September 25, 2021

News

News Network

U.S. Policy Toward China: Deputy Secretary Biegun’s Remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

22 min read

Stephen Biegun, Deputy Secretary of State

Senate Foreign Relations Committee

As Prepared

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Menendez, Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. This is an important moment in the U.S.-China relationship, and the Secretary and I appreciate the serious focus that your Committee is taking to shape a bipartisan approach to this vital policy matter. We recognize that to be successful, U.S. policy towards the PRC must be grounded in consensus across our governing institutions and society. Mr. Chairman, for this reason, we welcome the legislation you introduced today — designed to frame the U.S. strategic approach to the PRC. This, along with other recent legislation passed by Congress, is crucial to address the challenges we face.

Across multiple administrations the United States has supported China’s entry into the rules-based international order in hopes that China would be a partner in upholding international law, norms, and institutions and that the United States and China could develop a friendly relationship with reciprocal benefit. Over more than three decades, U.S. policies towards the PRC have advanced that goal through a massive outpouring of international assistance and lending, foreign investment, facilitation of Chinese membership in global institutions, and the education of millions of China’s brightest scholars at our best schools.

Where this Administration diverges from previous Administrations is in the will to face the uncomfortable truth in the U.S.-China relationship that the policies of the past three decades have simply not produced the outcome for which so many had hoped, and that the United States must and take decisive action to counter the PRC. As stated in the 2017 National Security Strategy, despite the huge dividends to the PRC in terms of prosperity, trade, and global influence that United States support and engagement has delivered, Beijing has instead chosen to take increasingly hardline and aggressive actions, both at home and abroad; and China has emerged as a strategic competitor to the United States, and to the rules-based global order.

We find the U.S.-China relationship today weighed down by a growing number of disputes, including commercial espionage and intellectual property theft from American companies; unequal treatment of our diplomats, businesses, NGOs, and journalists by Chinese authorities; and abuse of the United States’ academic freedom and welcoming posture toward international students to steal sensitive technology and research from our universities in order to advance the PRC’s military. It is these factors which led the President to direct a number of actions in response, including yesterday’s notification to the PRC that we have withdrawn our consent for the PRC to operate its consulate in Houston, Texas.

There is also growing alarm around the world about the dismantling of Hong Kong’s autonomy, liberty, and democratic institutions; the arbitrary mass detentions and other human rights abuses in Xinjiang; efforts to eliminate Tibetan identity; military pressure against Taiwan; and the assertion of unfounded maritime claims in the South China Sea.

Other areas of concern include China’s increasingly assertive use against partners and allies of military and economic coercion and state-sponsored disinformation campaigns, including, among others, India, Australia, Canada, the UK, ASEAN Members, the European Union, and several other European countries.

At the Department of State, both Secretary Pompeo and I are involved day-to-day in the full range of policy matters related to the PRC, an issue that touches upon every dimension of the Department of State’s work. The Department has launched a number of diplomatic and economic initiatives described in my written testimony to uphold and defend our interests and those of our friends and allies in areas such as global infrastructure development, market access, and telecommunications security. Much of what we are doing would serve our global interests under any circumstances, but the unfortunate trends we see in China make our actions all the more urgent.

We have organized internally through the leadership of the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, along with the Directors of Policy Planning and our Global Engagement Center, to align internal policy making in virtually every single bureau and office in the Department. We are likewise organizing our diplomats to focus on competition with China around the world.

As part of a comprehensive approach, we are engaged with allies and partners in the G7, the G20, and NATO to highlight the threat that the PRC poses not just to U.S. interests but also to the interests of our allies and partners. We are broadening partnerships across the Transatlantic, the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere.

Across the Indo-Pacific region, the United States is deepening relationships with the countries that share our values and interest in a free and open Indo-Pacific. Last September, we held the first ministerial-level meeting of the United States, Australia, India, and Japan, marking a new milestone in our diplomatic engagement in the region. We are enhancing our alliances with Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand, which have helped sustain peace and security for generations, and we are furthering our engagement with ASEAN, an organization central to a free and open Indo-Pacific. Our security assistance to South China Sea claimant states and our recent rejection of the PRC’s maritime claims helps partners protect their autonomy and maritime resources. We are working with the Mekong countries to ensure sustainable development and energy security, and we have doubled development assistance to our Pacific Island partners through the Pacific Pledge.

On the other side of the world, China has increasingly become a topic in transatlantic and FVEY discussions. The Secretary recently announced the United States accepted the EU’s proposal to create an U.S.-EU Dialogue on China to discuss the transatlantic community’s common concerns about the threat the PRC poses to our shared democratic values. Similarly, the PRC is a core component of our security dialogues with the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

In our own Hemisphere, the United States is working with its neighbors to reaffirm the region’s longstanding dedication to free societies and free markets. We are working on improving the investment climate for all types of infrastructure including energy, airports, ports, roads, telecom, and digital networks. In addition to USAID development and humanitarian assistance, we expect the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation to deploy $12 billion in the Western Hemisphere toward this effort and we have made a priority promoting transparency and privacy in the digital economy.

Though the PRC has made extensive inroads across Africa over the past decade,encouragingly, some African governments have begun to monitor Chinese projects, require Chinese firms to hire more African laborers,and demand protection of Africa’s fragile ecosystems.Our diplomatic engagement on the continent will continue to highlight the pitfalls of opaque and unsustainable PRC lending.

In the Middle East we have successfully engaged partners to recognize the costs that come with certain commercial engagements with the PRC – especially telecommunications infrastructure.

And finally, we are working with allies and partners to prevent the PRC from undermining international organizations through unchecked influence.

Mr. Chairman, consistent with the priorities in your legislation, I should underscore that engagement between the United States and China remains of central importance in managing tensions and exploring areas of mutual interest where efforts might align. But we will only make a difference if our engagement produces real progress on the many issues that I have enumerated today.

Last month, I joined Secretary Pompeo in Hawaii to meet with our Chinese counterparts. In the two-day discussion the Secretary stressed that deeds, not words, were the pathway to achieve mutual respect and reciprocity between our two countries across commercial, security, diplomatic,and people-to-people interactions. He made clear our determination to push back against Beijing’s efforts to undermine democratic norms, challenge the sovereignty of our friends and allies, and engage in unfair trade practices, but at the same time, he also outlined areas where the United States and the PRC could cooperate to solve global challenges.

Among the issues that we could start with are strategic stability around nuclear capabilities and doctrine; coordinated efforts to identify the origins and spread of COVID-19; a denuclearized North Korea that ensures peace and stability on the Peninsula; peace building in Afghanistan; international narcotics production and trafficking; and, as evidenced by the Phase 1 trade deal agreed earlier this year, balanced and reciprocal economic policies. The United States welcomes people-to-people exchanges, including hosting of each other’s students, provided that they are exclusively for purposes of study.

We would also welcome members of Congress from both sides of the Capitol to not only work in partnership with the Executive Branch but to also extend your own engagement to better understand the aspirations of the Chinese people. Of course this includes meeting with your Chinese government counterparts, but it must also include reaching out to the many voices of China that are found outside China; those not free to be heard at home and therefore requiring our assistance to be heard.

Let me be clear: the United States supports the aspirations of those Chinese people who seek to live in peace, prosperity and freedom. Secretary Pompeo has met with pro-democracy leaders from Hong Kong, Chinese dissidents and survivors of repression in Xinjiang, and last month I was honored to present the International Women of Courage Award to the Mothers of Tiananmen. The bravery of the many Chinese people who seek to advance human rights and universal freedoms inspires all of us in our work.

Mr. Chairman, we are urgently taking the necessary steps to defend the United States. As we seek to correct the imbalance in our relations with China we must address today’s realities while at the same time leaving open tomorrow’s possibilities. With our friends and allies we are standing up for universal rights and the rules-based international system that have provided for the world’s collective peace, security, and prosperity for generations to the benefit of the United States, the Peoples Republic of China, and entire world.

News Network

  • Federal prisoner convicted of possessing a weapon
    In Justice News
    A 38-year-old Mexican [Read More…]
  • Announcing Sanctions on the Ortega Regime in Response to Arbitrary Detentions and Other Undemocratic Moves
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Federal Court Enters Permanent Injunction Against Florida Compounding Pharmacy and its Owner to Prevent Distribution of Adulterated Drugs
    In Crime News
    More from: September 17, [Read More…]
  • Security Force Assistance: More Detailed Planning and Improved Access to Information Needed to Guide Efforts of Advisor Teams in Afghanistan
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO FoundDOD and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have defined the mission and broad goals for Security Force Assistance (SFA) advisor teams; however, teams varied in the extent to which their approaches for developing their Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) units identified activities based on specific objectives or end states that were clearly linked with established goals. SFA guidance states that to be successful, advisors must have an end or goal in mind, and establish objectives that support higher-command plans. Theater commanders have outlined goals aimed at strengthening specific capabilities such as logistics, and it is largely left to the teams to then develop their approach for working with their counterparts. GAO found some advisor teams had developed structured advising approaches drawing from these goals, such as identifying monthly objectives and milestones for their team. Other teams GAO met with used less structured approaches, such as relying on interactions with ANSF counterparts to identify priorities and using this input to develop activities on an ad hoc basis, rather than as part of a longer-term, more structured approach to achieve broad goals. Officials from several teams stated that the guidance they received lacked specificity regarding desired end states for the development of their ANSF counterpart units. Without a more structured approach with clear linkages between end states, objectives, and milestones that are in support of broad goals for ANSF units, theater commanders cannot be assured that the advisor team activities are making progress toward these goals.The Army and Marine Corps have been able to fill requests for SFA advisor teams, using various approaches such as tasking non-deployed brigades to form advisor teams or creating teams using personnel already deployed in Afghanistan. According to Army and Marine Corps officials, the ability to substitute an individual at one rank above or below the request has helped the services meet rank and skill requirements. The Army's reliance on brigades to provide a portion of their personnel to form advisor teams has enabled them to meet requirements but resulted in leaving large numbers of personnel at the brigades' home stations. To manage these large rear detachments, brigades undertook significant planning to ensure that enough stay-behind leadership existed to maintain a sufficient command structure and provide certain training.The Army and Marine Corps have developed training programs for SFA advisor teams, but teams varied in the extent to which they had specific information to help prepare them for their mission prior to deployment. SFA guidance states that an in-depth understanding of the operational environment and of foreign security force capabilities is critical to planning and conducting effective SFA. Advisor teams may access such information from a variety of sources such as conducting video teleconferences with the teams they will replace, using secure networks to gather information, or sending personnel on predeployment site surveys, although teams varied in the extent to which they were actually able to gain access to these sources. For example, GAO found that while teams had access to a certain secure network at training sites, only some had access at home station, enabling them to shape their training and mission analysis earlier in predeployment training or after training but prior to deploying. Having limited access to this information prior to arriving in Afghanistan may result in advisor teams needing more time after deploying to maximize their impact as advisors.Why GAO Did This StudyISAF's mission in Afghanistan has shifted from a combat role to focus more on preparing ANSF units to assume lead security responsibility by the end of 2014. A key element in advising and assisting the ANSF is SFA advisor teams, provided by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. A House Armed Services Committee report accompanying its version of the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act directed GAO to review DOD's establishment and use of SFA advisor teams. Specifically, GAO evaluated the extent to which (1) DOD, in conjunction with ISAF, has defined SFA advisor team missions, goals, and objectives; (2) the Army and Marine Corps have been able to provide teams; and (3) the Army and Marine Corps have developed programs to train teams for their specific missions. GAO reviewed doctrine and guidance, analyzed advisor requirements, reviewed training curricula, and interviewed Army, Marine Corps, theater command, and SFA advisor team officials in the U.S. and Afghanistan.
    [Read More…]
  • Assistant Attorney General Beth A. Williams Delivers Opening Remarks at the Federalist Society, Colorado Lawyers Chapter Panel Discussion: “Reviewing the Supreme Court’s 2019/20 Term”
    In Crime News
    Thank you for that kind introduction, Will, and for the invitation to join you today. Though I wish I could join you in person, even at this distance, it is a great pleasure to be here with you all.
    [Read More…]
  • Two California Men Indicted in Hate Crimes Case Alleging They Attacked Family-Owned Restaurant and Threatened to Kill the Victims Inside
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Los Angeles has indicted two Los Angeles-area men on conspiracy and hate crime offenses for allegedly attacking five victims at a family-owned Turkish restaurant while shouting anti-Turkish slurs, hurling chairs at the victims and threatening to kill them.
    [Read More…]
  • Apply for Preclearance Expansion
    In Travel
    Preclearance [Read More…]
  • Joint Statement on Afghanistan Evacuation Travel Assurances
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Defense Management: DOD Needs to Establish Clear Goals and Objectives, Guidance, and a Designated Budget to Manage Its Biometrics Activities
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD), in its response to unconventional threats from terrorists, uses biometrics technologies that identify physical attributes, including fingerprints and iris scans. However, coordinating the development and implementation of biometrics and ensuring interoperability across DOD has been difficult to achieve. Biometrics also is an enabling technology for identity management, a concept that seeks to manage personally identifiable information to enable improved governmentwide sharing and analysis of identity information. GAO was asked to examine the extent to which DOD has established biometrics goals and objectives, implementing guidance for managing biometrics activities, and a designated budget. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed documentation, including DOD biometrics policy and directives, and interviewed key DOD officials involved with making policy and funding decisions regarding biometrics.DOD established, in October 2006, the Principal Staff Assistant, who is the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, and an Executive Committee as part of its attempts to improve the management of its biometrics activities. However, as of August 2008, it had not established management practices that include clearly defined goals and objectives, implementing guidance that clarifies decision-making procedures for the Executive Committee, and a designated biometrics budget. First, while DOD has stated some general goals for biometrics, such as providing recognized leadership and comprehensive planning policy, it has not articulated specific program objectives, the steps needed to achieve those objectives, and the priorities, milestones, and performance measures needed to gauge results. Second, DOD issued a directive in 2008 to establish biometrics policy and assigned general responsibilities to the Executive Committee and the Principal Staff Assistant but has not issued implementing guidance that clarifies decision-making procedures. The Executive Committee is chaired by the Principal Staff Assistant and includes a wide array of representatives from DOD communities such as intelligence, acquisitions, networks and information integration, personnel, and policy and the military services. The Executive Committee is responsible for resolving biometrics management issues, such as issues between the military services and joint interests resulting in duplications of effort. However, the committee does not have guidance for making decisions that can resolve management issues. Past DOD reports have noted difficulties in decision making and accountability in the management of its biometrics activities. Third, DOD also has not established a designated budget for biometrics that links resources to specific objectives and provides a consolidated view of the resources devoted to biometrics activities. Instead, it has relied on initiative-by-initiative requests for supplemental funding, which may not provide a predictable stream of funding for biometrics. Prior GAO work on performance management demonstrates that successful programs incorporate such key management practices, and for several years, DOD reports and studies have also called for DOD to establish such practices for its biometrics activities. Similarly, a new presidential directive issued in June 2008 supports the establishment of these practices in addition to calling for a governmentwide framework for the sharing of biometrics data. DOD officials have said that DOD's focus has been on quickly fielding biometrics systems and maximizing existing systems to address immediate warfighting needs in Afghanistan and Iraq. This focus on responding to immediate warfighting needs and the absence of the essential management practices have contributed to operational inefficiencies in managing DOD's biometrics activities, such as DOD's difficulties in sharing biometrics data within and outside the department. For example, in May 2008 GAO recommended that DOD establish guidance specifying a standard set of biometrics data for collection during military operations in the field. These shortcomings may also impede DOD's implementation of the June 2008 presidential directive and the overall identity management operating concept.
    [Read More…]
  • COVID-19: Critical Vaccine Distribution, Supply Chain, Program Integrity, and Other Challenges Require Focused Federal Attention
    In U.S GAO News
    Since November 2020, the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has rapidly increased, further straining health care systems across the country. Between December 31, 2020, and January 13, 2021, new reported COVID-19 cases averaged about 225,000 per day—over 7 and 3 times higher than the surges the nation experienced during the spring and summer of 2020, respectively. (See figure.) The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions and turmoil as a result of the pandemic. As of December 2020, there were more than 10.7 million unemployed individuals, compared to nearly 5.8 million individuals at the beginning of the calendar year. Until the country better contains the spread of the virus, the pandemic will likely remain a significant obstacle to more robust economic activity. Reported COVID-19 Cases per Day in the U.S., Through January 13, 2021 As of January 2021, 27 of GAO’s 31 previous recommendations remained unimplemented. GAO remains deeply troubled that agencies have not acted on recommendations to more fully address critical gaps in the medical supply chain. While GAO recognizes federal agencies continue to take some steps, GAO underscores the importance of developing a well-formulated plan to address critical gaps for the remainder of the pandemic, especially in light of the recent surge in cases. In addition, implementation of GAO’s recommendation concerning the importance of clear and comprehensive vaccine distribution and communication plans remains a work in progress. Moreover, slow implementation of GAO’s recommendations relating to program integrity, in particular those made to the Small Business Administration (SBA) and Department of Labor (DOL), creates risk of considerable improper payments, including those related to fraud, and falls far short of transparency and accountability expectations. See appendix III for the status of GAO’s past recommendations. GAO is pleased that the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021—enacted in December of 2020—requires a number of actions that are consistent with several of GAO’s prior recommendations, including those related to the medical supply chain, vaccines and therapeutics, and COVID-19 testing. GAO will monitor the implementation of the act’s requirements. GAO’s new recommendations are discussed below. COVID-19 Testing Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is critical to controlling the spread of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. GAO found that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has not issued a comprehensive and publicly available national testing strategy. HHS’s national strategy documents are not comprehensive because they only partially address the characteristics that GAO has found to be desirable in an effective national strategy. For example, testing strategy documents do not always provide consistent definitions and benchmarks to measure progress, not all documents clearly define the problem and risks, and there is limited information on the types of resources required for future needs. Furthermore, some of the documents have not been made public. While the national testing strategy is formally outlined in a publicly available document, HHS has provided only Congress with the COVID-19 Testing Strategy Reports, which detail the implementation of the testing strategy. Stakeholders who are involved in the response efforts told GAO they were unaware of the existence of a national strategy or did not have a clear understanding of the strategy. Without a comprehensive, publicly available national strategy, HHS is at risk of key stakeholders and the public lacking crucial information to support an informed and coordinated testing response. GAO is recommending that HHS develop and make publicly available a comprehensive national COVID-19 testing strategy that incorporates all six characteristics of an effective national strategy. Such a strategy could build upon existing strategy documents that HHS has produced for the public and Congress to allow for a more coordinated pandemic testing approach. HHS partially concurred with this recommendation and agreed that it should take steps to more directly incorporate some of the elements of an effective national strategy. Vaccines and Therapeutics Multiple federal agencies, through Operation Warp Speed, continue to support the development and manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat COVID-19. As of January 8, 2021, two of the six vaccines supported by Operation Warp Speed have been authorized for emergency use, and vaccine distribution and administration have begun. (See figure below). However, distribution and administration fell short of expectations set for the end of the year. As of December 30, 2020, Operation Warp Speed had distributed (shipped) about 12.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine and providers reported administering about 2.8 million initial doses, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. In September 2020, GAO stressed the importance of having a plan that focused on coordination and communication and recommended that HHS, with the support of the Department of Defense, establish a time frame for documenting and sharing a national plan for distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccine, and among other things, outline an approach for how efforts would be coordinated across federal agencies and nonfederal entities.To date, this recommendationhas not been fully implemented. GAO reiterates the importance of doing so. Effective coordination and communication among federal agencies, commercial partners, jurisdictions, and providers is critical to successfully deploying COVID-19 vaccines and managing public expectations, especially because the initial supply of vaccine has been limited. Status of Development of Six Operation Warp Speed COVID-19 Vaccine Candidates, as of January 8, 2021 Medical Supply Chain The pandemic has highlighted vulnerabilities in the nation’s medical supply chain, which includes personal protective equipment and other supplies necessary to treat individuals with COVID-19. The Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) is an important piece of HHS’s recently developed strategy to improve the medical supply chain to enhance pandemic response capabilities. However, the department has yet to develop a process for engaging about the strategy with key nonfederal stakeholders that have a shared role for providing supplies during a pandemic, such as state and territorial governments and the private sector. GAO’s work has noted the importance of directly and continuously involving key stakeholders, including Congress, in the development of successful agency reforms and helping to harness ideas, expertise, and resources. To improve the nation’s response and preparedness for pandemics, GAO recommends that HHS establish a process for regularly engaging with Congress and nonfederal stakeholders—including state, local, tribal, and territorial governments and private industry—as the agency refines and implements its supply chain strategy for pandemic preparedness, to include the role of the SNS. HHS generally concurred with this recommendation and noted that the department regularly engages with Congress and nonfederal stakeholders. GAO maintains that capitalizing on existing relationships to engage these critical stakeholders as HHS refines and implements a supply chain strategy, to include the role of the SNS, will improve a whole-of-government response to, and preparedness for, pandemics. In August 2020, the President issued an Executive Order directing agencies to take steps toward the goal of strengthening domestic drug manufacturing and supply chains. Federal agencies have started implementing the Executive Order, but expressed concerns about their ability to implement some of the provisions. In particular, GAO found that federal agencies do not have complete and accessible information to identify supply chain vulnerabilities and to report the manufacturing supply chains of drugs that were procured by the agency. To help it identify and mitigate vulnerabilities in the U.S. drug supply chain, GAO recommends that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensure drug manufacturing data obtained are complete and accessible, including by working with manufacturers and other federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs and, if necessary, seek authority to obtain complete and accessible information. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. COVID-19 Data for Health Care Indicators The federal government does not have a process to help systematically define and ensure the collection of standardized data across the relevant federal agencies and related stakeholders to help respond to COVID-19, communicate the status of the pandemic with citizens, or prepare for future pandemics. As a result, COVID-19 information that is collected and reported by states and other entities to the federal government is often incomplete and inconsistent. The lack of complete and consistent data limits HHS’s and others’ ability to monitor trends in the burden of the pandemic across states and regions, make informed comparisons between such areas, and assess the impact of public health actions to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Further, incomplete and inconsistent data have limited HHS’s and others’ ability to prioritize the allocation of health resources in specific geographic areas or among certain populations most affected by the pandemic. To improve the federal government’s response to COVID-19 and preparedness for future pandemics, GAO recommends that HHS immediately establish an expert committee comprised of knowledgeable health care professionals from the public and private sectors, academia, and nonprofits or use an existing one to systematically review and inform the alignment of ongoing data collection and reporting standards for key health indicators. HHS partially concurred with this recommendation and agreed that it should establish a dedicated working group or other mechanism with a focus on addressing COVID-19 data collection shortcomings. Drug Manufacturing Inspections FDA is responsible for overseeing the safety and effectiveness of all drugs marketed in the U.S., including those manufactured overseas, and typically conducts more than 1,600 inspections of foreign and domestic drug manufacturing establishments every year. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, since March 2020, FDA has limited domestic and foreign inspections for the safety of its employees. (See figure below.) FDA has used alternative inspection tools to maintain some oversight of drug manufacturing quality while inspections are paused, including inspections conducted by foreign regulators, requesting and reviewing records and other information, and sampling and testing. Although FDA has determined that inspections conducted by certain European regulators are equivalent to an FDA inspection, other tools provide useful information but are not equivalent to an FDA inspection. As a result, FDA could be faced with a backlog of inspections, threatening the agency’s goal to maximize inspections prioritized by its risk-based site selection model each year. GAO recommends that FDA (1) ensure that inspection plans for future fiscal years identify, analyze, and respond to the issues presented by the backlog of inspections that could jeopardize its goal of risk-driven inspections, and (2) fully assess the agency’s alternative inspection tools and consider whether these tools or others could provide the information needed to supplement regular inspection activities or help meet the agency’s drug oversight objectives when inspections are not possible in the future. FDA concurred with both recommendations. Number of FDA-Conducted Domestic and Foreign Drug Manufacturing Establishment Inspections, Fiscal Years 2019–2020, by Month Federal Contracting Federal agencies are using other transaction agreements to respond to the pandemic, which are contracting mechanisms that can enable agencies to negotiate terms and conditions specific to a project. GAO found that HHS misreports its other transaction agreements related to COVID-19 as procurement contracts, including other transaction agreements with about $1.5 billion obligated for Operation Warp Speed and other medical countermeasures. HHS’s approach is inconsistent with federal acquisition regulations and limits the public’s insight into the agency’s contract spending. To ensure consistent tracking and transparency of federal contracting activity related to the pandemic, GAO recommends that HHS accurately report data in the federal procurement database system and provide information that would allow the public to distinguish between spending on other transaction agreements and procurement contracts. HHS concurred with this recommendation. Oversight of Worker Safety and Health GAO identified concerns about federal oversight of worker safety and health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has adapted its enforcement methods for COVID-19 to help protect agency employees from the virus and address resource constraints, such as by permitting remote inspections in place of on-site inspections of workplaces. However, gaps in OSHA’s oversight and tracking of its adapted enforcement methods prevent the agency from assessing the effectiveness of its enforcement methods during the pandemic, ensuring that its adapted enforcement methods do not miss violations, and ensuring that employers are addressing certain identified violations. To improve its oversight, GAO recommends that OSHA (1) develop a plan, with time frames, to implement the agency’s oversight processes for COVID-19-adapted enforcement methods, and (2) ensure that its data system includes comprehensive information on use of these enforcement methods to inform these processes. The agency neither agreed nor disagreed with these recommendations. Additionally, OSHA’s data do not include comprehensive information on workplace exposure to COVID-19. For example, OSHA does not receive employer reports of all work-related hospitalizations related to COVID-19, as disease symptoms do not appear within the required reporting time frames. Employers may also face challenges determining whether COVID-19 hospitalizations or fatalities are work-related because of COVID-19’s incubation period and the difficulties in tracking the source of exposure. GAO recommends that OSHA determine what additional datamay be neededfrom employers or other sources to better target the agency’s COVID-19 enforcement efforts. The agency neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Assistance for Fishery Participants The CARES Act appropriated $300 million in March 2020 to the Department of Commerce (Commerce) to assist eligible tribal, subsistence, commercial, and charter fishery participants affected by COVID-19, which may include direct relief payments. After administrative fees were assessed, $298 million of the $300 million appropriated was obligated for fishery participants.Widespread restaurant closures in the spring of 2020 led to a decrease in demand for seafood, adversely affecting the fisheries industry. As of December 4, 2020, all funds had been obligated and only about 18 percent ($53.9 million) of the CARES Act funding obligated for fishery participants had been disbursed, which is inconsistent with Office of Management and Budget guidance on the importance of agencies distributing CARES Act funds in an expedient manner. Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials said they expect that the vast majority of funds will be disbursed to fisheries participants by early 2021. However, the agency does not have the needed information centralized to help ensure that funds are being disbursed expeditiously and efficiently. GAO recommends that NOAA develop a mechanism to track the progress of states, tribes, and territories in meeting established timelines to disburse funds in an expedited and efficient manner. NOAA concurred with this recommendation. Program Integrity GAO continues to identify areas to improve program integrity and reduce the risk of improper payments for programs funded by the COVID-19 relief laws now that federal agencies have obligated a total of $1.9 trillion and expended $1.7 trillion of the $2.7 trillion appropriated for response and recovery efforts as of November 30, 2020. Federal relief programs remain vulnerable to significant risk of fraudulent activities because of the need to quickly provide funds and other assistance to those affected by COVID-19 and its economic effects. In this report, GAO identifies concerns about overpayments and potential fraud in the unemployment insurance (UI) system, specifically in the federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which provides UI benefits to individuals not otherwise eligible for these benefits, such as self-employed and certain gig economy workers. As of January 11, 2021, states that had submitted data to DOL reported more than $1.1 billion in PUA overpayments from March through December 2020. While DOL requires states to report data on PUA overpayments, as of the beginning of 2021, the agency was not tracking the amount of overpayments recovered, limiting insight into the effectiveness of states’ efforts to recoup federal funds. To better track the recovery of federal funds, GAO recommends that DOL collect data from states on the amount of PUA overpayments recovered. DOL concurred with this recommendation, and has taken the first step toward implementing it by issuing new guidance and updated instructions for states to report PUA overpayment recovery data. GAO also remains concerned about SBA’s management of internal controls and fraud risks in the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program. COVID-19 relief laws made qualifying small businesses and nonprofit organizations adversely affected by COVID-19 eligible for financial assistance from the EIDL program. Some approval requirements were also relaxed, such as requiring each applicant to demonstrate that it could not obtain credit elsewhere, through December 31, 2021. As of December 31, 2020, SBA officials said they had approved about 3.7 million applications for loans related to COVID-19, totaling about $200 billion. SBA rapidly processed loans and advances to millions of small businesses affected by COVID-19. GAO’s analysis of SBA data shows that the agency approved EIDL loans and advances for potentially ineligible businesses. For example, SBA approved at least 3,000 loans totaling about $156 million to potentially ineligible businesses in industries that SBA policies state were ineligible for the EIDL program, such as insurance and real estate development, as of September 30, 2020. GAO recommends that SBA develop and implement portfolio-level data analytics across EIDL loans and advances made in response to COVID-19 as a means to detect potentially ineligible and fraudulent applications. SBA neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. As of January 15, 2021, the U.S. had about 23 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and more than 387,000 reported deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted as of November 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of November 30, 2020, of the $2.7 trillion appropriated by these four laws, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.9 trillion and expended $1.7 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds, as reported by federal agencies. In December 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, provided additional federal assistance for the ongoing response and recovery. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines the federal government’s continued efforts to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials and stakeholders. GAO completed its audit work on January 15, 2021. GAO is making 13 new recommendations for agencies that are detailed in this Highlights and in the report. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Man Sentenced for Operating Multi-Million Dollar International Money Laundering Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Ukrainian man was sentenced today to 87 months in prison and ordered to pay $98,751.64 in restitution after pleading guilty to committing wire fraud, stemming from his participation in a scheme to launder funds for Eastern European cybercriminals who hacked into and stole funds from online bank accounts of U.S. businesses.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards Ceremony
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Escalation of Violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Morgan Ortagus, [Read More…]
  • Veterans Affairs: Systems Modernization, Cybersecurity, and IT Management Issues Need to Be Addressed
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has faced long-standing challenges in its efforts to deploy information technology (IT) initiatives in two critical areas needing modernization: the department's aging health information system, known as the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA); and VA's outdated, non-integrated financial and acquisition management systems requiring complex manual work processes that have contributed to the department reporting financial management system functionality as a material weakness. Specifically, GAO has reported on the challenges that the department has faced with its three previous unsuccessful attempts to modernize VistA over the past 20 years. In February 2021, GAO reported that VA had made progress toward implementing its fourth effort—a modernized electronic health record system. However, GAO stressed that the department needed to address all critical severity test findings (that could result in system failure) and high severity test findings (that could result in system failure, but have acceptable workarounds) before deploying the system at future locations. In March 2021, GAO reported on the department's Financial Management Business Transformation, a program intended to modernize financial and acquisition systems. GAO found that VA had generally adhered to best practices in the areas of program governance, project management, and testing. However, the department had not fully met best practices for developing and managing cost and schedule estimates. GAO recommended that VA follow such practices to help minimize the risks of cost overruns and schedule delays. GAO has also reported that VA has struggled to secure information systems and associated data; implement information security controls and mitigate known security deficiencies; establish key elements of a cybersecurity risk management program; and identify, assess, and mitigate the risks of information and communications technology supply chains. GAO has made numerous recommendations to VA to address these areas. Many of those recommendations have been addressed, but others have not been fully implemented. VA has demonstrated mixed results in implementing key provisions of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (commonly referred to as FITARA). Specifically, VA has made substantial progress in improving its licensing of software, which led it to identify $65 million in cost savings. Further, it has made some progress in consolidating its data centers and achieving cost savings and avoidances. However, it has made limited progress in addressing requirements related to managing IT investment risk and enhancing the authority of its Chief Information Officer. Fully implementing the act's provisions would position the department to deliver better service to our veterans through modern, secure technology. Why GAO Did This Study The use of IT is crucial to helping VA effectively serve the nation's veterans. The department annually spends billions of dollars on its information systems and assets. Its fiscal year 2022 budget request is about $4.8 billion for its Office of Information and Technology and $2.7 billion for electronic health record modernization. GAO was asked to testify on its prior IT work at VA. Specifically, this testimony summarizes results and recommendations from GAO's issued reports that examined VA's efforts in (1) modernizing VistA and its financial and acquisition management systems; (2) addressing cybersecurity issues; and (3) implementing FITARA. GAO reviewed its recently issued reports that addressed IT and cybersecurity issues at VA and followed up on the department's actions in response to recommendations.
    [Read More…]
  • Department of Justice’s COPS Office Invests More Than $536.7 Million in Grants to Improve Public Safety, Reduce Crime and Advance Community Policing
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) awarded more than $536.7 million in Fiscal Year 2020 to increase law enforcement hiring and to improve school safety, combat opioids and methamphetamine, advance community policing efforts, provide training to the law enforcement field, and protect the health of our nation’s officers and deputies.
    [Read More…]
  • Arrest of Eight Pan-Democratic Politicians in Hong Kong
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion in Diplomacy: A Conversation with Security Engineering Officer Rahim Theriot
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Bureau of Diplomatic [Read More…]
  • Former Long Island Construction Business Owner Sentenced to Prison for Employment Tax Fraud
    In Crime News
    A Long Island, New York, business owner in the construction industry was sentenced to one year and one day in prison yesterday for employment tax fraud.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Settles with Medical Parts Manufacturing Company to Resolve Immigration-Related Discrimination Claims
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it reached a settlement with DC Precision Machining Inc., which manufactures parts for medical devices and is based in Morgan Hill, California.
    [Read More…]
  • Owner of Montana Construction Company Sentenced to 15 Months in Prison for Employment Tax Fraud
    In Crime News
    A Montana man was sentenced today to 15 months in prison for employment tax fraud.
    [Read More…]
Network News © 2005 Area.Control.Network™ All rights reserved.