Physical distancing has played a critical role in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and, particularly in hotspots and for people at increased risk of serious illness, it continues to save lives. However, physical distancing also is increasing risk of social isolation for many, particularly older adults and people with disabilities, which is a serious issue.
Research tells us that social isolation can threaten health, and regular social interactions and having a strong personal network are important to a person’s mental and physical health, resilience, and longevity. In fact, loneliness can pose as grave a threat to a person’s health as smoking, obesity, or substance abuse. Loneliness can take a toll on one’s physical, mental, and emotional health and may manifest in various ways. Health concerns stemming from social deprivation include high blood pressure, sleeplessness or less restful sleep, anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide. In addition, lack of human interaction may increase hormone levels that contribute to inflammation and weakened immunity, thereby increasing the risk of diseases.
In a recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 40% of survey respondents experienced anxiety or depressive disorder, trauma- and stressor-related disorder, an onset or increase of substance use to cope with stress, or suicidal ideation related to COVID-19. Not surprisingly, the mental health implications of loneliness may lead to decreases in performance or productivity. These findings are important for remote workers, employers and educators. Loneliness may affect a person’s creativity, reasoning, and decision-making and may lead to cognitive decline.
Loneliness stemming from social isolation is a public health concern that must be addressed – and COVID-19 has increased the urgency.
The good news is that there are many resources available to help people become—and remain—connected even while they are physically isolated, which can help ward off loneliness. The bad news is that people often are not aware of these assets.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Community Living (ACL) and Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH) have partnered with other supporting entities to help people become—and remain—connected and ward off loneliness, even while they are physically isolated. The Mobilizing and Empowering the Nation and Technology to Address Loneliness & social isolation (MENTAL) Health Challenge seeks to spur development of an easy to use, online tool that helps older adults, people with disabilities, and veterans learn about and access resources that can help them stay connected to family, friends, and their communities. This free resource will match people with appropriate technology tools, social engagement programs and social activities that fit their needs. Through the MENTAL Health Challenge, vulnerable and socially isolated people will be better equipped to engage with family, friends and distant loved ones to experience the benefits of closer human connections.
To learn more about the challenge and to get involved, visit the ACL website at https://acl.gov/MENTAL.
- Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request: U.S. Government Accountability OfficeBy Sam NewsApril 29, 2021In fiscal year (FY) 2020, GAO's work yielded $77.6 billion in financial benefits, a return of about $114 for every dollar invested in GAO. We also identified 1,332 other benefits that led to improved services to the American people, strengthened public safety, and spurred program and operational improvements across the government. In March 2021, GAO reported on 36 areas designated as high risk due to their vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or because they face economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges. In FY 2020 GAO's High Risk Series products resulted in 168 reports, 26 testimonies, $54.2 billion in financial benefits, and 606 other benefits. In this year of GAO's centennial, GAO's FY 2022 budget request seeks to lay the foundation for the next 100 years to help Congress improve the performance of government, ensure transparency, and save taxpayer dollars. GAO's fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget requests $744.3 million in appropriated funds and uses $50.0 million in offsets and supplemental appropriations. These resources will support 3,400 full-time equivalents (FTEs). We will continue our hiring focus on boosting our Science and Technology and appropriations law capacity. GAO will also maintain entry-level and intern positions to address succession planning and to fill other skill gaps. These efforts will help ensure that GAO recruits and retains a talented and diverse workforce to meet the priority needs of the Congress. In FY 2022, we will continue to support Congressional oversight across the wide array of government programs and operations. In particular, our science and technology (S&T) experts will continue to expand our focus on rapidly evolving (S&T) issues. Hallmarks of GAO's (S&T) work include: (1) conducting technology assessments at the request of the Congress; (2) providing technical assistance to Congress on science and technology matters; (3) continuing the development and use of technical guides to assess major federal acquisitions and technology programs in areas such as technology readiness, cost estimating, and schedule planning; and (4) supporting Congressional oversight of federal science programs. With our requested funding, GAO will also bolster capacity to review the challenges of complex and growing cyber security developments. In addition, GAO will continue robust analyses of factors behind rising health care costs, including costs associated with the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic. Internally, the funding requested will make possible priority investments in our information technology that include the ability to execute transformative plans to protect data and systems. In FY 2022 GAO will continue to implement efforts to increase our flexibility to evolve IT services as our mission needs change, strengthen information security, increase IT agility, and maintain compliance. We will increase speed and scalability to deliver capabilities and services to the agency. This request will also help address building infrastructure, security requirements, as well as tackle long deferred maintenance, including installing equipment to help protect occupants from dangerous bacteria, viruses, and mold. As reported in our FY 2020 financial statements, GAO's backlog of deferred maintenance on its Headquarters Building had grown to over $82 million as of fiscal year-end. Background GAO's mission is to support Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people. We provide nonpartisan, objective, and reliable information to Congress, federal agencies, and to the public, and recommend improvements across the full breadth and scope of the federal government's responsibilities. In fiscal year 2020. GAO issued 691 products, and 1,459 new recommendations. Congress used our work extensively to inform its decisions on key fiscal year 2020 and 2021 legislation. Since fiscal year 2000, GAO's work has resulted in over: $1.2 trillion dollars in financial benefits; and 25,328 program and operational benefits that helped to change laws, improve public services, and promote sound management throughout government. As GAO recognizes 100 years of non-partisan, fact-based service, we remain committed to providing program and technical expertise to support Congress in overseeing the executive branch; evaluating government programs, operations and spending priorities; and assessing information from outside parties. For more information, contact Gene L. Dodaro at (202) 512-5555 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Somerset County Man Admits Concealing Material Support to HamasBy Sam NewsSeptember 15, 2020A Somerset County, New Jersey, man admitted today that he concealed his attempts to provide material support to Hamas, Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers of the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Security Division, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito, FBI-Newark Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr., and FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Jill Sanborn announced.[Read More…]
- Marking One Year of Hong Kong’s National Security LawBy Sam NewsJuly 16, 2021
- Indiana Man Pleads Guilty to Hate Crime for Making Racially-Charged Motivated Threats Toward Black Neighbor and to Unlawful Possession of FirearmsBy Sam NewsFebruary 12, 2021The Justice Department announced today that Shepherd Hoehn, 51, pleaded guilty in federal court to making threats to intimidate and interfere with his neighbor, who is Black, because of the neighbor’s race and because the neighbor was exercising his right to fair housing, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3631. Hoehn also pleaded guilty to unlawfully possessing firearms, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).[Read More…]
- Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David R. Stilwell on the Secretary’s Travel to Japan, Mongolia, and the Republic of KoreaBy Sam NewsOctober 2, 2020David R. Stilwell, [Read More…]
- Two MS-13 Leaders Convicted of Racketeering Conspiracy and Conspiring to Commit Multiple MurdersBy Sam NewsNovember 24, 2021Yesterday, a federal jury in Maryland convicted two El Salvadorian nationals for conspiring to participate in La Mara Salvatrucha, a transnational criminal enterprise, commonly known as MS-13.[Read More…]
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- Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Kuwait TelevisionBy Sam NewsJuly 29, 2021
- Department of State: Comprehensive Plan Needed to Address Persistent Foreign Language ShortfallsBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021Proficiency in foreign languages is a key skill for U.S. diplomats to advance U.S. interests overseas. GAO has issued several reports highlighting the Department of State's (State) persistent foreign language shortages. In 2006, GAO recommended that State evaluate the effectiveness of its efforts to improve the language proficiency of its staff. State responded by providing examples of activities it believed addressed our recommendation. In this report, which updates the 2006 report, GAO (1) examined the extent to which State is meeting its foreign language requirements and the potential impact of any shortfall, (2) assessed State's efforts to meet its foreign language requirements and described the challenges it faces in doing so, and (3) assessed the extent to which State has a comprehensive strategy to determine and meet these requirements. GAO analyzed data on State's overseas language-designated positions; reviewed strategic planning and budgetary documents; interviewed State officials; and conducted fieldwork in China, Egypt, India, Tunisia, and Turkey.As of October 31, 2008, 31 percent of Foreign Service officers in overseas language-designated positions (LDP) did not meet both the foreign languages speaking and reading proficiency requirements for their positions. State continues to face foreign language shortfalls in regions of strategic interest--such as the Near East and South and Central Asia, where about 40 percent of officers in LDPs did not meet requirements. Despite efforts to recruit individuals with proficiency in critical languages, shortfalls in supercritical languages, such as Arabic and Chinese, remain at 39 percent. Past reports by GAO, State's Office of the Inspector General, and others have concluded that foreign language shortfalls could be negatively affecting U.S. activities overseas. Overseas fieldwork for this report reaffirmed this conclusion. State's approach to meeting its foreign language requirements includes an annual review of all LDPs, language training, recruitment of language-proficient staff, and pay incentives for language skills. For example, State trains staff in about 70 languages in Washington and overseas, and has reported a training success rate of 86 percent. Moreover, State offers bonus points for language-proficient applicants who have passed the Foreign Service exam and has hired 445 officers under this program since 2004. However, various challenges limit the effectiveness of these efforts. According to State, a primary challenge is overall staffing shortages, which limit the number of staff available for language training, as well as the recent increase in LDPs. State's efforts to meet its foreign language requirements have yielded some results but have not closed persistent gaps and reflect, in part, a lack of a comprehensive, strategic approach. State officials have said that the department's plan for meeting its foreign language requirements is spread throughout a number of documents that address these needs; however these documents are not linked to each other and do not contain measurable goals, objectives, or milestones for reducing the foreign language gaps. Because these gaps have persisted over several years despite staffing increases, we believe that a more comprehensive, strategic approach would help State to more effectively guide its efforts and assess its progress in meeting its foreign language requirements.[Read More…]
- Troubled Asset Relief Program: Treasury Continues Winding Down Housing ProgramsBy Sam NewsDecember 8, 2020The Department of the Treasury (Treasury) continues to wind down housing assistance programs funded by the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Treasury has extended one program to assist certain program participants who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, although limited program funds remain at this point. As of September 30, 2020, Treasury had disbursed $30.85 billion (95 percent) of the $32.56 billion TARP funds obligated to the three housing programs (see figure). The Making Home Affordable program allowed homeowners to apply for loan modifications to avoid foreclosure. Treasury will continue to provide incentive payments for loan modifications through 2023. The Housing Finance Agency Innovation Fund for the Hardest Hit Housing Markets provided funds to 18 states and the District of Columbia to help struggling homeowners through programs tailored to the state. Treasury extended this program through June 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic's negative economic effects on some program participants. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Short Refinance program allowed eligible homeowners to refinance into an FHA-insured loan. Under this program, Treasury made TARP funds available to provide additional coverage to lenders for a share of potential losses on these loans for borrowers who entered the program by December 31, 2016. Status of Troubled Asset Relief Program Housing Programs, as of September 2020 aAccording to the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), these funds have been committed to future financial incentives for existing Making Home Affordable transactions, as of September 30, 2020. bRepresents the amount of funds that states and the District of Columbia have drawn from Treasury. cIncludes about $11.6 million in administrative expenses and $10 million of reserve funds, as of September 30, 2020. Treasury will be reimbursed for unused reserve amounts. dAmounts do not add up due to rounding. In response to the 2008 housing crisis, Treasury established TARP-funded housing programs to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure and preserve homeownership. Since 2009, Treasury has obligated $32.56 billion for such housing programs. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 provided GAO with broad oversight authorities for actions taken related to TARP. This report provides an update on the status of TARP-funded housing programs, as of September 30, 2020. GAO reviewed Treasury program data and documentation, and interviewed Treasury officials. This report contains the most recently available public data at the time of GAO's review, including obligations, disbursements, and program participation. For more information, contact John H. Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Venezuela: Additional Tracking Could Aid Treasury’s Efforts to Mitigate Any Adverse Impacts U.S. Sanctions Might Have on Humanitarian AssistanceBy Sam NewsFebruary 8, 2021The Venezuelan economy's performance has declined steadily for almost a decade and fallen steeply since the imposition of a series of U.S. sanctions starting in 2015. For example, the economy declined from negative 6.2 percent gross domestic product growth in 2015 to negative 35 percent in 2019 and negative 25 percent in 2020. The sanctions, particularly on the state oil company in 2019, likely contributed to the steeper decline of the Venezuelan economy, primarily by limiting revenue from oil production. However, mismanagement of Venezuela's state oil company and decreasing oil prices are among other factors that have also affected the economy's performance during this period. U.S. agencies have sought input from humanitarian organizations to identify the potential negative humanitarian consequences of sanctions related to Venezuela and taken steps to mitigate these issues. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Department of State (State) have solicited input from U.S.-funded humanitarian organizations on challenges they face, including the impact of sanctions. The U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and State have also taken steps to mitigate negative consequences. For example, Treasury issued licenses permitting various types of humanitarian assistance transactions in Venezuela (see figure). Treasury also maintains a call center and email account through which organizations can receive assistance with compliance issues or other challenges related to sanctions. While Treasury officials told GAO they respond to individual inquiries, Treasury does not systematically track and analyze information from these inquiries to identify trends or recurrent issues. Without collection and analysis of this information, Treasury and its interagency partners may be limited in their ability to develop further actions to ensure that U.S. sanctions do not disrupt humanitarian assistance. U.S. Humanitarian Assistance Supplies for Venezuelans U.S. sanctions related to Venezuela have likely had a limited impact, if any, on the U.S. oil industry. Despite an overall lower supply of oil in the U.S. market from the loss of Venezuelan crude oil due to sanctions, crude oil and retail gasoline prices in the U.S. have not increased substantially. Many other factors in addition to the sanctions simultaneously affected the oil market and the price of crude oil and retail gasoline prices, including production cuts in January 2019 by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and decreased demand for energy during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to industry officials to whom GAO spoke, U.S. refineries have adjusted to these changes by shifting to alternative sources and types of crude oil. Venezuela has been experiencing an economic, political, and humanitarian crisis. The U.S. government has imposed sanctions on Venezuela's state oil company, government, and central bank, among others, in response to activities of the Venezuelan government and certain individuals. Treasury and the Department of State lead the implementation of the sanctions program, and USAID is primarily responsible for implementing humanitarian assistance for Venezuelans. GAO was asked to review U.S. sanctions related to Venezuela. This report examines: (1) how the Venezuelan economy performed before and since the imposition of sanctions in 2015; (2) the steps U.S. agencies have taken to identify and mitigate potential negative humanitarian consequences of sanctions related to Venezuela; and (3) what is known about the impact of U.S. sanctions related to Venezuela on the U.S. oil industry. GAO analyzed economic indicators, reviewed documents, interviewed agency officials, and spoke with representatives from selected humanitarian organizations and the U.S oil industry. GAO recommends that Treasury systematically track inquiries made to its call center and email account, including the specific sanctions program and the subject matter of the inquiry to identify trends and recurring issues. Treasury concurred with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or GianopoulosK@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Nuclear Nonproliferation: U.S. and International Assistance Efforts to Control Sealed Radioactive Sources Need StrengtheningBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021Sealed radioactive sources, radioactive material encapsulated in stainless steel or other metal, are used worldwide in medicine, industry, and research. These sealed sources pose a threat to national security because terrorists could use them to make "dirty bombs." GAO was asked to determine (1) the number of sealed sources worldwide and how many have been reported lost, stolen, or abandoned; (2) the controls, both legislative and regulatory, used by countries that possess sealed sources; and (3) the assistance provided by the Department of Energy (DOE) and other U.S. federal agencies to strengthen other countries' control over sealed sources and the extent to which these efforts are believed to be effectively implemented.The precise number of sealed sources in use is unknown because many countries do not systematically account for them. However, nearly 10 million sealed sources exist in the United States and the 49 countries responding to a GAO survey. There is also limited information about the number of sealed sources that have been lost, stolen, or abandoned, but it is estimated to be in the thousands worldwide. Many of the most vulnerable sealed sources that could pose a security risk are located in the countries of the former Soviet Union. All of the 49 countries that responded to GAO's survey reported that they have established legislative or regulatory controls over sealed sources. However, nuclear safety and security experts from DOE, the Departments of State and Defense, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the European Commission told GAO that countries' controls over sealed sources vary greatly and are weakest among less developed countries. In fiscal year 2002, DOE established a program focusing on improving the security of sealed sources in the former Soviet Union and has started to fund security upgrades in Russia and other former Soviet countries. The Departments of Defense and State and NRC also have programs to help countries strengthen controls over sealed sources. DOE plans to expand its program to other countries and regions in 2003 and is developing a plan to guide its efforts. However, the department has not fully coordinated its efforts with NRC and the Department of State to ensure that a government-wide strategy is established. In addition, as of January 2003, the majority of DOE's program expenditures totaling $8.9 million were spent by DOE's national laboratories in the United States.[Read More…]
- Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya On the Upcoming Summit for DemocracyBy Sam NewsDecember 7, 2021Uzra Zeya, Under [Read More…]
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken Introductory Remarks for President BidenBy Sam NewsFebruary 4, 2021
- Owner of Oil Chem Inc. Sentenced for Clean Water Act ViolationBy Sam NewsMay 14, 2021The president and owner of Oil Chem Inc. was sentenced today to 12 months in prison for 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.[Read More…]
- Orlando Cardiologist Pays $6.75 Million to Resolve Allegations of Performing Unnecessary Medical ProceduresBy Sam NewsSeptember 15, 2021Dr. Ashish Pal, a cardiologist based in Orlando, Florida, has paid $6.75 million to resolve allegations that he violated the False Claims Act by performing medically unnecessary ablations and vein stent procedures.[Read More…]
- Priority Open Recommendations: Department of the InteriorBy Sam NewsJune 29, 2021What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified 10 priority recommendations for the Department of the Interior. Since then, Interior has implemented 5 of those recommendations by, among other things, taking steps to identify and evaluate offshore oil and gas drilling risks and improving regional coordination among federal partners to address energy and mineral issues. In June 2021, GAO identified 8 additional priority recommendations for Interior, bringing the total number to 13. These recommendations involve the following areas: improving oversight of offshore oil and gas activities; taking action to ensure safety, health, and services at Bureau of Indian Education schools; improving Bureau of Indian Affairs' management of energy development on Indian lands; reducing factors that hinder tribal administration of federal programs; and addressing Micronesia and the Marshall Islands' transition to trust fund income. Interior's continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations. 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 Mark Gaffigan at (202) 512-3841 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Rebuilding Iraq: Status of Competition for Iraq Reconstruction ContractsBy Sam NewsSeptember 21, 2021Since 2003, Congress has appropriated more than $20 billion through the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF) to support Iraq rebuilding efforts. The majority of these efforts are being carried out through contracts awarded by the Departments of Defense (DOD) and State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). When awarding IRRF-funded contracts for $5 million or more noncompetitively, agencies are required by statute to provide notification and justification to Congress. In June 2004, GAO found that agencies generally complied with laws and regulations governing competition to award new contracts, but did not always comply with competition requirements when issuing task orders under existing contracts. As mandated by Congress, this report (1) describes the extent of competition in Iraq reconstruction contracts awarded by DOD, USAID, and State since October 1, 2003, based on available data, and (2) assesses whether these agencies followed applicable documentation and congressional notification requirements regarding competition for 51 judgmentally selected Iraq reconstruction contract actions. In written comments, State and USAID concurred with the report findings. DOD provided a technical comment.While no single, comprehensive system currently tracks governmentwide Iraq reconstruction contract data, available data showed that from October 1, 2003, through March 31, 2006, DOD, USAID, and State collectively awarded the majority of Iraq reconstruction contracts competitively. Based on competition information we obtained on $10 billion of the total $11.6 billion in IRRF obligations by these agencies during the period of our review, we found that about $9.1 billion--or 91 percent--was for competitively awarded contracts. While our ability to obtain complete competition data for all DOD Iraq reconstruction contract actions was limited because not all DOD components consistently tracked or fully reported this information, we obtained information on approximately $7 billion, or 82 percent, of DOD's total Iraq reconstruction contract obligations, and of this, we found that competition occurred for nearly all of the obligations. Additionally, based on complete data for the period of our review we found that USAID competitively awarded contract actions for 99 percent of its obligations, while State awarded contract actions competitively for only 10 percent of its obligations. GAO reviewed the files for 51 contract actions totaling $1.55 billion--22 of which were awarded noncompetitively and 29 of which were awarded competitively--almost all of which contained proper documentation. One contract file--for a noncompetitively awarded task order issued by State--did not contain justifications or other required documentation. DOD was also unable to provide documentation for 4 of the competitively awarded contract actions. Of the 22 noncompeted contract actions in GAO's review, State should have notified Congress of 2 actions awarded using other than full and open competition in accordance with notification requirements but did not. State officials told GAO that they have taken steps to address the problem. GAO did not identify any DOD or USAID contract actions within the sample that required notification.[Read More…]
- Air Deliveries Bring NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover Closer to LaunchBy Sam NewsIn SpaceSeptember 26, 2020A NASA Wallops Flight [Read More…]
- Two Texas Men Plead Guilty in Odometer Fraud SchemeBy Sam NewsApril 28, 2021Two Texas men pleaded guilty today to for their roles in an odometer tampering scheme.[Read More…]