Office of the Spokesperson
The text of the following statement was released by the Governments of the United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the Republic of France on October 5, 2020.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France Jean-Yves Le Drian, and Secretary of State of the United States of America Michael R. Pompeo, representing the Co-Chair countries of the OSCE Minsk Group, condemn in the strongest terms the unprecedented and dangerous escalation of violence in and outside of the Nagorno-Karabakh zone.
The Ministers stress unconditionally that recent attacks allegedly targeting civilian centers – both along the Line of Contact and on the territories of Azerbaijan and Armenia outside the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone – and the disproportionate nature of such attacks constitute an unacceptable threat to the stability of the region.
Recalling the October 1 statement of the Heads of State of the three Co-Chair countries of the OSCE Minsk Group, the Ministers call once again upon the conflicting parties to accept an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. The Co-Chairing countries are determined to exercise fully their mandate, entrusted to them by the OSCE and the international community, with the contribution of the Minsk Group capitals. As such, they will firmly continue to advance their engagement with the sides, and urge them to commit now to resuming the settlement process on the basis of existing core principles and relevant international documents well-known by both parties.
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- Management Report: Preliminary Information on Potential Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Receipt of Unemployment Insurance Benefits during the COVID-19 PandemicBy Sam NewsJune 18, 2021What GAO Found As part of ongoing work on unemployment insurance (UI) benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, GAO found potential racial and ethnic disparities in the receipt of UI benefits, including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits. Specifically, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau's COVID-19 Household Pulse Survey, a higher percentage of White, non-Hispanic/Latino applicants received benefits from UI programs during the pandemic than certain other racial and ethnic groups. In addition, our preliminary analysis of data obtained from five selected states in our ongoing review of the PUA program—a temporary program providing benefits to individuals not otherwise eligible for UI—identified some racial and ethnic disparities in the receipt of PUA benefits. In two of the five states, for example, the percentage of White PUA claimants who received benefits in 2020 was considerably higher than the percentage of Black PUA claimants who received benefits that year (both groups consist of non-Hispanic/Latino claimants). This analysis of state-provided data is preliminary and we are continuing to examine these data, including their reliability and potential explanations for disparities. Various factors could explain the disparities we identified in our preliminary analyses, such as differences in UI eligibility that may be correlated with race and ethnicity. However, another potential explanation is that states could be approving or processing UI claims differently for applicants in different racial and ethnic groups. Why GAO Did This Study The UI system provides a vital safety net for individuals who become unemployed through no fault of their own, and this support is essential during widespread economic downturns. During the pandemic, the CARES Act supplemented the regular UI program by creating three federally funded temporary UI programs, including the PUA program, which expanded benefit eligibility and enhanced benefits. As part of our ongoing work on the various UI programs during the pandemic, we analyzed the extent to which there have been differences in the receipt of benefits by race and ethnicity. The purpose of this report is to inform DOL about potential racial and ethnic disparities in the receipt of UI benefits. According to DOL, ensuring equitable access to UI benefits is a top priority for the agency. We recognize that the complexity of these issues may take time to examine in depth. However, given that PUA and the other temporary UI programs are scheduled to expire in September 2021, we are sharing this preliminary information for DOL to consider in determining whether it needs to engage with states at this point to ensure equitable access to the UI system. For more information, contact Thomas M. Costa at (202) 512-7215 email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Taxpayer Advocate Service: Opportunities Exist to Improve Reports to CongressBy Sam NewsJune 17, 2021What GAO Found The budget for the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) declined by about 14 percent from fiscal years 2011 to 2020, when adjusted for inflation. For fiscal year 2020, TAS used most of its resources to assist individual taxpayers, known as case advocacy. TAS allocated about 76 percent of its $222 million budget and 86 percent of its almost 1,700 full-time equivalents to this purpose. The percentage of resources for case advocacy has decreased during the past decade—in fiscal year 2011 about 85 percent of the budget was devoted to it. For the same period, resources to address broader issues affecting groups of taxpayers, known as systemic advocacy, increased from 9 percent to 14 percent of the total budget. This shift is due in part to the reallocation of staff to better integrate systemic advocacy work and TAS's overall attrition rate more than doubling to 15.9 percent between fiscal years 2011 and 2019. Since 2011, TAS has received more than 2 million taxpayer cases, of which almost half were referrals from other IRS offices. TAS closed more cases than it received each year from 2012 to 2017, but its inventory has grown since fiscal year 2018, due in part to attrition in case advocacy staff and an increase in taxpayers seeking assistance (see figure below). Number of Taxpayer Cases Received and Closed, Fiscal Years 2011 to 2020 TAS has recently modified its two mandated reports to Congress by reducing their length and separately compiling legislative recommendations. It shortened its annual reports in part because the Taxpayer First Act reduced the required number of most serious taxpayer problems from “at least 20” to “the 10” most serious problems. GAO identified the following additional actions that could further improve TAS reporting. Report outcome-oriented objectives and progress. The objectives for the upcoming fiscal year that TAS included in its most recent report are not always clearly identified and do not link to the various planned activities that are described. Further, the objectives TAS does identify do not include measurable outcomes. In addition, TAS's reports do not include the actual results achieved against objectives so it is not possible to assess related performance and progress. Improved performance reporting could help both TAS and Congress better understand which activities are contributing toward achieving TAS's objectives and where actions may be needed to address any unmet goals. Consult with Congress and other stakeholders. TAS briefs congressional committees each year after publishing its annual report and solicits perspectives from stakeholders. TAS officials said they incorporate the perspectives into its objectives. However, TAS does not follow leading practices to consult congressional committees about its goals and objectives prior to publication at least once every 2 years. Thus, it misses opportunities to obtain congressional input on its objectives and performance reporting. Consultations would provide TAS opportunities to confirm if its goals incorporate congressional and other stakeholder perspectives and whether its reports meet their information needs. Publish updates on recommendation implementation status. By law, TAS's annual report must include an inventory of actions IRS has fully, partially, and not yet taken on TAS's recommendations to address the most serious problems facing taxpayers. If those recommendations take multiple years to implement, which some have as shown in the table below, updating the inventory would be required. In its objectives reports, TAS provides only a one-time inventory of IRS responses to TAS's recommendations made during the preceding year, including plans and preliminary actions taken for those IRS accepts for implementation. TAS does not publicly update the inventory in subsequent annual reports to reflect actions IRS takes or does not take to address TAS's recommendations. This reporting approach does not provide complete information on the status of actions IRS has taken to address serious problems facing taxpayers and also does not provide the information in the annual report, as required. Publishing such updated status information would support congressional oversight. Taxpayer Advocate Service's (TAS) Recommendation Reporting and Status as of the Fourth Quarter of Fiscal Year 2020 GAO also identified options for TAS to consider to improve its reporting. These options include explaining changes to the list of the most serious taxpayer problems from year to year and streamlining report sections congressional staff use less frequently. Why GAO Did This Study TAS, an independent office within IRS, helps taxpayers resolve problems with IRS and addresses broader, systemic issues that affect groups of taxpayers by recommending administrative and legislative changes to mitigate such problems. Congress mandated that TAS issue two reports every year—one known as the annual report which includes sections on, among other things, the 10 most serious problems encountered by taxpayers, and the other known as the objectives report that discusses organizational objectives. GAO was asked to review how TAS carries out its mission, focusing on resources and reporting. This report (1) describes TAS's resources and workload, and (2) assesses TAS's reporting to Congress and identifies opportunities for improvement. GAO reviewed documents from TAS, IRS, and other sources, including TAS's annual and objectives reports and internal guidance; analyzed TAS's budget, staffing, and workload data for fiscal years 2011 through 2020; and interviewed knowledgeable TAS and IRS officials. GAO assessed TAS's reporting of its objectives and performance against statutory requirements, relevant internal control standards, and selected key practices for performance reporting developed by GAO. In addition, GAO reviewed relevant TAS web pages, analyzed the length and composition of TAS's reports, and interviewed key congressional committee staff to identify additional options to improve TAS's reporting.[Read More…]
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- Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq: U.S. Ministry Capacity Development Efforts Need an Overall Integrated Strategy to Guide Efforts and Manage RiskBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021Iraq's ministries were decimated following years of neglect and centralized control under the former regime. Developing competent and loyal Iraqi ministries is critical to stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq. The President received $140 million in fiscal year 2007 funds and requested an additional $255 million in fiscal year 2008 to develop the capacity of the Iraq's ministries. This report assesses (1) the nature and extent of U.S. efforts to develop the capacity of the Iraqi ministries, (2) the key challenges to these efforts, and (3) the extent to which the U.S. government has an overall integrated strategy for these efforts. For this effort, GAO reviewed U.S. project contracts and reports and interviewed officials from the Departments of State (State), Defense (DOD), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Baghdad and Washington, D.C.Over the past 4 years, U.S. efforts to help build the capacity of the Iraqi national government have been characterized by (1) multiple U.S. agencies leading individual efforts, without overarching direction from a lead entity that integrates their efforts; and (2) shifting timeframes and priorities in response to deteriorating security and the reorganization of the U.S. mission in Iraq. First, no single agency is in charge of leading the U.S. ministry capacity development efforts, although State took steps to improve coordination in early 2007. State, DOD and USAID have led separate efforts at Iraqi ministries. About $169 million in funds were allocated in 2005 and 2006 for these efforts. As of mid-2007, State and USAID were providing 169 capacity development advisors to 10 key civilian ministries and DOD was providing 215 to the Ministries of Defense and Interior. Second, the focus of U.S. capacity development efforts has shifted from long-term institution-building projects, such as helping the Iraqi government develop its own capacity development strategy, to an immediate effort to help Iraqi ministries overcome their inability to spend their capital budgets and deliver essential services to the Iraqi people. U.S. ministry capacity efforts face four key challenges that pose a risk to their success and long-term sustainability. First, Iraqi ministries lack personnel with key skills, such as budgeting and procurement. Second, sectarian influence over ministry leadership and staff complicates efforts to build a professional and non-aligned civil service. Third, pervasive corruption in the Iraqi ministries impedes the effectiveness of U.S. efforts. Fourth, poor security limits U.S. advisors' access to their Iraqi counterparts, preventing ministry staff from attending planned training sessions and contributing to the exodus of skilled professionals to other countries. The U.S. government is beginning to develop an integrated strategy for U.S. capacity development efforts in Iraq, although agencies have been implementing separate programs since 2003. GAO's previous analyses of U.S. multiagency national strategies demonstrate that such a strategy should integrate the efforts of the involved agencies with the priorities of the Iraqi government, and include a clear purpose and scope; a delineation of U.S. roles, responsibilities, and coordination with other donors, including the United Nations; desired goals and objectives; performance measures; and a description of benefits and costs. Moreover, it should attempt to address and mitigate the risks associated with the four challenges identified above. U.S. ministry capacity efforts to date have included some but not all of these components. For example, agencies are working to clarify roles and responsibilities. However, U.S. efforts lack clear ties to Iraqi-identified priorities at all ministries, clear performance measures to determine results at civilian ministries, and information on how resources will be targeted to achieve the desired end-state.[Read More…]