Strengthening Democracy in Central America and Addressing Root Causes of Migration at Central American Integration System Meeting

Office of the Spokesperson

Secretary Antony J. Blinken is traveling to Central America on June 1-2, 2021 to engage with leaders from the region at a meeting of the Central American Integration System (SICA) in San Jose, Costa Rica.  In its current role as chair of SICA, Costa Rica is inviting senior leaders from Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, and the Dominican Republic, as well as Mexico, for this meeting.  They will discuss a collaborative approach to the shared regional challenge of irregular migration and promoting democracy, human rights, prosperity, and rule of law.

Regional Cooperation

  • We increasingly face common challenges requiring collaborative solutions. It is imperative that we work together to promote democracy and good governance, respect for human rights, security, prosperity, and good environmental stewardship.  We must reduce inequality, violations and abuses of human rights, and gender-based violence.
  • Democratic governance and institutions are vital for achieving a more secure and prosperous Central America. As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of InterAmerican Democratic Charter, it is an opportune time to reaffirm our collective commitment to the integrity and institutions of our democracies.
  • President Biden has announced a comprehensive collaborative approach that includes a multi-year, $4 billion plan to address the root causes of irregular migration in North and Central America.
  • In April, Vice President Harris announced $310 million in U.S. funding to address food insecurity, provide life-saving assistance, and support protection for vulnerable people in communities throughout the region. This includes $255 million in humanitarian assistance to respond to immediate needs.
  • U.S. funding protects and assists vulnerable migrants, internally displaced persons, asylum seekers, and refugees. Our funding includes more than $28 million for programs inside Costa Rica, including those displaced by the political and economic crisis in Venezuela.  We encourage other regional partners to reinforce U.S. efforts to improve access to international protection.
  • In her role addressing the causes of migration with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, as well as with Mexico, Vice President Kamala Harris last month announced a Call to Action for businesses and social enterprises to make new, significant commitments to help send a signal of hope to the people of the region and sustainably address the root causes of migration by promoting economic opportunity. As part of this Call to Action launch, 12 companies and organizations announced commitments to support inclusive economic development in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, including: Accion, Bancolombia, Chobani, Davivienda, Duolingo, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Mastercard, Microsoft, Nespresso, Pro Mujer, the Tent Partnership for Refugees, and the World Economic Forum.

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    What GAO Found GAO’s 2021 annual report identifies 112 new actions for Congress or executive branch agencies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government. For example: The Office of Management and Budget should improve how agencies buy common goods and services—such as medical supplies and computers—by addressing data management challenges and establishing performance metrics to help save the federal government billions of dollars over the next 5 years, as well as potentially eliminate duplicative contracts. The National Nuclear Security Administration could implement cost savings programs to operate more effectively at its nuclear laboratory and production sites to potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars over approximately a five year period. The Department of Health and Human Services could improve coordination of its infectious disease modeling efforts to better identify any duplication and overlap among agencies, which could help them to better plan for and more efficiently respond to disease outbreaks. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) could enhance third-party information reporting to increase compliance with tax laws and raise revenue. GAO has also previously suggested (1) providing IRS with authority to correct certain errors—with appropriate safeguards—in tax returns and (2) establishing requirements for paid tax return preparers to help improve the accuracy of tax returns. From 2011 to 2021, GAO has identified more than 1,100 actions to reduce costs, increase revenues, and improve agencies' operating effectiveness. GAO’s last report in May 2020 said progress made in addressing many of the actions identified from 2011 to 2019 had resulted in approximately $429 billion in financial benefits, including $393 billion that accrued through 2019 and $36 billion that was projected to accrue in future years. Since May 2020, at least tens of billions of dollars in additional financial benefits have been achieved. GAO estimates that tens of billions of additional dollars could be saved should Congress and executive branch agencies fully address open actions, including those that have potential financial benefits of $1 billion or more. Why GAO Did This Study The federal government has made an unprecedented financial response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the pandemic recedes and the economy substantially recovers, Congress and the administration will need to develop and swiftly implement an approach to place the government on a sustainable long-term fiscal path. In the short term, opportunities exist for achieving billions of dollars in financial savings and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of a wide range of federal programs in other areas. GAO has responded with annual reports to a statutory provision for it to identify and report on federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives—either within departments or government-wide—that have duplicative goals or activities. GAO also identifies areas that are fragmented or overlapping, as well as additional opportunities to achieve cost savings or enhance revenue collection. This statement discusses: the new areas identified in GAO’s 2021 annual report; and examples of open actions recommended to Congress or executive branch agencies with potential financial benefits of $1 billion or more. To identify what actions exist to address these issues, GAO reviewed and updated select prior work, including matters for congressional consideration and recommendations for executive action. For more information, contact Jessica Lucas-Judy at (202) 512-6806 or lucasjudyj@gao.gov or Michelle Sager at (202) 512-6806 or sagerm@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    In April 2020, the Small Business Administration (SBA) moved quickly to implement the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides loans that are forgivable under certain circumstances to small businesses affected by COVID-19. Given the immediate need for these loans, SBA worked to streamline the program so that lenders could begin distributing these funds as soon as possible. For example, lenders were permitted to rely on borrowers' self-certifications for eligibility and use of loan proceeds. As a result, there may be significant risk that some fraudulent or inflated applications were approved. Since May 2020, the Department of Justice has publicly announced charges in more than 50 fraud-related cases associated with PPP funds. In April 2020, SBA announced it would review all loans of more than $2 million to confirm borrower eligibility, and SBA officials subsequently stated that they would review selected loans of less than $2 million to determine, for example, whether the borrower is entitled to loan forgiveness. However, SBA did not provide details on how it would conduct either of these reviews. As of September 2020, SBA reported it was working with the Department of the Treasury and contractors to finalize the plans for the reviews. Because SBA had limited time to implement safeguards up front for loan approval, GAO believes that planning and oversight by SBA to address risks in the PPP program is crucial moving forward. SBA's efforts to expedite processing of Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)—such as the reliance on self-certification—may have contributed to increased fraud risk in that program as well. In July 2020, SBA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported indicators of widespread potential fraud—including thousands of fraud complaints—and found deficiencies with SBA's internal controls. In response, SBA maintained that its internal controls for EIDL were robust, including checks to identify duplicate applications and verify account information, and that it had provided banks with additional antifraud guidance. The Department of Justice, in conjunction with other federal agencies, also has taken actions to address potential fraud. Since May 2020, the department has announced fraud investigations related to the EIDL program and charges against recipients related to EIDL fraud. SBA has made or guaranteed more than 14.5 million loans and grants through PPP and EIDL, providing about $729 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. However, the speed with which SBA implemented the programs may have increased their susceptibility to fraud. This testimony discusses fraud risks associated with SBA's PPP and EIDL programs. It is based largely on GAO's reports in June 2020 (GAO-20-625) and September 2020 (GAO-20-701) that addressed the federal response, including by SBA, to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. For those reports, GAO reviewed SBA documentation and interviewed officials from SBA, the Department of the Treasury, and associations that represent lenders and small businesses. GAO also met with officials from the SBA OIG and reviewed OIG reports. In its June 2020 report, GAO recommended that SBA develop and implement plans to identify and respond to risks in PPP to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. SBA neither agreed nor disagreed, but GAO believes implementation of this recommendation is essential. For more information, contact William B. Shear at (202) 512-4325 or shearw@gao.gov.
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  • Survivors of Childhood Cancer: Factors Affecting Access to Follow-up Care
    In U.S GAO News
    Stakeholders GAO interviewed and studies GAO reviewed identified three factors that affect access to follow-up care for childhood cancer survivors—individuals of any age who were diagnosed with cancer from ages 0 through 19. These factors are care affordability, survivors' and health care providers' knowledge of appropriate care, and proximity to care. Childhood cancer survivors need access to follow-up care over time for serious health effects known as late effects—such as developmental problems, heart conditions, and subsequent cancers—which result from their original cancer and its treatment. Affordability: Survivors of childhood cancer may have difficulty paying for follow-up care, which can affect their access to this care. For example, one study found that survivors were significantly more likely to have difficulty paying medical bills and delay medical care due to affordability concerns when compared to individuals with no history of cancer. Knowledge: Survivors' access to appropriate follow-up care for late effects of childhood cancer can depend on both survivors' and providers' knowledge about such care, which can affect access in various ways, according to stakeholders GAO interviewed and studies GAO reviewed: Some survivors may have been treated for cancer at an early age and may have limited awareness of the need for follow- up care. Some primary or specialty care providers may not be knowledgeable about guidelines for appropriate follow-up care, which can affect whether a survivor receives recommended treatment. Follow-up care may include psychosocial care (e.g., counseling), and palliative care (e.g., pain management). Proximity: Survivors may have difficulty reaching appropriate care settings. Stakeholders GAO interviewed and studies GAO reviewed noted that childhood cancer survivors may have to travel long distances to receive follow-up care from multidisciplinary outpatient clinics—referred to as childhood cancer survivorship clinics. The lack of proximity may make it particularly difficult for survivors with limited financial resources to adhere to recommended follow-up care. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that conduct activities specific to childhood cancer survivors, including research about access to care—have taken steps to implement three provisions in the Childhood Cancer Survivorship, Treatment, Access, and Research Act of 2018 (Childhood Cancer STAR Act) relevant to access to care for survivors. For example, CDC has awarded a contract to develop software to improve the collection of information on individuals with childhood cancer, and NCI has funded three research projects focused on interventions aimed at addressing adverse outcomes among childhood cancer survivors. NCI has also funded research to study the health status and use of follow-up services of 2,000 young adult survivors. Stakeholders have raised questions about the ability of childhood cancer survivors to access needed follow-up care. According to the most recent data available, approximately 465,000 childhood cancer survivors—children, adolescents, and adults—were alive in the United States as of January 1, 2017. Although the 5-year survival rate for childhood cancer has increased from about 62 percent in the mid-1970s to about 86 percent in the mid-2010s, childhood cancer survivors may face late effects, which could require follow-up care across multiple stages of their lives. The conference report accompanying Public Law 115-245 included a provision for GAO to report on barriers to obtaining medical care for childhood cancer survivors, including psychosocial services and palliative care. This report identifies factors reported to affect access to follow-up care for this population. GAO spoke with officials from NCI and CDC and interviewed stakeholders such as providers who care for childhood cancer survivors, professional associations, and advocacy groups. Additionally, GAO reviewed peer-reviewed studies related to access to care for survivors, outcomes of treatment they may receive, and factors that may affect their access to follow-up care. To supplement this work, GAO reviewed the status of selected HHS activities to support access to care for childhood cancer survivors, including steps taken to implement selected provisions in the Childhood Cancer STAR Act. GAO provided a draft of this report to HHS for review and comment. HHS provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or FarbJ@gao.gov.
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  • Federal Telework: Key Practices That Can Help Ensure the Success of Telework Programs
    In U.S GAO News
    The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 (the act) defines telework as a work flexibility arrangement under which an employee performs the duties and responsibilities of their position and other authorized activities from an approved worksite other than the location from which the employee would otherwise work. GAO previously identified key practices in telework-related literature and guidelines that federal agencies should implement in ensuring successful telework programs. These key practices may be grouped under seven categories. Program planning. Consistent with a key practice GAO identified, agencies are required to have a telework managing officer. Other key practices related to planning for a telework program include establishing measurable telework program goals, and providing funding to meet the needs of the telework program. Telework policies. Agencies can help ensure their workforces are telework ready by establishing telework policies and guidance. To ensure that teleworkers are approved on an equitable basis, agencies should establish eligibility criteria, such as suitability of tasks and employee performance. Agencies should also have telework agreements for use between teleworkers and their managers. Performance management. Agencies should ensure that the same performance standards are used to evaluate both teleworkers and nonteleworkers. Agencies should also establish guidelines to minimize adverse impacts that telework can have on nonteleworkers. Managerial support. For telework programs to be successful agencies need support from top management. They also need to address managerial resistance to telework. Training and publicizing. Telework training helps agencies ensure a common understanding of the program. The act requires agencies to provide telework training to employees eligible to telework and to managers of teleworkers. Keeping the workforce informed about the program also helps. Technology. Agencies need to make sure teleworkers have the right technology to successfully perform their duties. To that end, agencies should assess teleworker and organization technology needs, provide technical support to teleworkers, and address access and security issues. Program evaluation. Agencies should develop program evaluation tools and use such tools from the very inception of the program to identify problems or issues. Agencies can then use this information to make any needed adjustments to their programs. GAO has previously reported instances where selected agencies faced challenges implementing telework programs that aligned with key practices. For example, three of four selected agencies did not require review or document their review of ongoing telework agreements. These reviews are important to provide assurance that the agreements reflect and support their current business needs. GAO also previously reported that managers at three of four selected agencies were not required to complete telework training before approving staff's telework agreements. The training is important to ensure managers fully understood agency telework policy and goals before approving or denying requests to telework. Telework offers benefits to federal agencies as well as to the federal workforce. These include improving recruitment and retention of employees, reducing the need for costly office space, and an opportunity to better balance work and family demands. In addition, telework is a tool that agencies can use to help accomplish their missions during periods of disruption, including during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Congress has encouraged federal agencies to expand staff participation in telework, most recently by passing the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 (the act). The act established requirements for executive agencies' telework policies and programs, among other things. This statement provides key practices to help ensure the success of telework programs. The statement is based on GAO's body of work on federal telework issued from July 2003 through February 2017. GAO has recently initiated two reviews related to federal telework. One is examining the extent to which agencies have used telework during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the successes and challenges agencies experienced. The second is reviewing agencies' telework information technology infrastructure. For more information, contact Michelle B. Rosenberg at (202) 512-6806 or rosenbergm@gao.gov.
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  • Navy Ships: Timely Actions Needed to Improve Planning and Develop Capabilities for Battle Damage Repair
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Navy has identified several challenges with using its regular maintenance capability (which restores ships to fully operational status) to provide battle damage repairs during a great power conflict. Challenges include—the lack of established doctrine for battle damage repair, unclear command and control roles, and a shortage of repair capacity. The Navy Process for Repairing Ships Damaged in Battle The Navy is in the early stages of determining how it will provide battle damage repair during a great power conflict. Eight organizations are responsible for the Navy's 15 battle damage repair planning efforts, however the Navy has not designated an organization to lead and oversee these efforts. Without designated leadership, the Navy may be hindered in its efforts to address the many challenges it faces in sustaining its ships during a great power conflict. The Navy develops ship vulnerability models during a ship's acquisition to estimate damage during a conflict. These models are also used to inform war games that refine operational approaches and train leaders on decision-making. However, the Navy does not update these models over a ship's decades-long service life to reflect changes to key systems that could affect model accuracy. As a result, it lacks quality data on ship mission-critical failure points to inform its analysis of battle damage repair needs. Without periodically assessing and updating its models to accurately reflect the ship's mission-critical systems, the Navy has limited its ability to assess and develop battle damage repair capabilities necessary to sustain ships in a conflict with a great power competitor. Why GAO Did This Study The ability to repair and maintain ships plays a critical role in sustaining Navy readiness. After the Cold War, the Navy divested many wartime ship repair capabilities. With the rise of great power competitors capable of producing high-end threats in warfare, the Navy must now be prepared to quickly salvage and repair damage to a modern fleet. 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 Navy's efforts to identify and mitigate challenges in repairing battle-damaged ships during a great power conflict. GAO's report (1) discusses the challenges the Navy has identified in using its regular maintenance capability for battle damage repair, and (2) evaluates the extent to which the Navy has begun developing the battle damage repair capability it requires to prevail in a great power conflict. GAO reviewed relevant guidance and assessed reports on naval war games and other documentation to identify challenges that may impede the planning and repair of battle-damaged ships and efforts to improve the repair capability for a great power conflict.
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    The Department of State (State) Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (State/INL) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided sufficient documentation for GAO to conclude that they followed most key practices for monitoring rule of law assistance for the awards we reviewed from selected countries. However, the agencies did not provide sufficient documentation demonstrating that they followed other key practices. Overall, State/INL followed these practices in most cases and USAID did so in almost all cases. Specifically, GAO's review of 19 State/INL and USAID projects found that USAID in all cases, and State/INL in most cases, followed key practices for planning a monitoring approach, such as developing project goals, objectives, and performance indicators. However, State/INL did not consistently demonstrate that project representatives included project goals and objectives in monitoring plans, and did not consistently identify risks in those plans (see fig.). Furthermore, neither agency could demonstrate that project representatives consistently assessed and approved monitoring reports from implementing partners. Following key monitoring practices helps to ensure that agencies stay well-informed of project performance and take corrective action when necessary, and that projects achieve their intended results. Without complete documentation, management cannot be sure that these practices are being followed. State/INL and USAID Alignment with Key Practices for Monitoring Rule of Law Assistance State and USAID have various processes to conduct, share, and use rule of law project evaluations to improve future efforts. Both agencies disseminate evaluations through online systems, briefings, and presentations, and have established approaches to track the implementation of evaluation recommendations, such as through spreadsheets or other documentation. The agencies use these evaluations in various ways to inform project design and strategic planning. Rule of law strengthens protection of fundamental rights and serves as a foundation for democratic governance and economic growth. According to State, strengthening judicial and legal systems in certain countries is vital to U.S. national security interests. State and USAID allocated over $2.7 billion for rule of law assistance overseas from fiscal years 2014 through 2018. GAO was asked to review monitoring and evaluation of U.S. rule of law assistance around the world. This report examines, among other objectives, the extent to which the agencies followed key practices for monitoring rule of law projects in selected countries, and processes agencies have in place to use evaluations to inform future rule of law assistance. GAO analyzed relevant laws and agency policies and other documents, and interviewed officials in Washington, D.C., and four countries—Colombia, Kosovo, Liberia, and the Philippines—selected based on funding amounts and other factors. GAO recommends that State/INL establish procedures to ensure project goals, objectives, and risks are identified in monitoring plans. GAO also recommends that State/INL establish and USAID enhance procedures to ensure project staff assess and approve monitoring reports. State and USAID concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Chelsa Kenney Gurkin at (202) 512-2964 or gurkinc@gao.gov.
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