Welcoming Costa Rica to the OECD

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

I am very pleased to welcome Costa Rica as the 38th member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD is a unique forum of like-minded democracies dedicated to promoting our shared values and addressing our shared challenges.

Costa Rica’s membership follows an extensive multiyear effort to align its economic policies with OECD recommendations and is a strong signal of confidence in the Costa Rican economy. I commend Costa Rica for the rigor in tackling the various requirements for accession. Costa Rica has made great strides in curbing its fiscal deficit in this challenging COVID-19 context. I applaud its agreement with the International Monetary Fund and hope to see a national consensus to make the necessary reforms to fully implement the accord. I want to recognize Manuel Tovar, Costa Rica’s Permanent Representative to the OECD, for his dedication and commitment as Costa Rica completed its accession process.

Costa Rica’s accession comes at a timely moment in OECD history, as the organization celebrates its 60th anniversary and transitions to leadership under a new Secretary General. As Chair of this year’s 60th anniversary Ministerial Council Meeting, I look forward to our increased partnership as OECD members focus on supporting a global economic recovery that builds back better and champions our shared values.

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    What GAO Found Since privatizing its domestic on-base hotels, referred to as lodging, the Army has made a variety of improvements, including the replacement of lodging facilities with newly constructed hotels (see fig.). However, improvements have taken longer than initially anticipated, development plans have changed, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) has not included key information about these delays and changes in reports to Congress. If OSD were to provide this additional information, Congress would be better able to determine whether the Privatized Army Lodging (PAL) program has achieved its intended objectives or fully consider whether the other military services should privatize their respective lodging programs. Room at an Army Lodging Facility before Privatizing and Room at the New Candlewood Suites Hotel Built at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ, in 2013 The Army does not estimate cost savings from the PAL program, but instead produces an annual cost avoidance estimate to demonstrate some of the financial benefits resulting from the privatization of its lodging program. Army officials stated that they calculate cost avoidance by comparing the room rate it charges for its lodging—which is limited to 75 percent of the average local lodging per diem rate across its installations—to the maximum lodging per diem that could be charged for that location. However, by using this approach, the Army is likely overstating its cost avoidance, because off-base hotels do not always charge 100 percent of per diem. Until the Army evaluates the methodology it uses to calculate its cost avoidance, decision makers in the Department of Defense (DOD) and Congress cannot be sure that the reported financial benefits of privatization have actually been achieved. OSD's oversight of lodging programs has been limited in some cases. First, OSD and the military services lack standardized data that would be useful for making informed decisions about the lodging programs. Second, DOD requires both servicemembers and civilian employees to stay in on-base lodging when on official travel, with some exceptions. Yet, according to OSD, many travelers are staying in off-base lodging, and OSD has not done the in-depth analysis needed to determine why and how much it is costing the government. Without an analysis that assesses the extent to which travelers are inappropriately using off-base lodging and why it is occurring, as well as a plan to address any issues identified, neither DOD nor Congress can be sure that the department is making the most cost-effective use of taxpayer funds. Why GAO Did This Study In 2009, the Army began to privatize its lodging with the goal of addressing the poor condition of facilities more quickly than could be achieved under continued Army operation. The Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force currently have no plans to privatize their lodging programs. The Senate Armed Services Committee report accompanying a bill for the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act included a provision for GAO to review improvements made to Army lodging, among other things. This report examines the extent to which (1) the Army has improved its lodging facilities since privatizing; (2) OSD reported complete information about the Army's development plans to Congress; (3) the Army has reliably determined any cost savings or cost avoidance as a result of its privatized lodging program; and (4) there are limitations in OSD's oversight of the military services' lodging programs. GAO reviewed policies and guidance; analyzed lodging program data for fiscal years 2017 through 2019 (the 3 most recent years of complete and available information); and interviewed DOD officials.
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  • Covid-19: Key Insights from GAO’s Oversight of the Federal Public Health Response
    In U.S GAO News
    More than a year after the U.S. declared COVID-19 a public health emergency, the pandemic continues to result in catastrophic loss of life and substantial damage to the economy. It also continues to lay bare the fragmented nature of our public health sector, the fragility of the nation's medical supply chain, and longstanding disparities in health care access, treatment, and outcomes. GAO has made 44 recommendations to federal agencies. Of these recommendations, 16 relate to the following public health topics: COVID-19 Testing. GAO has made two recommendations to date to improve the federal government's efforts in diagnostic testing for COVID-19, critical to controlling the spread of the virus. In January 2021, GAO recommended that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) develop and make publicly available a comprehensive national COVID-19 testing strategy. Vaccines and Therapeutics. GAO has made two recommendations to improve transparency, communication, and coordination around the government's efforts to develop, manufacture, and distribute vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat COVID-19. For example, in September 2020, GAO recommended that HHS establish a time frame for a national vaccine distribution and administration plan that follows best practices, with federal and nonfederal coordination. Medical Supply Chain. GAO has made seven recommendations for the federal government to respond to vulnerabilities highlighted by the pandemic in the nation's medical supply chain, including limitations in personal protective equipment and other supplies necessary to treat individuals with COVID-19. In January 2021, GAO recommended that HHS establish a process for regularly engaging with Congress and nonfederal stakeholders as the agency refines and implements its supply chain strategy for pandemic preparedness, to include the role of the Strategic National Stockpile. COVID-19 Health Disparities. GAO has made three recommendations to improve COVID-19 data by race and ethnicity, as available data show communities of color bear a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 positive tests, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. In September 2020, GAO recommended that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention involve key stakeholders to help ensure the complete and consistent collection of demographic data. COVID-19 Data. GAO has made two recommendations to improve the collection of data needed to respond to COVID-19 and prepare for future pandemics. GAO recommended in January 2021 that HHS establish an expert committee to help systematically define and ensure the collection of standardized data across the relevant federal agencies and related stakeholders; the absence of such data hinders the ability of the government to respond to COVID-19, communicate the status of the pandemic with citizens, or prepare for future pandemics.  Although the responsible agencies generally agreed with the majority of the 16 recommendations, only one has been fully implemented. GAO maintains that implementing these recommendations will improve the federal government's public health response and ability to recover as a nation. As of February 17, 2021, the U.S. had about 27 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and more than 486,000 reported deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions. Five relief laws, including the CARES Act, have appropriated $3.1 trillion to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. The CARES Act also includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to COVID-19. This testimony summarizes GAO's insights from its oversight of the federal government's pandemic response in a series of comprehensive reports issued from June 2020 through January 2021. In particular, the statement focuses on the public health response, including testing, vaccines and therapeutics, medical supply chain, health disparities, and health data. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials and stakeholders for the series of reports on which this testimony is based. See https://www.gao.gov/coronavirus/. GAO has made 44 recommendations for agencies and four matters for congressional consideration in its comprehensive series of bimonthly reports on the federal response to COVID-19 over the last year. GAO will issue its next report in this series in March 2021. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.
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  • Man Charged with $5 Million COVID-Relief Fraud
    In Crime News
    A Texas man has been charged in the Eastern District of Texas with allegedly filing bank loan applications fraudulently seeking more than $5 million dollars in forgivable loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
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    In Crime News
    The president and owner of Oil Chem Inc. pleaded guilty in federal court in Flint, Michigan, to a criminal charge of violating the Clean Water Act stemming from illegal discharges of landfill leachate — totaling more than 47 million gallons — into the city of Flint sanitary sewer system over an eight and a half year period.
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  • FY 2021 State Justice Statistics Program for Statistical Analysis Centers (SJS-SAC) Technical Assistance Program
    In Justice News
    (Solicitation)
    The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs (OJP), Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) is seeking applications for funding to administer activities under the FY 2021 State Justice Statistics Program for Statistical Analysis Centers (SJS-SAC) Technical Assistance Program. This program supports the collection, analysis, and dissemination of statistical information on crime and criminal justice at the state and local level.
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  • Justice Department Alleges Conditions at Iowa Institution for Individuals with Disabilities Violate the Constitution
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today concluded an investigation into conditions at the Glenwood Resource Center (Glenwood), an institution for individuals with intellectual disabilities operated by the State of Iowa in Glenwood, Iowa.
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  • Priority Open Recommendations: Department of Health and Human Services
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified 55 priority recommendations for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Since then, HHS has implemented eight of those recommendations by, among other things, taking actions to improve the quality of care in the Indian Health Service's federally-operated facilities and improve the accuracy and completeness of Medicaid data to expedite their use for program oversight. In addition to the eight priority recommendations HHS implemented, four recommendations are no longer open priority recommendations, primarily because they became a lower priority as a result of recent regulatory or programmatic changes. In May 2021, GAO identified 18 additional priority recommendations for HHS—including some recommendations related to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic—bringing the total number of priority recommendations to 61. These recommendations involve the following areas: COVID-19 response and other public health emergency preparedness; Public health and human services program oversight; Food and Drug Administration oversight; National efforts to prevent, respond to, and recover from drug misuse; Improper payments in Medicaid and Medicare; Medicaid program; Medicare program; Health information technology and cybersecurity; and Health insurance premium tax credit payment integrity. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need for sustained attention on improving HHS's operations. Implementing our priority recommendations could help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of key federal health care programs and funding, including those relevant to the nation's ongoing response to COVID-19. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015, GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or ClowersA@gao.gov.
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  • Puerto Rico Electricity: FEMA and HUD Have Not Approved Long-Term Projects and Need to Implement Recommendations to Address Uncertainties and Enhance Resilience
    In U.S GAO News
    As of October 2020, 3 years since the hurricanes destroyed much of Puerto Rico's electricity grid, neither the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) nor the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had approved long-term grid recovery projects in Puerto Rico. In 2019, GAO made four recommendations to FEMA and HUD to address identified challenges in rebuilding the electricity grid in Puerto Rico. As of October 2020, FEMA had fully implemented one recommendation and partially implemented two others, while HUD had not implemented its recommendation. Specifically, FEMA established an interagency agreement with the Department of Energy (DOE) to clarify how the agencies would consult on recovery efforts. FEMA had taken actions to partially implement recommendations on improving coordination among federal and local agencies and providing information on industry standards. However, further steps are needed, including finalizing guidance on FEMA's process for approving funding for projects. Regarding HUD, it has not addressed GAO's recommendation to establish time frames and requirements for available funding. Damaged Power Lines in Puerto Rico in November 2017 after Hurricane Maria Until HUD and FEMA implement GAO's recommendations, uncertainty will linger about how and when federal funding for long-term grid recovery will proceed. In particular, it is uncertain how available funding sources will support measures to enhance grid resilience to hurricanes, such as smart grid technology. FEMA officials told GAO that additional funding sources could be used for resilience measures but that this would not be determined until specific projects are submitted to FEMA for approval. Moreover, although FEMA finalized a $10 billion cost estimate for grid repairs in September 2020, several steps remain before FEMA approves funding for projects—a process officials said they were drafting. HUD funding could supplement FEMA funding but, as discussed above, HUD has yet to establish conditions for using these funds and has not established time frames and a plan for issuing this information. According to HUD officials, they plan to publish requirements in the first quarter of fiscal year 2021, but this depends on other factors, such as input from other federal agencies. Further delays in publishing the conditions could contribute to delays in Puerto Rico's ability to initiate grid recovery projects. In 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria damaged Puerto Rico's electricity grid, causing the longest blackout in U.S. history. It took roughly 11 months after the hurricanes for power to be restored to all of the customers with structures deemed safe for power restoration. Since electricity service has been restored, local entities have undertaken the longer-term task of more fully repairing and rebuilding the grid. GAO reported in 2019 on challenges hindering progress in rebuilding the grid and recommended that FEMA and HUD take actions to address these challenges. This report examines the status of efforts to support long-term grid recovery in Puerto Rico, including actions taken by FEMA and HUD to implement GAO's 2019 recommendations. For this report, GAO assessed agency actions; reviewed relevant reports, regulations, policies, and documents; and interviewed federal and local officials. GAO previously made three recommendations to FEMA and one to HUD to provide needed information and improve coordination to support grid recovery. Both agencies disagreed with GAO's characterization of their progress made addressing these prior recommendations. GAO continues to believe additional actions are needed to fully implement these recommendations. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or ruscof@gao.gov.
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  • The Bank of Nova Scotia Agrees To Pay $60.4 Million in Connection with Commodities Price Manipulation Scheme
    In Crime News
    The Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank), a Toronto, Canada-based global banking and financial services firm, has entered into a resolution with the Department of Justice to resolve criminal charges related to a price manipulation scheme involving thousands of episodes of unlawful trading activity by four traders in the precious metals futures contracts markets.
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  • The Department of Justice Announces Standards for Certifying Safe Policing Practices by Law Enforcement Agencies
    In Crime News
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  • COVID-19: Emergency Financial Aid for College Students under the CARES Act
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found As of November 2020, the Department of Education (Education) had distributed $6.19 billion in grants to 4,778 schools (colleges and other institutions of higher education) that had applied for emergency student aid funds from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) established by the CARES Act, which was enacted in March 2020. After many schools closed their physical campuses in spring 2020 in response to COVID-19, Education provided these grants to schools, based on a statutory formula, to give emergency financial assistance (student aid) to students who incurred related expenses, such as for housing, technology, and course materials. The majority of these HEERF student aid funds have been awarded to public schools (see figure). The average amount Education awarded per school was about $1.3 million, while amounts schools received ranged from less than $2,000 to more than $27 million, with half of schools receiving awards of $422,000 or less. Education data show that, as of November 2020, schools had drawn down about 90 percent—or $5.6 billion—of their HEERF student aid funds. About 70 percent of schools had drawn down all of their student aid funds, and an additional 24 percent of schools had drawn down at least half. Department of Education’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) Awards to Schools for Emergency Student Aid under the CARES Act, by School Sector Notes: Schools of less than 2 years are included in the 2-year school categories above. The Department of Education also awarded about $24 million to 2-year private, nonprofit schools and about $1.7 million to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Department of Education. Sector-level figures do not add up to $6.19 billion because of rounding. Schools used a variety of approaches to determine student eligibility and distribute funds to students. According to GAO’s analysis of a sample of school websites and data from Education, schools had distributed approximately 85 percent of all emergency student aid funds by fall 2020, with an average amount per student of about $830. Determining student eligibility. Approximately half of schools reported that they required a completed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)—the form used to apply for federal financial aid—to determine student eligibility for HEERF student aid. For example, one school reported requiring students who did not have a FAFSA on file to complete one by June 2020 to be eligible for student aid. Other schools did not require a FAFSA to establish eligibility, according to their websites, but reported using alternative methods. For example, a 4-year public school reported that graduate students applying for emergency aid had the option of submitting a school-provided affidavit certifying they were eligible to receive federal financial aid, an option described in Education’s interim final rule on student eligibility. Awarding funds to students. Schools reported using two main methods for awarding HEERF emergency student aid to students: requiring students to complete a school-developed application or using existing school records. Approximately 18 percent of schools used a combination of both methods. For example, a 4-year nonprofit school reported on its website that it awarded $300 to $500 to eligible students in its first round of funding based on existing student financial aid records, and then allowed students who had more expenses related to COVID-19 to apply for additional funding. Determining award amounts. Schools reported using various factors to determine award amounts for HEERF-eligible students. Over half of schools reported on their websites that amounts were based on individual circumstances, such as students’ general financial need, access to essential items such as food or housing, or a combination of these factors. About 20 percent of schools also reported using full-time or part-time status to determine aid amounts. For example, a 4-year public school reported that it distributed grants, ranging from $150 to $1,000, to all eligible students based on their enrollment status and financial need based on students’ FAFSA information. Why GAO Did This Study In June 2020, GAO issued the first of a series of reports on federal efforts to address the pandemic, which included a discussion of HEERF student aid grants to schools. At that time, limited information on how schools distributed HEERF funds to students was available. This report provides additional information and examines (1) how HEERF emergency student aid funds were provided to schools under the CARES Act, and (2) how schools distributed emergency student aid to eligible students. GAO analyzed Education’s obligation data as of November 2020, after Education had obligated most of the HEERF emergency student aid funds. GAO also analyzed information about HEERF student aid that Education requires schools to report on their websites by selecting a generalizable random sample of 203 schools for website reviews. These schools were representative of the more than 4,500 schools that received HEERF student aid funds as of August 2020. GAO also collected non-generalizable narrative details about how schools distributed funds to eligible students.
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  • Crude Oil Markets: Effects of the Repeal of the Crude Oil Export Ban
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO's analysis of U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data and interviews with industry stakeholders shows that the repeal of the U.S. crude oil export ban is associated with increased crude oil exports—from less than half a million barrels per day in 2015 to almost 3 million barrels per day in 2019. The repeal of the ban expanded the market for U.S. crude oil to overseas buyers and, along with other market factors, allowed U.S. crude oil producers to charge higher prices relative to comparable foreign crude oil. Higher prices and an expanded market for U.S. crude oil further incentivized domestic crude oil production, which had been growing since the shale oil boom began around 2009 (see figure). During the period after the repeal, total U.S. imports of crude oil remained largely unchanged. Annual Production and Exports of U.S. Crude Oil, 2009-2019 GAO's analysis found limited effects associated with the repeal of the ban on the production, export, and import of domestic refined petroleum products, such as gasoline. However, profit margins—which are determined in part by the costs a refiner pays for the crude oil and the earnings a refiner receives from the sale of refined products—likely decreased as the prices refiners paid for domestic crude oil increased relative to international prices. Because gasoline prices are largely determined on the global market, U.S. refiners could not pass on to consumers the additional costs associated with the increase in crude oil prices, resulting in decreased profit margins for U.S. refiners. Finally, after the repeal of the crude oil export ban, the U.S. shipping industry experienced a decline as demand fell for U.S. tankers—known as Jones Act tankers—used to move domestic crude oil between U.S. ports. The increase in the relative price of domestic crude oils associated with the repeal of the export ban may have resulted in some U.S. refineries deciding to use more foreign crude oil. Foreign crude oil is typically transported by foreign tankers, reducing the demand for Jones Act tankers compared to what it would have been if the export ban had remained in place, according to six of the seven shipping industry stakeholders GAO interviewed. Between 1975 and the end of 2015, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act directed a ban on nearly all exports of U.S. crude oil. This ban was not considered a significant policy issue when U.S. oil production was declining and import volumes were increasing. However, U.S. crude oil production roughly doubled from 2009 to 2015, due in part to a boom in shale oil production made possible by advancements in drilling technologies. In December 2015, Congress effectively repealed the ban, allowing the free export of U.S. crude oil worldwide. GAO was asked to provide information on the effects of repealing the crude oil export ban. This report describes the effects of the repeal of the crude oil export ban on the domestic crude oil production, petroleum refining, and related sectors of the U.S. shipping industry. GAO analyzed data from EIA and other federal databases to determine the effects of repealing the export ban. GAO also interviewed a nongeneralizeable sample of economists, market analysts, and stakeholders from the oil and gas, refining, and shipping industries. GAO's analysis focused on the repeal of the crude oil export ban and any effects of the repeal on U.S. crude oil and related industries through March 2020. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or ruscof@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
    A Colorado man was sentenced today to 60 years in prison for production, transportation, and possession of child pornography.
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