Cale Brown, Deputy Spokesperson
The refugee conference hosted November 11-12 in Damascus by the Assad regime and Russia was not a credible attempt to create the conditions necessary for voluntary and safe refugee returns to Syria. The lack of support for this conference beyond the regime’s narrow group of allies demonstrates that the world recognizes stunts like this one for what they are – mere theatrics.
Regrettably, the Assad regime, with Russian backing, is seeking to use millions of vulnerable refugees as political pawns in an attempt to falsely claim that the Syrian conflict is over. The Assad regime is responsible for the deaths of over 500,000 of its own citizens, the bombing of numerous hospitals, and the denial of humanitarian support to millions of Syrian citizens. These are not the actions of a government that can be trusted to determine when refugees might safely return, nor should Assad hold power over directing international reconstruction funds.
The United States supports the return of refugees when conditions allow for them to return voluntarily and safely. We stand with the countries that continue to host millions of refugees. The United States remains the single largest humanitarian donor to the Syria crisis. Over the last year, the United States provided nearly $1.6 billion in humanitarian assistance to address the Syria crisis, half of which supports the needs of Syrian refugees and the generous communities that host them. This includes more than $121 million to support the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our total humanitarian assistance for the crisis response inside Syria and across the region since the start of the conflict is more than $12 billion.
The United States remains committed to the Syrian people and to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254, which is the only path to a political solution to the Syrian conflict.
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- Covid-19 Housing Protections: Moratoriums Have Helped Limit Evictions, but Further Outreach Is NeededBy Sam NewsMarch 15, 2021What GAO Found Eviction moratoriums at the federal, state, and local levels reduced eviction filings during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, some eligible renters may not have benefitted from a recent federal moratorium. GAO's analysis of 63 jurisdictions found that the median rate of eviction filings was about 74 percent lower in the last week of July 2020—when a moratorium included in the CARES Act expired—than in the same week in 2019. Eviction filings remained lower throughout 2020 (relative to 2019) but gradually increased during a separate moratorium ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in September 2020 (see fig.). During this moratorium, jurisdictions without separate state or local moratoriums experienced larger increases in eviction filings, which suggests that some renters may not fully understand how to use the CDC moratorium (completing required documentation). CDC extended its moratorium through March 31, 2021, but has taken few steps to promote awareness and understanding of the moratorium and its requirements. Clear, accurate, and timely information is essential to keep the public informed during the pandemic. Without a communication and outreach plan, including federal coordination, CDC will be missing an opportunity to ensure that eligible renters avoid eviction. Year-over-Year Percentage Change in Eviction Filings in 63 Jurisdictions Note: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) moratorium is active through March 31, 2021. Local moratoriums include separate state or local eviction moratoriums. Unlike the CARES Act, CDC's moratorium does not prohibit eviction filings, which could explain some increases. By late January 2021, Treasury had disbursed 99 percent of the $25 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance funds to state and other eligible grantees responsible for making rent and utility payments to recipients. Treasury's initial program guidance issued that month did not fully define some program requirements and included requirements that could have delayed the delivery of funds or deter participation. In late February 2021, Treasury updated its guidance to address several of these concerns, such as by providing grantees with flexibility for prioritizing lower income applicants and allowing written attestation of income. Although the guidance did not clarify certain data collection and spending requirements, officials said they will continue to update guidance to address stakeholder concerns and strike a balance between accountability and administrative efficiency. GAO will continue to actively monitor these efforts. Why GAO Did This Study Millions of renters and property owners continue to experience housing instability and financial challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. To address these concerns, Congress and CDC created eviction moratoriums, and Congress appropriated $25 billion to Treasury to disburse to state and local grantees to administer emergency rental assistance programs to help those behind on their rent. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to monitor federal efforts related to COVID-19. This report examines, among other objectives, (1) how eviction moratoriums have contributed to housing stability during the pandemic and (2) Treasury's implementation of the Emergency Rental Assistance program. GAO analyzed data on eviction filings and local policies in a sample of 63 jurisdictions (selected based on data availability) from January to December 2020. GAO also analyzed Census Bureau survey data on rental payments and data from federal housing entities on mortgage forbearance. GAO interviewed officials from CDC, Treasury, and organizations representing renters, property owners, and rental assistance grantees.[Read More…]
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- Stabilization and Reconstruction: Actions Are Needed to Develop a Planning and Coordination Framework and Establish the Civilian Reserve CorpsBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021In 2004, the Department of State created the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization to coordinate U.S. planning and implementation of stabilization and reconstruction operations. In December 2005, President Bush issued National Security Presidential Directive 44 (NSPD-44), charging State with improving coordination, planning, and implementation of such operations and ensuring that the United States can respond quickly and effectively to overseas crises. GAO was asked to report on State's efforts to improve (1) interagency planning and coordination for stabilization and reconstruction operations, and (2) deployment of civilians to these operations. To address these objectives, we conducted interviews with officials and reviewed documents from U.S. agencies and government and private research centers.The office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) is developing a framework for planning and coordinating U.S. reconstruction and stabilization operations. The National Security Council (NSC) has adopted two of three primary elements of the framework--the Interagency Management System and procedures for initiating the framework's use. However, the third element--a guide for planning stabilization and reconstruction operations--is still in progress. We cannot determine how effective the framework will be because it has not been fully applied to any stabilization and reconstruction operation. In addition, guidance on agencies' roles and responsibilities is unclear and inconsistent, and the lack of an agreed-upon definition for stabilization and reconstruction operations poses an obstacle to interagency collaboration. Moreover, some interagency partners stated that senior officials have shown limited support for the framework and S/CRS. Some partners described the new planning process, as presented in early versions of the planning guide, as cumbersome and too time consuming for the results it has produced. S/CRS has taken steps to strengthen the framework by addressing some interagency concerns and providing training to interagency partners. However, differences in the planning capacities and procedures of civilian agencies and the military pose obstacles to effective coordination. State has begun developing three civilian corps that can deploy rapidly to international crises, but key details for establishing and maintaining these units remain unresolved. First, State created the Active Response Corps (ARC) and the Standby Response Corps (SRC) comprised of U.S. government employees to act as first responders to international crises and has worked with several agencies to create similar units. However, these efforts are limited due to State's difficulty in achieving planned staffing levels for ARC, a lack of training available to SRC volunteers, other agencies' inability to secure resources for operations unrelated to their core domestic missions, and the possibility that deploying employees to such operations can leave units without sufficient staff. Second, in 2004, State began developing the Civilian Reserve Corps (CRC). CRC would be comprised of U.S. civilians who have skills and experiences useful for stabilization and reconstruction operations, such as police officers, civil engineers, public administrators, and judges that are not readily available within the U.S. government. If deployed, volunteers would become federal workers. S/CRS developed a plan to recruit the first 500 volunteers, and NSC has approved a plan to increase the roster to 2,000 volunteers in 2009. In May 2007, State received the authority to reallocate up to $50 million to support and maintain CRC, but it does not yet have the authority to obligate these funds. In addition, issues related to volunteers' compensation and benefits that could affect CRC recruitment and management would require congressional action. Furthermore, State has not clearly defined the types of missions for which CRC would be deployed. State has estimated the costs to establish and sustain CRC at home, but these costs do not include costs for deploying and sustaining volunteers overseas.[Read More…]
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- Foreign Operations: Key Issues for Congressional OversightBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021The Department of State (State) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) implement a broad range of U.S. government activities and programs overseas, including the conduct of diplomacy, development and security assistance, and efforts to combat terrorism and narcotics trafficking, among others. The President has requested approximately $55.7 billion for State and USAID in fiscal year 2012, an increase of nearly 8 percent over fiscal year 2010 funding levels. This testimony discusses four cross-cutting areas of U.S. foreign policy as implemented by State and USAID: (1) investments in key partner nations, (2) building the capacity of U.S. agencies to advance foreign policy priorities, (3) contractor oversight and accountability, and (4) strategic planning and performance measurement. This statement is based on GAO's extensive body of work on foreign operations issues, including fieldwork in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico, and numerous other locations .Since 2002, the United States has invested over $130 billion in security, economic, and governance assistance to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Although the administration has requested additional funding in fiscal year 2012 to assist Iraq's security forces, opportunities exist for cost-sharing given the Iraqi government's continuing budget surpluses and unexpended security budgets. Regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan, the United States has placed an increased focus on providing funding directly to the Afghan government and Pakistani organizations. This course of action involves considerable risk given the limited capacity of some prospective recipients--particularly the Afghan government--to manage and implement U.S.-funded programs, thereby highlighting the need for agency controls and safeguards over these funds. According to the 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, State and USAID are engaged in efforts to build and support a workforce that is well-matched to the foreign affairs challenges of the twenty-first century. Accomplishing this objective is critical given that GAO's work has consistently found limitations in the ability of State and USAID to ensure that they are deploying the right people to the right places at the right time. For example, State has faced persistent staffing and foreign language gaps that put the department's diplomatic readiness at risk. Similarly, GAO found that State has experienced difficulties hiring and training staff to operate and maintain its new, more sophisticated embassy compounds. State has taken some actions in response to GAO's findings. For example, in 2010, the department introduced a new pilot program to expand its cadre of Chinese speakers. State also noted in 2010 that it planned to hire additional facilities managers at embassies and consulates. State and USAID rely extensively on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan to support their direct-hire personnel, implement reconstruction efforts, and address workforce shortfalls such as insufficient numbers of trained agency personnel and the frequent rotations of staff posted to these countries. Robust management and oversight of contractor operations are essential in these challenging environments. However, GAO has found oversight to be inadequate at times, thus raising questions about the agencies' ability to ensure accountability for multibillion-dollar investments. GAO's reviews of international affairs programs have repeatedly found weaknesses in agencies' strategic planning and performance measurement efforts. For example, GAO reported that State significantly expanded its Bureau of Diplomatic Security without the benefit of strategic planning to ensure that the bureau's missions and activities address the department's priority needs. Such a review is vital given that the bureau will assume full responsibility for securing all diplomatic personnel and facilities in Iraq starting in October 2011 as the U.S. military completes its drawdown. GAO also reported that State generally lacked outcome-based measures for the M?rida Initiative--a $1.5 billion effort to provide law enforcement support to Mexico--thereby making it difficult to determine the initiative's effectiveness. GAO has made a variety of recommendations to State and USAID to help improve their foreign operations programs. In particular, GAO has recommended that agencies improve planning and performance measurement of their programs and take steps to enhance accountability of U.S. aid. State and USAID have efforts under way to implement some of these recommendations.[Read More…]
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