Nowruz Message

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

 On behalf of the State Department, I would like to extend my best wishes for a Happy Nowruz to everyone around the world who celebrates this festive occasion: from the people in Iran and the Middle East, to Europe, the Caucasus, Central and South Asia, and the Americas.   

 

Marking the first day of Spring, Nowruz is a time to gather with family and friends, enjoy dishes and treats representing the sweetness of life, and reflect on the year that has passed while looking forward to the blessings of the future.  Not being able to be with loved ones is just one of the many challenges that we have all faced as a result of the pandemic.  May the Nowruz spirit of rebirth and renewal guide us all to better days.

 

Nowruz Pirooz!

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  • Housing: Preliminary Analysis of Homeownership Trends for Nine Cities
    In U.S GAO News
    Following a decade of decline, including after the 2007–2009 financial crisis, the national homeownership rate started to recover in 2016 (see figure). Homeownership Rate in the United States, 1990–2018 Note: Shaded areas indicate U.S. recessions. However, not all Americans have benefitted from the recovery, even in housing markets that appear to be thriving. GAO examined homeownership trends during 2010–2018 in nine core-based statistical areas (cities)—Chicago; Cleveland; Columbia, South Carolina; Denver; Houston; Pittsburgh; San Francisco; Seattle; and Washington, D.C. In summary, among the nine cities reviewed, GAO found that during 2010–2018: The homeownership rate declined or was flat in all cities. The homeownership rate significantly declined in Chicago, Cleveland, and Houston and remained statistically unchanged in the other cities. Average home prices grew in all cities, but at considerably different rates. For example, real house prices increased significantly in Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle but much less in Chicago, Cleveland, and Columbia. The homeowner vacancy rate dropped in all cities, indicating growing constraints on the housing supply. Most significantly, by 2018, the three cities with the largest house price increases—Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle—all had homeowner vacancy rates below 1 percent and the three lowest rental vacancy rates (below 5 percent), indicating more severe constraints on supply. Most cities became denser, and some also expanded outward. Cities such as Houston and Washington, D.C., both became denser (added more housing units in developed areas) and expanded outward (added housing units in previously undeveloped areas), while cities such as Seattle and Denver grew largely by adding more density to already high-density areas. Chicago, and Pittsburgh became less dense, as limited growth came largely through outward expansion. Homeowners and recent borrowers were increasingly higher-income. All nine cities saw growth in the estimated number and percentage of households reporting annual incomes of $150,000 or more (the highest income category reported by Census). Similarly, with the exception of Columbia, real median incomes of borrowers increased in the selected cities. Homeowners and recent borrowers were increasingly older and more diverse. Most cities saw growth in homeownership among households aged 60 and older, often with corresponding decreases among younger owners. Additionally, loan originations by minority borrowers increased in all cities. GAO's analysis of homeownership trends in these nine cities during 2010–2018 illustrates two main points: (1) Cities grew differently and accommodated growth to differing degrees, and (2) who owns and who can buy a home differs by location and type of buyer, sometimes substantially. Historically, owning a home has been one of the primary ways Americans built wealth and financial security. This is one reason why the availability and price of housing is consequential to both households and policymakers. GAO was asked to assess the state of the current domestic housing market and this report, one in a series, focuses on homeownership trends. To conduct this work, GAO used data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey and Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data (loan and application data filed by mortgage lenders), among other sources, to identify trends in nine selected cities during 2010–2018, the most current data available at the time of GAO's review. This report examines trends prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and does not account for the profound effect it likely will have on homeowners. GAO has ongoing work that will examine implementation of foreclosure and eviction protections authorized in recent legislation. GAO makes no recommendations in this report. For more information, contact Daniel Garcia-Diaz at (202) 512-8678 or garciadiazd@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Settles Title VII Lawsuit Against Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, Alleging Intentional Discrimination Based on Race
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it has reached a settlement agreement resolving the United States’ claims that Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, and the Tallahatchie County sheriff in his official capacity (collectively, Tallahatchie County), intentionally discriminated against Black deputy sheriffs based on their race, by paying them less than white deputy sheriffs, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
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  • Priority Open Recommendations: Department of Housing and Urban Development
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified 17 priority recommendations for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Since then, HUD has implemented 5 of those recommendations by, among other things, taking actions to help HUD strengthen the monitoring of disaster recovery block grant funds and improving information technology management. In June 2021, GAO identified 1 additional priority recommendation for HUD, bringing the total number to 13. This recommendation involved improving the Real Estate Assessment Center's physical inspection process. The 13 recommendations fall into the following areas: Improve Real Estate Assessment Center's physical inspection process Address Ginnie Mae's risk management and staffing-related challenges Strengthen processes to address lead paint hazards Enhance oversight of Moving to Work Improve cybersecurity risk management and workforce planning practices Improve information technology management HUD's continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact John Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or pendletonj@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Sues Town of Wolcott, Connecticut, for Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit alleging that the Town of Wolcott, Connecticut, has discriminated against persons with disabilities in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
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  • Medicaid: Information on the Use of Electronic Asset Verification to Determine Eligibility for Selected Beneficiaries
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Individuals who receive assistance from the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program may also become eligible for Medicaid. SSI provides cash assistance to eligible individuals who are over age 65, blind, or disabled; and who have limited resources (i.e., assets) and income. Medicaid programs in 42 states and the District of Columbia use the SSI asset limit of $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a married couple. Medicaid programs in the remaining eight states may set an asset limit that differs from the current SSI asset limit. The Social Security Administration (SSA), which administers the SSI program, and state Medicaid programs electronically verify the assets of these individuals when determining financial eligibility: In the 42 states and the District of Columbia that use the SSI asset limit, SSA is the entity that verifies applicants' assets. SSA has two data sources to detect assets among SSI beneficiaries. The first data source is the Access to Financial Institutions initiative. This initiative verifies reported bank accounts and can detect potential undisclosed accounts from financial institutions within geographic proximity of an SSI recipient's residence. The second data source is Non-home Real Property, which uses a commercial data source to help investigate potential ownership of real property other than a primary residence. In the eight states that may set their own asset limits, the state's Medicaid program must verify Medicaid eligibility for SSI recipients using an electronic asset verification system (AVS). An AVS provides a portal between state eligibility systems and banks or other third-party systems with electronic access to financial information. Once a state has an AVS in place, state eligibility workers can submit a request through the portal to perform an asset check for a Medicaid applicant. The request is sent to different financial institutions. A vendor gathers the information from the financial institutions and returns it to the state, and eligibility workers use the information to make an eligibility determination. Some states also use their AVS to check on applicants' property information, which may come from commercial data sources. Why GAO Did This Study GAO was asked to review the use of electronic asset verification to determine eligibility for selected Medicaid beneficiaries. This report provides an overview of what is known about how state Medicaid programs verify assets of applicants who are eligible because they receive SSI, and how SSA verifies assets of SSI applicants, among other issues. To describe what is known about how state Medicaid programs and SSA verify applicants' assets, GAO reviewed its prior work, as well as related research by other organizations. GAO also obtained input from officials from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and SSA; and reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance. The Department of Health and Human Services and SSA reviewed a draft of this report and provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or yocomc@gao.gov.
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  • Florida Doctor Charged in Massive $681 Million Substance Abuse Treatment Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
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  • Private Water Utilities: Actions Needed to Enhance Ownership Data
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Available information on private for-profit drinking water utilities shows that 14 publicly traded companies served customers in 33 states in 2019. However, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) primary source of publicly available information on U.S. drinking water utilities—the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS)—contains ownership information that is limited by inaccuracies. EPA collects information in SDWIS from states but does not include definitions for utility ownership types in its data entry guidance. In addition, EPA takes actions to verify some of the data, but does not verify or correct ownership data. EPA and others use SDWIS for purposes such as analyzing Safe Drinking Water Act violations by type of utility ownership. Such analysis can help EPA and states build utility capacity to provide safe drinking water. By defining ownership types, and verifying and correcting the data in SDWIS, EPA could help ensure the data are accurate and reliable for users of the data and the public. EPA provided over $500 million in Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) assistance to for-profit utilities for 226 projects to help ensure delivery of safe drinking water from January 2010 through June 2020. EPA's Drinking Water SRF program, created under the Safe Drinking Water Act, provides grants to states for low- or no-interest loans or grants to drinking water utilities for infrastructure projects. The amount provided to for-profit water utilities is small, about 2 percent of the $26.5 billion provided overall from January 2010 through June 2020. States That Provided Private For-Profit Utilities with Assistance from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, since January 2010 Why GAO Did This Study The roughly 50,000 drinking water utilities in the United States face steep costs—more than $470 billion over the next 20 years, according to EPA estimates—to repair and replace drinking water infrastructure. These costs are passed on to customers through water rates. States regulate the rates charged by privately owned water utilities. EPA has responsibilities to implement programs to further the health protection objectives of the Safe Drinking Water Act. GAO was asked to review private for-profit drinking water utilities and rates. This report examines, among other things, (1) information available from EPA and other sources about the number and characteristics of private for-profit water utilities in the United States, and (2) Drinking Water SRF assistance provided to private for-profit water utilities. GAO reviewed EPA SDWIS data, Drinking Water SRF data, and Global Water Intelligence data, as well as EPA's and others' documents. GAO also interviewed EPA and water utility stakeholders.
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  • Manufacturers of “Spice” Sentenced for Operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise and Other Crimes
    In Crime News
    Two defendants were sentenced Wednesday to 20 years each in federal prison for crimes committed in connection with the manufacture of synthetic cannabinoid products (commonly referred to as “spice”), operating a continuing criminal enterprise, manufacturing and distributing controlled substance analogues, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, maintaining a drug premises, and possession of a listed chemical with the intent to manufacture a controlled substance.
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  • Assistant Attorney General Beth A. Williams Delivers Remarks to the National Association of Attorneys General on Responsible Encryption and Lawful Access
    In Crime News
    Good afternoon, everyone.  First, I would like to thank Amie Ely and the wonderful team at NAAG for all of their amazing work, and for hosting this event on such an important topic.  Thank you as well to everyone in the audience for taking the time to join virtually for what should be a truly interesting conversation.  Perhaps it’s fitting that we are having a discussion — via webcam — that highlights the importance of digital evidence.
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  • Taiwan Company Pleads Guilty to Trade Secret Theft in Criminal Case Involving PRC State-Owned Company
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice today announced that United Microelectronics Corporation, Inc. (UMC), a Taiwan semiconductor foundry, pleaded guilty to criminal trade secret theft and was sentenced to pay a $60 million fine, in exchange for its agreement to cooperate with the government in the investigation and prosecution of its co-defendant, a Chinese state-owned-enterprise.
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  • Justice Department and FTC Announce First Enforcement Actions for Violations of the Better Online Ticket Sales Act
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice, together with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), today announced three settlements resolving alleged violations of the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act. These are the first enforcement actions that the department and the FTC have brought under the BOTS Act.
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  • Fair Lending: CFPB Needs to Assess the Impact of Recent Changes to Its Fair Lending Activities
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In January 2018, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a reorganization of its fair lending activities that moved its Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity (Fair Lending Office) from the Supervision, Enforcement, and Fair Lending Division to the Office of the Director and reallocated certain of its responsibilities (see figure). As CFPB planned and implemented the reorganization, it did not substantially incorporate key practices for agency reform efforts GAO identified in prior work—such as using employee input for planning or monitoring implementation progress and outcomes. GAO identified challenges related to the reorganization (including loss of fair lending expertise and specialized data analysts) that may have contributed to a decline in enforcement activity in 2018. However, CFPB has not assessed how well the reorganization met its goals or how it affected fair lending supervision and enforcement efforts. Collecting and analyzing information on reorganization outcomes would help CFPB determine the impact of the changes and identify actions needed to address any related challenges or unintended consequences. Key Changes in Fair Lending Responsibilities under CFPB's 2018 Reorganization As of February 2019, CFPB stopped reporting on performance goals and measures specific to fair lending supervision and enforcement—such as the number of completed examinations and the percentage of enforcement cases successfully resolved. Without these goals and measures, CFPB is limited in its ability to assess and communicate progress on its fair lending supervision and enforcement efforts, key components of CFPB's mission. CFPB has used additional Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data that some lenders have had to report since 2018 to support supervisory and enforcement activities and fair lending analyses. CFPB incorporated these new loan-level data into efforts to identify and prioritize fair lending risks and support fair lending examinations. For example, the new data points improve CFPB's ability to compare how different institutions price loans, which helps its staff identify potentially discriminatory lending practices. Why GAO Did This Study Under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, CFPB is responsible for two federal fair lending laws that protect consumers from discrimination: the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. In January 2019, CFPB completed a reorganization of its fair lending activities. GAO was asked to review issues related to CFPB's oversight and enforcement of fair lending laws. This report examines how CFPB has (1) managed the reorganization of its fair lending activities, (2) monitored and reported on its fair lending performance, and (3) used Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data to support its fair lending activities. GAO reviewed CFPB documents related to its fair lending activities (such as strategic and performance reports, policies and procedures) and to the reorganization of its Fair Lending Office. GAO evaluated implementation of this reorganization against relevant key practices identified in GAO-18-427. GAO also interviewed CFPB staff.
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  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Before Their Meeting
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  • Military Personnel: Perspectives on DOD’s and the Military Services’ Use of Borrowed Military Personnel
    In U.S GAO News
    Policies on the use of borrowed military personnel vary among military services. Borrowed military personnel refers to military personnel used for duties outside their assigned positions, such as security protection. DOD policy acknowledges that there may be instances in which military personnel can be used to appropriately satisfy a near-term demand but that DOD must be vigilant in ensuring that military personnel are not inappropriately utilized, particularly in a manner that may degrade readiness. Additionally, the Army and the Marine Corps have their own policies that describes how military personnel may be used on a temporary basis. DOD and the Army, Navy, and Air Force do not centrally track their use of borrowed military personnel, nor do they assess any impacts of that use on the readiness of units and personnel to accomplish their assigned missions. According to DOD and Army officials, the relatively limited use of borrowed military manpower, their limited impacts on readiness, and the existence of other readiness reporting mechanisms serve to obviate the need to collect and analyze this information centrally—especially given the resources that would be required to establish and maintain such a reporting process. The House Armed Services Committee has questioned whether DOD continues to divert servicemembers from their unit assignments to perform nonmilitary functions that could be performed by civilian employees. House Report 116-120, accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to assess the levels and impacts of borrowed military personnel. This report examines DOD's and the military services' policies on the use of borrowed military personnel, the tracking and reporting of their use of borrowed military personnel, and any impacts of that use on readiness. For more information, contact Cary Russell at (202)512-5431 or RussellC@gao.gov.
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  • COVID-19: Federal Efforts Accelerate Vaccine and Therapeutic Development, but More Transparency Needed on Emergency Use Authorizations
    In U.S GAO News
    Through Operation Warp Speed—a partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD)—the federal government is accelerating efforts to develop vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19. A typical vaccine development process can take approximately 10 years or longer, but efforts under Operation Warp Speed seek to greatly accelerate this process by completing key steps simultaneously (see figure). As of October 15, 2020, Operation Warp Speed publicly announced financial support for the development or manufacturing of six COVID-19 vaccine candidates totaling more than $10 billion in obligations. It has also announced financial support for the development of therapeutics, such as a $450 million award to manufacture a monoclonal antibody treatment (a treatment that uses laboratory-made antibodies, which also may be able to serve as a prevention option). Operation Warp Speed Timeline for a Potential Vaccine Candidate Note: An Emergency Use Authorization allows for emergency use of medical products without FDA approval or licensure during a declared emergency, provided certain statutory criteria are met. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may temporarily allow the use of unlicensed or unapproved COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics through emergency use authorizations (EUA), provided there is evidence that the products may be effective and that known and potential benefits outweigh known and potential risks. For vaccines, FDA issued guidance in October 2020 to provide vaccine sponsors with recommendations regarding the evidence FDA needed to support issuance of an EUA. For therapeutics, FDA has issued four EUAs as of November 9, 2020. The evidence to support FDA's COVID-19 therapeutic authorization decisions has not always been transparent, in part because FDA does not uniformly disclose its scientific review of safety and effectiveness data for EUAs, as it does for approvals for new drugs and biologics. Given the gravity of the pandemic, it is important that FDA identify ways to uniformly disclose this information to the public. By doing so, FDA could help improve the transparency of, and ensure public trust in, its EUA decisions. The U.S. had about 10.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and about 224,000 reported deaths as of November 12, 2020. Given this catastrophic loss of life as well as the pandemic's effects on the U.S. economy, effective and safe vaccines and therapeutics are more important than ever. 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, (1) efforts of Operation Warp Speed to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutic development; and (2) FDA's use of EUAs for COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines, among other objectives. GAO reviewed federal laws and agency documents, including HHS and DOD information on vaccine and therapeutic development and EUAs as of November 2020. GAO interviewed or received written responses from HHS and DOD officials, and interviewed representatives from vaccine developers and manufacturers, as well as select public health stakeholders and provider groups covering a range of provider types. FDA should identify ways to uniformly disclose to the public the information from its scientific review of safety and effectiveness data when issuing EUAs for therapeutics and vaccines. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but said it shared GAO's goal of transparency and would explore approaches to achieve this goal. For more information, contact Mary Denigan-Macauley at (202) 512-7114 or deniganmacauleym@gao.gov, or Alyssa M. Hundrup at (202) 512-7114 or hundrupa@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    As of October 2020, 3 years since the hurricanes destroyed much of Puerto Rico's electricity grid, neither the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) nor the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had approved long-term grid recovery projects in Puerto Rico. In 2019, GAO made four recommendations to FEMA and HUD to address identified challenges in rebuilding the electricity grid in Puerto Rico. As of October 2020, FEMA had fully implemented one recommendation and partially implemented two others, while HUD had not implemented its recommendation. Specifically, FEMA established an interagency agreement with the Department of Energy (DOE) to clarify how the agencies would consult on recovery efforts. FEMA had taken actions to partially implement recommendations on improving coordination among federal and local agencies and providing information on industry standards. However, further steps are needed, including finalizing guidance on FEMA's process for approving funding for projects. Regarding HUD, it has not addressed GAO's recommendation to establish time frames and requirements for available funding. Damaged Power Lines in Puerto Rico in November 2017 after Hurricane Maria Until HUD and FEMA implement GAO's recommendations, uncertainty will linger about how and when federal funding for long-term grid recovery will proceed. In particular, it is uncertain how available funding sources will support measures to enhance grid resilience to hurricanes, such as smart grid technology. FEMA officials told GAO that additional funding sources could be used for resilience measures but that this would not be determined until specific projects are submitted to FEMA for approval. Moreover, although FEMA finalized a $10 billion cost estimate for grid repairs in September 2020, several steps remain before FEMA approves funding for projects—a process officials said they were drafting. HUD funding could supplement FEMA funding but, as discussed above, HUD has yet to establish conditions for using these funds and has not established time frames and a plan for issuing this information. According to HUD officials, they plan to publish requirements in the first quarter of fiscal year 2021, but this depends on other factors, such as input from other federal agencies. Further delays in publishing the conditions could contribute to delays in Puerto Rico's ability to initiate grid recovery projects. In 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria damaged Puerto Rico's electricity grid, causing the longest blackout in U.S. history. It took roughly 11 months after the hurricanes for power to be restored to all of the customers with structures deemed safe for power restoration. Since electricity service has been restored, local entities have undertaken the longer-term task of more fully repairing and rebuilding the grid. GAO reported in 2019 on challenges hindering progress in rebuilding the grid and recommended that FEMA and HUD take actions to address these challenges. This report examines the status of efforts to support long-term grid recovery in Puerto Rico, including actions taken by FEMA and HUD to implement GAO's 2019 recommendations. For this report, GAO assessed agency actions; reviewed relevant reports, regulations, policies, and documents; and interviewed federal and local officials. GAO previously made three recommendations to FEMA and one to HUD to provide needed information and improve coordination to support grid recovery. Both agencies disagreed with GAO's characterization of their progress made addressing these prior recommendations. GAO continues to believe additional actions are needed to fully implement these recommendations. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or ruscof@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
    Today, the Department of Justice announced it will launch five cross-jurisdictional firearms trafficking strike forces within the next 30 days to help reduce violent crime by addressing illegal gun trafficking in significant firearms trafficking corridors. Tomorrow, the Attorney General will discuss with the President, law enforcement officials, and local and community leaders, this initiative, which, along with other measures, the Department of Justice is undertaking as part of the administration-wide comprehensive strategy to combat the rise in violent crime. 
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    In Crime News
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    In Crime News
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  • Military Housing: DOD Has Taken Key Steps to Strengthen Oversight, but More Action Is Needed in Some Areas
    In U.S GAO News
    In 1996 Congress provided DOD with authorities enabling it to obtain private-sector financing and management to repair, renovate, construct, and operate military housing. DOD has since privatized about 99 percent of its domestic housing. The Department of Defense (DOD) has made progress in addressing weaknesses in its privatized housing program, and GAO has identified additional opportunities to strengthen the program. GAO reported in March 2020 on DOD's oversight and its role in the management of privatized housing. Specifically, GAO found that 1) the military departments conducted some oversight of the physical condition of privatized housing, but some efforts were limited in scope; 2) the military departments used performance metrics to monitor private developers, but the metrics did not provide meaningful information on the condition of housing; 3) the military departments and private developers collected maintenance data on homes, but these data were not captured reliably or consistently, and 4) DOD provided reports to Congress on the status of privatized housing, but some data in these reports were unreliable, leading to misleading results. GAO made 12 recommendations, including that DOD take steps to improve housing condition oversight, performance indicators, maintenance data, and resident satisfaction reporting. DOD generally concurred with the recommendations. As of February 2021, DOD fully implemented 5 recommendations and partially implemented 7 recommendations. DOD should also take action to improve the process for setting basic allowance for housing (BAH)—a key source of revenue for privatized housing projects. In January 2021, GAO reported on DOD's process to determine BAH. GAO found that 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. 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. GAO recommended that DOD review its methodology to increase sample sizes. GAO has also determined, in a report to be issued this week, that DOD should improve oversight of privatized housing property insurance and natural disaster recovery. GAO assessed the extent to which the military departments and the Office of the Secretary of Defense exercise oversight of their projects' insurance coverage. GAO found that the military departments have exercised insufficient oversight, and that the Office of the Secretary of Defense has not regularly monitored the military departments' implementation of insurance requirements. Without establishing procedures for timely and documented reviews, the military departments cannot be assured that the projects are complying with insurance requirements and assuming a proper balance of risk and cost. The draft of this report, which GAO provided to DOD for official comment, included 9 recommendations, 2 of which DOD addressed in January 2021 by issuing policy updates. The final report's 7 remaining recommendations, including that the military departments update their respective insurance review oversight procedures, will help strengthen DOD's oversight of privatized housing, once implemented. DOD concurred with all of the recommendations. Congress enacted the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) in 1996 to improve the quality of housing for servicemembers. DOD is responsible for general oversight of privatized housing projects. Private-sector developers are responsible for the ownership, construction, renovation, maintenance, and repair of about 99 percent of military housing in the United States. GAO has conducted a series of reviews of MHPI, following reports of hazards (such as mold) in homes, questions about DOD's process to determine the basic allowance for housing rates, which is a key revenue source for privatized housing, and concerns about how DOD ensures appropriate property insurance for privatized housing projects impacted by severe weather. This statement summarizes 1) steps DOD has taken to strengthen oversight and management of its privatized housing program, and work remaining; 2) actions needed to improve DOD's BAH process; and 3) actions needed to enhance DOD's oversight of privatized housing property insurance. The statement summarizes two of GAO's prior reports, and a report to be issued, related to privatized housing. For this statement, GAO reviewed prior reports, collected information on recommendation implementation, and interviewed DOD officials. In prior reports, GAO recommended that DOD improve oversight of housing conditions; review its process for determining basic allowance for housing rates; and that the military departments update their housing insurance review oversight procedures. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Announces Global Resolution of Criminal and Civil Investigations with Opioid Manufacturer Purdue Pharma and Civil Settlement with Members of the Sackler Family
    In Crime News
    Today, the Department of Justice announced a global resolution of its criminal and civil investigations into the opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma LP (Purdue), and a civil resolution of its civil investigation into individual shareholders from the Sackler family.  The resolutions with Purdue are subject to the approval of the bankruptcy court. 
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  • Health Care Funding: Federal Obligations to and Funds Received by Certain Organizations Involved in Health-Related Services, 2016 through 2018
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO reviewed federal funding provided to various organizations that offer health-related services, such as voluntary family planning and activities related to the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDs. In total, the organizations in our review received almost $16 billion through grants or cooperative agreements from the Department of Health and Human Services or U.S. Agency for International Development from 2016 through 2018; nearly all of this funding was received by federally qualified health centers. (See table.) Reported Amounts of Funds Received through Federal Grants or Cooperative Agreements by Organizations in GAO’s Review, 2016-2018 Dollars in millions Federal agency 2016 2017 2018 Total Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)       Federally qualified health centers (FQHC) 4,891.03 5,251.93 5,291.81 15,434.77       Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) 94.86 106.12 103.51 304.49       International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) 2.30 2.05 1.20 5.55       Marie Stopes International (MSI) 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 Total HHS 4,988.19 5,360.10 5,396.52 15,744.81 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)       FQHC 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00       PPFA 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00       IPPF 2.13 5.48 7.80 15.41       MSI 36.64 34.20 15.62 86.46 Total USAID 38.77 39.68 23.42 101.87 Total (HHS and USAID) 5,026.96 5,399.78 5,419.94 15,846.68 Source: GAO analysis of HHS, PPFA and USAID, data. | GAO-21-188R We provided a draft of this report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the USAID Administrator for comment. HHS did not have any comments. USAID provided technical comments, which we incorporated as appropriate. GAO is not making any recommendations. In order to achieve their programmatic goals, federal agencies provide funding to various organizations that, in turn, use those funds to implement programs and activities aligned with those goals. For example, federal agencies may award funding through grants or cooperative agreements for programs. The organizations that are awarded the funding receive and spend the funds over a period of time. GAO was asked to report on federal funding for certain organizations that provide health-related services. This report describes the extent of federal funding through grants and cooperative agreements for federally qualified health centers, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, International Planned Parenthood Federation, and Marie Stopes International from 2016 through 2018. GAO obtained and reviewed information on federal funding from the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Agency for International Development—the primary sources of federal funds to the organizations in our review. GAO also obtained available information from each of the organizations. For more information, contact James Cosgrove at 202-512-7114 or cosgrovej@gao.gov.  
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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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  • Alabama Tax Preparer Pleads Guilty to Filing False Tax Returns
    In Crime News
    A Birmingham, Alabama, tax return preparer pleaded guilty to aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false tax return, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama Prim F. Escalona.
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  • ISIS Militants Charged With Deaths Of Americans In Syria
    In Crime News
    Two militant fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a foreign terrorist organization, are expected to arrive in the United States today in FBI custody on charges related to their participation in a brutal hostage-taking scheme that resulted in the deaths of four American citizens, as well as the deaths of British and Japanese nationals, in Syria.
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  • Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen’s Video Statement on the Seizure of the U.S. Capitol
    In Crime News
    Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen delivered the following video statement on the seizure of the U.S. Capitol:
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  • Operators of California Charity Scam Sentenced to Prison for Mail Fraud Conspiracy and Tax Evasion
    In Crime News
    Geraldine Hill and Clayton Hill, a California couple who operated a charity that purported to provide goods to the needy, were sentenced to prison for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and tax evasion. Geraldine Hill was sentenced to 15 months in in prison, and Clayton Hill was sentenced to 9 months in prison, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer, Jr. for the Southern District of California.
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  • Justice Department and Federal Maritime Commission Sign Memorandum of Understanding to Support Interagency Collaboration
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division and the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) have signed the first interagency Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to foster cooperation and communication between the agencies to enhance competition in the maritime industry. Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard A. Powers and FMC Chairman Daniel Maffei signed the MOU between the Antitrust Division and the FMC effective this afternoon following Friday’s announcement of the Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy.
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  • U.S Department of Agriculture-Office of Inspector General and Justice Department Conduct Animal Welfare Criminal Investigations Training
    In Crime News
    On Sept. 14 to 18, criminal investigators and attorneys from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General (USDA-OIG) and the U.S. Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) collaborated to put on a week-long training for USDA-OIG criminal investigators, as well as other federal law enforcement agencies on animal welfare criminal investigations and prosecutions.
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  • Samoa Independence Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Science & Tech Spotlight: Vaccine Safety
    In U.S GAO News
    Why this Matters Safe vaccines are critical to fighting diseases, from polio to COVID-19. Research shows that the protection provided by U.S. licensed vaccines outweighs their potential risks. However, misinformation and unjustified safety concerns can cause people to delay or refuse vaccination, which may increase preventable deaths and prolong negative social and economic impacts. The Science What is it? A vaccine is generally considered safe when the benefits of protecting an individual from disease outweigh the risks from potential side effects (fig. 1). The most common side effects stem from the body's immune reaction and include swelling at the injection site, fever, and aches. Figure 1. Symptoms of polio and side effects of the polio vaccine. A vaccine is generally considered safe if its benefits (preventing disease) outweigh its risks (side effects). In rare cases, some vaccines may cause more severe side effects. For example, the vaccine for rotavirus—a childhood illness that can cause severe diarrhea, dehydration, and even death—can cause intestinal blockage in one in 100,000 recipients. However, the vaccine is still administered because this very rare side effect is outweighed by the vaccine's benefits: it saves lives and prevents an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 childhood hospitalizations in the U.S. each year. The two messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines authorized for COVID-19—a disease that contributed to more than 415,000 American deaths between January 2020 and January 2021—can cause severe allergic reactions. However, early safety reporting found that these reactions have been extremely rare, with only about five cases per 1 million recipients, according to data from January 2021 reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In general, side effects from vaccines are less acceptable to the public than side effects from treatments given to people who already have a disease. What is known? Vaccine developers assess safety from early research, through laboratory and animal testing, and even after the vaccine is in use (fig. 2). Researchers may rely on previous studies to inform future vaccine trials. For example, safety information from preclinical trials of mRNA flu vaccine candidates in 2017 allowed for the acceleration of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine development. Vaccine candidates shown to be safe in these preclinical trials can proceed to clinical trials in humans. In the U.S., clinical trials generally proceed through three phases of testing involving increasing numbers of volunteers: dozens in phase 1 to thousands in phase 3. Although data may be collected over years, most common side effects are identified in the first 2 months after vaccination in clinical trials. After reviewing safety and other data from vaccine studies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may license a vaccine to be marketed in the U.S. There are also programs to expedite—but not bypass—development and review processes, such as a priority review designation, which shortens FDA’s goal review time from 10 to 6 months. Safety monitoring continues after licensing. For example, health officials are required to report certain adverse events—such as heart problems—following vaccination, in order to help identify potential long-term or rare side effects that were not seen in clinical trials and may or may not be associated with the vaccine. Figure 2. Vaccine safety is assessed at every stage: development through post-licensure. Following a declared emergency, FDA can also issue emergency use authorizations (EUA) to allow temporary use of unlicensed vaccines if there is evidence that known and potential benefits of the vaccine outweigh known and potential risks, among other criteria. As of January 2021, two COVID-19 vaccines had received EUAs, after their efficacy and short-term safety were assessed through large clinical trials. However, developers must continue safety monitoring and meet other requirements if they intend to apply for FDA licensure to continue distribution of these vaccines after the emergency period has ended. What are the knowledge gaps? One knowledge gap that can remain after clinical trials is whether side effects or other adverse events may occur in certain groups. For example, because clinical trials usually exclude certain populations, such as people who are pregnant or have existing medical conditions, data on potential adverse events related to specific populations may not be understood until vaccines are widely administered. In addition, it can be difficult to determine the safety of new vaccines if outbreaks end suddenly. For example, vaccine safety studies were hindered during the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic when a large increase in the number of cases was followed by a sharp decrease. This disrupted the clinical trials of Ebola vaccine candidates, because the trials require many infected and non-infected people. Furthermore, a lack of understanding and/or misinformation about the steps taken to ensure the safety of vaccines hinders accurate public knowledge about safety concerns, which may cause people to delay or refuse vaccination. This resulting hesitancy may, in turn, increase deaths, social harm, and economic damage. Opportunities Continuing and, where necessary, improving existing vaccine safety practices offers the following opportunities to society: Herd immunity. Widespread immunity in a population, acquired in large part through safe and effective vaccines, can slow the spread of infection and protect those most vulnerable. Health care improvements. Vaccinations can reduce the burden on the health care system by reducing severe symptoms that require individuals to seek treatment. Eradication. Safe vaccination programs, such as those combatting smallpox, may eliminate diseases to the point where transmission no longer occurs. Challenges There are a number of challenges to ensuring safe vaccines: Public confidence. Vaccine hesitancy, in part due to misinformation or historic unethical human experimentation, decreases participation in clinical trials, impeding identification of side effects across individuals with different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Mutating viruses. Some viruses, such as those that cause the flu or COVID-19, may mutate rapidly and thus may require new or updated vaccines, for which ongoing safety monitoring is important. Long-term and rare effects. Exceedingly rare or long-term effects may not be identified until after vaccines have been widely administered. Further study is needed to detect any such effects and confirm they are truly associated with the vaccine. Policy Context & Questions What steps can policymakers take to improve public trust and understanding of the process of assessing vaccine safety? How can policymakers convey the social importance of vaccines to protect the general public and those who are most vulnerable? How can policymakers leverage available resources to support ongoing vaccine development and post-licensure safety monitoring? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.
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  • Release of the 2021 Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Report
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Seychelles National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Colorado Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Hate Crime and Explosives Charges for Plotting to Blow up Synagogue
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced that Richard Holzer, 28, pleaded guilty today to federal hate crime and explosives charges for plotting to blow up the Temple Emanuel Synagogue in Pueblo, Colorado.
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  • Arkansas RV Salesman Indicted for Income Tax Evasion
    In Crime News
    An indictment was unsealed today charging an Arkansas man with three counts of evading his individual income taxes.
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  • Justice Department Settles with Maine School District to Protect Educational Rights of Students with Disabilities and English Learners
    In Crime News
    Today the Justice Department announced a settlement agreement with the Lewiston Public Schools to end the district’s systemic and discriminatory practice of excluding students from full-day school because of behavior related to their disabilities. The settlement also will require the district to provide equal educational opportunities to its English learner students.  The department conducted its investigation under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA) after receiving a complaint from Disability Rights Maine.
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  • Conflict Minerals: Actions Needed to Assess Progress Addressing Armed Groups’ Exploitation of Minerals
    In U.S GAO News
    The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) disclosure rule broadly requires that certain companies submit a filing that describes their efforts to conduct a reasonable country-of-origin inquiry (RCOI), and depending on the preliminary determination, perform due diligence to determine the source and chain of custody of their conflict minerals—gold and specific ores for tantalum, tin, and tungsten. After conducting RCOI, an estimated 50 percent of companies filing in 2019 reported preliminary determinations as to whether the conflict minerals came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or adjoining countries (covered countries) or from scrap or recycled sources. The percentage of companies able to make such preliminary determinations increased significantly between 2014 and 2015, and has since leveled off, as shown below. Source of Conflict Minerals in Products as Determined by Companies' Reasonable Country-of-Origin Inquiries, Reporting Years 2014-2019 However, fewer companies reported such determinations after conducting due diligence. In 2019, an estimated 85 percent of companies made preliminary determinations that required them to then perform due diligence. Of those companies, an estimated 17 percent determined that the minerals came from covered countries—a significantly lower percentage of companies making that determination than the 37 percent reported in 2017 or the 35 percent in 2018. Since 2014, companies have noted various challenges they face in making such determinations; however, SEC staff told GAO that they did not know what factors contributed to the decrease in 2019. We will examine this issue during our future review. While the Department of State (State) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have implemented the U.S. conflict minerals strategy since 2011, they have not established performance indicators for all of the strategic objectives. For example, they have no such indicators for the objectives of strengthening regional and international efforts and promoting due diligence and responsible trade through public outreach. Without performance indicators, the agencies cannot comprehensively assess their progress toward achieving these objectives or the overall goal of addressing armed groups' exploitation of conflict minerals. Armed groups in eastern DRC continue to commit severe human rights abuses and to profit from the exploitation of “conflict minerals,” according to State. Provisions in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act required, among other things, that State, USAID, and the SEC take certain actions to promote peace and security. In 2011, State created the U.S. conflict minerals strategy in consultation with USAID to address armed groups' exploitation of conflict minerals. In 2012, the SEC also promulgated regulations containing disclosure and reporting requirements for companies that use conflict minerals from covered countries. The act also included a provision for GAO to annually assess, among other things, the SEC regulations' effectiveness in promoting peace and security. In this report, GAO examines, among other things, how companies responded to the SEC conflict minerals disclosure rule when filing in 2019 and the extent to which State and USAID assessed progress toward the U.S. conflict minerals strategy's objectives and goal. GAO analyzed a generalizable sample of SEC filings, reviewed documents, and interviewed U.S. officials State, in consultation with USAID, should develop performance indicators for assessing progress toward the strategic objectives and goal of the U.S. conflict minerals strategy. State and USAID concurred with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Kimberly M. Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or gianopoulosk@gao.gov.
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  • Two Ukrainian Nationals Extradited to U.S. on Money Laundering Charges
    In Crime News
    Two members of an international organized network that provided cash-out and money laundering services to cyber actors were extradited from the Czech Republic to Dallas.
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    In Justice News
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