Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
On behalf of the Government and people of the United States, I send congratulations to the people of Panama on your 118th Independence Day.
Panama remains a highly valued partner to the United States. Today, as we have throughout our history, we work side by side to advance common goals for our people and for the region. This includes collaboration to improve regional security, strengthen democratic institutions, and advance inclusive economic growth, especially in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We hope to build on our close cooperation with Panama this year to combat the pandemic, including donating more than 500,000 safe, effective vaccine doses as a contribution to Panama’s efforts. We welcome Panama’s important leadership role toward a collaborative and humane approach to managing migration through the region.
We look forward to continuing our close relationship in the coming year.
- Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Improved Planning and Acquisition Strategies Can Help Address Operational ChallengesBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021The current generation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) has been in development for defense applications since the 1980's. As of February 2006, the Department of Defense (DOD) had more than 3,000 unmanned aircraft, about 2,000 of which are supporting ongoing operations in Iraq. DOD's 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review validates the importance of unmanned systems and establishes plans to significantly expand investment in unmanned systems and their use in military operations over the next several years. The Congress has been particularly interested in DOD's approach to determining UAS needs and managing the growing number of UAS programs. This testimony addresses GAO's prior work and preliminary observations on (1) the operational successes and challenges U.S. forces are experiencing with UAS in combat operations, and the extent to which DOD has taken steps to address challenges; (2) DOD's progress in establishing a strategic plan and oversight framework to guide joint and service-specific UAS development efforts and related investment decisions; and (3) our assessment of the Global Hawk and Predator programs' business cases and acquisition strategies and the lessons learned that can be applied to the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems program.DOD has experienced a high level of mission successes with UAS, but continues to face challenges in fully maximizing the use of these assets. In operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. forces have used UAS for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and offensive strike missions in support of joint and service-specific operations. As the numbers of UAS operating in the same airspace as manned aircraft grows, DOD continues to face operational challenges related to interoperability, availability of communications bandwidth, and airspace integration. While DOD and the services have taken some positive initial steps to address these challenges, such as issuing guidance and developing initiatives to improve interoperability, limited progress has been made and the effectiveness of these efforts cannot be adequately assessed until they are fully implemented. While DOD continues to request funds to support service plans for acquiring UAS, it still lacks a viable strategic plan to guide UAS development and investment decisions. Since GAO last reported, DOD established new oversight bodies and updated its UAS Roadmap, but it is too early to tell how the new entities will interrelate and whether they will be able to influence service plans. Also, the updated roadmap identifies broad goals, desired capabilities, and service acquisition plans, but lacks critical elements, such as a clear link among goals, capabilities, and plans, opportunities for joint endeavors, and funding priorities and needs. Until DOD develops a strategic plan, it will not be well positioned to validate requirements, evaluate and integrate services plans, and establish program and funding priorities, nor will Congress have all the information it needs to evaluate funding requests. Such a plan would also help DOD anticipate and minimize the types of challenges that are being experienced today. While there have been successes on the battlefield, UAS development programs have shared many of the same problems as other major weapon systems that begin an acquisition program too early, with many uncertainties about requirements, funding, and immature technology, design, and production. Unmanned systems have also experienced similar outcomes--changing requirements, cost growth, delays in delivery, performance shortfalls, and reliability and support problems. Future acquisition programscan learn from past efforts to craft better and less risky acquisition plans. Key steps conducive to success include preparing a comprehensive business case, adopting a knowledge-based and incremental acquisition strategy, and sustaining disciplined leadership and direction. Frequent changes to the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems technology demonstration program and recent budget actions raise some questions about the Department's priorities and future directions for UAS. Concerns have also been raised about possible duplication of systems as the services look to expand individual fleets. Ongoing Army and Air Force efforts to coordinate the Warrior and Predator programs are encouraging and could be a model for limiting duplication and fostering jointness and interoperability.[Read More…]
- Chinese Man Extradited for Financing Turtle-Trafficking RingBy Sam NewsDecember 10, 2020A Chinese citizen was extradited from Malaysia to the United States today to face charges for money laundering.[Read More…]
- Rebuilding Iraq: Governance, Security, Reconstruction, and Financing ChallengesBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021The United States, along with coalition partners and various international organizations, has undertaken a challenging and costly effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq following multiple wars and decades of neglect by the former regime. This enormous effort is taking place in an unstable security environment, concurrent with Iraqi efforts to transition to its first permanent government. In November 2005, the President issued the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. According to the strategy, victory will be achieved when Iraq is peaceful, united, stable, secure, well integrated into the international community, and a full partner in the global war on terror. In this testimony, GAO discusses the key challenges that the United States, international community, and Iraq face in rebuilding and stabilizing Iraq. This statement is based on four reports GAO has issued to the Congress since July 2005 and recent trips to Iraq. Since July 2005, GAO issued reports on (1) the status of funding and reconstruction efforts in Iraq, the progress achieved, and challenges faced in rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure; (2) U.S. efforts in the water and sanitation sector; and (3) U.S. assistance for the January 2005 Iraqi elections, and (4) U.S. efforts to stabilize the security situation in Iraq (a classified report).The war in Iraq will not be won by the military alone. Iraq's future requires strong Iraqi leadership, sustained U.S. commitment, and a reengaged international community. The United States, Iraq, and its partners have made some progress in stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq. Iraqis have voted in increasing numbers, with over 12 million casting votes in the December 2005 election. Over the past year, the number of security forces that the coalition has trained and equipped has increased from about 142,000 to about 242,000. Finally, the United States has completed or has underway about 500 water, oil, and electricity reconstruction projects. However, this progress is tempered by the overwhelming challenges the coalition faces. First, sectarian divisions delayed the formation of a permanent government and created a political vacuum. Recent events provide some hope that a new government will be formed in the near future. Once formed, the new government will confront the enormous tasks of strengthening government institutions, disbanding the militias, resolving disputes over internal boundaries and oil revenues, addressing corruption, and delivering results to the Iraqi people. Of particular importance is providing the Iraqis with the training and technical assistance needed to run their national and provincial governments. A transparent and accountable government can reduce corruption and deliver results to the Iraqi people. Second, the security environment continues to be a concern as insurgents demonstrate the ability to recruit, supply, and attack coalition and Iraqi security forces. From 2004 to 2005, attacks against the coalition, Iraqis, and infrastructure increased 23 percent. Since the bombing of a Samarra mosque in February 2006, Iraqis have become increasingly concerned that civil war may break out. The poor security situation in much of Iraq has impeded the development of an inclusive Iraqi government and effective Iraqi security forces. Third, higher than expected security costs, funding reallocations, and inadequate maintenance have impeded U.S. reconstruction efforts. As of March 2006, oil and electricity production were below pre-war levels and reconstruction goals for oil, electricity, and water had not been met. Iraq produced 2.6 million barrels of oil per day before the war; in 2005, production averaged 2.1 million barrels per day. Production levels alone do not measure the impact of reconstruction efforts. While U.S. efforts have helped Iraq produce more clean water, 60 percent is lost due to leakage and contamination. Continued focus on developing outcome measures is critical to ensure that reconstruction efforts are making a difference in the lives of the Iraqi people.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Applauds Passage of the Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation ActBy Sam NewsDecember 24, 2020On Dec. 23, 2020, President Donald J. Trump signed into law the Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act (the “Act”), which prohibits employers from retaliating against certain individuals who report criminal antitrust violations. The Act was sponsored by Senator Chuck Grassley, passed the Senate on Oct. 17, 2019, and passed the House of Representatives on Dec. 8, 2020.[Read More…]
- Tennessee Doctor Pleads Guilty to Hydrocodone Distribution Resulting in DeathBy Sam NewsJune 23, 2021A Tennessee physician pleaded guilty today in the Western District of Tennessee to causing the death of one of his patients through his illegal prescribing of hydrocodone.[Read More…]
- Federal Protective Service: Better Documented Cost Estimates Could Help Stakeholders Make Security DecisionsBy Sam NewsJune 9, 2021What GAO Found The Federal Protective Service (FPS) provides security and protection at more than 9,000 federal facilities. FPS performs a variety of security activities in conjunction with the General Services Administration (GSA), which functions as the landlord at most of these facilities, and with the federal agencies, which occupy these facilities as tenants. These stakeholders can provide important perspectives on FPS's performance of its key activities (see figure). The Federal Protective Service's Three Key Security Activities Stakeholders expressed satisfaction with many aspects of FPS's performance of key activities but also identified aspects where they thought FPS could make improvements. For example, stakeholders expressed satisfaction with the professionalism of FPS personnel and commended FPS's coordination in responding to law enforcement incidents. However, some stakeholders said they would like to see FPS oversee contract guards more often. In addition, many stakeholders said that FPS could improve the cost estimates in its security assessment reports. GAO's review of FPS's Facility Security Assessment reports found that cost estimates for the recommended security measures lacked information that could help stakeholders make decisions to accept or reject FPS's recommendations. Specifically, recent reports for 27 selected buildings did not document (1) the assumptions FPS made to produce the cost estimates (e.g., the scope of work) and (2) the sources FPS used to create the estimate. In one report, for example, FPS recommended additional fencing and provided a cost estimate with an exact dollar amount. However, FPS did not document the assumptions it used to develop the estimate, such as the height and linear feet of fence or the fencing material. According to GAO's Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide , cost estimates should provide information about the assumptions and sources used to develop an estimate so that decision-makers can understand the level of uncertainty around the estimate. By providing detailed information about the cost estimates in Facility Security Assessment reports, FPS could better inform stakeholders and potentially increase implementation of recommended security measures, designed to increase the safety of people and property at these facilities. Why GAO Did This Study Over one million employees and a range of visitors seeking services at federal facilities depend on FPS to ensure the safety of both people and property at these locations. This report examines stakeholders' perspectives on FPS's performance of three key activities. GAO identified key activities from FPS data on work hours. GAO held discussion groups with stakeholders from 27 randomly selected facilities where FPS provided guard services and responded to incidents in fiscal year 2019 and analyzed stakeholder responses from 2017-2019 to GSA's and FPS's feedback instruments. These sources of stakeholder views are not representative but collectively provide insight into stakeholders' satisfaction with how FPS is performing key activities. GAO also reviewed agency documents; interviewed FPS officials about FPS's performance; and compared FPS's security assessment reports to criteria in GAO's Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide .[Read More…]
- Justice Department Settles with Texas-Based Staffing Company to Resolve Immigration-Related DiscriminationBy Sam NewsJanuary 14, 2021The Department of Justice announced today that it reached a settlement with National Systems America, LP (National Systems), a Dallas, Texas-based staffing agency.[Read More…]
- Defense Contractors: Information on Violations of Safety, Health, and Fair Labor StandardsBy Sam NewsJuly 30, 2020GAO's analysis of federal data found that about 1 percent of companies with Department of Defense (DOD) contracts were cited for willful or repeated safety, health, or fair labor violations in fiscal years 2015 through 2019. However, these data do not indicate whether the violations occurred while performing work related to a defense contract. Companies with DOD Contracts Cited for Willful or Repeated Violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 or the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Fiscal Years 2015 through 2019 Because of limitations in available data, GAO could not determine the total incidence of willful or repeated violations of safety, health, or fair labor standards among all companies with a defense contract in this 5-year time frame. Specifically, about 43 percent of the Department of Labor's (Labor) safety and health violation data did not include key company identification numbers. These numbers are necessary to match federal contracting data to violation data. GAO recommended in February 2019 that Labor explore ways to address this issue. While Labor neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, it issued a memorandum in May 2019 directing its Occupational Safety and Health Administration staff to make every reasonable effort to collect this information during inspections and enter it into its database. About 1 percent of Labor's data on fair labor violations were missing these key company identification numbers. The nature of the willful or repeated violations for companies with DOD contracts during fiscal years 2015 through 2019 varied. According to GAO's analysis of Labor data, the most frequently found willful or repeated safety and health violations related to toxic substances and machinery. For that same time frame, the most frequently found willful or repeated fair labor violations related to failure to pay overtime. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to report on the number of DOD contractors that Labor found to have committed willful or repeated violations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) or the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) for fiscal years 2015 through 2019. This report examines the number of DOD contractors that were cited for willful or repeated safety, health, or fair labor standards violations under the OSH Act or FLSA, and the nature of those violations for fiscal years 2015 through 2019. GAO analyzed federal contracting data to identify companies that had defense contracts in fiscal years 2015 through 2019, and matched them to Labor data on companies cited for willful or repeated safety, health, or fair labor standards violations. In addition, GAO used the Labor data to identify information on the nature of the violations. GAO also reviewed relevant federal laws and regulations, and agency documents. For more information, contact William T. Woods at (202) 512-4841 or email@example.com, or Thomas Costa at (202) 512-7215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- National Health Care Fraud and Opioid Takedown Results in Charges Against 345 Defendants Responsible for More than $6 Billion in Alleged Fraud LossesBy Sam NewsSeptember 30, 2020Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Assistant Director Calvin Shivers of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, Deputy Inspector General Gary Cantrell of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and Assistant Administrator Tim McDermott of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) today announced a historic nationwide enforcement action involving 345 charged defendants across 51 federal districts, including more than 100 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals.[Read More…]
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Virtual Town Hall with U.S. Mission Nigeria and U.S. Embassy Nairobi Employees and Family MembersBy Sam NewsApril 27, 2021Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
- Deputy Secretary Biegun’s Visit to BangladeshBy Sam NewsOctober 16, 2020Office of the [Read More…]
- Maximizing DOD’s Potential to Face New Fiscal Challenges and Strengthen Interagency PartnershipsBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021This speech was given by the Acting Comptroller General before the National Defense University in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2010. This speech focuses on DOD and the challenges it faces given the national government's current long term unsustainable fiscal path and ongoing U.S. commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. DOD can take steps to better position itself for the future and maximize the use of taxpayer dollars, particularly by improving its business operations. Additionally, this speech discusses how the Department can work more collaboratively with other national security agencies, such as State and Agency for International Development (AID), to build the strong partnerships needed to adapt to the changing complexities of the national security environment. DOD is facing a number of internal fiscal pressures as it tries to support ongoing operations, rebuild readiness, and prepare for the future. To succeed in this era of fiscal constraint, new ways of thinking, constructive change, and basic reforms are essential. Everything must be on the table and subject to scrutiny. This includes the stove-piped approaches to planning and budgeting that have typically led to a mismatch between programs and budgets. It is also time to rethink and act decisively to rectify inefficient ways of doing business that undermine support for the troops on the battlefield. DOD is second to none in warfighting capabilities; but it is a very different story when it comes to issues of economy, efficiency, and accountability on the Department's business side. By taking decisive action now, DOD can avoid a range of unintended consequences and less than optimal performance in the future. The federal budget's structural imbalance affects the entire national security community, not just DOD. As difficult decisions are made about national priorities, all U.S. national security agencies will need to strike an affordable balance between investments in current missions and investments in new capabilities to meet future challenges. Given the complexities of the security environment, they will also need to build stronger partnerships and improve their capability to collaborate on solutions to address interrelated conventional and emerging threats that transcend the scope and authority of any one agency.The fiscal year 2009 deficit reached a record $1.4 trillion and the debt held by the public exceeded 50 percent of GDP, a level not seen since 1956. While the current fiscal situation has received considerable attention, the federal government faces even larger financing challenges that will persist long after the economy recovers and financial markets stabilize. Recent GAO simulations indicate that, absent major fiscal policy changes, federal debt held by the public will increase dramatically over the next several decades and could trend towards 200 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). GAO highlighted four areas for the Congress and the Administration: 1) ongoing operations will continue to require substantial amounts of resources; 2) extended military operations have taken a toll on readiness and rebuilding such a force will come with a big price tag; 3) personnel and health care costs are increasing; 4) cost growth in weapon systems programs remains a significant problem. DOD programs on GAO's High-Risk List relate to business operations, including systems and processes related to management of contracts, finances, the supply chain, and support infrastructure, in addition to weapon systems acquisition. Inefficiencies and other long-standing weaknesses in these areas lead to challenges in supporting the warfighter, billions of dollars being wasted annually, and missed opportunities to free up resources for higher priority needs. DOD components are developing detailed plans to support efforts to improve financial management in budgetary reporting and related operational processes and accountability for asset existence and completion. Based on what GAO has seen of the plan so far, GAO believes this prioritization is a reasonable approach for now. A consistent focus may increase the Department's ability to show incremental progress toward achieving auditability in the short term. In response to GAO's recommendations, the department has also put in place a process to improve standardization and comparability across components. The success of this process will depend on top management support, as well as high-quality planning and effective implementation at all levels. Opportunities for strengthening interagency collaboration include developing and implementing overarching, integrated strategies, formalizing coordination mechanisms to overcome organizational differences, developing a well-trained workforce, and sharing and integrating national security information across agencies. DOD has a real opportunity to set a new course for the future, take concrete steps to correct long-standing problems, and achieve meaningful results that can better position the Department to respond to changing economic conditions and future threats.[Read More…]
- U.S. Government Seizes 68 Protected Big Cats and a Jaguar from Jeffrey and Lauren LoweBy Sam NewsMay 20, 2021The United States has seized 68 protected lions, tigers, lion-tiger hybrids, and a jaguar from Jeffrey and Lauren Lowe’s Tiger King Park in Thackerville, Oklahoma, pursuant to a judicially-authorized search and seizure warrant, for ongoing Endangered Species Act (ESA) violations. The Justice Department will seek civil forfeiture of these animals and any offspring pursuant to the ESA’s forfeiture provision.[Read More…]
- Puerto Rico Electricity: FEMA and HUD Have Not Approved Long-Term Projects and Need to Implement Recommendations to Address Uncertainties and Enhance ResilienceBy Sam NewsNovember 17, 2020As of October 2020, 3 years since the hurricanes destroyed much of Puerto Rico's electricity grid, neither the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) nor the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had approved long-term grid recovery projects in Puerto Rico. In 2019, GAO made four recommendations to FEMA and HUD to address identified challenges in rebuilding the electricity grid in Puerto Rico. As of October 2020, FEMA had fully implemented one recommendation and partially implemented two others, while HUD had not implemented its recommendation. Specifically, FEMA established an interagency agreement with the Department of Energy (DOE) to clarify how the agencies would consult on recovery efforts. FEMA had taken actions to partially implement recommendations on improving coordination among federal and local agencies and providing information on industry standards. However, further steps are needed, including finalizing guidance on FEMA's process for approving funding for projects. Regarding HUD, it has not addressed GAO's recommendation to establish time frames and requirements for available funding. Damaged Power Lines in Puerto Rico in November 2017 after Hurricane Maria Until HUD and FEMA implement GAO's recommendations, uncertainty will linger about how and when federal funding for long-term grid recovery will proceed. In particular, it is uncertain how available funding sources will support measures to enhance grid resilience to hurricanes, such as smart grid technology. FEMA officials told GAO that additional funding sources could be used for resilience measures but that this would not be determined until specific projects are submitted to FEMA for approval. Moreover, although FEMA finalized a $10 billion cost estimate for grid repairs in September 2020, several steps remain before FEMA approves funding for projects—a process officials said they were drafting. HUD funding could supplement FEMA funding but, as discussed above, HUD has yet to establish conditions for using these funds and has not established time frames and a plan for issuing this information. According to HUD officials, they plan to publish requirements in the first quarter of fiscal year 2021, but this depends on other factors, such as input from other federal agencies. Further delays in publishing the conditions could contribute to delays in Puerto Rico's ability to initiate grid recovery projects. In 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria damaged Puerto Rico's electricity grid, causing the longest blackout in U.S. history. It took roughly 11 months after the hurricanes for power to be restored to all of the customers with structures deemed safe for power restoration. Since electricity service has been restored, local entities have undertaken the longer-term task of more fully repairing and rebuilding the grid. GAO reported in 2019 on challenges hindering progress in rebuilding the grid and recommended that FEMA and HUD take actions to address these challenges. This report examines the status of efforts to support long-term grid recovery in Puerto Rico, including actions taken by FEMA and HUD to implement GAO's 2019 recommendations. For this report, GAO assessed agency actions; reviewed relevant reports, regulations, policies, and documents; and interviewed federal and local officials. GAO previously made three recommendations to FEMA and one to HUD to provide needed information and improve coordination to support grid recovery. Both agencies disagreed with GAO's characterization of their progress made addressing these prior recommendations. GAO continues to believe additional actions are needed to fully implement these recommendations. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Bankruptcy Filings Plunged to Lowest Number Since 1985By Sam NewsIn U.S CourtsAugust 4, 2021Personal and business bankruptcy filings plummeted 32.2 percent for the 12-month period ending June 30, 2021. The number of filings was the lowest in a 12-month period since 1985.[Read More…]
- The United States and Japan Expand Indo-Pacific Economic CooperationBy Sam NewsMarch 16, 2021Office of the [Read More…]
- Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco Announces National Cryptocurrency Enforcement TeamBy Sam NewsOctober 6, 2021Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco announced today the creation of a National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET), to tackle complex investigations and prosecutions of criminal misuses of cryptocurrency, particularly crimes committed by virtual currency exchanges, mixing and tumbling services, and money laundering infrastructure actors.[Read More…]
- Local man sentenced after shop owner shot in violent armed robbery attemptBy Sam NewsIn Justice NewsOctober 6, 2021A 41-year-old Corpus [Read More…]
- Priority Open Recommendations: Department of the TreasuryBy Sam NewsJune 23, 2021What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified 31 priority recommendations for the Department of the Treasury. Since then, Treasury has implemented 14 of those recommendations by, among other things, developing a cybersecurity risk management strategy that includes key elements identified in federal guidance and by establishing a process for conducting an organization-wide cybersecurity risk assessment. In June 2021, GAO identified 4 additional priority recommendations for Treasury, bringing the total number to 21. These recommendations involve the following areas: Improving payment integrity Improving cybersecurity Improving information technology workforce planning Modernizing the U.S. financial regulatory system Improving federal financial management ( Evaluating the performance and effectiveness of tax expenditures Full implementation of these open recommendations could significantly improve Treasury's 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 Michelle Sager at (202) 512-6806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Valley drug trafficking organizer gets life in prisonBy Sam NewsIn Justice NewsMay 2, 2021A 40-year-old resident [Read More…]