January 25, 2022

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Readout of Attorney General Merrick B. Garland’s Call with the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary Priti Patel

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<div>Attorney General Merrick B. Garland spoke by phone yesterday with Priti Patel, the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary. In this inaugural conversation, the Attorney General and Home Secretary reaffirmed their shared commitment to deepening cooperation on countering common threats, including those posed by international terrorism.</div>
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland spoke by phone yesterday with Priti Patel, the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary. In this inaugural conversation, the Attorney General and Home Secretary reaffirmed their shared commitment to deepening cooperation on countering common threats, including those posed by international terrorism.

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  • Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq: U.S. Ministry Capacity Development Efforts Need an Overall Integrated Strategy to Guide Efforts and Manage Risk
    In U.S GAO News
    Iraq'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.
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  • International Finance: Treasury Has Reduced the Number of Attaches Overseas
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    The 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.
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  • Department of Defense: Use of Neurocognitive Assessment Tools in Post-Deployment Identification of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury
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    Traumatic brain injury (TBI) has emerged as a serious concern among U.S. forces serving in military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The widespread use of improvised explosive devices in these conflicts increases the likelihood that servicemembers will sustain a TBI, which the Department of Defense (DOD) defines as a traumatically induced structural injury and/or physiological disruption of brain function as a result of an external force. TBI cases within DOD are generally classified as mild, moderate, severe, or penetrating. From 2000 to March 2011 there were a total of 212,742 TBI cases reported by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center within DOD. A majority of these cases, 163,181, were classified as mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI)--commonly referred to as concussions. Early detection of injury is critical in TBI patient management. Diagnosis of moderate and severe TBI usually occurs in a timely manner due to the obvious and visible nature of the head injury. Identification of mTBI presents a challenge due to its less obvious nature. With mTBI, there may be no observable head injury. In addition, in the combat theater, an mTBI may not be identified if it occurs at the same time as other combat injuries that are more visible or life-threatening, such as orthopedic injuries or open wounds. Furthermore, some of the symptoms of mTBI--such as irritability and insomnia--are similar to those associated with other conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Although the majority of patients with mTBI recover quickly with minimal intervention, a subset of patients develops lingering symptoms that interfere with social and occupational functioning. Accurate and timely identification of mTBI is important as treatment can mitigate the physical, emotional, and cognitive effects of the injury. Neurocognitive deficits associated with mTBI can be identified by neurocognitive assessment tools. These tools generally consist of a series of tests that measure cognitive performance areas that may be impaired by an mTBI such as attention, judgment, and memory. Identification of mTBI in servicemembers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq has been the subject of recent media attention, with particular attention focused on the proper use of neurocognitive assessment tools to screen all servicemembers postdeployment for deficits or symptoms related to mTBI. In this context and in response to congressional request, this report describes (1) DOD's post-deployment policy on the use of neurocognitive assessment tools as a stand-alone initial screen to identify servicemembers who may have sustained an mTBI during deployment; (2) what informed DOD's decisions to establish this post-deployment policy; and (3) mTBI experts' views on the science related to DOD's policy decision.DOD does not require that all servicemembers be screened post-deployment using a neurocognitive assessment tool but does require that all servicemembers be screened using a set of TBI screening questions. According to DOD officials, this policy was informed by findings and recommendations from several task forces and expert panel reports, and scientific studies. Additionally, mTBI experts told us that the scientific evidence supports DOD's policy. For example, these experts told us that neurocognitive assessment tools cannot determine whether low cognitive function is caused by an mTBI. These experts told us, however, that neurocognitive assessment tools can be useful as part of a full clinical evaluation for a person who has already screened positive for a possible mTBI.
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    The Department of Defense (DOD) obligated about $367 billion in fiscal year 2010 to acquire goods and services to meet its mission and support its operations, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan. GAO's work, as well as that of others, has documented shortcomings in DOD's strategic and acquisition planning, contract administration and oversight, and acquisition workforce. These are challenges that need to be addressed by DOD and by the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as they carry out their missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and prepare for future contingencies. Today's statement discusses (1) contract management challenges faced by DOD, including those that take on heightened significance in a contingency environment; (2) actions DOD has taken and those needed to address these challenges; and (3) similar challenges State and USAID face. The statement is drawn from GAO's body of work on DOD contingency contracting, contract management, and workforce, as well as prior reports on State and USAID's contracting and workforce issues.DOD faces a number of longstanding and systemic challenges that hinder its ability to achieve more successful acquisition outcomes--obtaining the right goods and services, at the right time, at the right cost. These challenges include addressing the issues posed by DOD's reliance on contractors, ensuring that DOD personnel use sound contracting approaches, and maintaining a workforce with the skills and capabilities needed to properly manage acquisitions and oversee contractors. The issues encountered with contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan are emblematic of these systemic challenges, though their significance and impact are heightened in a contingency environment. GAO's concerns regarding DOD contracting predate the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. GAO identified DOD contract management as a high-risk area in 1992 and raised concerns in 1997 about DOD's management and use of contractors to support deployed forces in Bosnia. In the years since then, GAO has continued to identify a need for DOD to better manage and oversee its acquisition of services. DOD has recognized the need to address the systemic challenges it faces, including those related to operational contract support. Over the past several years, DOD has announced new policies, guidance, and training initiatives, but not all of these actions have been implemented and their expected benefits have not yet been fully realized. While DOD's actions are steps in the right direction, DOD needs to (1) strategically manage services acquisition, including defining desired outcomes; (2) determine the appropriate mix, roles, and responsibilities of contractor, federal civilian, and military personnel; (3) assess the effectiveness of efforts to address prior weaknesses with specific contracting arrangements and incentives; (4) ensure that its acquisition workforce is adequately sized, trained, and equipped; and (5) fully integrate operational contract support throughout the department through education and predeployment training. In that regard, in June 2010 GAO called for a cultural change in DOD that emphasizes an awareness of operational contract support throughout all aspects of the department. In January 2011, the Secretary of Defense expressed concerns about DOD's current level of dependency on contractors and directed the department to take a number of actions. The Secretary's recognition and directions are significant steps, yet instilling cultural change will require sustained commitment and leadership. State and USAID face contracting challenges similar to DOD's, particularly with regard to planning for and having insight into the roles performed by contractors. In April 2010, GAO reported that State's workforce plan did not address the extent to which contractors should be used to perform specific functions. Similarly, GAO reported that USAID's workforce plan did not contain analyses covering the agency's entire workforce, including contractors. The recently issued Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review recognized the need for State and USAID to rebalance their workforces and directed the agencies to ensure that they have an adequate number of government employees to carry out their core missions and to improve contract administration and oversight. GAO has made multiple recommendations to the agencies to address contracting and workforce challenges. The agencies have generally agreed with the recommendations and have efforts under way to implement them.
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