Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
On behalf of the United States of America, I congratulate the people of Armenia as you celebrate Independence Day, in commemoration of your declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. The United States is committed to continuing to build our bilateral partnership as we strengthen the ties between our people based on shared democratic values and a desire for peace and prosperity.
The United States welcomes Armenia’s continued commitment to strengthening the rule of law, establishing an independent judiciary, and increasing economic and investment opportunities. We commend Armenia’s ongoing efforts to combat corruption through transparency, due process, and increased accountability to citizens, and we will continue to support you in these efforts.
We also remain committed to helping to find a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and urge the sides to resume substantive negotiations under the auspices of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs as soon as possible.
Although COVID-19 has brought the world unique challenges this year, we are proud that our close cooperation in combating the pandemic has further strengthened the partnership between our peoples.
I wish the Armenian people a year of peace, freedom, and prosperity.
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- U.S.-China Trade: USTR Should Fully Document Internal Procedures for Making Tariff Exclusion and Extension DecisionsBy Sam NewsJuly 29, 2021What GAO Found The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) developed a process in July 2018 to review tariff exclusion requests for some imported products from China and later developed a process to extend these exclusions. From 2018 to 2020, U.S. stakeholders submitted about 53,000 exclusion requests to USTR for specific products covered by the tariffs. USTR's process consisted of a public comment period to submit requests, an internal review, an interagency assessment, and the decision publication. USTR documented some procedures for reviewing exclusion requests. However, it did not fully document all of its internal procedures, including roles and responsibilities for each step in its review process. GAO reviewed selected exclusion case files and found inconsistencies in the agency's reviews. For example, USTR did not document how reviewers should consider multiple requests from the same company, and GAO's case file review found USTR performed these steps inconsistently. Another case file lacked documentation to explain USTR's final decision because the agency's procedures did not specify whether such documentation was required. Federal internal control standards state that agencies should document their procedures to ensure they conduct them consistently and effectively, and to retain knowledge. Without fully documented internal procedures, USTR lacks reasonable assurance it conducted its reviews consistently. Moreover, documenting them will help USTR to administer any future exclusions and extensions. USTR evaluated each exclusion request on a case-by-case basis using several factors, including product availability outside of China and the potential economic harm of the tariffs. According to USTR officials, no one factor was essential to grant or deny a request. For example, USTR might grant a request that demonstrated the tariffs would cause severe economic harm even when the requested product was available outside of China. USTR denied about 46,000 requests (87 percent), primarily for the failure to show that the tariffs would cause severe economic harm to the requesters or other U.S. interests (see figure). Further, USTR did not extend 75 percent of the tariff exclusions it had granted. USTR's Primary Reasons for Denying Exclusion Requests for Section 301 Tariffs on Products from China, 2018-2020 Note: Totals may not sum due to rounding. Why GAO Did This Study In July 2018, USTR placed tariffs on certain products from China in response to an investigation that found certain trade acts, policies, and practices of China were unreasonable or discriminatory, and burden or restrict U.S. commerce. As of December 2020, the U.S. imposed tariffs on roughly $460 billion worth of Chinese imports under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended. Because these tariffs could harm U.S. workers and manufacturers that rely on these imports, USTR developed a process to exclude some products from these additional tariffs. U.S. businesses and members of Congress have raised questions about the transparency and fairness of USTR's administration of this process. GAO was asked to review USTR's tariff exclusion program. This report (1) examines the processes USTR used to review Section 301 tariff exclusion requests and extensions and (2) describes how USTR evaluated those tariff exclusion requests and extensions, and the outcomes of its decisions. GAO analyzed USTR's public and internal documents relating to the exclusion and extension processes, including 16 randomly selected nongeneralizable case files, and data from USTR and the U.S. Census Bureau. GAO also interviewed agency officials.[Read More…]
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- Afghanistan: Improvements Needed to Strengthen Management of U.S. Civilian PresenceBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021What GAO FoundU.S. agencies under Chief of Mission authority and the Department of Defense (DOD) have reported expanding their civilian presence in Afghanistan and took steps to improve their ability to track that presence. Since January 2009, U.S. agencies under Chief of Mission authority more than tripled their civilian presence from 320 to 1,142. However, although State could report total Chief of Mission numbers by agency, in mid-2011 GAO identified discrepancies in States data system used to capture more-detailed staffing information such as location and position type. State began taking steps in the fall of 2011 to improve the reliability of its data system. Also, DOD reported expanding its overall civilian presence from 394 civilians in January 2009 to 2,929 in December 2011 to help assist U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. The extent to which DODs data is reliable is unknown due to omissions and double counting, among other things. In a 2009 report, GAO noted similar data issues and recommended DOD improve data concerning deployed civilians. DOD concurred with the recommendation and expects the issues will be addressed by a new tracking system to be completed in fiscal year 2012.DOD has taken preliminary steps to implement its Civilian Expeditionary Workforce (CEW) policy, including establishing a program office; however, nearly 3 years after DODs directive established the CEW, the program has not been fully developed and implemented. Specifically, DOD components have not identified and designated the number and types of positions that should constitute the CEW because guidance for making such determinations has not been provided by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Officials stated that once key assumptions regarding the size and composition of the CEW have been finalized, implementing guidance will be issued. Until guidance that instructs the components on how to identify and designate the number and types of positions that will constitute the CEW is developed, DOD may not be able to (1) make the CEW a significant portion of the civilian workforce as called for in DODs fiscal year 2009 Civilian Human Capital Strategic Plan, (2) meet readiness goals for the CEW as required in DODs Strategic Management Plan for fiscal years 2012-2013, and (3) position itself to respond to future missions.U.S. agencies under Chief of Mission authority and DOD provided Afghanistan-specific, predeployment training to their civilians, but DOD faced challenges. State offered predeployment training courses to address its requirements for Chief of Mission personnel and designated a centralized point of contact to help ensure that no personnel were deployed without taking required training, including the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat course. While predeployment training requirements were established for Afghanistan by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Combatant Commander, DOD relied on its various components to provide the training to its civilians. In some cases, DOD components offered duplicate training courses and did not address all theater requirements in their training because DOD did not have a process for identifying and synchronizing requirements and coordinating efforts to implement them, as called for in the Strategic Plan for the Next Generation of Training for the Department of Defense. Absent this process, DOD could not ensure that its civilians were fully prepared for deployment to Afghanistan and that training resources were used efficiently.Why GAO Did This StudyIn March 2009, the President called for an expanded U.S. civilian presence under Chief of Mission authority to build the capacity of the Afghan government to provide security, essential services, and economic development. In addition, the Department of Defense (DOD) deploys civilians under combatant commander authority to Afghanistan to support both combat and capacity-building missions. DOD established the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce (CEW) in 2009 to create a cadre of civilians trained, cleared, and equipped to respond urgently to expeditionary requirements. As the military draws down, U.S. civilians will remain crucial to achieving the goal of transferring lead security responsibility to the Afghan government in 2014.For this report, GAO (1) examined the expansion of the U.S. civilian presence in Afghanistan, (2) evaluated DODs implementation of its CEW policy, and (3) determined the extent to which U.S. agencies had provided required Afghanistan-specific training to their personnel before deployment. GAO analyzed staffing data and training requirements, and interviewed cognizant officials from the Department of State (State), other U.S. agencies with personnel under Chief of Mission authority in Afghanistan, and DOD.[Read More…]
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- TriWest Healthcare Alliance Corp. Agrees to Pay $179.7 Million to Resolve Overpayments from the Department of Veterans AffairsBy Sam NewsDecember 31, 2020TriWest Healthcare Alliance Corp. has agreed to pay the United States $179,700,000 to resolve claims that it received overpayments from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in connection with its administration of certain VA health care programs, the Department of Justice announced today.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Files Housing Discrimination Lawsuit Against Staten Island, New York Rental Agent and Real Estate AgencyBy Sam NewsSeptember 30, 2020The Department of Justice announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against Village Realty of Staten Island Ltd. and Denis Donovan, a sales and former rental agent at Village Realty, alleging discrimination against African Americans in violation of the Fair Housing Act when offering housing units for rent. The lawsuit is based on the results of testing conducted by the department’s Fair Housing Testing Program, in which individuals pose as renters to gather information about possible discriminatory practices.[Read More…]
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- Capital Fund Proposal: Upfront Funding Could Benefit Some Projects, but Other Potential Effects Not Clearly IdentifiedBy Sam NewsSeptember 13, 2021What GAO Found Federal agencies have long struggled to obtain full, upfront funding for capital investments to acquire and maintain federal buildings. GAO's review of three selected federal capital projects suggests that such funding might have benefitted those projects and their agencies. For example, GAO estimated that full, upfront funding for the Department of Transportation's headquarters building might have saved up to $1.2 billion by allowing construction of a new headquarters versus what did occur—the General Services Administration (GSA) leased space for years and eventually purchased the building that it had leased. U. S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Headquarters Washington D. C. In an effort to improve federal agencies' access to full, upfront funding for capital investments, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) proposed the $10 billion Federal Capital Revolving Fund Act of 2018 (Capital Fund). The Capital Fund, which would be administered by GSA, could provide upfront funding for certain capital projects of $250 million or more, with agencies repaying the Capital Fund over a 15-year period. While the 2018 Capital Fund proposal has not been enacted, a Capital Fund was referenced in each of the President's budgets since 2019 and in a bill that was introduced in the Senate in May 2021. During the course of GAO's review, officials from GSA and OMB expressed different perspectives on the proposed Capital Fund, and how it might affect the existing Federal Buildings Fund (Buildings Fund) is unclear. GSA officials said that the proposed Capital Fund could divert revenue away from the existing Buildings Fund, which receives rent from GSA tenant agencies and from which GSA pays maintenance and repair costs. OMB officials told us that the Capital Fund could benefit the Buildings Fund by promoting federal ownership over leasing and possibly adding assets to GSA's inventory. GAO identified additional circumstances in which the Capital Fund could affect the Buildings Fund. For example, while the tenant agency would pay operating costs during the first 25-years, the proposal does not directly address what would occur if GSA incurred significant repair costs during this period. As GSA would administer the Capital Fund and manage the Buildings Fund, it is in the best position to analyze when these circumstances might occur and their potential scope as well as how the two funds might interact. Identifying and communicating the possible effects would help OMB and Congress more fully consider legislative proposals. Why GAO Did This Study Since 2003, federal real property management has been on GAO's High-Risk List, in part due to upfront- funding challenges. If enacted, the Capital Fund could provide upfront funding to agencies for certain projects to acquire, construct, or renovate buildings and other federal real property. The existing Buildings Fund funds such projects and the operations and maintenance needs of GSA's portfolio. GAO was asked to review the Capital Fund proposal. This report: (1) describes how federal agencies might have used expanded access to full, upfront funding had it been available, for three selected projects and (2) assesses stakeholder views on the proposed Capital Fund and whether it would affect the Buildings Fund. To assess how agencies might have used full, upfront funding, GAO reviewed three recent capital projects of $250 million or more, selected for the differences in type of project (i.e., acquisition, new construction, and renovation). GAO also analyzed the Capital Fund proposal, GSA's budget, and other documents. Additionally, GAO interviewed GSA and OMB officials.[Read More…]
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