Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
The United States is gravely concerned by reported atrocities and the overall deteriorating situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. We strongly condemn the killings, forced removals and displacements, sexual assaults, and other extremely serious human rights violations and abuses by several parties that multiple organizations have reported in Tigray. We are also deeply concerned by the worsening humanitarian crisis. The United States has repeatedly engaged the Ethiopian government on the importance of ending the violence, ensuring unhindered humanitarian access to Tigray, and allowing a full, independent, international investigation into all reports of human rights violations, abuses, and atrocities. Those responsible for them must be held accountable.
The United States acknowledges the February 26 statements from the Ethiopian Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs promising unhindered humanitarian access, welcoming international support for investigations into human rights violations and abuses, and committing to full accountability. The international community needs to work collectively to ensure that these commitments are realized.
The immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces and Amhara regional forces from Tigray are essential first steps. They should be accompanied by unilateral declarations of cessation of hostilities by all parties to the conflict and a commitment to permit unhindered delivery of assistance to those in Tigray. The United States is committed to working with the international community to achieve these goals. To that end, USAID will deploy a Disaster Assistance Response Team to Ethiopia to continue delivering life-saving assistance.
We ask international partners, especially the African Union and regional partners, to work with us to address the crisis in Tigray, including through action at the UN and other relevant bodies.
The United States remains committed to building an enduring partnership with the Ethiopian people.
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- DHS Office of Inspector General: Preliminary Observations on Long-Standing Management and Operational ChallengesBy Sam NewsApril 21, 2021What GAO Found GAO's preliminary work has identified a number of management and operational challenges, including frequent leadership turnover, since fiscal year 2015 that have impeded the overall effectiveness of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG). DHS OIG senior leaders have acknowledged that these challenges have contributed to organizational weaknesses, and have taken steps to begin addressing some of them. GAO's preliminary work has identified issues in the following areas, among others: Strategic planning: DHS OIG has not consistently developed strategic plans, which are a necessary input for developing the organization's other guiding documents and governance framework. Specifically, DHS OIG has operated for 4 of the past 6 years without a strategic plan, and the plan it adopted for fiscal years 2018–2019 included some, but not all, of the elements considered standard for federal entities. In 2020, DHS OIG contracted with a nonprofit academy of government experts to develop a strategic plan for fiscal years 2021–2025, with expected delivery in June 2021. Quality assurance: Internal and external reviews have reported on concerns about quality assurance in some of DHS OIG's work. In 2017 and 2018, after an internal review found that some reports issued by DHS OIG may not have adhered to the professional standards cited, DHS OIG retracted 13 audit reports that had been issued over a 5-year period. In 2018, an external review determined that DHS OIG needed to improve its system of quality control. Though DHS OIG concurred with all of the recommendations from that external review, it did not fully implement them. In addition, DHS OIG has not established roles and responsibilities for an organization-wide quality assurance program. Moreover, GAO's preliminary work indicates that current staff allocations may limit DHS OIG's quality assurance reviews to focusing on audit work and not on the other types of work it produces, including inspections, evaluations, special reviews, and management alerts. Timeliness: DHS OIG project time frames for work from its offices of Audits and Special Reviews and Evaluations have increased over the 4 fiscal years GAO assessed. For example, in fiscal year 2017, 79 of 102 Office of Audits projects were completed in 1 year or less and eight of 102 took more than 18 months. In fiscal year 2020, seven of 67 reports were completed in 1 year or less and more than half (35 of 67) took more than 18 months. In addition, DHS OIG has not assessed time frames for work completed by these offices, though timeliness in reporting is a key element of effective oversight and DHS OIG staff considered it an organizational weakness. GAO will complete its evaluation of these and other management and operational areas, and will issue a final report in the coming months. Why GAO Did This Study DHS OIG has a critical role in providing independent and objective oversight of DHS, which encompasses multiple operational and support components. OIGs are expected to maintain high standards of professionalism and integrity in light of their mission, according to quality standards developed by the community of federal Inspectors General. However, DHS OIG has faced a number of challenges that have affected its ability to carry out its oversight mission effectively. This statement is based on GAO's draft report on DHS OIG's management and operations, which is currently at the agency for comment. It provides preliminary observations on DHS OIG's strategic planning processes; quality assurance processes; and reporting time frames for work from DHS OIG's offices of Audits and Special Reviews and Evaluations. To develop these preliminary observations, GAO reviewed relevant federal laws and quality standards for federal OIGs as well as DHS OIG documentation, including organizational policies; internal communications such as emails and memoranda; and DHS OIG's semiannual reports to Congress and published reports. GAO also analyzed DHS OIG project data from fiscal years 2015 through 2020, and interviewed DHS OIG leaders and other staff.[Read More…]
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- COVID-19: State Carried Out Historic Repatriation Effort but Should Strengthen Its Preparedness for Future CrisesBy Sam NewsNovember 2, 2021What GAO Found From January to June 2020, the Department of State carried out a historic effort in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to repatriate more than 100,000 individuals who were in 137 countries. In the previous 5 years, State had repatriated fewer than 6,000 people. Most responses to a GAO survey of repatriated individuals expressed positive views of State's communication, among other things, though some expressed concerns about matters such as the prices of repatriation flights. State reported learning several lessons from challenges it faced, such as the importance of using social media and cell phones to communicate with U.S. citizens. State Personnel Assisting with Repatriations in Tanzania (Left) and Montenegro (right) Despite acting swiftly to assist Americans abroad, State did not follow some of its policies and lacked guidance for certain aspects of its repatriation effort. For example, as of May 2021, an interagency group State established to coordinate plans to evacuate U.S. citizens abroad in emergencies had not met since April 2019, hampering interagency communication early in the crisis. Also, incomplete guidance for calculating and documenting actual costs of State-chartered flights led to missing or inconsistent documentation and limited State's ability to show that the prices it charged passengers complied with its fare policy. Additionally, while State requires overseas posts to take steps to prepare for crises, its oversight of their preparedness has gaps. State requires posts to update emergency action plans but does not ensure timely submission of those plans. In the 20 countries from which State helped repatriate the largest numbers of people, 17 of 30 posts did not submit their updated plans for certification within required time frames in 2020. State requires posts to complete annual emergency preparedness drills, but does not ensure completion of the drills. In 2019, 16 of the 30 posts failed to complete all the drills within the required time frames. State lacks a mechanism for assessing posts' crisis preparedness. Though State encourages posts to assess their own preparedness annually, data from these assessments are not current or complete. As a result of these gaps, State lacks assurance that posts will be prepared to respond to a future global crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Why GAO Did This Study State provides repatriation assistance to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents abroad during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. State's Office of Crisis Management and Strategy and Bureau of Consular Affairs were primarily responsible for State's COVID-19 repatriation effort. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing COVID-19 monitoring and oversight efforts. In addition, GAO was asked to examine State's COVID-19 repatriation effort. This report examines, among other things, (1) the results of State's repatriation effort, including lessons State reported learning from challenges it faced; (2) the consistency of selected aspects of State's repatriation effort with its policies and procedures; and (3) State's oversight of its overseas posts' crisis preparedness. GAO reviewed relevant State documents, such as cables and guidance. GAO also interviewed State officials in Washington, D.C., and in Ghana, Honduras, India, Morocco, and Peru. In addition, GAO surveyed a generalizable sample of passengers repatriated on State-chartered flights.[Read More…]
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- Military Readiness: Impact of Current Operations and Actions Needed to Rebuild Readiness of U.S. Ground ForcesBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021U.S. military forces, and ground forces in particular, have operated at a high pace since the attacks of September 11, 2001, including to support ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Between 2001 and July 2007, approximately 931,000 U.S. Army and Marine Corps servicemembers deployed for overseas military operations, including about 312,000 National Guard or Reserve members. To support ongoing military operations and related activities, Congress has appropriated billions of dollars since 2001, and through September 2007, the Department of Defense (DOD) has reported obligating about $492.2 billion to cover these expenses, of which a large portion are related to readiness. In addition, DOD's annual appropriation, now totaling about $480 billion for fiscal year 2008, includes funds to cover readiness needs. GAO was asked to testify on (1) the readiness implications of DOD's efforts to support ongoing operations; and (2) GAO's prior recommendations related to these issues, including specific actions that GAO believes would enhance DOD's ability to manage and improve readiness. This statement is based on reports and testimonies published from fiscal years 2003 through 2008. GAO's work was conducted in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.While DOD has overcome difficult challenges in maintaining a high pace of operations over the past 6 years and U.S. forces have gained considerable combat experience, our work has shown that extended operations in Iraq and elsewhere have had significant consequences for military readiness, particularly with regard to the Army and Marine Corps. To meet mission requirements specific to Iraq and Afghanistan, the department has taken steps to increase the availability of personnel and equipment for deploying units, and to refocus their training on assigned missions. For example, to maintain force levels in theater, DOD has increased the length of deployments and frequency of mobilizations, but it is unclear whether these adjustments will affect recruiting and retention. The Army and Marine Corps have also transferred equipment from nondeploying units and prepositioned stocks to support deploying units, affecting the availability of items for nondeployed units to meet other demands. In addition, they have refocused training such that units train extensively for counterinsurgency missions, with little time available to train for a fuller range of missions. Finally, DOD has adopted strategies, such as relying more on Navy and Air Force personnel and contractors to perform some tasks formerly handled by Army or Marine Corps personnel. If current operations continue at the present level of intensity, DOD could face difficulty in balancing these commitments with the need to rebuild and maintain readiness. Over the past several years, GAO has reported on a range of issues related to military readiness and made numerous recommendations to enhance DOD's ability to manage and improve readiness. Given the change in the security environment since September 11, 2001, and demands on U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, rebuilding readiness will be a long-term and complex effort. However, GAO believes DOD can take measures that will advance progress in both the short and long terms. A common theme is the need for DOD to take a more strategic decision-making approach to ensure programs and investments are based on plans with measurable goals, validated requirements, prioritized resource needs, and performance measures to gauge progress. Overall, GAO recommended that DOD develop a near-term plan for improving the readiness of ground forces that, among other things, establishes specific goals for improving unit readiness, prioritizes actions needed to achieve those goals, and outlines an investment strategy to clearly link resource needs and funding requests. GAO also made recommendations in several specific readiness-related areas, including that DOD develop equipping strategies to target shortages of items required to equip units preparing for deployment, and DOD adjust its training strategies to include a plan to support full-spectrum training. DOD agreed with some recommendations, but has yet to fully implement them. For others, particularly when GAO recommended that DOD develop more robust plans linked to resources, DOD believed its current efforts were sufficient. GAO continues to believe such plans are needed.[Read More…]
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- Force Structure: Army and Marine Corps Efforts to Review Nonstandard Equipment for Future UsefulnessBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021What GAO FoundIn summary, the Army and the Marine Corps have taken steps to determine the future usefulness of nonstandard equipment but have not finalized all of the decisions on whether to add such equipment to unit authorization documents. As of November 2011, the Army had reviewed 409 equipment systems through its Capabilities Development for Rapid Transition process, determining that about 11 percent of that equipment is useful for the future and about 37 percent is not needed and should be terminated. The Army has not made a final decision on the future need for the remaining 52 percent of the equipment, which it continues to sustain for current operations primarily through the use of overseas contingency operations funds. The Army has also taken some additional actions to review nonstandard equipment through other forums and reviews which have led to recommendations for some items to be retained for the future. Since 2008, the Marine Corps has reviewed 144 different requests for capabilities to fill gaps identified by commanders. Of these, the Marine Corps has determined that about 63 percent will continue to be needed in the future to meet enduring requirements and should be incorporated into the Marine Corps force structure and about 17 percent will not be needed. An additional 21 percent are in initial development or are still being evaluated for future usefulness. In addition to service-provided equipment, some nonstandard equipment, such as Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAP), was fielded by DOD and managed as a joint program. According to the Army and the Marine Corps, both services are now transitioning the management of MRAPs from a joint office to service offices, and are in the process of determining how many MRAPs they want to retain for the future and add to their respective authorization documents.Once decisions are made to retain nonstandard equipment for the future, multiple steps have to be taken before equipment can become standard and authorized for all like units, and delays in the Army process for reviewing and approving plans to add equipment to unit authorization documents may have hampered the authorization of some equipment items. As part of the process for adding equipment to unit authorization documents, the services develop detailed plans that describe how equipment will be made available across the force, including how it will be sustained and which existing equipment it will replace. Delays in the completion of some of the Armys plans, known as basis of issue plans, may affect when equipment can be authorized. While many factors can contribute to delays in the approval of these plans, such as changes to military strategy and the corresponding equipment requirements, Army documentation showed that delays in completing many of the plans were due to the originators failure to include essential data elements when plans were initially submitted for consideration. Army officials noted that current guidance is not as helpful as it might be in specifying which elements should be included in the plans to facilitate approval. Without comprehensive procedural guidance on developing basis of issue plans, initial plans may continue to be incomplete and rework may contribute to delays in issuance of documentation and new capabilities.Why GAO Did This StudyThis letter responds to the House Armed Services Committee report accompanying a bill for the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that directed us to examine the Army and Marine Corps tables of equipment and submit a report to the congressional defense committees. Over the course of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army and the Marine Corps have quickly acquired and fielded new equipment to meet evolving threats. Largely supported with overseas contingency operations funds rather than through the Armys and the Marine Corps regular budgets, this nonstandard (rapidly fielded) equipment is not listed on units equipment authorization documents. However, with the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, their planned drawdown from Afghanistan, and the likely reductions in overseas contingency operations funding, the military services face decisions about which rapidly fielded equipment should be retained for future use, funded through regular budget processes, and incorporated into unit equipment authorization documents.We assessed (1) the status of Army and Marine Corps efforts to decide whether nonstandard equipment should be kept for the future and (2) the steps these services must take before adding nonstandard equipment to unit authorization documents and possible areas for improving the efficiency of these steps.[Read More…]
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