Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
The Department of State has submitted a report to Congress pursuant to the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act of 2019 (PEESA), as amended. The report lists two vessels and one Russia-linked entity, Transadria Ltd., involved in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Transadria Ltd. will be sanctioned under PEESA, and its vessel, the Marlin, will be identified as blocked property.
Today’s report is in line with the United States’ continuing opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and the U.S. Government’s continued compliance with PEESA. With today’s action, the Administration has now sanctioned 8 persons and identified 17 of their vessels as blocked property pursuant to PEESA in connection with Nord Stream 2.
Even as the Administration continues to oppose the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, including via our sanctions, we continue to work with Germany and other allies and partners to reduce the risks posed by the pipeline to Ukraine and frontline NATO and EU countries and to push back against harmful Russian activities, including in the energy sphere.
- Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs LocsinBy Sam NewsSeptember 9, 2021Office of the [Read More…]
- Laboratory Owner Pleads Guilty to $73 Million Medicare Kickback SchemeBy Sam NewsSeptember 1, 2021A Florida man pleaded guilty yesterday in the Southern District of Florida for his role in a $73 million conspiracy to defraud Medicare by paying kickbacks to a telemedicine company to arrange for doctors to authorize medically unnecessary genetic testing. The scheme exploited temporary amendments to telehealth restrictions enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic that were intended to ensure access to care for Medicare beneficiaries.[Read More…]
- Nuclear Safety: DOE and the Safety Board Should Collaborate to Develop a Written Agreement to Enhance OversightBy Sam NewsOctober 29, 2020The Department of Energy's (DOE) Order 140.1 included provisions inconsistent with the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board's (DNFSB) original enabling statute—the statute in place when the order was issued—and with long-standing practices. For example, GAO found that Order 140.1 contained provisions restricting DNFSB's access to information that were not included in the statute. GAO also found Order 140.1 to be inconsistent with long-standing DNFSB practices regarding staff's access to certain National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) meetings at the Pantex Plant in Texas, where nuclear weapons are assembled and disassembled (see fig.). In December 2019, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20 NDAA) amended DNFSB's statute to clarify and confirm DNFSB's authority and long-standing practices between the agencies. DOE replaced Order 140.1 with Order 140.1A in June 2020. National Nuclear Security Administration's Pantex Plant, Located Near Amarillo, Texas DNFSB, DOE, and NNSA officials that GAO interviewed identified concerns with Order 140.1 that GAO found are not addressed under DOE's Order 140.1A. In particular, DOE's Order 140.1A was not part of a collaborative effort to address DNFSB's remaining concerns related to access to information and other regular interagency interactions. For example, DNFSB officials cited concerns that DOE could interpret a provision of DNFSB's statute authorizing the Secretary of Energy to deny access to information in a way that could limit DNFSB access to information to which it has had access in the past. GAO has previously recommended that agencies develop formal written agreements to enhance collaboration. By collaborating to develop an agreement that, among other things, incorporates a common understanding of this provision, DOE and DNFSB could lessen the risks of DNFSB being denied access to information important for conducting oversight. DOE and NNSA officials, as well as contractor representatives involved in operating the facilities, also raised concerns that insufficient training on Order 140.1 contributed to uncertainties about how to engage with DNFSB staff when implementing the order, a problem that GAO found could persist under Order 140.1A. Providing more robust training on Order 140.1A would help ensure consistent implementation of the revised order at relevant facilities. Established by statute in 1988, DNFSB has broad oversight responsibilities regarding the adequacy of public health and safety protections at DOE defense nuclear facilities. In May 2018, DOE issued Order 140.1, a new order governing DOE's interactions with DNFSB. DNFSB raised concerns that the order could affect its ability to perform its statutory mandate. Congressional committee reports included provisions for GAO to review DOE Order 140.1. This report examines (1) the extent to which the order was consistent with DNFSB's original enabling statute and with long-standing practices, as well as actions DOE has taken in light of changes to the statute outlined in the FY20 NDAA; and (2) outstanding areas of concern that DNFSB and DOE identified, and the potential effects of these concerns on how the two agencies cooperate. GAO reviewed legislation and agency documents; visited DOE sites; and interviewed DNFSB, DOE, and NNSA officials and contractor representatives. GAO is making a recommendation to DOE and DNFSB that they collaborate to develop a written agreement, and an additional two recommendations to DOE, including that it develop more robust training on Order 140.1A. DOE and DNFSB agreed to develop a written agreement. DOE agreed with one of the other two recommendations, but did not agree to provide more robust training. GAO maintains that the recommended action is valid. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- International Finance: Treasury Has Reduced the Number of Attaches OverseasBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021The number of financial attaches that the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) deploys overseas dropped from approximately 30 in 1981 to 7 at the beginning of fiscal year 2005. Treasury has traditionally used financial attaches to monitor and gather information on international economic and financial developments to help shape U.S. international economic policy and to promote U.S. national interests. These attaches are part of the U.S. mission overseas and are typically stationed in U.S. embassies in key countries. Since at least 1981, however, the number of financial attaches placed overseas has been declining in response to changing conditions. Due to congressional interest in these financial attaches, this report describes (1) the role of financial attaches and (2) the process Treasury uses to determine attache placement. In commenting on this report, Treasury considered our report to be fair and accurate. Both Treasury and the Department of State provided technical comments, which we incorporated where appropriate.Financial attaches represent Treasury overseas and cover economic and financial issues relevant to U.S. international economic policies and U.S. national interests, although the role and need for financial attaches have evolved. Specifically, financial attaches conduct monitoring and analysis of macroeconomic and financial issues, including those affecting the private sector. Typically, financial attaches interact with host government financial agencies such as the ministries of finance and central banks, as well as with private sector financial entities. Financial attaches typically work in conjunction with the Economic Section of the U.S. mission and usually share the information they collect with other U.S. agencies. In Afghanistan and Iraq, financial attaches are primarily involved in coordinating economic reconstruction efforts. In general, the role of attaches has evolved over time due to changing Treasury priorities, as well as factors such as technological advances in communications. To some extent, these changes have reduced the necessity for some financial attache posts overseas. Treasury has recently begun to formalize its process for determining attache placement. Previously, the placement of Treasury's attaches was accomplished through an informal process, according to Treasury officials. More recently, Treasury has taken steps to formalize its process by specifying placement criteria it will take into consideration relative to overall Treasury priorities. These criteria include whether the United States has major financial interest in a country or whether there is significant U.S. engagement in a country. However, Treasury officials stated that budget constraints have been a primary factor in determining the number of attaches in recent years. Furthermore, projected rising costs are likely to constrain the number of attaches in the future.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Files Suit Against Dallas, Texas, Towing Company for Unlawfully Selling Servicemember-Owned VehiclesBy Sam NewsSeptember 28, 2020The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Texas alleging that Dallas-based towing company United Tows LLC violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), by unlawfully auctioning off vehicles owned by SCRA-protected servicemembers.[Read More…]
- Courts Suspending Jury Trials as COVID-19 Cases SurgeBy Sam NewsIn U.S CourtsNovember 20, 2020About two dozen U.S. district courts have posted orders that suspend jury trials or grand jury proceedings, and scale back other courthouse activities in response to a sharp nationwide rise in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases. The surge in new court orders in recent weeks marks a significant pause in efforts by federal courts to resume full operations.[Read More…]
- Condemning the October 3 Houthi Missile AttackBy Sam NewsOctober 5, 2021Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
- Ongoing Investigation into Violent White Supremacist Gang Results in Rico Indictment and Additional Charges against Members and AssociatesBy Sam NewsOctober 28, 2020The Justice Department announced today that additional charges have been brought in a superseding indictment against members and associates of a white supremacist gang known as the 1488s. The 1488s have been charged as a criminal organization that was involved in narcotics distribution, arson, obstruction of justice, and acts of violence including murder, assault, and kidnapping.[Read More…]
- On the Occasion of Vesak DayBy Sam NewsMay 28, 2021Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
- Federal Research Grants: OMB Should Take Steps to Establish the Research Policy BoardBy Sam NewsFebruary 3, 2021As of January 2021, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had not established the Research Policy Board as required by the 21st Century Cures Act. The act requires OMB to establish the Board within 1 year of the December 13, 2016 enactment of the act. The Board is to provide information on the effects of regulations related to federal research requirements. OMB stated that it had not established the Board because of issues with the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) and other federal agencies’ full participation in the Board’s potential activities to develop or implement a modified approach to indirect cost policies. According to OMB, “the Board would necessarily delve into issues related to compliance burden and indirect cost reimbursement to entities that receive federal funding for research.” Specifically, OMB pointed to a statutory provision appearing in annual appropriations bills that it believes prohibits HHS and other agencies from taking action on issues that could implicate certain indirect cost provisions. According to OMB, this provision could, if continued in future bills, “complicate or even possibly prohibit HHS from participating in major elements of the Board’s process.” OMB stated that, without representation of a major research agency such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is part of HHS, “OMB would not be equipped to meet the statutory goals of the Board.” However, HHS stated in October 2020 that the indirect cost provision would not prohibit NIH’s participation on the Board and that the department was not aware of any other appropriations law provision that would prohibit such participation. GAO has no basis to disagree with HHS’s position. The 21st Century Cures Act does not specifically direct the Board to examine issues related to indirect costs, and we identified other issues that may fall within the scope of the Board’s activities. For example, the act specifies five activities that the Board may conduct, including creating a forum for the discussion of research policy or regulatory gaps, and identifying regulatory process improvements and policy changes. The Board could consider examining these or other issues related to streamlining and harmonizing regulations and reducing administrative burden in federally funded research in accordance with the 21st Century Cures Act. By not having established the Board, OMB is missing opportunities for the Board to provide information on the effects of regulations related to requirements for federally funded research, and to make recommendations to harmonize and streamline such requirements. Further, OMB has limited time to establish the Board and the Board may have insufficient time to complete its work before the Board is set to terminate on September 30, 2021. The 21st Century Cures Act requires OMB to establish an advisory committee, to be known as the Research Policy Board, that is responsible for making recommendations on modifying and harmonizing regulation of federally funded research to reduce administrative burden. The Board is to consist of both federal and non-federal members and include not more than 10 members from federal agencies, including officials from OMB, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), HHS, the National Science Foundation, and other departments and agencies that support or regulate scientific research, as determined by the OMB Director. The 21st Century Cures Act includes a provision for GAO to conduct an independent evaluation of the Board’s activities. This report examines the steps OMB has taken to establish the Board as required by the 21st Century Cures Act. GAO reviewed written responses and other information from OMB, HHS, and OSTP; the 21st Century Cures Act and other laws related to the Board and its establishment; relevant reports on issues related to administrative burden; and related documents such as memoranda and agency guidance. GAO submitted a draft report containing the results of its evaluation to Congress on December 10, 2020. Congress should consider extending the period of authorization for the Research Policy Board, giving OMB additional time to establish the Research Policy Board and complete its statutory mission under the 21st Century Cures Act. GAO recommends that OMB establish the Research Policy Board as mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act and report to Congress on the Board’s activities. OMB did not agree or disagree with this recommendation. We maintain that the evidence in this report shows the need for our recommendation. For more information, contact John Neumann at (202) 512-6888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Secretary Blinken’s Call with Italian Foreign Minister Di MaioBy Sam NewsAugust 20, 2021Office of the [Read More…]
- Justice Department Settles Sexual Harassment and Race Discrimination Lawsuit Against Manager and Owners of Virginia Rental PropertiesBy Sam NewsSeptember 29, 2020The Justice Department today announced that Gary T. Price, a manager of rental properties in and around Harrisonburg, Virginia, together with owners of the properties, Alberta Lowery and GTP Investment Properties, LLC, will pay $335,000 to resolve allegations that Price sexually harassed multiple female tenants and discriminated in housing on the basis of race in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.[Read More…]
- Emergency Responder Safety: States and DOT Are Implementing Actions to Reduce Roadside CrashesBy Sam NewsDecember 17, 2020Move Over laws vary by state but generally require motorists to move over a lane or slow down, or both, when approaching emergency response vehicles with flashing lights stopped on the roadside. U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data provide limited information on whether crashes involved violations of these state laws, but the agency is taking steps to collect additional data. For instance, NHTSA's 2018 data show 112 fatalities from crashes involving emergency vehicles, representing 0.3 percent of all traffic fatalities that year, but these data cannot be used to definitively identify which crashes involved a violation of Move Over laws. NHTSA is proposing updates to the data that it encourages states to include on crash report forms to better identify crashes involving violations of Move Over laws, and plans to convene an expert panel and initiate a pilot project to study further data improvements. Selected state officials reported that they have taken actions to improve public education and enforcement of Move Over laws but still face challenges in both areas. Such actions include education through various forms of media and regional coordination among states to conduct targeted enforcement of Move Over laws within their respective borders during the same time period. State officials cited raising public awareness as the most prevalent challenge, as motorists may not know the law exists or its specific requirements. Variation in the requirements of some Move Over laws—such as for which emergency vehicles motorists are required to move over—may contribute to challenges in educating the public about these laws, according to state officials. DOT has taken actions and is planning others to help improve emergency responder roadside safety. NHTSA helps states promote public awareness of Move Over laws by developing and disseminating marketing materials states can use to develop their own traffic safety campaigns. NHTSA also administers funding that states can use for public awareness activities or enforcement initiatives related to emergency responder safety. FHWA has coordinated with a network of stakeholders across the country to train emergency responders on traffic incident management best practices. Finally, in response to congressional direction, NHTSA officials are planning several research efforts intended to enhance emergency responder safety, including studies on motorist behaviors that contribute to roadside incidents and technologies that protect law enforcement officials, first responders, roadside crews and other responders. General Requirements of Move Over Laws for Motorists on a Multiple Lane Roadway Police, fire, medical, towing, and other responders risk being killed or injured by passing vehicles when responding to a roadside emergency. To protect these vulnerable workers and improve highway safety, all states and the District of Columbia have enacted Move Over laws. GAO was asked to review issues related to Move Over laws and emergency responder roadside safety. This report: (1) examines data NHTSA collects on crashes involving violations of Move Over laws, (2) describes selected states' actions and challenges related to Move Over laws, and (3) describes DOT efforts to improve emergency responder roadside safety. GAO analyzed NHTSA's 2018 crash data, which were the latest data available; reviewed federal and state laws and regulations, and DOT initiatives to improve emergency responder roadside safety; reviewed state reports to DOT; and interviewed NHTSA and FHWA officials, traffic safely and law enforcement officials in seven selected states, and stakeholders from traffic safety organizations and occupational groups, such as the Emergency Responder Safety Institute and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. GAO selected states based on a variety of factors, including traffic fatality rates per vehicle mile traveled and recommendations from stakeholders. DOT provided technical comments, which we incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Elizabeth Repko at (202) 512-2834 or RepkoE@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Department Press Briefing – March 2, 2021By Sam NewsMarch 3, 2021Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
- Panamanian Intermediary Pleads Guilty in Connection with International Bribery and Money Laundering SchemeBy Sam NewsDecember 2, 2021Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares (Luis Martinelli Linares), 39, a citizen of Panama and Italy, pleaded guilty today in the Eastern District of New York before U.S. District Judge Raymond J. Dearie for laundering $28 million in connection with a massive bribery and money laundering scheme involving Odebrecht S.A. (Odebrecht), a Brazil-based global construction conglomerate.[Read More…]
- VA Health Care: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Graduate Medical Education ReimbursementBy Sam NewsJuly 30, 2020The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides training to more than 45,000 medical and dental residents annually through its Graduate Medical Education (GME) program. VHA has established policy for its GME program that details many roles and responsibilities for overseeing VA medical facilities' reimbursements to affiliated academic institutions for residents' salaries and benefits. However, this policy does not define key roles and responsibilities for VHA's central office components, its regional networks, or its medical facilities. For example, VHA's regional networks do not have defined roles and responsibilities for overseeing GME disbursements—contributing to noninvolvement or inconsistent involvement in disbursement agreement oversight. VHA officials reported that they are in the process of updating disbursement agreement policy, but did not indicate if the updates would address all identified concerns. While VHA officials said that VHA's two disbursement agreement oversight mechanisms—facility periodic audits and the Resident Disbursement Audit Process (ReDPro) checklist—are meant to have distinct but complementary purposes, GAO found that VHA policy, guidance, and the tools distributed for these oversight mechanisms did not reflect the distinct purposes officials described. VHA officials said that periodic audits are intended to be a first level of defense and to review actual payments to affiliates, whereas the ReDPro checklist is intended to be a second level of defense, aimed at reviewing the process to see if the rules related to disbursement agreements are being followed by VA medical facilities. However, the ReDPro checklist tool and VHA's recommended periodic audit tool have numerous areas of overlap, including duplicative questions. This overlap causes inefficiencies and unnecessary burden on VA medical facility staff. GAO also found additional weaknesses in the tools, guidance, and training for the two oversight mechanisms. For example, GAO found an unclear ReDPro checklist tool, along with insufficient guidance and training related to conducting the ReDPro reviews. Officials from eight of 13 facilities in GAO's review indicated that the ReDPro checklist instructions were unclear regarding appropriate supporting documents for checklist responses. These weaknesses contributed to errors and inconsistencies in ReDPro responses. the lack of a standard audit tool, and inadequate guidance and training for periodic audit teams that contributed to problematic inconsistencies in the methodologies used by the audit teams and deficiencies in some of the audits conducted. Officials from 10 of 13 facilities in GAO's review indicated that they would benefit from more tools, guidance, or training related to conducting periodic audits. These weaknesses limit the effectiveness of VHA's oversight mechanisms, and put VHA at increased risk of both not being able to identify and correct facilities' lack of adherence to disbursement agreement policy and of possible improper payments to GME affiliates. Under VHA's GME program, VA medical facilities use disbursement agreements to reimburse affiliated academic institutions for residents' salaries and benefits. VHA developed policy related to establishing and administering disbursement agreements, but audits have found that facilities have not always adhered to VHA policy—resulting in improper payments to affiliates. GAO was asked to review VHA policies and procedures related to reimbursements to affiliates for GME. This report examines (1) oversight roles and responsibilities for GME disbursement agreements and (2) VHA's mechanisms for ensuring VA medical facilities adhere to policy. GAO reviewed relevant VHA documents and federal internal control standards and interviewed VHA officials. GAO also reviewed ReDPro checklist responses and documentation from 13 VA medical facilities—selected based on factors including geographic variation, GME program size, and number of affiliates. GAO also visited four of the 13 facilities and interviewed officials at the other nine facilities. GAO is making seven recommendations to VA to define key roles in policy, reduce overlap between the ReDPro checklist and facility periodic audits, and improve the oversight mechanisms' tools, guidance, and training. VA concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at (202) 512-7114 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Readout of Justice Department Leadership Meeting with Members of the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic ViolenceBy Sam NewsOctober 1, 2021Yesterday U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco, and Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta convened a virtual listening session with Members of the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence to discuss the unmet needs of survivors and the ways in which the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) could be improved and strengthened to help to meet those needs. The Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General and Associate Attorney General were joined by leadership of the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW).[Read More…]
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken Before Virtual Meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Foreign Minister Geoffrey OnyeamaBy Sam NewsApril 27, 2021Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
- Antitrust Division and Fellow Members of the Multilateral Pharmaceutical Merger Task Force Seek Public InputBy Sam NewsMay 11, 2021The U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division is pleased to be a part of the Multilateral Pharmaceutical Merger Task Force (Task Force), along with its counterpart competition enforcement agencies — the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Canadian Competition Bureau, the European Commission Directorate General for Competition, the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority, and Offices of State Attorneys General.[Read More…]
- Election Assistance Commission: Assessment of Lessons Learned Could Improve Grants AdministrationBy Sam NewsNovember 8, 2021What GAO Found The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC)—established to serve as a national clearinghouse of information on election administration, among other responsibilities—shared information on a range of topics to help state and local election officials conduct elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, it shared information on in-person voting, absentee/mail voting, and contingency planning. It also established National Poll Worker Recruitment Day and developed graphics as part of a related public awareness campaign (see fig.). U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) National Poll Worker Recruitment Day Graphic The EAC administered CARES Act grants by obligating funds and overseeing how states spent the funds, in part by reviewing states' grant reports to check how states spent funds to respond to the pandemic. It also reported information to Congress on how states spent approximately $326 million in grant funds, and to a committee overseeing the response to the pandemic on the specific activities undertaken by states using these funds. The EAC identified and addressed some issues with its administration of CARES Act grants. For example, while administering CARES Act grants, the EAC revised required grant reporting forms to more clearly align with requirements and to address difficulties some states were having with narrative questions on the forms. The EAC and GAO identified other issues with administration of the grants. For example, GAO found issues with how states and the EAC categorized expenditures involving nearly 20 percent of the total reported spending nationwide. As a result, in the EAC's annual grant expenditure report to Congress, states' expenditures for similar or the same items or activities could be included under multiple categories, making it difficult to consistently determine, by category, how states spent the grant funds. However, the EAC has not yet assessed its administration of CARES Act grants and documented lessons learned. According to EAC officials, assessing the administration of these grants could identify lessons learned beyond those that officials identified while administering the grants. Additionally, the EAC could document and implement any lessons learned. This could help improve the EAC's administration of ongoing or future grant programs, particularly in the event of a future emergency. Why GAO Did This Study During the 2020 federal elections, the EAC administered $400 million in grant funds provided by the CARES Act to help states prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act included a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report (1) describes information that the EAC provided to state and local election officials for conducting elections during the pandemic, (2) describes how the EAC administered CARES Act grant funding, and (3) examines the extent to which the EAC assessed its CARES Act grants administration. GAO reviewed information on the EAC's website on conducting elections during the pandemic and interviewed EAC officials regarding processes for developing and distributing this information. GAO obtained and reviewed the EAC's data on CARES Act grant expenditures, grant guidance for states on expending and reporting funding, and materials the EAC used to review state reports. GAO also interviewed EAC officials regarding grant administration procedures.[Read More…]