Dr. Christopher Ashley Ford, Assistant SecretaryBureau of International Security and Nonproliferation
Good afternoon, Rebecca. It’s a pleasure to be back at Hudson Institute, where I myself spent five years as a Senior Fellow. I’m sorry that we are still having to do events like this through video connectivity, so our audience is just a “virtual” one, but I’m glad to have the chance to speak to you.
It’s been some time since I was on the rostrum at Hudson with my colleague Tim Morrison — who was then at the White House but is now a Senior Fellow with Hudson — to talk about U.S. efforts to reform the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). That was back in February of 2019, so what I’d like today is to let you know how that effort has been developing since then.
The problem about which we spoke at that event was that the 1980s-era technological benchmark built into the MTCR Guidelines — which urge a “strong presumption of denial” for exports of “Category I” systems, which are defined as unmanned craft capable of carrying a payload of at least 500 kilograms to a range of at least 300 kilometers — has not held up well. Advances in unmanned aerial systems (UAS), have led to a great explosion in the capabilities and beneficial uses of UAS that technically meet this Category I definition, but which don’t present the kind of nuclear weapon delivery threat that the MTCR was established to help forestall. As applied to many UAS, in other words, the MTCR is in danger of becoming out of date.
With respect to actual missiles and rockets, or the sort of high performance cruise missile that one might actually use to deliver a nuclear weapon, of course, we had – and have – no quarrel with the MTCR standard. Quite to the contrary: we still believe that a strong presumption of denial for transfers of such systems makes eminent sense.
The difficulty came with less capable varieties of UAS, in connection with which the presumption of denial has had the effect of largely shutting MTCR partners out of an important and growing UAS market. Since non-MTCR partners remain free to sell whatever they wish, however, this was not only a net loss for those countries responsible enough to join the MTCR, but also a net loss for the cause of nonproliferation — as the market for such non-threatening UAS was effectively ceded to the least proliferation–responsible international players, who don’t worry about things such as MTCR standards.
This is why, in March 2018, the United States proposed an adjustment to MTCR controls that would carve out a subset of Category I UAS, based on their maximum airspeed, for treatment as if they were Category II systems — thus making these slower, less-threatening systems no longer subject to the “strong presumption of denial.” This reform proposal would have protected what needed to be protected in that important regime, while yet allowing a degree of relaxation for transfers of lower-threat systems in order to permit all of humanity to take better advantage of the myriad ways in which UAS are increasingly used in both governmental and private sector applications.
For more than two years, therefore, we have been promoting this reform initiative in MCTR fora. We have also repeatedly made technical changes and various other adjustments to our reform proposal in response to issues raised and ideas suggested by other MTCR partners.
Nevertheless, the MTCR is a consensus-based organization, in which even a single country can hold things up indefinitely. We are pleased that many of our partners have supported our reform proposal, but thanks to foot-dragging by some, it is not yet possible to amend the MTCR controls by consensus.
We will still keep promoting this reform proposal, for we still feel it represents the right way to update the MTCR regime in the face of technological change and thus save it from obsolescence, while yet preserving what is most important in it and protecting nonproliferation equities.
But as Tim and I signaled at our February 2019 event here at Hudson, the United States isn’t willing to let U.S interests be forever held hostage by consensus decision-making. While we’ll still keep pushing MTCR reform, therefore, we are now announcing a modest adjustment to U.S. national policy as to when the “strong presumption of denial” can be overcome in exporting slower, and thus less threatening, UAS.
The key to the new U.S. policy lies in remembering that a presumption can sometimes be rebutted. A “presumption of denial” is not a prohibition, and it has always been permissible to make Category I transfers when there is a compelling reason to overcome the presumption and such a step is well justified in terms of the nonproliferation factors specified in the MTCR Guidelines.
We are all familiar with this idea in other contexts; presumptions are used in lots of policy areas. Perhaps most famous is the “presumption of innocence” in criminal law — that is, the principle that one should be presumed innocent of wrongdoing until actually proven guilty. As that example makes clear, however, the central feature of any presumption is that it can be overcome. If not, it wouldn’t be a presumption at all, but rather just an ordinary rule.
“Rebuttability,” if you will, is thus inherent in the concept of a presumption. There would be no criminal justice system at all, for example, if the presumption of innocence could not be overcome by appropriate evidence, and it is a central purpose of criminal procedure to provide a way to determine when that has occurred. That’s just one example of how presumptions are used, but the point should be clear: presumptions, by their nature, are things that can be overcome in sufficiently compelling circumstances.
So while observers of the MTCR scene often casually assume that the “strong presumption of denial” for Category I exports is simply a prohibition, it clearly isn’t – and this understanding is built in to the MTCR Guidelines. And so, with our new policy on Category I UAS exports, the United States is now setting forth a careful and balanced approach, within the MTCR Guidelines, that for the first time offers a clear explication of certain circumstances in which the “strong presumption of denial” can be overcome.
This new U.S. policy largely tracks the basic structure of the reform initiative we proposed for the MTCR a couple of years ago, except that we are implementing the MTCR’s “strong presumption of denial” within the national discretion permitted us in the MTCR Guidelines.
Under this new policy, the “strong presumption of denial” for MTCR Category I UAS transfers will be overcome for a subset of unmanned aerial systems with a maximum airspeed of less than 800 kilometers per hour. This policy will change nothing about how we handle faster UAS, which present higher risks for WMD delivery – systems such as cruise missiles, hypersonic aerial vehicles, and advanced unmanned combat aerial vehicles. Those systems will continue to be effectively non-exportable, except perhaps on rare occasions.
Our new approach will merely mean that we will deal with lower-threat, lower-speed UAS more flexibly, as if they were Category II systems.
I should also emphasize that this new policy does not mean that we will subject transfers of these slower, lower-threat systems to a strong presumption of approval; all we are doing is exempting them from the strong presumption of denial. There will be no presumption of approval, and all proposals will be evaluated on their own merits.
Nothing will change, moreover, in the strict U.S. standards that today go into deciding whether or not a transfer should occur. We will continue to approach each transfer on a case-by-case basis as a whole-of-government decision that takes into account all relevant factors and policies, including U.S. national security, nonproliferation, and foreign policy objectives, as well as the recipient country’s capability and willingness to effectively and responsibly use and safeguard U.S.-origin technology.
We will continue our extensive assessments of the risk of controlled items falling into the hands of unauthorized end-users, irresponsible actors, state adversaries, and terrorists. We will continue to evaluate all transfers against the MTCR Guidelines, and to require appropriate end-use and end-user certifications and end-use monitoring. All military UAS transfers will continue to be subject to State Department-led assessments under the Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, as well as to Defense Department-led assessments of technology security, as applicable. And all civil UAS exports will continue to be subject to the Export Administration Regulations.
The United States will continue to abide by its MTCR commitments, including those related to pre-notifying Category I transfers. We will also continue to promote responsible standards of behavior in UAS export and use, such as in the “Joint Declaration for the Export and Subsequent Use of Armed or Strike-Enabled ” and we’ll seek to develop further international standards for the export and use of armed UAS.
It is true that that the best way to proceed would have been to clarify these issues across the entire MTCR regime through adoption of our modest reform proposal there, so that all partners could harmonize approaches around a sensible maximum airspeed threshold. As I indicated, however, at least one MTCR participant seems to have prioritized reflexive opposition to anything the United States proposes over sensible reform of the MTCR Guidelines in the face of technological change. That’s unfortunate for the regime, for unless naysayers change course, the MTCR’s technological standards — set more than three decades ago, in 1987 — will simply become more and more out of date with the passage of time, and stress upon the regime will needlessly increase.
In this context, we’re pleased to be able to take a small step forward on our own, by implementing an analogous reform entirely consistent both with the letter and with the spirit of the MTCR Guidelines. We continue strongly to support the MTCR as an important element of the broader global nonproliferation regime.
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- Luxembourg Travel AdvisoryBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020
- Assistant Attorney General Beth A. Williams Delivers Capital Conversations Speech Highlighting Department of Justice Policy AccomplishmentsBy Sam NewsOctober 30, 2020Thank you, Dean, for inviting me. I am honored to be here and to be part of the Capital Conversations series.[Read More…]
- Federal Research Grants: OMB Should Take Steps to Establish the Research Policy BoardBy Sam NewsFebruary 3, 2021As of January 2021, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had not established the Research Policy Board as required by the 21st Century Cures Act. The act requires OMB to establish the Board within 1 year of the December 13, 2016 enactment of the act. The Board is to provide information on the effects of regulations related to federal research requirements. OMB stated that it had not established the Board because of issues with the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) and other federal agencies’ full participation in the Board’s potential activities to develop or implement a modified approach to indirect cost policies. According to OMB, “the Board would necessarily delve into issues related to compliance burden and indirect cost reimbursement to entities that receive federal funding for research.” Specifically, OMB pointed to a statutory provision appearing in annual appropriations bills that it believes prohibits HHS and other agencies from taking action on issues that could implicate certain indirect cost provisions. According to OMB, this provision could, if continued in future bills, “complicate or even possibly prohibit HHS from participating in major elements of the Board’s process.” OMB stated that, without representation of a major research agency such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is part of HHS, “OMB would not be equipped to meet the statutory goals of the Board.” However, HHS stated in October 2020 that the indirect cost provision would not prohibit NIH’s participation on the Board and that the department was not aware of any other appropriations law provision that would prohibit such participation. GAO has no basis to disagree with HHS’s position. The 21st Century Cures Act does not specifically direct the Board to examine issues related to indirect costs, and we identified other issues that may fall within the scope of the Board’s activities. For example, the act specifies five activities that the Board may conduct, including creating a forum for the discussion of research policy or regulatory gaps, and identifying regulatory process improvements and policy changes. The Board could consider examining these or other issues related to streamlining and harmonizing regulations and reducing administrative burden in federally funded research in accordance with the 21st Century Cures Act. By not having established the Board, OMB is missing opportunities for the Board to provide information on the effects of regulations related to requirements for federally funded research, and to make recommendations to harmonize and streamline such requirements. Further, OMB has limited time to establish the Board and the Board may have insufficient time to complete its work before the Board is set to terminate on September 30, 2021. The 21st Century Cures Act requires OMB to establish an advisory committee, to be known as the Research Policy Board, that is responsible for making recommendations on modifying and harmonizing regulation of federally funded research to reduce administrative burden. The Board is to consist of both federal and non-federal members and include not more than 10 members from federal agencies, including officials from OMB, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), HHS, the National Science Foundation, and other departments and agencies that support or regulate scientific research, as determined by the OMB Director. The 21st Century Cures Act includes a provision for GAO to conduct an independent evaluation of the Board’s activities. This report examines the steps OMB has taken to establish the Board as required by the 21st Century Cures Act. GAO reviewed written responses and other information from OMB, HHS, and OSTP; the 21st Century Cures Act and other laws related to the Board and its establishment; relevant reports on issues related to administrative burden; and related documents such as memoranda and agency guidance. GAO submitted a draft report containing the results of its evaluation to Congress on December 10, 2020. Congress should consider extending the period of authorization for the Research Policy Board, giving OMB additional time to establish the Research Policy Board and complete its statutory mission under the 21st Century Cures Act. GAO recommends that OMB establish the Research Policy Board as mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act and report to Congress on the Board’s activities. OMB did not agree or disagree with this recommendation. We maintain that the evidence in this report shows the need for our recommendation. For more information, contact John Neumann at (202) 512-6888 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Statement from Attorney General William P. Barr on the Arrest of Kansas City Man Charged with the Murder of Four-Year-Old LeGend TaliferroBy Sam NewsAugust 13, 2020Attorney General William P. Barr issued the following statement in response to the arrest of a Kansas City man accused of murdering four-year-old LeGend Taliferro, after whom the Department of Justice’s Operation Legend is named.[Read More…]
- Immigration Enforcement: ICE Can Further Enhance Its Planning and Oversight of State and Local AgreementsBy Sam NewsFebruary 26, 2021Within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) met its goal to expand the 287(g) program. However, ICE has not established performance goals that cover all program activities, such as ICE's oversight of its law enforcement agency (LEA) partners, or measures to assess the program's performance, such as the percentage of LEA partners in compliance with annual training requirements. As a result, ICE is not well-positioned to determine the extent to which the program is achieving intended results. ICE considers a number of factors, such as LEAs' capability to act as an ICE force multiplier, when reviewing their suitability to join the program; however, ICE has not assessed how to optimize the use of its resources and program benefits to guide its recruitment of future 287(g) participants. For example, ICE has two models in which LEAs can participate with varying levels of immigration enforcement responsibilities. In the Jail Enforcement Model (JEM), designated state or local officers identify and process removable foreign nationals who have been arrested and booked into the LEA's correctional facility, whereas in the Warrant Service Officer (WSO) model, the designated officers only serve warrants to such individuals. However, ICE has not assessed the mix of participants for each model that would address resource limitations, as each model has differing resource and oversight requirements. By assessing how to leverage its program resources and optimize benefits received, ICE could approach recruitment more strategically and optimize program benefits. 287(g) Participants in January 2017 and September 2020 ICE uses a number of mechanisms to oversee 287(g) JEM participants' compliance with their agreements, such as conducting inspections and reviewing reported complaints. However, at the time of GAO's review, ICE did not have an oversight mechanism for participants' in the WSO model. For example, ICE did not have clear policies on 287(g) field supervisors' oversight responsibilities or plan to conduct compliance inspections for WSO participants. An oversight mechanism could help ICE ensure that WSO participants comply with their 287(g) agreement and other relevant ICE policies and procedures. The 287(g) program authorizes ICE to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies to assist with enforcing immigration laws. The program expanded from 35 agreements in January 2017 to 150 as of September 2020. GAO was asked to review ICE's management and oversight of the program. This report examines (1) the extent to which ICE has developed performance goals and measures to assess the 287(g) program; (2) how ICE determines eligibility for 287(g) program participation and considers program resources; and (3) how ICE conducts oversight of 287(g) program participant compliance and addresses noncompliance. GAO reviewed ICE policies and documentation, and interviewed officials from ICE headquarters and field offices. GAO also interviewed 11 LEAs selected based on the type of 287(g) agreement, length of participation, and facility type (e.g. state or local).While not generalizable, information collected from the selected LEAs provided insights into 287(g) program operations and oversight of program participants. GAO analyzed data on 287(g) inspection results and complaints from fiscal years 2015 through 2020. GAO recommends that ICE (1) establish performance goals and related performance measures; (2) assess the 287(g) program's composition to help leverage its resources and optimize program benefits; and (3) develop and implement an oversight mechanism for the WSO model. DHS concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or GamblerR@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Statement of Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on the Verdict in the Chauvin TrialBy Sam NewsApril 20, 2021U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland's statement following the verdict in the state of Minnesota's trial of Derek Chauvin:[Read More…]
- Two Former Louisiana Correctional Officers Sentenced for Cover Up Following Death of an InmateBy Sam NewsMarch 11, 2021Two Louisiana women, former jail deputies, were sentenced today to over a year in prison and six months in prison respectively for their roles in covering up a civil rights violation arising out of an inmate’s death at the St. Bernard Parish Prison (SBPP).[Read More…]
- Joint Press Statement on the 11th U.S.-Japan Policy Cooperation Dialogue on the Internet EconomyBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020
- Justice Department Again to Monitor Compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Laws on Election DayBy Sam NewsNovember 2, 2020The Justice Department today announced its plans for voting rights monitoring in jurisdictions around the country for the Nov. 3, 2020 general election. The Justice Department historically has monitored in jurisdictions in the field on election day, and is again doing so this year. The department will also take complaints from the public nationwide regarding possible violations of the federal voting rights laws through its call center.[Read More…]
- Russian Project Lakhta Member Charged with Wire Fraud ConspiracyBy Sam NewsSeptember 10, 2020A criminal complaint was filed today charging a Russian national for his alleged role in a conspiracy to use the stolen identities of real U.S. persons to open fraudulent accounts at banking and cryptocurrency exchanges.[Read More…]
- Secretary Pompeo’s Meeting with Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s Negotiating TeamBy Sam NewsNovember 21, 2020
- Colorado Businessman Indicted for Employment Tax FraudBy Sam NewsApril 21, 2021A federal grand jury in Denver, Colorado, returned an indictment charging a Bow Mar, Colorado, businessman with tax evasion, failing to pay over employment taxes, and failing to file tax returns.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Invests $2.6 Million to Mitigate Violent Crime and Support Public Safety in Disruption EffortsBy Sam NewsNovember 10, 2020The Department of Justice announced awards from the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) totaling $2.6 million to four jurisdictions to disrupt and mitigate threats of violence. The funds support state and local prosecutors and investigators who seek expertise from mental health and threat assessment experts to identify these individuals and prevent violent acts.[Read More…]
- Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Jayme West and Jim Sharpe of Arizona Morning News on KTAR PhoenixBy Sam NewsOctober 15, 2020Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
- Maryland Tax Preparer Indicted for Preparing False ReturnsBy Sam NewsNovember 23, 2020A federal grand jury in Greenbelt, Maryland, returned an indictment today charging an Upper Marlboro tax return preparer with conspiracy to defraud the United States and aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur.[Read More…]
- Connecticut Man Charged with Assaulting an Officer During U.S. Capitol BreachBy Sam NewsJanuary 20, 2021A Connecticut man was charged yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia with assaulting an officer during the breach of the U.S. Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021. He will be presented in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York today, before appearing in Washington D.C.[Read More…]
- Mathematics Professor and University Researcher Indicted for Grant FraudBy Sam NewsApril 21, 2021Today, a federal grand jury in Carbondale, Ill. returned an indictment charging a mathematics professor and researcher at Southern Illinois University – Carbondale (SIUC) with two counts of wire fraud and one count of making a false statement.[Read More…]
- Zimbabwe Travel AdvisoryBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020
- Justice Department Sues Monopolist Google For Violating Antitrust LawsBy Sam NewsOctober 20, 2020Today, the Department of Justice — along with eleven state Attorneys General — filed a civil antitrust lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to stop Google from unlawfully maintaining monopolies through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices in the search and search advertising markets and to remedy the competitive harms. The participating state Attorneys General offices represent Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, and Texas.[Read More…]
- Final Defendant Sentenced in $7 Billion Investment Fraud SchemeBy Sam NewsFebruary 24, 2021The former chief of Antigua’s Financial Services Regulatory Commission (FSRC) was sentenced today to 10 years in prison for his role in connection with a $7 billion Ponzi scheme involving the Stanford International Bank (SIB).[Read More…]
- Cyber Diplomacy: State Should Use Data and Evidence to Justify Its Proposal for a New Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging TechnologiesBy Sam NewsJanuary 28, 2021The Department of State (State) did not demonstrate that it used data and evidence to develop its proposal for establishing a new Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies (CSET). In response to GAO requests for such data and evidence, State provided GAO with briefing slides outlining different options for the new bureau and an action memo, approved by the Secretary of State. The memo recommended that CSET focus on cyberspace security and the security aspects of emerging technologies and report to the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, while the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (EB) would continue to have responsibility for digital economy issues. However, State did not explain how it would address any challenges associated with the decision on CSET's organizational placement. For example, the memo did not address how State would coordinate internally on the cybersecurity aspects of digital economy policy issues with cyber diplomacy functions split between CSET and EB. The memo also did not specify how State would develop consolidated positions and set priorities for State's international cyberspace efforts, given the separation of these issues. Moreover, neither the briefing nor the action memo contained analyses supporting the additional details laid out in State's 2019 notification to Congress on CSET, including support for proposed resource allocations for the new bureau. Without developing data and evidence to support its proposal for the new bureau, State lacks assurance that its proposal will effectively set priorities and allocate appropriate resources for the bureau to achieve its intended goals. State needs to develop these areas further to better ensure the success of any new organizational arrangement. The United States and its allies are facing expanding foreign cyber threats as international trade, communication, and critical infrastructure become increasingly dependent on cyberspace. State leads U.S. government international efforts to advance the full range of U.S. interests in cyberspace. The Cyber Diplomacy Act of 2019 (H.R. 739, 116th Cong.), co-sponsored by 29 members of Congress, proposed the establishment of a new office within State that would have consolidated responsibility for digital economy and internet freedom issues, together with international cybersecurity issues. While the House Foreign Affairs Committee reported out this bill in March 2019, the full House of Representatives did not consider the bill prior to expiration of the 116th Congress. State subsequently notified Congress in June 2019 of its plan to establish CSET, with a narrower focus on cyberspace security and emerging technologies. On January 7, 2021, State announced that the Secretary had approved the creation of CSET and directed the department to move forward with establishing the bureau. However, as of the date of this report, State had not created CSET. GAO was asked to review State's efforts to advance U.S. interests in cyberspace. This report examines the extent to which State used data and evidence to develop and justify its proposal to establish CSET. GAO reviewed available documentation and interviewed State officials. To determine the extent to which State used data and evidence to develop and justify its proposal to establish CSET, GAO assessed State's documentation against a relevant key practice for agency reforms compiled in GAO's June 2018 report on government reorganization. The Secretary of State should ensure that State uses data and evidence to justify its current proposal, or any new proposal, to establish the Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies to enable the bureau to effectively set priorities and allocate resources to achieve its goals. While State disagreed with GAO's characterization of its use of data and evidence to develop its proposal for CSET, it agreed that reviewing such information to evaluate program effectiveness can be useful. State commented that it has provided GAO with appropriate material on its decision to establish CSET and has not experienced challenges in coordinating cyberspace security policy across the department while the CSET proposal has been in discussion. State concluded that this provides assurance that CSET will allow the new bureau to effectively set priorities and allocate resources. The documents State provided in response to GAO's requests, including a set of briefing slides and an action memo to the Secretary, did not sufficiently demonstrate that it used data and evidence in developing its proposal. In addition, State's comment that it has not experienced coordination challenges in recent years is not sufficient evidence that the potential for such challenges does not exist. Without evidence to support the creation of the new bureau, State lacks needed assurance that the bureau will effectively set priorities and allocate appropriate resources to achieve its intended goals. For more information, contact Brian M. Mazanec at (202) 512-5130 or MazanecB@gao.gov, or Nick Marinos at (202) 512-9342 or MarinosN@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- COVID-19 Loans: SBA Has Begun to Take Steps to Improve Oversight and Fraud Risk ManagementBy Sam NewsApril 20, 2021What GAO Found In April 2020, the Small Business Administration (SBA) quickly implemented the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and expedited the processing of Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and a new EIDL advance program. These important programs have helped businesses survive during the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to move quickly on these programs, SBA initially put limited internal controls in place, leaving both susceptible to program integrity issues, improper payments, and fraud. Because of concerns about program integrity, GAO added PPP and the EIDL program onto its High-Risk List in March 2021. SBA has begun to take steps to address these initial deficiencies: PPP oversight. Because ongoing oversight is crucial, GAO recommended in June 2020 that SBA develop plans to respond to PPP risks to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. Since then, SBA has developed a loan review process and added up-front verifications before it approves new loans. Improper payments for PPP. GAO recommended in November 2020 that SBA expeditiously estimate improper payments for PPP and report estimates and error rates. SBA has now developed a plan for the testing needed to estimate improper payments. Analyzing EIDL data. Based on evidence of widespread potential fraud for EIDL, GAO recommended in January 2021 that SBA conduct portfolio-level analysis to detect potentially ineligible applications. SBA has not announced plans to implement this recommendation. EIDL oversight. GAO recommended in March 2021 that SBA implement a comprehensive oversight plan for EIDL to ensure program integrity. SBA agreed to implement such a plan. Assessment of fraud risks. SBA has not conducted a formal fraud risk assessment for PPP or the EIDL program. GAO made four recommendations in March 2021, including that SBA conduct a formal assessment and develop a strategy to manage fraud risks for each program. SBA said it would work to complete fraud risk assessments for PPP and EIDL and continually monitor fraud risks. Financial statement audit. In December 2020, SBA's independent financial statement auditor issued a disclaimer of opinion on SBA's fiscal year 2020 consolidated financial statements because SBA could not provide adequate documentation to support a significant number of transactions and account balances related to PPP and EIDL. GAO continues to review information SBA recently provided, including data on PPP loan forgiveness and details on the PPP and EIDL loan review processes. In addition, GAO has obtained additional information from a survey of PPP participating lenders, interviews with SBA's PPP contractors, and written responses to questions provided by SBA's EIDL contractor and subcontractors. Why GAO Did This Study SBA has made or guaranteed about 18.7 million loans and grants through PPP and the EIDL program, providing about $968 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. PPP provides potentially forgivable loans to small businesses, and EIDL provides low-interest loans of up to $2 million for operating and other expenses, as well as advances (grants). This testimony discusses the lack of controls in PPP and the EIDL program and SBA's efforts to improve its oversight of these programs. It is based largely on GAO's June 2020–March 2021 reports on the federal response, including by SBA, to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 (GAO-20-625, GAO-20-701, GAO-21-191, GAO-21-265, GAO -21-387). For those reports, GAO reviewed SBA documentation and SBA Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports; analyzed SBA data; and interviewed officials from SBA, the SBA OIG, and the Department of the Treasury.[Read More…]
- Retirement Security: DOL Could Better Inform Divorcing Parties About Dividing SavingsBy Sam NewsAugust 28, 2020Although more than one-third of adults aged 50 or older have experienced divorce, few people seek and obtain a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), according to large plan sponsors GAO surveyed. A QDRO establishes the right of an alternate payee, such as a former spouse, to receive all or a portion of the benefits payable to a participant under a retirement plan upon separation or divorce. There are no nationally representative data on the number of QDROs, but plans and record keepers GAO interviewed and surveyed reported that few seek and obtain QDROs. For example, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation administered retirement benefits to about 1.6 million participants, and approved about 16,000 QDROs in the last 10 years. GAO's analysis of other survey data found about one-third of those who experienced a divorce from 2008 to 2016 and reported their former spouse had a retirement plan also reported losing a claim to that spouse's benefits. Many experts stated that some people—especially those with lower incomes—face challenges to successfully navigating the process for obtaining a QDRO, including complexity and cost. Individuals seeking a QDRO may be charged fees for preparation and review of draft orders before they are qualified as QDROs and, according to experts GAO interviewed, these fees vary widely. These experts cited concerns about QDRO review fees that they said in some cases were more than twice the amount of typical fees, and said they may discourage some from pursuing QDROs. Department of Labor (DOL) officials said the agency generally does not collect information on QDRO fees. Exploring ways to collect and analyze information from plans on fees could help DOL ensure costs are reasonable. Divorcing parties who pursue QDROs often had orders not qualified due to lacking basic information, according to plans and record keepers we surveyed (see figure). Plan Administrators and Record Keepers Reported Reasons for Not Qualifying a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) DOL provides some information to help divorcing parties pursue QDROs. However, many experts cited a lack of awareness about QDROs by the public and said DOL could do more to make resources available to divorcing parties. Without additional outreach by DOL, divorcing parties may spend unnecessary time and resources drafting orders that are not likely to be qualified, resulting in unnecessary expenditures of time and money. A domestic relations order (DRO) is a court-issued judgment, decree, or order that, when qualified by a retirement plan administrator, can divide certain retirement benefits in connection with separation or divorce and as such provide crucial financial security to a former spouse. DOL has authority to interpret QDRO requirements. GAO was asked to review the process for obtaining QDROs. This report examines what is known about (1) the number of QDRO recipients, (2) the fees and other expenses for processing QDROs, and (3) the reasons plans do not initially qualify DROs and the challenges experts identify regarding the QDRO process. To conduct this work, GAO analyzed available data, and a total of 14 responses from two surveys of large private sector plans and account record keepers, and interviewed 18 experts including practitioners who provide services to divorcing couples. GAO is recommending that DOL (1) explore ways to collect information on QDRO-related fees charged to participants or alternate payees, and (2) take steps to ensure information about the process for obtaining a QDRO is accessible. DOL generally agreed with our recommendations. For more information, contact Kris Nguyen at (202) 512-7215 or NguyenTT@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Update to Secretary Pompeo’s Travel to AsiaBy Sam NewsOctober 4, 2020Morgan Ortagus, [Read More…]
- USAJOBS Website: OPM Has Taken Actions to Assess and Enhance the User ExperienceBy Sam NewsOctober 13, 2020The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) uses a variety of sources to assess the user experience with USAJOBS, the central website for posting federal job openings. GAO found that OPM's assessments generally track key measures in accordance with selected government-wide guidance. Specifically, OPM collects data on most of the website performance measures recommended by selected guidance from Digital.gov, including the number of times pages were viewed, the percentage of users who use the USAJOBS search box, and overall customer experience. Additionally, consistent with guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), OPM surveys USAJOBS users about their experiences with the site. OPM also assesses user experience through usability testing, focus groups, and analysis of data on questions submitted to the USAJOBS help desk. Through these assessments, OPM found variations in user experience across the job search and application process, including variations in how people find job announcements and how long it takes them to complete job applications. Since the agency's redesign of USAJOBS in 2016, OPM has taken a number of actions in an effort to address feedback from these assessments and improve the USAJOBS user experience. For example, in 2017, OPM created a set of categories, called Hiring Paths, that describe who is eligible to apply for specific federal jobs and guide job seekers to positions for which they are eligible. Other OPM actions taken from 2016 to 2020 include implementing a new process for logging in to the system to improve website security; updating job search filters and adding a keyword autocomplete function, which suggests search terms as a job seeker types in the search box; revising its job announcement template for hiring agencies to help eliminate duplicative language, increase clarity, and avoid jargon; adding guidance to help job seekers complete federal applications and understand federal hiring authorities; and highlighting jobs related to COVID-19 response. OPM continues to update and refine these efforts. OPM also expects to take a number of additional actions intended to help enhance the USAJOBS website. For example, according to OPM officials, in early fiscal year 2021 they expect to add a “job status” indicator for each job announcement posted on USAJOBS. The job status indicator would provide information such as the number of applicants and when the job has been filled. According to OPM, this would improve transparency and accountability and also provide applicants with updates at each stage of the hiring process. GAO provided a draft of this report to OPM for review and comment. OPM stated that it did not have comments. The USAJOBS website, which is managed by OPM, is the entry point to the federal hiring process for most agencies. It facilitates hiring of new employees as well as the movement of talent across government through merit-based promotions and transfers. OPM uses USAJOBS to help achieve the agency's mission to recruit and retain a world-class government workforce. OPM is responsible for ensuring the usability of USAJOBS and collecting feedback on the user experience. Hiring agencies are responsible for the content of job opportunity announcements. Report language accompanying the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill, 2020, and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 included provisions for GAO to review the user experience on USAJOBS. This report examines (1) the extent to which OPM assesses the user experience with USAJOBS and the results of OPM's assessments; and (2) actions OPM has taken to improve the user experience with USAJOBS. GAO reviewed OPM data and documentation, interviewed OPM officials, and compared OPM's assessments of user experience to OMB guidance for federal service providers and selected guidance from Digital.gov on performance measures for federal websites. For more information, contact Michelle B. Rosenberg at (202) 512-6806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Department of Justice Files Statement of Interest Supporting Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s Efforts to Practice its Faith During COVID-19By Sam NewsOctober 2, 2020The Justice Department today filed a statement of interest in federal district court in Washington, D.C., arguing the Constitution and federal law require the District of Columbia to accommodate Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s effort to hold worship services outdoors, at least to the same extent the District of Columbia allows other forms of outdoor First Amendment activity, such as peaceful protests.[Read More…]
- Four Men Indicted for Hate Crimes and False Statements After Racially Motivated Assault in Lynnwood, WashingtonBy Sam NewsDecember 18, 2020The Justice Department announced today that four men from across the Pacific Northwest were indicted this week for federal hate crimes and making false statements in connection with a Dec. 8, 2018, racially-motivated assault.[Read More…]
- NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Has a Bold, New LookBy Sam NewsIn SpaceDecember 9, 2020A giant version of [Read More…]
- U.S.-Canada High-Level Ministerial Dialogue on Climate AmbitionBy Sam NewsFebruary 24, 2021
- Hospital Researcher Sentenced to Prison for Conspiring to Steal Trade Secrets, Sell Them in ChinaBy Sam NewsFebruary 1, 2021A former Dublin, Ohio, woman was sentenced in U.S. District Court today to 30 months in prison for conspiring to steal exosome-related trade secrets concerning the research, identification and treatment of a range of pediatric medical conditions. Li Chen, 47, also conspired to commit wire fraud. Chen admitted in her guilty plea in July 2020 to stealing scientific trade secrets related to exosomes and exosome isolation from Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Research Institute for her own personal financial gain.[Read More…]
- CEO Sentenced to Prison in $150 Million Health Care Fraud, Opioid Distribution, and Money Laundering SchemeBy Sam NewsMarch 3, 2021The chief executive officer of a Michigan and Ohio-based group of pain clinics and other medical providers was sentenced today to 15 years in prison for developing and approving a corporate policy to administer unnecessary back injections to patients in exchange for prescriptions of over 6.6 million doses of medically unnecessary opioids.[Read More…]
- Introductory Remarks of Deputy Attorney General at Announcement of Civil Antitrust Lawsuit Filed Against GoogleBy Sam NewsOctober 20, 2020This morning, the Department of Justice and eleven states filed an antitrust civil lawsuit against Google, for unlawfully maintaining a monopoly in general search services and search advertising in violation of section two of the Sherman Act.[Read More…]
- Execution Scheduled for Federal Death Row Inmate Convicted of Murdering a ChildBy Sam NewsSeptember 30, 2020Attorney General William [Read More…]
- Hear Audio From NASA’s Perseverance As It Travels Through Deep SpaceBy Sam NewsIn SpaceDecember 9, 2020The first to be rigged [Read More…]
- International Law Enforcement Operation Targeting Opioid Traffickers on the Darknet Results in over 170 Arrests Worldwide and the Seizure of Weapons, Drugs and over $6.5 MillionBy Sam NewsSeptember 22, 2020Today, the Department of Justice, through the Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement (JCODE) team joined Europol to announce the results of Operation DisrupTor, a coordinated international effort to disrupt opioid trafficking on the Darknet. The operation, which was conducted across the United States and Europe, demonstrates the continued partnership between JCODE and Europol against the illegal sale of drugs and other illicit goods and services. Operation DisrupTor builds on the success of last year’s Operation SaboTor and the coordinated law enforcement takedown of the Wall Street Market, one of the largest illegal online markets on the dark web.[Read More…]
- South Sudan Travel AdvisoryBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020Do not travel to South [Read More…]
- Secretary Blinken’s Call with the United Arab Emirates Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al NahyanBy Sam NewsFebruary 3, 2021