of environmental and public health concerns. Second, federal agencies have for decades operated satellites with sensors that monitor air quality to understand weather patterns and inform research. Recent satellite launches deployed sensors with enhanced air monitoring capabilities, which researchers have begun to use in studies of pollution over large areas. Figure 1. There are many types of air quality sensors, including government-operated ground-level and satellite-based sensors, as well as low-cost commercially available sensors that can now be used on a variety of platforms, such as bicycles, cars, trucks, and drones. How does it work? Low-cost sensors use a variety of methods to measure air quality, including lasers to estimate the number and size of particles passing through a chamber and meters to estimate the amount of a gas passing through the sensor. The sensors generally use algorithms to convert raw data into useful measurements (see fig. 2). The algorithms may also adjust for temperature, humidity and other conditions that affect sensor measurements. Higher-quality devices can have other features that improve results, such as controlling the temperature of the air in the sensors to ensure measurements are consistent over time. Sensors can measure different aspects of air quality depending on how they are deployed. For example, stationary sensors measure pollution in one location, while mobile sensors, such as wearable sensors carried by an individual, reflect exposure at multiple locations. Satellite-based sensors generally measure energy reflected or emitted from the earth and the atmosphere to identify pollutants between the satellite and the ground. Some sensors observe one location continuously, while others observe different parts of the earth over time. Multiple sensors can be deployed in a network to track the formation, movement, and variability of pollutants and to improve the reliability of measurements. Combining data from multiple sensors can increase their usefulness, but it also increases the expertise needed to interpret the measurements, especially if data come from different types of sensors. Figure 2. A low-cost sensor pulls air in to measure pollutants and stores information for further study. How mature is it? Sensors originally developed for specific applications, such as monitoring air inside a building, are now smaller and more affordable. As a result, they can now be used in many ways to close gaps in monitoring and research. For example, local governments can use them to monitor multiple sources of air pollution affecting a community, and scientists can use wearable sensors to study the exposure of research volunteers. However, low-cost sensors have limitations. They operate with fewer quality assurance measures than government-operated sensors and vary in the quality of data they produce. It is not yet clear how newer sensors should be deployed to provide the most benefit or how the data should be interpreted. Some low-cost sensors carry out calculations using artificial intelligence algorithms that the designers cannot always explain, making it difficult to interpret varying sensor performance. Further, they typically measure common pollutants, such as ozone and particulate matter. There are hundreds of air toxics for which additional monitoring using sensors could be beneficial. However, there may be technical or other challenges that make it impractical to do so. Older satellite-based sensors typically provided infrequent and less detailed data. But newer sensors offer better data for monitoring air quality, which could help with monitoring rural areas and pollution transport, among other benefits. However, satellite-based sensor data can be difficult to interpret, especially for pollution at ground level. In addition, deployed satellite-based sensor technologies currently only measure a few pollutants, including particulate matter, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide. Opportunities Improved research on health effects. The ability to track personal exposure and highly localized pollution could improve assessments of public health risks. Expanded monitoring. More dense and widespread monitoring could help identify pollution sources and hot spots, in both urban and rural areas. Enhanced air quality management. Combined measurements from stationary, mobile, and satellite-based sensors can help officials understand and mitigate major pollution issues, such as ground-level ozone and wildfire smoke. Community engagement. Lower cost sensors open up new possibilities for community engagement and citizen science, which is when the public conducts or participates in the scientific process, such as by making observations, collecting and sharing data, and conducting experiments. Challenges Performance. Low-cost sensors have highly variable performance that is not well understood, and their algorithms may not be transparent. Low-cost sensors operated by different users or across different locations may have inconsistent measurements. Interpretation. Expertise may be needed to interpret sensor data. For example, sensors produce data in real time that may be difficult to interpret without health standards for short-term exposures. Data management. Expanded monitoring will create large amounts of data with inconsistent formatting, which will have to be stored and managed. Alignment with needs. Few of the current low-cost and satellite-based sensors measure air toxics. In addition, low-income communities, which studies show are disproportionally harmed by air pollution, may still face challenges deploying low-cost sensors. Policy Context and Questions How can policymakers leverage new opportunities for widespread monitoring, such as citizen science, while also promoting appropriate use and interpretation of data? How can data from a variety of sensors be integrated to better understand air quality issues, such as environmental justice concerns, wildfires, and persistent ozone problems? How can research and development efforts be aligned to produce sensors to monitor key pollutants that are not widely monitored, such as certain air toxics? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.
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