Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
On behalf of the Government of the United States of America, I congratulate the citizens of the Republic of the Marshall Islands on your 42nd Constitution Day. The United States and the Marshall Islands share a historic friendship underpinned by our Compact of Free Association, and I look forward to strengthening the deep bonds between our nations and citizens.
Building on a foundation of democracy and support for human rights, our countries collaborate at many levels. From our close cooperation at the United Nations to coordination among our health care experts on delivering COVID-19 vaccines, the relationship between our two countries is essential for achieving our shared goals.
Through the bonds between our citizens and the strong partnership between our governments, together we will continue to confront the climate crisis, work to defeat COVID-19 and prevent future pandemics, and promote regional security for a better future. Again, I extend my congratulations to all Marshallese on this occasion.
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- Federal Land Management: Key Differences and Stakeholder Views of the Federal Systems Used to Manage Hardrock MiningBy Sam NewsJuly 26, 2021What GAO Found Stakeholders GAO interviewed provided their views on the two systems used to manage hardrock mining on federal lands (see figure). Under the location system, the public generally has the right to explore federal lands, stake mining claims, hold the claims in perpetuity, and extract minerals without paying a federal royalty. Under the leasing system, the public generally must obtain agency approval to explore federal lands for minerals and must obtain a mining lease, which sets time limits and other conditions, including paying a federal royalty. GAO found collective differences between the views of different stakeholder groups. For example: Industry stakeholders' comments reflected a general emphasis on certainty: certainty that federal lands will be open and available for exploration, that they will be able to develop the deposits they find, and that they will have ample time to accommodate the lengthy mine development process. These are characteristics that these stakeholders generally described as advantages of the location system. Public interest and tribal government stakeholders' comments reflected a general emphasis on balance: that mining will be equitably balanced with other land uses, that the public will have the opportunity to participate in land- use decisions, and that mining will not preclude other future uses of the land. These are characteristics that these stakeholders generally described as advantages of the leasing system. Number of Hardrock Mining Operations Authorized to Produce Minerals on Federal Lands by System and State, as of September 30, 2018 However, collective comments from stakeholders suggested that neither system wholly advances their goals in all respects and those stakeholders identified areas for improvement in the management of hardrock mining on federal lands. These areas fell in three broad categories: Environmental stewardship. For example, some stakeholders said abandoned mines pose various challenges and suggested establishing federal funding sources for reclamation. Administrative resources. For example, some stakeholders said greater agency staff expertise, as well as an appropriate level of staffing, could improve overall agency management of hardrock mining activity. Governance and transparency. For example, some stakeholders identified public engagement as an overall area for improvement and said steps should be taken to increase public access to information about mining activities. Why GAO Did This Study Hardrock minerals, such as gold and copper, are crucial resources for modern technology. However, mining by its nature can create lasting health hazards and environmental contamination. The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service are responsible for managing hardrock mining on the federal lands they manage. Federal management of hardrock mining has been a source of ongoing debate, in part because the agencies use two different systems, depending on where the resources occur: the location system under the General Mining Act of 1872 to manage hardrock mining on public domain lands (those usually never in state or private ownership), and the leasing system first adopted in the 1940s to manage hardrock mining on acquired lands (those granted or sold to the United States by a state or citizen). GAO was asked to review hardrock mining on federal lands. This report describes, among other things, stakeholder views on the systems and areas for improvement. GAO reviewed relevant laws, regulations, policies, and literature about mining systems. GAO interviewed agency officials. GAO interviewed stakeholders selected to reflect a broad range of perspectives from industry, public interest groups such as environmental organizations, and tribal governments. For more information, contact Mark E. Gaffigan, (202) 512-3841 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Foreign Assistance: The United States Provides Wide-ranging Trade Capacity Building Assistance, but Better Reporting and Evaluation Are NeededBy Sam NewsAugust 23, 2021From 2005 to 2010, 24 U.S. agencies provided more than $9 billion in trade capacity building (TCB) assistance to help more than 100 countries reduce poverty, increase economic growth, and achieve stability through trade. To report on TCB funding, the U.S. government conducts an annual survey of agencies and publicly reports the data in a TCB database administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). GAO examined (1) how agencies' TCB activities are aligned with the agencies' goals, (2) the extent to which the TCB database provides sufficient information on key trends and funding, and (3) the extent to which USAID monitors and evaluates the effectiveness of its TCB activities. GAO focused on the agencies that reported the most funding for TCB activities since 2005--the Departments of the Army and State, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and USAID--and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). GAO analyzed U.S. government data; reviewed agencies' strategic, budget, and program documents; and met with U.S. and foreign government officials in select countries.USAID and State conduct TCB activities that are aligned with their primary goals, but TCB is secondary to the goals of other agencies. USAID and State have developed strategic plans that include TCB-focused goals. Aligned with these goals, USAID and State assist countries in negotiating and implementing trade agreements. In addition, USAID assists countries in taking advantage of economic growth opportunities stemming from trade, often in conjunction with other agency goals. TCB is not a primary focus of MCC and the Army, however, they conduct activities to meet their broader agency goals that have trade-related effects. MCC identifies trade-related assistance it considers TCB as part of its programs' poverty reduction goals. The Army implements TCB-related physical infrastructure projects as part of its disaster response objectives and in support of its reconstruction and economic development efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. government TCB database has reported that annual TCB funding has increased from $1.35 billion in 2005 to $1.69 billion in 2010, but the database does not adequately describe certain factors underlying this growth and other significant changes in the composition of TCB funding. From 2005 to 2010, two agencies--MCC and the Army--began reporting significant TCB funding, primarily for physical infrastructure projects. Their funding comprised 54 percent of total TCB, and physical infrastructure projects comprised 45 percent of total TCB. However, the TCB database does not adequately explain significant factors driving changes in the composition of TCB funding. In particular, the annual TCB survey methodology attempts to identify and quantify just the trade-related components of projects, but this can be difficult in practice, particularly for physical infrastructure projects. Although GAO found the survey data to be generally reliable, these factors can lead to limitations in the data that are not described for its users. Clear reporting and transparent methodology and data collection are essential to understanding levels of funding and changes in the nature of TCB over time. USAID has improved its assessment of TCB activities, including developing performance indicators and taking the positive step of commissioning a multicountry evaluation of the effects of TCB, but it has yet to develop plans to make use of the evaluation's valuable insights. USAID uses trade and investment indicators to assess the immediate results of its TCB activities. However, officials explained that it is difficult to attribute trade-related trends revealed by the indicators to the effects of TCB assistance and collect valid and reliable data to measure progress. To assess longer-term results, USAID has commissioned evaluations of TCB programs in specific countries, but these are limited in number. It recently commissioned a multicountry evaluation of the long-term effectiveness of its TCB activities agencywide. While USAID is beginning to incorporate the evaluation's results in its training, it has yet to develop plans for disseminating best practices to missions and offices on the methods they may use to better manage and assess their activities. Furthermore, it has not made plans for conducting evaluations on an ongoing basis. GAO recommends that the Administrator of USAID publicly report identified limitations and key distinctions in the categories of TCB assistance in the database. GAO also recommends that USAID develop a written plan for using its recent TCB evaluation and for conducting evaluations on an ongoing basis. USAID stated that it has already taken steps consistent with the GAO recommendations.[Read More…]
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- Priority Open Recommendations: Department of LaborBy Sam NewsJuly 6, 2021What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified seven priority recommendations for the Department of Labor (DOL). Since then, DOL has implemented one of those recommendations by taking steps to collect better data on how advanced technologies are changing the workplace, which can help DOL and policymakers design training programs that meet the job needs of the future. In May 2021, GAO identified three additional priority recommendations for DOL, bringing the total number to nine. These recommendations involve the following areas: stronger protections for wage earners; enhancing unemployment insurance; and better protections for retirees. DOL's continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Thomas Costa at (202) 512-4769 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- Puerto Rico: Efforts to Improve Competition for Medicaid ProcurementBy Sam NewsMarch 17, 2021What GAO Found Like other U.S. territories and states, Puerto Rico implements major functions of its Medicaid program by procuring services from contractors, such as the delivery of managed care services to Medicaid beneficiaries. In 2018, procurement costs represented $2.4 billion of Puerto Rico's $2.5 billion in total Medicaid expenditures. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)—the federal agency that oversees Medicaid—requires states and territories to use the same process for Medicaid procurements as they do for their non-federal procurements. However, in February 2021, GAO found that CMS has not taken steps to ensure Puerto Rico has met this requirement. Instead, CMS has relied on Puerto Rico to oversee the territory’s procurement process and to attest to its compliance. CMS officials told GAO that states and territories are in the best position to ensure compliance with their respective procurement laws. A 2019 federal indictment alleging Puerto Rico officials unlawfully steered Medicaid contracts to certain individuals has also raised questions about Puerto Rico's Medicaid procurement process, including whether this process helps ensure appropriate competition. The Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, directed Puerto Rico to publish a Medicaid procurement reform plan to combat fraud, waste, and abuse, which the territory provided to Congress in December 2020. In its procurement reform plan, Puerto Rico acknowledges the need to improve competition and outlines future initiatives and general timeframes to do so. For example, Puerto Rico notes that by August 2021, it will identify the circumstances under which the use of noncompetitive contracts is justified, as well as the factors it might consider in making this determination. By April 2021, Puerto Rico intends to identify procurement information it will make public as part of its competitive procurement process and will make such information public by the end of 2021. Such changes—if implemented as planned—could address some of the issues GAO identified in its review of eight selected Puerto Rico procurements. In its review, GAO found that Puerto Rico did not include important steps to promote competition and mitigate the risk for fraud, waste, and abuse, underscoring the need for federal oversight. GAO and others have found that competition is a cornerstone of procurement. Using competition can reduce costs, improve contractor performance, curb fraud, and promote accountability. As Puerto Rico continues to develop and carry out its planned reforms, implementing GAO’s recommendation for ongoing, risk-based oversight of Puerto Rico’s Medicaid procurement process could enable CMS to promote competition and efficiency while preventing fraud, waste, and abuse in the program. Why GAO Did This Study This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO's February 2021 report, entitled Medicaid: CMS Needs to Implement Risk-Based Oversight of Puerto Rico’s Procurement Process (GAO-21-229). Specifically, the testimony discusses findings from the report as they relate to Puerto Rico’s Medicaid procurement reform plan.[Read More…]
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