Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
As Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad steps down from his role, I extend my gratitude for his decades of service to the American people.
Thomas West, who previously served as the Deputy Special Representative, will be the Special Representative for Afghanistan. Special Representative West, who served on then-Vice President Biden’s national security team and on the National Security Council staff, will lead diplomatic efforts, advise the Secretary and Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, and coordinate closely with the U.S. Embassy Kabul presence in Doha on America’s interests in Afghanistan.
I thank Ambassador Khalilzad for his service and welcome Special Representative West to the role.
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- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Actions Needed to Address Pending CaseloadBy Sam NewsSeptember 17, 2021What GAO Found Data from the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) indicate the agency's total pending caseload-–the number of cases awaiting a benefit decision-–grew an estimated 85 percent from fiscal years 2015 through 2020. GAO's analysis shows that, while the number of applications and petitions for immigration benefits (forms), such as humanitarian relief and naturalization, received by USCIS remained between about 8 and 10 million each fiscal year from 2015 through 2019, USCIS's median processing times—the median length of time from the date USCIS received a form to the date it rendered a decision on it—increased for six of the seven forms that GAO selected for review. USCIS officials cited several factors that contributed to longer processing times, including policy changes resulting in increases in the length of USCIS forms and expanded interview requirements; insufficient staffing levels; and suspension of in-person services due to the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Estimated Total Pending Caseload, Fiscal Years 2015 through 2020 USCIS monitors its operations using performance measures, including some measures related to its case processing timeliness. However, USCIS does not have these timeliness measures for four of the seven forms that GAO reviewed. Three of these four forms comprised about 41 percent of the agency's total pending caseload at the end of fiscal year 2020. Developing and implementing timeliness performance measures for certain forms, particularly those with significant pending caseloads, would provide USCIS leadership with a better understanding of areas that may require improvement. USCIS conducts short-term workforce planning by using staffing models that estimate the volume of new forms USCIS will receive for the next 2 fiscal years and the number of staff needed to address them. USCIS has also implemented several strategic and operating plans that include workforce-related goals. However, it has not developed long-term strategies for acquiring, developing, and retaining staff. Developing a strategic workforce plan would better position USCIS to address long-term workforce challenges and reduce its growing pending caseload. USCIS has also developed four plans to reduce its pending caseload, but has not implemented or updated them to reflect funding and other resources needed to address the pending caseload. Identifying the resources necessary to address its pending caseload and providing the estimates to the Office of Management and Budget and Congress would better inform them about USCIS's resource needs. Why GAO Did This Study USCIS is the federal agency charged with adjudicating applications and petitions for immigration benefits, such as humanitarian relief, naturalization, and employment authorization. GAO was asked to review issues related to USCIS's caseload. This report examines (1) what USCIS data indicate about its caseload, including its pending caseload, and factors affecting it; (2) how USCIS monitors its case processing operations, including efforts to reduce its pending caseload; and (3) the extent to which USCIS has implemented workforce planning strategies to address its pending caseload. GAO analyzed USCIS documentation and data for fiscal year 2015 through the second quarter of fiscal year 2020 and interviewed officials from USCIS program offices, directorates, and eight field locations and from three external stakeholder organizations. GAO also analyzed USCIS processing time data for seven types of applications and petitions, selected based on various factors, including volume of pending caseload and benefit category.[Read More…]
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- Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission Announce Agenda for Dec. 6 and 7 Workshop ‘Making Competition Work: Promoting Competition in Labor Markets’By Sam NewsDecember 1, 2021The Department of Justice Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced an agenda for their upcoming virtual workshop regarding competition in labor markets.[Read More…]
- Air Pollution: Opportunities to Better Sustain and Modernize the National Air Quality Monitoring SystemBy Sam NewsDecember 7, 2020The ambient air quality monitoring system is a national asset that provides standardized information for implementing the Clean Air Act and protecting public health. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state and local agencies cooperatively manage the system, with each playing different roles in design, operation, oversight, and funding. For example, EPA establishes minimum requirements for the system, and state and local agencies operate the monitors and report data to EPA. Officials from EPA and selected state and local agencies identified challenges related to sustaining the monitoring system. For example, they said that infrastructure is aging while annual EPA funding for state and local air quality management grants, which cover monitoring, has decreased by about 20 percent since 2004 after adjusting for inflation (see fig.). GAO found inconsistencies in how EPA regions have addressed these challenges. GAO's prior work has identified key characteristics of asset management, such as identifying needed resources and using quality data to manage infrastructure risks, which can help organizations optimize limited resources. By developing an asset management framework that includes such characteristics, EPA could better target limited resources toward the highest priorities for consistently sustaining the system. Annual Inflation-Adjusted EPA Funding for State and Local Air Quality Management Grants Air quality managers, researchers, and the public need additional information so they can better understand and address the health risks from air pollution, according to GAO's review of literature and interviews GAO conducted. These needs include additional information on (1) air toxics to understand health risks in key locations such as near industrial facilities; and (2) how to use low-cost sensors to provide real-time, local-scale air quality information. EPA and state and local agencies face persistent challenges meeting such air quality information needs, including challenges in understanding the performance of low-cost sensors. GAO illustrated this challenge by collecting air quality data from low-cost sensors and finding variability in their performance. EPA has strategies aimed at better meeting the additional air quality information needs of managers, researchers, and the public, but the strategies are outdated and incomplete. For example, they do not clearly define roles for meeting additional information needs. GAO's prior work on asset management suggests that a more strategic approach could help EPA modernize the system to better meet the additional information needs. By developing a modernization plan that aligns with leading practices for strategic planning and risk management, such as establishing modernization goals and roles, EPA could better ensure that the system meets the additional information needs of air quality managers, researchers, and the public and is positioned to protect public health. The national ambient air quality monitoring system shows that the United States has made progress in reducing air pollution but that risks to public health and the environment continue in certain locations. The system consists of sites that measure air pollution levels around fixed locations across the country using specific methods. Since the system began in the 1970s, air quality concerns have changed—such as increased concern about the health effects of air toxics. GAO was asked to evaluate the national air quality monitoring system. This report examines the role of the system and how it is managed, challenges in managing the system and actions to address them, and needs for additional air quality information and actions to address challenges in meeting those needs. GAO reviewed literature, laws, and agency documents; conducted a demonstration of low-cost sensors; and interviewed EPA officials, selected state and local officials, representatives from air quality associations, and stakeholders. GAO is making two recommendations for EPA to (1) establish an asset management framework for the monitoring system that includes key characteristics and (2) develop an air quality monitoring modernization plan that aligns with leading practices. In written comments on the report, EPA generally agreed with the recommendations. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- Iranian Nationals Charged with Conspiring to Evade U.S. Sanctions on Iran by Disguising $300 Million in Transactions Over Two DecadesBy Sam NewsMarch 19, 2021A federal criminal complaint unsealed today charges 10 Iranian nationals with running a nearly 20-year-long scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on the Government of Iran by disguising more than $300 million worth of transactions – including the purchase of two $25 million oil tankers – on Iran’s behalf through front companies in the San Fernando Valley, Canada, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates.[Read More…]
- Fair Labor Standards Act: Tracking Additional Complaint Data Could Improve DOL’s EnforcementBy Sam NewsJanuary 8, 2021Over the past 10 years, the number of Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) minimum wage and overtime cases has generally ranged between 23,000 and 30,000 each year. The compliance actions the Department of Labor's (DOL) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) used to address these cases primarily involved either on-site investigations or conciliations that seek a resolution between the employer and the worker by phone. Back wages due to workers for FLSA minimum wage and overtime violations increased from $129 million in fiscal year 2010 to $226 million in fiscal year 2019. Although the number of WHD investigators decreased by 25 percent from 2010 to 2019, WHD maintained its casework by using procedural flexibilities, such as not investigating low-priority complaints and by distributing work across offices to balance workloads. From fiscal years 2014 through 2019, most of WHD's FLSA compliance actions were targeted at priority industries—those WHD identified as low-wage, high violation industries that employ workers who are unlikely to file wage or overtime complaints, such as food services. In 2011, WHD developed a list of 20 priority industries, and encouraged its regional and district offices to focus on these industries by setting and monitoring performance goals as part of its annual enforcement planning process. The percentage of FLSA compliance actions involving the priority industries increased from 75 to 80 percent from fiscal years 2014 through 2019, according to DOL data. WHD uses several strategies, including supervisory reviews, to address FLSA complaints consistently, but does not track uniform data needed to ensure that the reasons complaints are filed with no WHD compliance action are applied consistently. WHD may file complaints without completing a compliance action because they are not within WHD's jurisdiction or for other reasons, such as that they are determined to be low-priority. GAO found that WHD filed about 20 percent of FLSA complaints with no compliance action from fiscal years 2014-2019 and the percent varied considerably (from 4 to 46 percent) among district offices (see figure). WHD lacks uniform data on the reasons complaints are filed with no compliance action at intake or the reasons cases are dropped after initial acceptance because there is no data field in WHD's enforcement database that can be used to systematically aggregate that information. Absent this data, WHD is less able to ensure that a consistent process is applied to complaints. Percentage of Fair Labor Standards Act Complaints Filed with No Compliance Action by WHD District Offices, Fiscal Years 2014-2019 Note: WHD filed about 20 percent of FLSA complaints with no compliance action from fiscal years 2014-2019, and the percent varied considerably among its district offices. The FLSA sets federal minimum wage and overtime pay requirements for millions of U.S. workers. WHD may investigate worker complaints of FLSA violations or initiate investigations in industries it prioritizes for enforcement. GAO was asked to review WHD compliance actions. This report examines (1) trends in WHD's FLSA minimum wage and overtime cases, (2) the extent to which WHD's FLSA compliance actions targeted priority industries, and (3) the extent to which WHD's reported efforts and data indicate that WHD applied a consistent process to FLSA complaints. GAO analyzed WHD data on FLSA cases for fiscal years 2010 through 2019, the last full fiscal year of data available when GAO conducted its analysis. GAO also conducted more in-depth reviews of recent efforts (fiscal years 2014-2019). GAO interviewed officials from WHD's national office, five regional offices, and five of WHD's 54 district offices with the largest share of FLSA cases in their regions. GAO also interviewed external stakeholders, including state agencies and organizations that represent workers and employers. GAO recommends DOL's WHD develop a method for systematically aggregating and reviewing data on the reasons complaints are filed with no compliance action or cases are dropped. DOL agreed with GAO's recommendation and stated it would take action to address it. For more information, contact Cindy Brown Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Justice Department Files Civil Action to Shut Down Chicago-Area Tax Return PreparerBy Sam NewsJanuary 28, 2021The United States has filed a complaint seeking to bar a Chicago-area tax return preparer from preparing federal income tax returns for others, the Justice Department announced today. The civil complaint against Lavon Boyd was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and alleges that Boyd prepared federal income tax returns for Chicago-area taxpayers that significantly understated his customers’ tax liabilities by fabricating business losses. The suit alleges that Boyd fabricated or exaggerated his customers’ business expenses. The suit also charges that Boyd allegedly fabricated childcare expenses on at least one of his customers’ tax returns.[Read More…]
- Information Security and Privacy: HUD Needs a Major Effort to Protect Data Shared with External EntitiesBy Sam NewsSeptember 21, 2020The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is not effectively protecting sensitive information exchanged with external entities. Of four leading practices for such oversight, HUD did not address one practice and only minimally addressed the other three in its security and privacy policies and procedures (see table). For example, HUD minimally addressed the first leading practice because its policy required federal agencies and contractors with which it exchanges information to implement risk-based security controls; however, the department did not, among other things, establish a process or mechanism to ensure all external entities complied with security and privacy requirements when processing, storing, or sharing information outside of HUD systems. HUD's weaknesses in the four practices were due largely to a lack of priority given to updating its policies. Until HUD implements the leading practices, it is unlikely that the department will be able to mitigate risks to its programs and program participants. Extent to Which the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Policies and Procedures Address Leading Practices for Overseeing the Protection of Sensitive Information Practice Rating Require risk-based security and privacy controls ◔ Independently assess implementation of controls ◌ Identify and track corrective actions needed ◔ Monitor progress implementing controls ◔ Legend: ◔=Minimally addressed—leading practice was addressed to a limited extent; ◌=Not addressed—leading practice was not addressed. Source: GAO analysis of HUD data. | GAO-20-431 HUD was not fully able to identify external entities that process, store, or share sensitive information with its systems used to support housing, community investment, or mortgage loan programs. HUD's data were incomplete and did not provide reliable information about external entities with access to sensitive information from these systems. For example, GAO identified additional external entities in system documentation beyond what HUD reported for 23 of 32 systems. HUD was further limited in its ability to protect sensitive information because it did not track the types of personally identifiable information or other sensitive information shared with external entities that required protection. This occurred, in part, because the department did not have a comprehensive inventory of systems, to include information on external entities. Its policies and procedures also focused primarily on security and privacy for internal systems and lacked specificity about how to ensure that all types of external entities protected information collected, processed, or shared with the department. Until HUD develops sufficient, reliable information about external entities with which program information is shared and the extent to which each entity has access to personally identifiable information and other sensitive information, the department will be limited in its ability to safeguard information about its housing, community investment, and mortgage loan programs. To administer housing, community investment, and mortgage loan programs, HUD collects a vast amount of sensitive personal information and shares it with external entities, including federal agencies, contractors, and state, local, and tribal organizations. In 2016, HUD reported two incidents that compromised sensitive information. House Report 115-237, referenced by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, included a provision for GAO to evaluate HUD's information security framework for protecting information within these programs. The objectives were to (1) assess the effectiveness of HUD's policies and procedures for overseeing the security and privacy of sensitive information exchanged with external entities; and (2) determine the extent to which HUD was able to identify external entities that process, store, and share sensitive information with applicable systems. GAO compared HUD's policies and practices for systems' security and privacy to four leading practices identified in federal legislation and guidance. GAO also assessed HUD's practices for identifying external entities with access to sensitive information. GAO is making five recommendations to HUD to fully implement the four leading practices and fully identify the extent to which sensitive information is shared with external entities. HUD did not agree or disagree with the recommendations, but described actions intended to address them. For more information, contact Carol C. Harris at (202) 512-4456 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Federal Justice Statistics, 2017-2018By Sam NewsIn Justice NewsMay 2, 2021(Publication)
This report is the 32nd in an annual series based on data from BJS's Federal Justice Statistics Program, which began in 1979.
4/6/2021, NCJ 254598, Mark Motivans [Read More…]
- Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Request: U.S. Government Accountability OfficeBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021This testimony discusses the U.S. Government Accountability Offices (GAO) budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2013. We very much appreciate the confidence Congress has shown in our efforts to help support the Congress in carrying out its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve government performance and accountability for the benefit of the American people.GAO is requesting an appropriation of $526.2 million for FY 2013 to support a staffing level of 3,100. This funding level represents a modest increase of 2.9 percent over FY 2012, and is 5.4 percent below our FY 2010 level. The majority of the requested increase represents the first step in rebuilding our staff capacity to a level that will enable us to optimize the benefits we yield for the Congress and the nation.GAOs work directly contributes to improvements in a broad array of federal programs affecting Americans everywhere and remains one of the best investments across the federal government. With this committees support, in FY 2011 GAO provided assistance to every standing congressional committee and about 70 percent of their subcommittees. GAO issues hundreds of products annually in response to congressional requests and mandates. Actions taken related to our findings and recommendations yielded significant results across the government, including financial benefits of $45.7 billion to reduce government expenditures, reallocate funds to more productive areas, or increase revenues. These benefits produced a return on investment of $81 for every dollar invested in GAO.GAO senior officials testified 174 times before the Congress on an array of complex issues including military and veterans disability systems, U.S. Postal Service fiscal sustainability, defense/weapons systems, and Medicare and Medicaid fraud, waste, and abuse. Fifty-seven of these hearings were related to high-risk areas and programs highlighted in GAOs biennial high-risk report. As the Congress and the administration debate ways to improve the federal governments long-term fiscal outlook, our mission becomes ever more critical to help identify billions of dollars in cost-saving opportunities to tighten federal budgets and identify revenue-enhancement opportunities. GAO seeks both to help position the government to better manage risks that could compromise the nations security, health, and solvency, and to identify opportunities for managing government resources wisely for a more sustainable future. GAO will continue to provide high-quality, high-value, and independent support to the Congress in ways that generate material benefits to the nation. GAOs High-risk Program calls attention to opportunities for cost savings and improvements in federal agency and program management that offer the potential to save billions of dollars, dramatically improve service to the public, and strengthen confidence and trust in the performance and accountability of the U.S. government. In FY 2011, our work also included several products mandated under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act on mortgages, securities markets, financial institutions, the Federal Reserve, and consumer protection. Additionally, our work included many other products related to health-care related reforms.As the Congress and the administration debate ways to improve the federal governments long-term fiscal outlook, our mission becomes ever more critical to help identify billions of dollars in cost-saving opportunities to tighten federal budgets and identify revenue-enhancement opportunities. GAO seeks both to help position the government to better manage risks that could compromise the nations security, health, and solvency, and to identify opportunities for managing government resources wisely for a more sustainable future. GAO will continue to provide high-quality, high-value, and independent support to the Congress in ways that generate material benefits to the nation.GAOs strategic plan for serving the Congress and the nation, 2010-2015, highlights the broad scope of our efforts to help the institution of the Congress respond to domestic and international challenges, such asaddressing current and emerging challenges to the well-being and financial security of the American people;responding to changing security threats and the challenges of global interdependence;helping transform the federal government to address national challenges; andmaximizing the value of GAO by enabling quality, timely service to the Congress and being a leading practices federal agency.[Read More…]
- [Protest of Navy Solicitation for Base Maintenance Services]By Sam NewsSeptember 10, 2021A firm protested a Navy solicitation for base maintenance services, contending that the Navy: (1) improperly failed to extend bid opening after amending the solicitation; and (2) failed to equalize competition after the incumbent contractor sold contract-related information to two bidders. GAO held that the: (1) Navy properly refused to extend the closing date, since it achieved adequate competition and there was no evidence that it deliberately attempted to exclude the protester; (2) Navy was not required to compensate for bidders' legal acquisition of incumbent contractor's contract information, since the information's availability was not the result of improper or unfair Navy actions; and (3) incumbent contractor's sale of information was not a prohibited contingent-fee arrangement, since the services did not involve any dealings with government officials. Accordingly, the protest was denied.[Read More…]