Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
On the third anniversary of the heinous murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, we honor his extraordinary life and legacy. In his memory, we recommit to advocating for freedom of expression and the protection of journalists, activists, and dissidents everywhere. The United States will always stand by and protect the principle that individuals everywhere should be able to exercise their human rights without fear of punishment or harm.
Since the February release to Congress of the unclassified report on Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, we have taken steps to prevent such a reprehensible crime from happening again. We launched a coordinated effort to prevent and respond to any government targeting journalists, activists, and dissidents beyond its borders, bringing together diplomatic, law enforcement, and intelligence tools to deter repressive governments and better protect targeted individuals and groups, including within the United States. We also developed a global visa restriction policy bearing Khashoggi’s name, under which the United States can restrict and revoke visas for persons involved in the extraterritorial targeting of journalists, activists, or perceived dissidents anywhere in the world. The Department of State has taken action pursuant to the Khashoggi Ban to impose visa restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing. Finally, we are increasing our public reporting on the threat posed by transnational repression and will include specific cases and broader findings as part of our annual Human Rights Reports.
President Biden has made clear that the United States puts human rights at the center of our foreign policy, and I have emphasized to our diplomats that standing up for human rights is squarely in America’s national interests and strengthens our national security. In elevating respect for human rights across the world, the United States will stand by and work with the brave journalists, human rights defenders, and other advocates who too often risk their lives to advance the rights of others. The United States will use every appropriate tool to see to it that they can conduct their important work in safety and security no matter where they are.
- Philadelphia Tax Preparer Pleads Guilty to False ReturnsBy Sam NewsAugust 10, 2021A Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty yesterday to assisting in the preparation of false federal tax returns.[Read More…]
- Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers Delivers Remarks on the National Security Cyber Investigation into North Korean OperativesBy Sam NewsFebruary 17, 2021Today, the Justice Department is announcing charges following a significant national security cyber investigation first disclosed publicly more than two years ago.[Read More…]
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- New Jersey Man Indicted for Promoting Tax Fraud SchemeBy Sam NewsOctober 23, 2020A Pemberton, New Jersey, man appeared in court yesterday on a federal grand jury indictment charging him with conspiring to defraud the United States, assisting in the filing of false tax returns, obstructing the internal revenue laws, and failing to file a tax return, announced Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division. The Sept. 2, 2020 indictment was unsealed following the court appearance.[Read More…]
- U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund: Estimated Lump Sum Catch-Up PaymentsBy Sam NewsAugust 12, 2021What GAO Found GAO estimated that lump sum catch-up payments to 5,364 9/11 victims, spouses, and dependents would total about $2.7 billion. This amount would result in the proportion of payments provided for claims submitted by 9/11 victims, spouses, and dependents to be equal to the proportion of payments provided for claims submitted by 9/11 family members (for example, a nondependent sibling or parent). GAO estimated that the amount of payments that 9/11 family members received (about $1.2 billion), as a percentage of their net eligible claims during the first two rounds of the Fund distributions (about $19.7 billion), was 5.8573 percent. GAO applied the percentage to the net eligible claims of 9/11 victims, spouses, and dependents (about $45.3 billion) to estimate the lump sum catch-up payments. GAO also estimated that, if authorized, lump sum catch-up payments to these 5,364 9/11 victims, spouses, and dependents would vary widely based on their net eligible claims and other factors, such as court awarded compensation related to the act of international terrorism that gave rise to a claimant's final judgement. Below is a summary of how estimated lump sum catch-up payments could vary across all groups: Victims: The minimum amount is $45,056 and maximum amount is $1,171,460, with an average of $445,634; Spouses: The minimum amount is $281,601 and maximum amount is $732,163, with an average of $675,423; and Dependents: The minimum amount is $179,644 and maximum amount is $497,871, with an average of $432,303. Why GAO Did This Study In 2015, the Justice for United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Act (Terrorism Act) was enacted, which established the United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund (Fund) to provide compensation for persons injured in acts of international state-sponsored terrorism. The Fund, which is administered by the Special Master and supported by U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) personnel, has allocated approximately $3.3 billion in three payment rounds, which began in 2017, 2019, and 2020. In 2019, the United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund Clarification Act amended the groups of individuals who were eligible to claim payments from the Fund. These changes affected the amounts that 9/11 victims, spouses, and dependents could claim from the Fund, compared with 9/11 family members. The Sudan Claims Resolution Act includes provisions for GAO to (1) estimate lump sum catch-up payments to eligible 9/11 victims, spouses, and dependents, that would result in the percentage of claims received from the Fund being equal to the percentage of claims of 9/11 family members received from the Fund; and (2) estimate amounts of lump sum catch-up payments for 9/11 victims, spouses, and dependents. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed relevant documents, interviewed DOJ officials who support the Fund, and analyzed Fund data. In March 2021 and June 2021, GAO published Federal Register notices requesting public comments on GAO's methodology for calculating lump sum catch-up payments and estimated lump sum catch-up payments. For more information, contact Triana McNeil at (202) 512-8777 or McNeilT@gao.gov and Jason Bair at (202) 512-4128 or BairJ@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Briefing with Senior State Department Official on the Secretary’s Upcoming Travel to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Cairo, and AmmanBy Sam NewsMay 24, 2021
- Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad Travels to Afghanistan, Qatar, and the RegionBy Sam NewsJune 5, 2021
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- National Weather Service: Additional Actions Needed to Improve the Agency’s Reform EffortsBy Sam NewsOctober 12, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Commerce's National Weather Service (NWS) initiated the Evolve Program in 2017 to carry out a series of agency reforms to help it achieve its strategic vision of strengthening the nation's readiness and responsiveness to extreme weather events. The program has 20 reform initiatives that are in varying stages of completeness and are intended to free up staff time and improve service to the agency's partners, among other things. NWS has substantially followed five of eight leading reform practices. Extent to Which NWS Has Followed Selected Leading Practices for Effective Agency Reforms Practice Extent followed Establishing goals and outcomes ◒ Involving employees and key stakeholders ◒ Using data and evidence ● Addressing fragmentation, overlap, and duplication ● Leadership focus and attention ◒ Managing and monitoring ● Strategic workforce planning ● Employee performance management ● Legend: ● Substantially followed —NWS took actions that addressed most or all aspects of the selected key questions GAO examined for the practice. ◒ Partially followed —NWS took actions that addressed some, but not most, aspects of the selected key questions GAO examined for the practice. Source: GAO analysis of National Weather Service (NWS) documents and interviews with NWS officials. | GAO-21-103792 However, the agency has only partially followed the other three practices, resulting in gaps. Establishing goals and outcomes. NWS has established goals for the Evolve Program but has not established performance measures for key elements of the program's reform efforts. Involving employees and key stakeholders. NWS has engaged its employees in a number of ways in developing the Evolve reforms, including by sending quarterly email updates to all employees. However, the agency has not developed a two-way communications strategy for the program that listens and responds to employee concerns about the proposed reforms. Leadership focus and attention. NWS has designated three leadership positions as having primary responsibility for leading the implementation of the reforms. However, the agency has not established a dedicated implementation team that has the capacity to manage the reform process. Instead, the agency has primarily relied on rotating leaders and part-time staff for the Evolve Program, an approach that has not provided adequate leadership and staff continuity for the program. By addressing gaps in these areas, NWS would have better assurance that its Evolve reform efforts will succeed. Why GAO Did This Study Extreme weather events, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, have caused major damage and loss of life in the United States. NWS is responsible for developing weather forecasts and issuing warnings to help protect life and property from such events. NWS has determined that it needs to reform its operations and workforce to effectively carry out this responsibility and to improve its provision of services to emergency managers and other partners. GAO was asked to review NWS's reform efforts under the Evolve Program. This report examines, among other things, the actions NWS has taken under the Evolve Program and the extent to which it has followed selected leading practices for effective agency reforms. GAO reviewed relevant NWS documents, interviewed officials, and assessed the Evolve reform efforts against selected leading practices.[Read More…]
- Japanese CEO and Employees Charged in Scheme to Defraud U.S. Navy and Dump Wastewater in OceanBy Sam NewsFebruary 17, 2021Three Japanese nationals, including the president and chief executive officer of Yokohama, Japan-based Kanto Kosan Co. Ltd. (Kanto Kosan) were indicted by a federal grand jury Tuesday in connection with an alleged long-running scheme to defraud the U.S. Navy and pollute Japanese waters by dumping contaminated water removed from U.S. Navy ships into the ocean.[Read More…]
- Public Designation of Current and Former Members of the Guatemalan Congress Due to Involvement in Significant CorruptionBy Sam NewsOctober 28, 2020Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
- Tax Administration: Better Coordination Could Improve IRS’s Use of Third-Party Information Reporting to Help Reduce the Tax GapBy Sam NewsJanuary 14, 2021Information returns are forms filed by third parties, such as employers and financial institutions that provide information about taxable transactions. These forms are submitted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Social Security Administration, and taxpayers. Fifty unique types of information returns provide information on individual taxpayers and have a variety of purposes, such as reporting on wages earned or amounts paid that qualify for a tax credit or deduction. IRS identifies mismatches between information returns and tax returns for potential additional review, including enforcement actions. According to IRS research, taxpayers are more likely to misreport income when little or no third-party information reporting exists than when substantial reporting exists. Overview of Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) Process for Matching Information Returns IRS's ability to process and use information returns is limited by its outdated legacy information technology (IT) systems. In 2017, IRS developed a plan to modernize its information return processing systems; however, IRS paused its efforts due to, according to IRS, resource constraints. IRS has an opportunity to capitalize on prior planning efforts by re-evaluating and updating these efforts and integrating them into its broader IT modernization efforts. IRS does not have a coordinated approach with cross-agency leadership that strategically considers how information reporting could be improved to promote compliance with the tax code. While information returns affect many groups across IRS and support multiple compliance programs, no one office has broad responsibility for coordinating these efforts. A formalized collaborative mechanism, such as a steering committee, could help provide leadership and ensure that IRS acts to address issues among the intake, processing, and compliance groups. For example, IRS has not undertaken a broad review of individual information returns to determine if thresholds, deadlines, or other characteristics of the returns continue to meet the needs of the agency. For tax year 2018, IRS received and processed more than 3.5 billion information returns that it used to facilitate compliance checks on more than 150 million individual income tax returns. By matching information reported by taxpayers against information reported by third parties, IRS identifies potential fraud and noncompliance. GAO was asked to review IRS's use of information returns. This report provides an overview of information returns and assesses the extent to which IRS has a coordinated approach to identifying and responding to risks related to the use of information returns in the tax system, among other objectives. GAO reviewed IRS documents and data on information returns filing, processing, and use, and interviewed cognizant officials. GAO compared IRS's efforts in this area to federal internal control standards, and IRS's strategic plan. GAO is making nine recommendations to IRS, including that IRS revise its modernization plans for its information returns processing systems and incorporate it into broader IT modernization efforts and develop a collaborative mechanism to improve coordination among IRS groups that use information returns. IRS neither agreed, nor disagreed with the recommendations; however, IRS outlined actions it plans to take to address the recommendations. Social Security Administration had no comments. For more information, contact James R. McTigue at (202) 512-9110 or McTigueJj@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Man Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison for Attempting to Provide Material Support to ISISBy Sam NewsMay 12, 2021A New York man was sentenced today to 20 years in prison for attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, aka ISIS. Zachary Clark, aka Umar Kabir, Umar Shishani and Abu Talha, 42, of Brooklyn, New York, pleaded guilty in August 2020 to one count of attempting to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, namely, ISIS.[Read More…]
- Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco Delivers Remarks Announcing Drug Enforcement and Awareness Raising CampaignBy Sam NewsSeptember 30, 2021Thank you for being here today. I’m pleased to be joined today by DEA Administrator Anne Milgram to shine a light on one of the most significant threats to the public safety and the health in this country: fatal drug overdoses.[Read More…]
- U.S. Leadership on Human Rights and Ending Systemic RacismBy Sam NewsJuly 15, 2021Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
- Afghanistan Development: USAID Continues to Face Challenges in Managing and Overseeing U.S. Development Assistance ProgramsBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021This testimony discusses oversight of U.S. assistance programs in Afghanistan. Strengthening the Afghan economy through development assistance efforts is critical to the counterinsurgency strategy and a key part of the U.S Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign Plan for Afghanistan. Since fiscal year 2002, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded over $11.5 billion in support of development assistance programs in Afghanistan. Since 2003, GAO has issued several reports and testimonies related to U.S. security, governance, and development efforts in Afghanistan. In addition to reviewing program planning and implementation, we have focused on efforts to ensure proper management and oversight of the U.S. investment, which are essential to reducing waste, fraud, and abuse. Over the course of this work, we have identified improvements that were needed, as well as many obstacles that have affected success and should be considered in program management and oversight. While drawing on past work relating to U.S. development efforts in Afghanistan, this testimony focuses on findings in our most recent report released yesterday on the USAID's management and oversight of its agricultural programs in Afghanistan. It will address (1) the challenges the United States faces in managing and overseeing development programs in Afghanistan; and (2) the extent to which USAID has followed its established performance management and evaluation procedures.Various factors challenge U.S. efforts to ensure proper management and oversight of U.S. development efforts in Afghanistan. Among the most significant has been the "high-threat" working environment, the difficulties in preserving institutional knowledge due to the lack of a formal mechanism for retaining and sharing information during staff turnover, and the Afghan government ministries' lack of capacity and corruption challenges. USAID has taken some steps to assess and begin addressing the limited capacity and corruption challenges associated with Afghan ministries. In addition, USAID has established performance management and evaluation procedures for managing and overseeing its assistance programs. These procedures, among other things, require (1) the development of a Mission Performance Management Plan (PMP); (2) the establishment and approval of implementing partner performance indicators and targets; and (3) analyses and use of performance data. Although USAID disseminated alternative monitoring methods for projects in high-threat environments such as Afghanistan, USAID has generally required the same performance management and evaluation procedures in Afghanistan as it does in other countries in which it operates. Summary USAID has not consistently followed its established performance management and evaluation procedures. There were various areas in which the USAID Mission to Afghanistan (Mission) needed to improve upon. In particular, we found that the Mission had been operating without an approved PMP to guide its management and oversight efforts after 2008. In addition, while implementing partners have routinely reported on the progress of USAID's programs, we found that USAID did not always approve the performance indicators these partners were using, and that USAID did not ensure, as its procedures require, that its implementing partners establish targets for each performance indicator. For example, only 2 of 7 USAID-funded agricultural programs active during fiscal year 2009, included in our review, had targets for all of their indicators. We also found that USAID could improve its assessment and use of performance data submitted by implementing partners or program evaluations to, among other things, help identify strengths or weaknesses of ongoing or completed programs. Moreover, USAID needs to improve documentation of its programmatic decisions and put mechanisms in place for program managers to transfer knowledge to their successors. Finally, USAID has not fully addressed the risks of relying on contractor staff to perform inherently governmental tasks, such as awarding and administering grants. In the absence of consistent application of its existing performance management and evaluation procedures, USAID programs are more vulnerable to corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse. We reported in 2009 that USAID's failure to adhere to its existing policies severely limited its ability to require expenditure documentation for Afghanistan-related grants that were associated with findings of alleged criminal actions and mismanaged funds. To enhance the performance management of USAID's development assistance programs in Afghanistan, we have recommended, among other things, that the Administrator of USAID take steps to: (1) ensure programs have performance indicators and targets; (2) fully assess and use program data and evaluations to shape current programs and inform future programs; (3) address preservation of institutional knowledge; and (4) improve guidance for the use and management of USAID contractors. USAID concurred with these recommendations, and identified steps the agency is taking to address them. We will continue to monitor and follow up on the implementation of our recommendations.[Read More…]
- Information Technology: Cost and Schedule Performance of Selected IRS InvestmentsBy Sam NewsOctober 19, 2021What GAO Found The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reported that the five investments GAO reviewed met most of the performance goals set by the agency for fiscal years 2019 and 2020. Specifically, IRS reported that most of the three investments in development were within 10 percent of performance goals, a variance the Office of Management and Budget considers not to be significant. An exception was the Customer Account Data Engine (CADE) 2, a program intended to modernize tax processing, that reportedly spent about 15 percent less than budgeted for 2020. For the two investments in operations and maintenance, IRS reported that for fiscal years 2019 and 2020 one investment met all five operational performance goals established by the agency, while the other met three of five goals in fiscal year 2019 and four of five in fiscal year 2020. While CADE 2 had lower reported costs than expected for 2020 and was within 10 percent of schedule goals for 2019 and 2020, its longer term performance and outlook are troubling. IRS began developing CADE 2 in 2009 to replace its 60-year-old Individual Master File (IMF)—IRS's authoritative data source for individual tax account data. Since 2009, IRS has revised the program's cost, schedule, and scope goals on numerous occasions, including seven times between 2016 and 2019. Accordingly, a key major program milestone for replacing selected IMF functions, known as transition state 2, has slipped 9 years—from 2014 to 2023. Further, CADE 2 is now expected to replace core functions of IMF, rather than the entire system. The CADE 2 delays and IRS's continued use of IMF are troubling given, that IMF (1) is one of the oldest systems in the federal government; (2) has software written in an archaic language that IRS stated is no longer taught in school; and (3) is supported by a workforce with specialized skills that are increasingly harder to find. In June 2021, IRS reported that it planned to replace and fully retire IMF by 2030. Accordingly, IRS will continue to face IMF challenges for several more years. For its agency-wide modernization plan, IRS reported completing most of its activities intended for fiscal years 2019 and 2020 within cost and on or ahead of schedule. The updated plan identified 59 activities for completion in fiscal years 2019 and 2020. IRS reported that, by the end of fiscal year 2020, it had completed 54 of the 59 activities early or on schedule and the remaining five activities 3 to 7 months later than initially planned. Regarding cost, IRS reported that it spent $9 million less than the $300 million planned for fiscal year 2019 and $19.9 million less than the $271 million planned for fiscal year 2020. To respond to the pandemic, IRS took a number of information technology (IT)-related actions to maximize telework capabilities for its employees, including deploying IT equipment, such as laptops, and upgrading its network infrastructure bandwidth. For fiscal year 2020, IRS spent $104 million for these actions from emergency appropriations included in pandemic-related legislation. According to IRS officials, the long-term impact of sustaining an increased level of telework on the budget had not been determined. In contrast, IRS said the actions to maximize telework capabilities delayed plans for IT modernization and operations. For example, IRS reported that staffing resources initially allocated for CADE 2 had been reassigned to support COVID-19 responsibilities, resulting in a 7-month delay in the scheduled completion of key development activities. Why GAO Did This Study IRS relies extensively on IT investments to annually collect more than $3.5 trillion in taxes, distribute more than $450 billion in refunds, and carry out its mission of providing service to America's taxpayers in meeting their tax obligations. For fiscal year 2020, the agency reported spending approximately $2.8 billion for these investments. The Joint Explanatory Statement accompanying the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2020 included a provision for GAO to annually review the status of IRS's IT investments. GAO's specific objectives were to (1) summarize IRS's reported performance for selected IT investments, including CADE 2; (2) identify IRS's reported progress in implementing its 2019 IT modernization plan; and (3) identify the IT-related actions IRS has taken to maximize telework and operate during the COVID-19 pandemic, and any impacts of those actions. GAO obtained IRS's reported performance information for a nonprobability sample of five investments, and compared performance to agency targets. GAO also compared modernization activities that IRS reported completing to those identified in the agency's 2019 IT modernization plan. Further, GAO reviewed agency documentation to identify reported IT actions taken to continue to operate during the pandemic and reported associated impacts. GAO also interviewed cognizant IRS officials. For more information, contact David B. Hinchman at (214) 777-5719 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Statement of the Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen on the Death of Former Attorney General Richard (Dick) ThornburghBy Sam NewsJanuary 2, 2021Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen released the following statement: It is with profound sadness that I learned of the passing of former Attorney General and Pennsylvania Governor Richard (Dick) L. Thornburgh. Gov. Thornburgh’s tenure at the Department of Justice started in 1969 in the Western District of Pennsylvania, where he served as the U.S. Attorney.[Read More…]
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- Airport Funding: Information on Grandfathered Revenue Diversion and Potential Implications of RepealBy Sam NewsSeptember 8, 2020According to the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) data for fiscal years 1995 through 2018, nine airport owners—also known as “airport sponsors”—lawfully diverted airport revenue amounts ranging from $0 to over $840 million by a sponsor in 1 year. These “grandfathered” airport sponsors are currently exempt from federal requirements to use all airport revenue solely for airport purposes (see figure). Together, these sponsors own 32 airports serving millions of passengers a year. Five of these sponsors are city or state governments, which regularly diverted airport revenue into their general funds for government programs and services. Four of these sponsors are transportation authorities, which diverted varying amounts for various transportation-related purposes, such as supporting maritime ports or transit systems. Three of the transportation authorities also secured bonds using revenue from their various activities, including airport revenue, to finance airport and non-airport assets. Airport Sponsors That Have Reported Grandfathered Revenue Diversion, as of 2018 According to selected stakeholders, a repeal of grandfathered revenue diversion would have complex legal and financial implications for transportation authorities. Transportation authority officials said that a repeal would inherently reduce their flexibility to use revenues across their assets and could lead to a default of their outstanding bonds if airport revenues could no longer be used to service debt; exempting outstanding bonds could alleviate some financial concerns. For city and state government sponsors, a loss in general fund revenue could result in reduced government services, though they said a phased-in repeal could help in planning for lost revenue. In 1982, a federal law was enacted that imposed constraints on the use of airport revenue (e.g., concessions, parking fees, and airlines' landing fees), prohibiting “diversion” for non-airport purposes in order to ensure use on airport investment and improvement. However, the law exempted “grandfathered” airport sponsors—those with state or local laws providing for such diversion—from this prohibition. Viewpoints vary on whether these airport sponsors should be allowed to continue to lawfully divert revenue. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 provides for GAO to examine grandfathered airport revenue diversion. This report examines: (1) how much revenue has been diverted annually by grandfathered airport sponsors and how these revenues have been used, and (2) selected stakeholders' perspectives on potential implications of repealing the law allowing revenue diversion. GAO analyzed FAA financial data on grandfathered airports' revenue diversion for fiscal years 1995 through 2018, all years such data were available. GAO also analyzed relevant documents such as state and local laws, and airport sponsors' bond documents. GAO interviewed FAA officials and relevant stakeholders, including officials from nine grandfathered airport sponsors and representatives from bond-rating agencies, airline and airport associations, and airlines that serve grandfathered airports that were selected based on those with the greatest passenger traffic. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]