Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
On behalf of the United States, I wish to extend to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi people a joyous National Day.
This year, our two countries are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the historic meeting between President Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz aboard the U.S.S. Quincy, a meeting which laid the foundation for the strong strategic partnership the United States and Saudi Arabia enjoy today. This partnership has been at the heart of our progress on many shared priorities, including the stability of the Gulf region, energy security, and economic growth and prosperity in both our countries. Strengthening the close ties between our governments and our people is even more important this year as the Kingdom holds the G20 Presidency and the world confronts a global pandemic.
I wish the Saudi people peace, prosperity, and good health as you celebrate your National Day.
- Arrests Made in Conspiracy to Illegally Manufacture FirearmsBy Sam NewsOctober 27, 2020On Oct. 20, 2020, a former United States Marine Lance Corporal, recently stationed at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and two co-defendants were arrested in Boise, Idaho on the federal charge of conspiracy to unlawfully manufacture, possess, and distribute various weapons, ammunition, and suppressors. Liam Montgomery Collins, 21, and Paul James Kryscuk, 35, recently of Boise, were charged via an indictment, while Jordan Duncan, 25, a North Carolina native also currently residing in Boise, was charged via a complaint, both obtained in the Eastern District of North Carolina.[Read More…]
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- Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel: Congressional Action Needed to Break Impasse and Develop a Permanent Disposal SolutionBy Sam NewsSeptember 23, 2021What GAO Found Congress needs to take action to break the impasse over a permanent solution for commercial spent nuclear fuel—used fuel removed from nuclear power reactors—according to experts GAO interviewed. Specifically, most experts said Congress should (1) amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA) to authorize the Department of Energy (DOE) to implement a new consent-based process for siting consolidated interim storage and permanent geologic repository facilities, and (2) restructure the Nuclear Waste Fund to ensure reliable and sufficient funding. Experts highlighted concerns about the effect of the continuing impasse on environmental, health, and security risks; efforts to combat climate change; and taxpayer costs. For example, the amount the federal government will have to pay to owners to store spent nuclear fuel at reactor sites will continue to grow annually (see figure). Figure: Department of Energy Total Estimated Costs and Remaining Liabilities for Storing Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF), in Billions of Dollars Note: For more details, see figure 4 in GAO-21-603. The United States currently has an ad hoc system for managing commercial spent nuclear fuel, which can affect future disposal decisions and costs. For example, spent fuel is stored using a variety of different technologies that will have implications for final disposal. Nearly all of the experts we interviewed said an integrated strategy is essential to developing a solution for commercial spent nuclear fuel and potentially reducing programmatic costs. However, DOE cannot fully develop and implement such a strategy without congressional action. In 2015, DOE began efforts to engage the public and develop a draft consent-based siting process, but it has not finalized this process. The draft includes elements that nearly all experts agreed are critical for an effective siting process. Finalizing the draft could help position DOE to implement a consent-based process for consolidated interim storage facilities and/or permanent geologic repositories if Congress amends the NWPA to allow for storage and disposal options other than, or in addition to, the Yucca Mountain repository. Why GAO Did This Study Commercial spent nuclear fuel is extremely dangerous if not managed properly. About 86,000 metric tons of this fuel is stored on-site at 75 operating or shutdown nuclear power plants in 33 states, an amount that grows by about 2,000 metric tons each year. The NWPA, as amended, requires DOE to dispose of spent nuclear fuel and specifies that the only site that may be considered for the permanent disposal of commercial spent nuclear fuel is a geologic repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. However, in 2010, DOE terminated its efforts to license a repository at Yucca Mountain, and Congress stopped funding activities related to the site. Since then, policymakers have been at an impasse on how to meet the federal disposal obligation, with significant financial consequences for taxpayers. This report examines actions that experts identified as necessary to develop a solution for spent nuclear fuel disposal. GAO reviewed DOE and other agency documents and interviewed 20 experts and 25 stakeholders from industry, nongovernmental organizations, and tribal and state groups.[Read More…]
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- Housing Finance System: Future Reforms Should Consider Past Plans and Vulnerabilities Highlighted by PandemicBy Sam NewsJanuary 13, 2022What GAO Found The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted three vulnerabilities in the housing finance system—although thus far mitigated by federal actions and market conditions—that remain relevant to the debate about future system reforms. Federal fiscal exposure. Exposure to potential mortgage credit losses during an economic crisis is substantial. The government directly or indirectly backs $8 trillion in single-family mortgages, in part due to the ongoing federal conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (enterprises). Nonbank liquidity risks. Nonbanks, which service more than 50 percent of federally backed mortgages, faced significant liquidity risk—that they would be unable to meet their financial obligations—at the onset of the pandemic because they were not receiving loan payments but had to continue paying mortgage investors. Failures of nonbanks could constrain mortgage credit. Market instability. In March 2020, the pandemic's economic shock temporarily disrupted the mortgage-backed securities (MBS) market by causing many investors to sell assets. This overwhelmed market intermediaries and created conditions where MBS could not be sold. Continued market dysfunction could have limited mortgage availability and caused other credit markets to freeze. GAO analysis of the 2019 housing finance reform plans issued by the Department of the Treasury and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) identified recommendations that align with these vulnerabilities and GAO's 2014 housing finance reform framework. The plans made 81 administrative recommendations to agencies and 35 legislative recommendations to Congress. The plans contained 34 recommendations focused on federal fiscal exposure, three related to nonbank liquidity risks, and one related to MBS market stability. Regarding fiscal exposure, the recommendations included steps to help ensure the enterprises and the Federal Housing Administration's (FHA) mortgage insurance programs are financially sound. Some steps, such as strengthening the enterprises' capital framework, were implemented. Others, including certain recommendations to improve the financial viability of FHA's program for reverse mortgages (a loan against home equity), were not. Each of the plans' recommendations aligned with an element of GAO's framework, and the recommendations collectively addressed all the elements to some degree (see figure below). The elements include control of fiscal exposure, alignment of policies with goals, capacity to manage risks, and borrower protections and access to mortgages. As of January 2021—the latest point at which Treasury and HUD systematically tracked implementation—agencies implemented or took partial action on 57 of 81 administrative recommendations, focusing primarily on framework elements for control of fiscal exposure and capacity to manage risks. For example, FHA substantially implemented a recommendation to develop and integrate automated tools for managing mortgage origination risks. As of September 2021, Congress had not enacted legislation to implement any of the 35 legislative recommendations. Alignment and Status of Recommendations in 2019 Housing Finance Reform Plans, by GAO Framework Element (Administrative Actions as of January 20, 2021, and Legislative Actions as of September 30, 2021) While the current administration has stated its interest in helping shape future reforms, it has not issued its own plans, or performed an analysis similar to GAO's. GAO's analysis showed that the 2019 reform plans are relevant to future planning efforts. Although the plans were issued shortly before the pandemic, they contain implemented and unimplemented recommendations relevant to vulnerabilities the pandemic highlighted. While mitigated by federal actions and market conditions thus far, the vulnerabilities remain relevant for risk assessments that may support future Treasury and HUD planning efforts. Considering recommendations from the 2019 plans could help agencies identify options for mitigating the vulnerabilities and aid assessment of steps already taken. The plans also contain recommendations related to each element of GAO's framework. Attention to each framework element is important for establishing an effective housing finance system. While future housing reforms may emphasize different policy goals, considering the prior plans in the context of the framework could help identify actions that would cover all the framework elements. As Treasury and HUD develop future reform plans, considering the recommendations in the 2019 plans and addressing all GAO framework elements could help ensure the plans address key risks, are comprehensive, and account for prior actions that complement or diverge from current policy priorities. Why GAO Did This Study Since 2013, GAO has designated the federal role in housing finance as a high-risk area because of the significant risks the current role poses. In September 2019, Treasury and HUD began implementing housing finance reform plans, which included steps to transition the enterprises from federal conservatorship. But pandemic-related strains on the housing finance system and the transition to a new administration have increased uncertainty about the future of reform. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to monitor federal efforts related to COVID-19. Congress also included a provision in statute for GAO to annually review financial services regulations. This report examines (1) vulnerabilities in the housing finance system highlighted by the pandemic, and (2) the nature and status of recommendations in the 2019 reform plans and the extent to which they align with system vulnerabilities and GAO's housing finance reform framework (GAO-15-131). GAO reviewed housing finance system research and regulations and agency documents on system reforms and pandemic responses. GAO aligned recommendations in the 2019 plans with system vulnerabilities and its 2014 framework elements. GAO also analyzed information on the status of the plan recommendations and interviewed agency and industry representatives.[Read More…]
- Firearms Trafficking: More Information is Needed to Inform U.S. Efforts in Central AmericaBy Sam NewsJanuary 11, 2022What GAO Found The Department of Justice's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) receives firearm trace requests from the governments of Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras for some, but not all, firearms recovered in those countries. ATF tracing data for approximately 27,000 firearms recovered from 2015 through 2019—the most recent data available—show that 40 percent came from the U.S. and the rest from 39 other countries. ATF data also indicate that almost half of the U.S.-sourced firearms were likely diverted from legitimate commerce in the four countries rather than smuggled from the U.S. From January 2015 through March 2021, more than 100,000 firearms were legally exported from the U.S. to the four countries, according to agency data. Firearms are not manufactured in these countries, but U.S. and foreign officials stated that criminals can obtain them through illegal markets and theft, among other means. ATF data show most firearms submitted for tracing were handguns. Types of Firearms Recovered in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and Submitted to ATF for Tracing, 2015–2019 Although disrupting firearms trafficking is not a specific U.S. goal for the region, U.S. agencies have broad capacity-building, investigative, and border security efforts, which may help disrupt firearms trafficking. For example: The Department of State provided a total of $38 million for capacity-building programs in fiscal years 2015 through 2019, which included some activities related to firearms trafficking—for example, training on firearms-trafficking investigations. ATF assisted partner governments by tracing recovered firearms, which provided investigative leads and helped law enforcement agencies in partner countries to link disparate criminal acts. U.S. Customs and Border Protection shared information on criminal activity, including firearms smuggling, with the four countries. The 2021 U.S. Strategy for Addressing Root Causes of Migration in Central America directs U.S. agencies to address violence, crime, and security in the region. State officials said that in response to this strategy, they plan to develop new projects or modify existing projects to focus on firearms. However, according to the officials, they lack sufficient information about relevant country conditions to tailor these projects to address each country's needs. State officials have not sought such information from the four countries' governments or other U.S. agencies because State has not focused on firearms trafficking in the countries. Obtaining such information would enhance State's ability to develop effective programs to reduce criminal access to firearms and firearms-related violence in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Why GAO Did This Study The four Central American countries Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have high rates of violence, including homicide. According to foreign crime data and foreign officials, most homicides in the countries are committed with firearms imported legally or illegally from other countries. Violence and insecurity in the countries have been identified as contributing factors in migration to the U.S. GAO was asked to report on U.S. efforts to counter firearms trafficking to Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This report examines (1) U.S. agencies' knowledge about firearms trafficking to criminals in these countries, (2) U.S. agencies' efforts to disrupt firearms trafficking in these countries, and (3) U.S. planning to address firearms trafficking in these countries. GAO reviewed firearms tracing and other agency data, related analysis, and program information for fiscal years 2014 through 2020. GAO also interviewed U.S. and foreign officials.[Read More…]
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