Office of the Spokesperson
Today, Secretary Blinken designated Ambassador Arnold Chacon to serve as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim at U.S. Embassy Ottawa. A career diplomat with the rank of Career Minister, Ambassador Chacon is currently detailed from the Department of State to the National Defense University as Senior Vice President. Ambassador Chacon previously served as the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources and U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala.
Ambassador Chacon’s appointment underscores the United States’ strong commitment to Canada and the Canadian people. He will lead the U.S. government’s diplomatic engagement in Canada by advancing the Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership, including trade, climate change, COVID-19 response and recovery, and global and regional security issues.
The United States highly values its close partnership with Canada, and Ambassador Chacon is dedicated to advancing the bilateral relationship.
- United States and Canada Forge Ahead on Critical Minerals CooperationBy Sam NewsJuly 31, 2021Office of the [Read More…]
- Member of White Supremacist Gang Pleads Guilty to Violent Assault and Conspiracy to Sell FirearmsBy Sam NewsMay 7, 2021A member of the Aryan Circle (AC) pleaded guilty Thursday to his role in an October 2016 violent assault, as well as conspiring to sell firearms to a convicted felon. Another individual pleaded guilty on April 19, to conspiring with members of the AC to sell methamphetamine.[Read More…]
- Marine Corps Civilian Employee Pleads Guilty to Assaulting His SpouseBy Sam NewsJanuary 21, 2021A civilian employee working for the U.S. Marine Corps Community Association pleaded guilty today to assaulting his spouse while working in Iwakuni, Japan.[Read More…]
- Leader of Neo-Nazi Group Sentenced for Plot to Target Journalists and AdvocatesBy Sam NewsJanuary 11, 2022A Washington man was sentenced today to 84 months, or seven years, in prison for his role in a plot to threaten and intimidate journalists and advocates who worked to expose anti-Semitism.[Read More…]
- Opening Remarks at a Civil Society RoundtableBy Sam NewsJuly 28, 2021Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
- State Department: Implementation of Grants Policies Needs Better OversightBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021What GAO Found The Department of State (State) has established policies and guidance that provide a supportive environment for managing grants and cooperative agreements (grants). In addition, State provides its grants officials mandatory training on these policies and guidance, and routinely identifies and shares best practices. State's policies are based on federal regulations, reflect internal control standards, and cover topics such as risk assessment and monitoring procedures. State's policies also delineate specific internal control activities that grants officials are required to both implement and document in the grant files as a way of promoting accountability (see fig.). Key Internal Control Activities Required through a Grant's Life Cycle GAO found that inconsistent implementation of policies and guidance weakens State's assurance that grant funds are used as intended. Inadequate risk analysis . In most of the files GAO reviewed, grants officials did not fully identify, assess, and mitigate risks, as required. For example, officials conducted a risk identification process for 45 of the 61 grants that GAO reviewed. While grants officials identified risk in 28 of those 45 grants, they mitigated risks in only 11. Poor documentation . Grants officials generally did not adhere to State policies and procedures relating to documenting internal control activities. For example, 32 of the 61 files reviewed did not contain the required monitoring plan. Considerable turnover among grants officials makes documenting internal control activities particularly important. State's periodic management reviews of selected bureaus' and overseas missions' grant operations have also found that key documentation was frequently missing or incomplete and made recommendations to address the problem. However, State has not consistently followed up to ensure the implementation of these recommendations, as internal control standards require. State does not have processes for ensuring compliance with risk analysis and documentation requirements. Without the proper implementation of its internal control policies for grants management, State cannot be certain that its oversight is adequate or that it is using its limited oversight resources effectively. Why GAO Did This Study Grants are key tools that State uses to conduct foreign assistance. In fiscal year 2012, State obligated over $1.6 billion worldwide for around 14,000 grants to individuals and organizations for a variety of purposes, such as fostering cultural exchange and facilitating refugee resettlement. However, recent GAO and Inspectors General reports have identified challenges with State's management of these funds. This report examines (1) the policies and guidance that State has established to administer and oversee grants, and (2) the extent to which the implementation of those policies and guidance provides reasonable assurance that funds are being used as intended. GAO analyzed State's policies and guidance, and interviewed cognizant grants officials at 14 bureaus headquartered in Washington, D.C., and three overseas missions (Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Turkey). GAO also conducted file reviews for a sample of 61 grants totaling approximately $172 million. Selection criteria included total dollar value of grants in a country, geographic diversity, and balance among bureaus.[Read More…]
- Advertising Platform OpenX Agrees to Injunctive Relief and $2 Million Payment in Case Alleging Violations of Children’s Privacy LawBy Sam NewsDecember 28, 2021Online advertising platform OpenX Technologies Inc. (OpenX) has agreed to a court order requiring it to pay $2 million and to be bound by injunctive relief provisions mandating its compliance with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule. This stipulated order resolves a lawsuit the government filed against OpenX in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.[Read More…]
- Announcing New Assistance to Respond to Humanitarian Challenges in Central AmericaBy Sam NewsJune 10, 2021Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
- Justice Department Awards More Than $210 Million to Support Forensic ScienceBy Sam NewsDecember 23, 2021The Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) today announced grant awards totaling more than $210 million to fund crime laboratories, support research, decrease DNA backlogs and help law enforcement identify missing persons. The funding is administered by the OJP’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and National Institute of Justice (NIJ).[Read More…]
- DOD Acquisition Reform: Increased Focus on Knowledge Needed to Achieve Intended Performance and Innovation OutcomesBy Sam NewsApril 29, 2021What GAO Found As the Department of Defense (DOD) drives to deliver innovative capabilities faster to keep pace with evolving threats and emerging adversaries, knowledge—about programs' cost, schedule, and technology—increases the likelihood that these capabilities will be achieved. GAO annually assesses selected DOD weapon programs and their likely outcomes by analyzing: (1) the soundness of a program's business case—which provides evidence that the warfighter's needs are valid and the concept can be produced within existing resources—at program start, and (2) the knowledge a program attains at other key points in the acquisition process. For example, the Navy's Ford-class aircraft carrier program began with a weak business case, including an unrealistic cost estimate based on unproven technologies, resulting in over $2 billion in cost growth and years of delays to date for the lead ship. DOD's new acquisition framework uses six different acquisition pathways and offers programs a chance to tailor acquisition approaches, providing options to speed up the process. However, preliminary findings from GAO's 2021 annual assessment show that programs using the new middle-tier pathway face increasing risk that they will fall short of expected performance goals as a result of starting without sound business cases. While these programs are intended to be streamlined, business case information is critical for decision makers to know if a program is likely to meet its goals (see figure below). Completion of Key Business Case Documents by Selected Middle-tier Acquisition Programs The framework also introduces new considerations for program oversight and reporting. DOD has made some progress in developing its approach to oversight for programs using the new pathways, but questions remain about what metrics DOD will use for internal oversight and report to Congress for external oversight. Why GAO Did This Study DOD spends billions of dollars annually to acquire new major weapon systems, such as aircraft, ships, and satellites, and deliver them to the warfighter. GAO has reviewed individual weapon programs for many years and conducted its annual assessment of selected major DOD weapon programs for 19 years. GAO added DOD's weapon system acquisition process to its High-Risk List in 1990. This statement discusses: (1) the performance of selected DOD weapon programs and the role of a sound business case in that performance, (2) DOD's progress implementing recent acquisition reforms, (3) the status of DOD's actions to support innovation, and (4) DOD's efforts to improve data for acquisition oversight. This statement is drawn primarily from GAO's extensive body of work on DOD's acquisition of weapon systems, science and technology, and acquisition reforms conducted from 2004–2021, and observations from an ongoing annual review of selected DOD weapon programs. To perform this work, GAO reviewed DOD documentation, program information, and relevant legislation. GAO also interviewed DOD officials.[Read More…]
- Environment and Natural Resources Division Distributes Memorandum Summarizing Enforcement Policies and PrioritiesBy Sam NewsJanuary 19, 2021On Friday, the Environment and Natural Resources Division publicly distributed a memorandum summarizing important principles and priorities for environmental enforcement. The memorandum, issued Jan. 14 by outgoing Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark, emphasizes that robust enforcement of our nation's environmental laws remains one of the division’s highest priorities. It emphasizes that, when engaged in criminal and civil enforcement, it is important that the division continue to enhance the fair and impartial application of the law.[Read More…]
- Cameroonian Citizen Extradited from Romania Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Defraud Online Purchasers of PetsBy Sam NewsNovember 10, 2021A citizen of Cameroon pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his role in a scheme to trick American consumers into paying fees for pets that were never delivered and for using the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to extract higher fees from victims.[Read More…]
- Statement from Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband Commemorating the Twentieth Anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection ActBy Sam NewsOctober 28, 2020Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Eric Dreiband issued the following statement today commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act:[Read More…]
- Military Pay: Hundreds of Battle-Injured GWOT Soldiers Have Struggled to Resolve Military DebtsBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021As part of the Committee on Government Reform's continuing focus on pay and financial issues affecting Army soldiers deployed in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), the requesters were concerned that battle-injured soldiers were not only battling the broken military pay system, but faced blemishes on their credit reports and pursuit by collection agencies from referrals of their Army debts. GAO was asked to determine (1) the extent of debt of separated battle-injured soldiers and deceased Army soldiers who served in the GWOT, (2) the impact of DOD debt collection action on separated battle-injured and deceased soldiers and their families, and (3) ways that Congress could make the process for collecting these debts more soldier friendly.Pay problems rooted in the complex, cumbersome processes used to pay Army soldiers from their initial mobilization through active duty deployment to demobilization have generated military debts. As of September 30, 2005, nearly 1,300 separated Army GWOT soldiers who were injured or killed during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan had incurred over $1.5 million in military debt, including almost 900 battle-injured soldiers with debts of $1.2 million and about 400 soldiers who died in combat with debts of $300,000. As a policy, DOD does not pursue collection of debts of soldiers who were killed in combat. However, hundreds of battle-injured soldiers experienced collection action on their debts. The extent of these debts may be greater due to incomplete reporting. GAO's case studies of 19 battle-injured soldiers showed that collection action on military debts resulted in significant hardships to these soldiers and their families. For example, 16 of the 19 soldiers were unable to pay their basic household expenses; 4 soldiers were unable to obtain loans to purchase a car or house or meet other needs; and 8 soldiers' debts were offset against their income tax refunds. In addition, 16 of the 19 case study soldiers had their debts reported to credit bureaus and 9 soldiers were contacted by private collection agencies. Due to concerns about soldier indebtedness resulting from pay-related problems during deployments, Congress recently gave the Service Secretaries authority to cancel some GWOT soldier debts. Because of restrictions in the law, debts of injured soldiers who separated at different times can be treated differently. For example, soldiers who separated more than 1 year ago are not eligible for debt relief and soldiers who paid their debts are not eligible for refunds. Further, because this authority expires in December 2007, injured soldiers and their families could face bad credit reports, visits from collection agents, and tax refund offsets in the future.[Read More…]
- Border Security: CBP’s Response to COVID-19By Sam NewsJune 15, 2021What GAO Found According to data from the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), through February 2021, over 7,000 Office of Field Operations (OFO) and U.S. Border Patrol employees reported being infected with COVID-19, and 24 died due to COVID-19-related illnesses. In addition, over 20,000 OFO and Border Patrol employees were unable to work at some point due to COVID-19-related illnesses or quarantining in the same time period. OFO officials noted that employee absences due to COVID-19 did not generally have a significant impact on port operations, given relatively low travel volumes. In contrast, officials interviewed by GAO at three of four Border Patrol locations said that COVID-19 absences had impacted operations to some extent. COVID-19 Cases within Customs and Border Protection, through February 2021 CBP regularly updated guidance, used workplace flexibilities, and implemented safety precautions against COVID-19. Between January and December 2020, CBP updated guidance on COVID-19 precautions and how managers should address possible exposures. CBP also used a variety of workplace flexibilities, including telework and weather and safety leave to minimize the number of employees in the workplace, when appropriate. Meanwhile, CBP field locations moved some processing functions outdoors, encouraged social distancing, and provided protective equipment to employees and the public. In addition, some field locations took steps to modify infrastructure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as installing acrylic barriers or improving airflow in facilities. Challenges implementing operational changes included insufficient equipment for telework at three field locations, and shortages of respirators at a quarter of the ports of entry GAO contacted. CBP adjusted operations in response to COVID-19 and executive actions. As travel and trade volumes declined, some ports of entry reallocated personnel to other operations, such as cargo processing. In contrast, starting in May 2020 Border Patrol encounters with noncitizens steadily increased. As a result, Border Patrol requested additional resources. It also shifted its deployment strategy to operate as closely to the border as practical to intercept individuals who could be infected with COVID-19. Accordingly, some Border Patrol sectors modified interior operations, such as limiting resources at immigration checkpoints. CBP also assisted in implementing a Centers for Disease Control order that provided the ability to quickly expel apprehended individuals. Why GAO Did This Study The COVID-19 pandemic impacted nearly all aspects of society, including travel to and from the U.S. In response to COVID-19, the administration issued executive actions with the intention of decreasing the number of individuals entering the U.S. and reducing transmission of the virus. Within CBP, OFO is responsible for implementing these actions at ports of entry through which travelers enter the U.S., and Border Patrol is responsible for patrolling the areas between ports of entry to prevent individuals and goods from entering the U.S. illegally. Based on their role in facilitating legitimate travel and trade and securing the borders, CBP employees risk exposure to COVID-19 in the line of duty. GAO was asked to review how CBP managed its field operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report describes: (1) available data on the number of CBP employees diagnosed with COVID-19 and unable to work; (2) actions CBP has taken related to protecting its workforce and the public from COVID-19; and (3) the extent to which CBP adjusted operations in response to the pandemic and related travel restrictions. GAO reviewed key guidance documents and analyzed data on travel and trade at ports of entry, Border Patrol enforcement, and COVID-19 exposures among CBP employees. GAO also interviewed officials at CBP headquarters, employee unions' representatives, and 12 CBP field locations, selected for factors such as geographic diversity, traffic levels, and COVID-19 infection rates. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or GamblerR@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Vocational Rehabilitation: More VA and DOD Collaboration Needed to Expedite Services for Seriously Injured ServicemembersBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021More than 10,000 U.S. military servicemembers, including National Guard and Reserve members, have been injured in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those with serious injuries are likely to be discharged from the military and return to civilian life with disabilities. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers vocational rehabilitation and employment (VR&E) services to help these injured servicemembers in their transition to civilian employment. GAO has noted that early intervention--the provision of rehabilitation services as soon as possible after the onset of a disability--is a practice that significantly facilitates the return to work. GAO examined how VA expedites VR&E services to seriously injured servicemembers and the challenges VA faces in its efforts to do so.VA has taken steps to expedite vocational rehabilitation and employment services for servicemembers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq with serious injuries. The agency has instructed its regional offices to make seriously injured servicemembers a high priority for all VA assistance, including VR&E services, and has asked DOD to provide data that would help VA identify and monitor this population. It has also deployed additional staff to five major Army military treatment facilities where the majority of the seriously injured are treated. Pending an agreement with DOD for sharing data, VA has relied on its regional offices to learn who the seriously injured are and where they are located. We found that the regional offices we reviewed had developed information that varied in completeness and reliability. We also found that VA does not have a policy for maintaining contact with those with serious injuries who may later be ready for VR&E services but did not initially apply for VR&E. Nevertheless, some regional offices did attempt to maintain contact while other regional offices did not. VA faces significant challenges in expediting VR&E services to seriously injured servicemembers. These include: the inherent challenge that individual differences and uncertainties in the recovery process make it difficult to determine when a servicemember will be ready to consider VR&E services; DOD's concerns that VA's outreach, including early intervention with VR&E, could work at cross purposes to military retention goals for servicemembers whose discharge from military service is not yet certain; and the lack of access to data from DOD that would allow VA to readily know which servicemembers are seriously injured and where they are located. VA and DOD generally concurred with our findings and recommendations.[Read More…]
- Chile Travel AdvisoryBy Sam NewsIn TravelSeptember 26, 2020Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
- University of Arkansas Professor Indicted for Wire Fraud and Passport FraudBy Sam NewsJuly 29, 2020The Department of Justice announced today that Simon Saw-Teong Ang, 63, of Fayetteville, Arkansas, was indicted by a federal grand jury in the Western District of Arkansas on 42 counts of wire fraud and two counts of passport fraud.[Read More…]
- Third and Final Defendant Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Provide Material Support to ISISBy Sam NewsJune 9, 2021Today, Mohamed Haji, 28, of Lansing, Michigan, pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, namely the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, aka ISIS. In January 2020, his co-defendants Muse Muse and Mohamud Muse pleaded guilty to the same offense.[Read More…]
- Statement by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Earth DayBy Sam NewsApril 22, 2021On April 22, 1970, millions of people across America came together and sparked a movement that led to the enactment of many of our nation’s foundational environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.[Read More…]