December 4, 2021


News Network

Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Senegalese Foreign Minister Aïssata Tall Sall at a Joint Press Availability

29 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Dakar, Senegal

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

MODERATOR:  (In French.)


MODERATOR:  (In French.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Merci.  (In French.)

I’ve been told about the Senegalese concept of teraanga.  We spoke about that last night.  And as I understand it, roughly translated it’s hospitality based on openness and respect.  And it’s a cherished national value and it says a lot about Senegal.  And I’ve seen it in practice these last 24 hours.

This is a place where people of different religions, languages, and cultures are united as one nation.  And it’s a place where people from around the world are treated with incredible warmth and made to feel at home.  And I’m very much evidence of that; I can testify to that directly.  So I thank you.

I’ve experienced teraanga here in Dakar.  I thank the president, the foreign minister, our colleagues, and all the people that I’ve had a chance to interact with for making this trip already so memorable.

Yesterday when we were in Abuja, I was at the ECOWAS headquarters and I spoke about the administration’s, the United States policy toward Africa.  When it comes to urgent global challenges and also opportunities, from ending COVID-19 pandemic to building a strong and inclusive global economy, to combating the climate crisis or revitalizing democracy and defending human rights, there’s a simple reality:  We will not succeed without the leadership of African governments, institutions, and citizens.

So the United States is committed to strengthening our partnership across the continent in ways that serve the interests of people here, serve our own interests, and I think the interests of people not just across the continent, but ultimately across the world because of the impact that increasingly Africa is having and will have on the world, including beyond the continent – a world in which lives and futures will be shaped in part by what our countries are able to do together.

And again, it’s no coincidence that I’ve come to Senegal directly after that speech.  Senegal and the United States have indeed been friends for six decades – 60 years of diplomatic relations, 60 years of building on the common foundation that we have of democracy.  Senegal is a democracy, an engine of economic growth in West Africa, a leader in African institutions, a contributor to international peacekeeping efforts.  And we deeply value the partnership between our countries, but we want to take it to a new level of ambition, mutuality, and effectiveness.  And that’s what we’ve been talking about since we’ve been here.

And in that spirit, the foreign minister and I have had very productive discussions on virtually all of the critical issues before us.  We talked about our shared goal of ending COVID-19.  I underscored the commitment of the United States to provide COVID vaccines to the world.  This week we hit a milestone: 250 million doses of vaccine delivered worldwide.  By next spring, that number will be more than 1 billion vaccines donated by the United States, primarily through COVAX, with no strings attached.

We’ve provided more than 50 million doses to 43 African countries, including more than a million doses here in Senegal, and we’re significantly ramping up our vaccine manufacturing capacity to meet the global need.  We’re also committed to helping and working closely with Senegal to increase the capacity to produce vaccine here in Senegal as well as in other parts of Africa, because increasing global production capacity makes it easier to distribute vaccines and save lives.

Even as we work through COVID-19, we know that in all likelihood there will be something else, another pandemic in the future.  We have to find ways and we are finding ways working together to build back better here as well, to have a strong global health security system so that we can prevent – and if not prevent, much more effectively and quickly mitigate – any future outbreaks of pandemic.

I’m going to visit shortly the Institut Pasteur de Dakar, which is working toward COVID vaccine production with American support, including an investment so far of over $3 million from our Development Finance Corporation.

The foreign minister and I also discussed how to repair the economic damage of the pandemic and build back better – conversations I also had with the minister of the economy – and to build it in a way that we have a more inclusive global economy.  Senegal and the United States are growing our economic ties.  Air Senegal now has a direct flight to New York.  A few months ago, that was established.  More American companies are doing business here than ever before, right now about 50, but that is growing, and I am convinced it will grow even stronger in the months and years ahead.

Just this morning I joined four American companies signing agreements to collaborate with the Senegalese Government on new infrastructure projects.  We want to inspire a race to the top for global infrastructure, to close the infrastructure gap, while also creating local jobs, protecting workers and the environment, reducing corruption, and avoiding saddling countries with unmanageable debt.

I also announced a new $14.8 million program with USAID to help young people and women in Senegal get access to business development and financing, because the entrepreneurial spirit here in Senegal is undeniable.  I saw it this morning when we met the group of local women entrepreneurs.  It’s palpable and we want to do what we can in partnership to support that.

I also talked with the minister, the president as well, about Senegal’s leadership on climate and underscored our support for its renewable energy goals and our commitment to the international financing for climate adaptation and resilience.  And as the minister said, we spoke about democracy and human rights and how we can work together to strengthen our own democracies, but also together respond to some of the democratic backsliding that we’re seeing not only in parts of Africa but in many parts of the world.  As one of the continent’s most stable democracies, Senegal can model how democratic values, good governance, and the rule of law actually pay off for citizens in concrete ways, including a resilient and inclusive economy and a peaceful, pluralistic society.

Given Senegal’s role, leadership role in the African Union – it will chair it next year – in ECOWAS, and as the current co-chair of the Friends of the Gulf of Guinea, Senegal is very well positioned to help lead progress on democracy and security in West Africa, and indeed, across the continent.

We talked about the crises of Ethiopia and Sudan and the importance of representative governance.   Let me just say quickly, in Ethiopia, intensive diplomacy is ongoing with leadership from the African Union and its high representative, former Nigerian President Obasanjo, supported by the United States, including through engagement by our Special Envoy Jeff Feltman, who’s in Addis as we speak.  We continue to push for an immediate end to hostilities without preconditions, and humanitarian access for the millions of people in northern Ethiopia who need lifesaving aid.  And we continue to urge Americans to avail themselves of commercial flights out of the country, and we’re providing assistance to them to do so.

With regard to Sudan, we deplore the violence that we’ve seen from the security forces in recent days.  That has to end.  The right of the Sudanese people to protest peacefully must be protected. And we join the people of Sudan in urging the restoration of Prime Minister Hamdok and his civilian transitional government, and the release of everyone who’s been arrested for expressing opposition to the military takeover.  The foreign minister and I agreed on the need to return to democratically elected government in Mali by the date set by ECOWAS, and for a timely transition to democracy in Guinea and Chad.  And we reaffirmed a shared commitment to human rights, which is the foundation of stability and progress in all of our countries.

In a few hours, my team and I will head back to Washington.  This week in Kenya, in Nigeria, and in Senegal, we’ve had remarkably productive meetings, remarkably productive engagements. And for me, at least, these are not only meaningful, they’re also quite memorable.  I’ve been looking forward to this trip since I took on this job, and it hasn’t disappointed.

Our commitment to strengthen partnerships across Africa is central to our foreign policy because we know that the leadership of countries, institutions, and again, most importantly, people across this continent will be critical to whether we can meet the challenges that face us in our time as well as the opportunities before us.  And as I said in Nigeria yesterday, we firmly believe that it is long past time to start treating African countries and institutions as the major geopolitical players that they’ve become.  And the trip that I took this week reflects that conviction.

And I’m already looking ahead to when I can come back to Africa and continue to build on the work that we’ve done, although I think we’re going to be doing that every single day between our teams.  So thank you, Madam Minister, for your partnership.  And thank you to the people of Senegal for your friendship with the United States over 60 years, and I think we’re going make the next 60 even better.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

MODERATOR:  Great.  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary of State, for the importance of your remarks, which recall the fruitful bilateral relations between Senegal and the U.S.

(In French.)

QUESTION:  (In French.)


Let me start by saying that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Senegal’s economy was growing at a very fast clip, at about 6 percent a year.  And of course, the pandemic has set back all of us, but as Senegal recovers from the economic impact, the forecasts are extremely positive, including, I believe, projections of more than 10 percent growth for Senegal by the end of next year.

Our own investment in Senegal has increased significantly in recent years.  We have, as I said, 50 American companies that are now doing business here.  But that number is growing, and just today, as I mentioned, I witnessed the signing of some Memoranda of Understanding between the Senegalese Government and four of our companies to invest together in important infrastructure projects that will not only facilitate connections among Senegalese, but also do it in a way that protects our environment, that creates good jobs in both of our countries, and I think will make a difference in people’s lives going forward.

Just by way of reference, in 2020 – and again, because of COVID you have to put this in perspective – our exports to Senegal totaled about $281 million, and two-way trade between the United States and Senegal was about almost $400 million.  Senegal just signed a second Millennium Challenge Compact, which I think will produce very important results.  That was actually a couple years ago but it’s going into force.  And again, much of this is by way of investment in infrastructure that will, I think, make a profound difference in people’s lives.

We have AGOA, as you know, that’s in force for another few years until 2025.  That is a means of giving greater market access and preferential treatment to products coming from Africa, something that Senegal can benefit from, and we’ll continue to look at ways to strengthen the relationship when it comes to trade and when it comes to investment.

And finally, as the minister said, I think one of the things that we’re most excited about and that I know our colleagues in Senegal are most excited about is the Build Back Better World initiative launched at the G7 meeting by President Biden, and we’ll be working together on that.

And let me say simply as well when it comes to climate change, we recognize this is not flipping a light switch.  It is a transition, and transitions take some time.  But I think it is incumbent upon all of us to accelerate as quickly as we can the use of renewable energy and to make that transition as effectively and quickly as we can.

But the United States also understands that we have a responsibility.  Over history, we are, of course, one of the largest contributors to the problem historically.  Now we’re about 15 percent of global emissions, so we’re still one of the most significant emitters.  We’re making tremendous progress at home in doing our part to curb emissions, but we also believe that we have an obligation to help other countries, especially developing countries, make the necessary adaptations and build the necessary resilience faced with climate change.

And so President Biden last spring doubled our commitment to the adaptation and resilience funds that exist in the world.  He doubled that again at the United States – the United Nations, excuse me, General Assembly a few months ago.  And we will be making the largest contributions we’ve made in our history to this effort to make sure that our developing country friends have the resources necessary to do the adaptation of their economies as well as build resilience against the effects of climate change that we’re all experiencing every single day.



MR PRICE:  Our first question will go to Shaun Tandon of AFP.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thank you.  Thanks, Mr. Secretary.  Thank you, Madam Minister.  Mr. Secretary, could I follow up on your statement on Mali?  You’ve mentioned the need for a democratic transition.  ECOWAS has taken action.  Is there more that the U.S. can do to make a transition to democracy and away from the junta there?

And the violence in Mali, do you believe that what the French are leading right now is being effective?  Is it more of a whack-a-mole against extremists?  The United States, of course, has had dialogue with the Taliban in Afghanistan.  In a parallel way, is there a need for a dialogue with jihadists in Mali?  Is that something that the United States could see?

And if I can follow up, you said repeatedly here about democratic values in Senegal.  As you know, that’s the reputation of Senegal, but there’s also some – some rare unrest earlier this year after the arrest of an opposition leader.  Are you concerned at all about Senegal preserving that reputation?  How much concern is there, if any, about actually preserving that?

And for the foreign minister, if I can continue: (In French.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Merci, Shaun.  Let me start with the second part of your question first and just say that, look, Senegal has long served as a strong democratic model in sub-Saharan Africa – a long history of democratic values, peaceful transitions of power, respect for the rule of law, religious freedom tolerance, protection and respect for human rights – values that, of course, we share.  Like all democracies, the United States included, we can’t take for granted, Senegal cannot take for granted democratic norms and institutions, and have to continue to work to protect democratic freedoms and political space for diverse perspectives.

But in my conversations with the president, he is a strong leader for democracy, for democratic values, for democratic institutions.  And we very much look forward to the role that he and Senegal will be playing in the African Union next year in his leadership of that, included in standing up for democracy and its resilience, and also the role that he will play in the Summit for Democracy that President Biden is going to be hosting very, very soon.

With regard to Mali, it remains a lynchpin for future stability in the Sahel.  And we have deep concerns about that stability and deep concerns about the extremism and terrorism that is spreading tentacles in the region.  We very much stand with ECOWAS and the international community in calling for a return in Mali to the constitutional rule through democratic elections that need to take place, according to the ECOWAS mandate, by April of next year.  That’s what we’re looking for.  That’s what we’re looking to.

And this is ultimately about the people of Mali and their aspirations for democracy, their aspirations for peace, their aspirations for development, and respect for human rights.  And we look forward to taking the necessary steps to resume the full array of assistance as soon as this democratically elected government has taken office.  The international community stands very much ready to support Mali, but it has to put itself on the track of transition as laid out by ECOWAS.  We’re contributing to efforts with Mali and partners in support of stability in Mali, and indeed in the broader Sahel.  We’re working to encourage the restoration of safety and security for the Malian people and a successful transition toward democratic governance in Mali.

I would only add that I think it would be especially unfortunate if outside actors engaged in making things even more difficult and more complicated, and I’m thinking particularly of groups like the Wagner Group in Mali.  But we are looking for Mali to move forward on its transition, and we will work very closely with partners in Africa, with other partners, including France, in support of that effort.


MODERATOR:  (In French.)

QUESTION:  (In French.)


We are very focused on making sure that, even more than before, we bring together all the tools at our disposal in the United States Government to be an effective investment partner and investment catalyst for Africa and for our closest partners in Africa.  There is an extraordinary need for infrastructure investment in particular – trillions of dollars.  And the model that we have is focused extensively on public-private partnerships, the government helping to catalyze and support private investment in partnership with our friends.  And we have new and increasingly effective tools to do that, including the Development Finance Corporation.

One of our responsibilities is to make sure that all of these tools – the existing ones, some of the traditional ones that you mentioned, as well as some of the newer ones – are working effectively together.  And we had very good conversations today, including with the minister of the economy, about exactly that.

And I also want to make sure that we’re acting efficiently so that as investments take place, it doesn’t take forever to put them in place.  So this is something that we’re working on, and in particular, as the minister said, through the Build Back Better World program, we’ll be looking here, we’ll be looking elsewhere in Africa, to partner on these investments.

Let me say too that this interconnectivity in Africa is especially vital and necessary, but also I think a source of tremendous opportunity.  Here’s why:  On this extraordinary continent right now, where in 25 or 30 years one in four people on Earth will be African, that connectivity doesn’t really exist.  I think about 13 or 14 percent of trade is within Africa.  It can, it should, it must be much more.  But that requires the infrastructure, it requires the connectivity, to facilitate trade.  So we want to be a partner in doing that.

Finally, it’s not just how much you provide in the way of resources; it’s how you provide it that counts.  And Build Back Better World is not just a commitment to dedicate resources to infrastructure investment, hard infrastructure, health care infrastructure, information and communications technology infrastructure, but it’s the principles that come with it.  And I mentioned some of them – making sure that we do not laden countries with debt that they can’t support.  That will not be – it is not and will not be our practice.  Because then countries eventually face a terrible choice in paying back that debt of either taking money from somewhere else and shortchanging some other aspect of their society, or the country that loaned the money suddenly owns the asset.  That’s not what we’ll be doing.

The investments that we’re making in partnership will benefit the communities they’re designed to benefit.  The workers who produce them will be from the communities and countries in question.  The rights of workers, respect for the environment, will be built into everything that we do.  And we’ll also make sure that corruption is not a feature of this work.

So it’s a long way of saying that as we look at infrastructure investment and more broadly investment across the board, our purpose, the guiding principle, is to make this a race to the top.  And if other countries want to engage in that race to the top by the way they make investments, that’s a very good thing.  We encourage that.  The world needs more infrastructure investment.

But in our – from our perspective, it has to be to the highest possible standards and not a race to the bottom.  We’ve seen where that goes.  And just to – as we would say, foot-stomp – emphasize something my friend said and said so eloquently, but I want to repeat it because it really is important:  Our purpose is not to make our partners choose; it’s to give them choices.  And when people have choices, they usually make the right one.


MR PRICE:  Michael Crowley of The New York Times.

QUESTION:  Merci.  (In French.)

Secretary Blinken, over the years, U.S. officials have often admitted that the United States does not pay enough attention to the continent of Africa, saying that they’re going to change that and this time it will be different.  Do you think that this pledge of engagement you have made on this trip is being received at face value?  Did you encounter skepticism, particularly given the great uncertainty about the future of U.S. politics and foreign policy?

And if I may ask you a question from a different region involving Russia, last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the U.S. is not taking Russia’s strategic red lines seriously enough.  He specifically complained about U.S. strategic bombers flying near Russian air space.  Do you have a response to that?  And what are America’s own red lines when it comes to Russian aggression toward Ukraine?

Madam Foreign Minister, merci.  A related question to my first for you:  How do you assess America’s reputation and influence in Africa?  There is much talk of America’s global leadership role having receded over the last several years, and of course, very divergent views within the U.S. about American foreign policy.  How do you assess Secretary Blinken’s call for re-engagement across the continent?  Do you – are you hopeful that there will be long-term follow-through on that vision?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Michael, thank you very much, and in a sense, the question you asked my colleague will probably get the response to the first question that you asked me.  And I will let her speak to that, because honestly that’s where the responses are coming from.

I’ll say simply this:  My own perception of the conversations that I’ve had here in Senegal – with Aïssata, with President Sall, and with others, as well as in Nigeria and before that in Kenya – is tremendous enthusiasm, welcoming desire for this American re-engagement and reinvigoration of our relationships in Africa.  And not just that; I think a strong welcoming of the way President Biden has conceived it, which I tried to lay out in the speech that we delivered in Abuja the other day, based truly on partnership and based on a sense that, as I said, we have to work together if we’re actually going to meet the challenges that our own people have to deal with.

And Africa with, as I said, in the next 25 or 30 years one of four people on Earth will be African, it is not only the necessary partner, it’s also a partner that creates tremendous potential and opportunity if we do it right.  But the honest truth is we have to be judged on what we do, not simply on what I say.  And so let’s see over the coming months and coming years how we do on the agenda that that I tried to set out the other day.

With regard to Russia and Ukraine, look, I’ll simply say this.  As you’ve heard me say and others in the administration say in recent weeks, we have real concerns about Russia’s unusual military activity on the border with Ukraine.  We have real concerns about some of the rhetoric we’re seeing and hearing from Russia as well as in social media.  We don’t know what President Putin’s intentions are, but we do know what’s happened in the past.  We do know the playbook of trying to cite some illusory provocation from Ukraine or any other country and then using that as an excuse to do what Russia is planning to do all along.

And so as a result of what we’ve seen, as a result of that history, we’ve been in very close consultations with partners throughout Europe.  And I can tell you that there’s a widely shared concern and a real focus on that concern, and I will leave it at that.

And as I give the microphone to my friend, I think, and as we conclude this press conference, let me just say that in being with the foreign minister and hearing the foreign minister, I think you can all see why she was such an extraordinary advocate as a lawyer before becoming foreign minister.



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    The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is not effectively protecting sensitive information exchanged with external entities. Of four leading practices for such oversight, HUD did not address one practice and only minimally addressed the other three in its security and privacy policies and procedures (see table). For example, HUD minimally addressed the first leading practice because its policy required federal agencies and contractors with which it exchanges information to implement risk-based security controls; however, the department did not, among other things, establish a process or mechanism to ensure all external entities complied with security and privacy requirements when processing, storing, or sharing information outside of HUD systems. HUD's weaknesses in the four practices were due largely to a lack of priority given to updating its policies. Until HUD implements the leading practices, it is unlikely that the department will be able to mitigate risks to its programs and program participants. Extent to Which the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Policies and Procedures Address Leading Practices for Overseeing the Protection of Sensitive Information Practice Rating Require risk-based security and privacy controls ◔ Independently assess implementation of controls ◌ Identify and track corrective actions needed ◔ Monitor progress implementing controls ◔ Legend: ◔=Minimally addressed—leading practice was addressed to a limited extent; ◌=Not addressed—leading practice was not addressed. Source: GAO analysis of HUD data. | GAO-20-431 HUD was not fully able to identify external entities that process, store, or share sensitive information with its systems used to support housing, community investment, or mortgage loan programs. HUD's data were incomplete and did not provide reliable information about external entities with access to sensitive information from these systems. For example, GAO identified additional external entities in system documentation beyond what HUD reported for 23 of 32 systems. HUD was further limited in its ability to protect sensitive information because it did not track the types of personally identifiable information or other sensitive information shared with external entities that required protection. This occurred, in part, because the department did not have a comprehensive inventory of systems, to include information on external entities. Its policies and procedures also focused primarily on security and privacy for internal systems and lacked specificity about how to ensure that all types of external entities protected information collected, processed, or shared with the department. Until HUD develops sufficient, reliable information about external entities with which program information is shared and the extent to which each entity has access to personally identifiable information and other sensitive information, the department will be limited in its ability to safeguard information about its housing, community investment, and mortgage loan programs. To administer housing, community investment, and mortgage loan programs, HUD collects a vast amount of sensitive personal information and shares it with external entities, including federal agencies, contractors, and state, local, and tribal organizations. In 2016, HUD reported two incidents that compromised sensitive information. House Report 115-237, referenced by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, included a provision for GAO to evaluate HUD's information security framework for protecting information within these programs. The objectives were to (1) assess the effectiveness of HUD's policies and procedures for overseeing the security and privacy of sensitive information exchanged with external entities; and (2) determine the extent to which HUD was able to identify external entities that process, store, and share sensitive information with applicable systems. GAO compared HUD's policies and practices for systems' security and privacy to four leading practices identified in federal legislation and guidance. GAO also assessed HUD's practices for identifying external entities with access to sensitive information. GAO is making five recommendations to HUD to fully implement the four leading practices and fully identify the extent to which sensitive information is shared with external entities. HUD did not agree or disagree with the recommendations, but described actions intended to address them. For more information, contact Carol C. Harris at (202) 512-4456 or
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    Former Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox and his former business partner Paige Carter-Smith were sentenced today in the Northern District of Florida to five years and two years in prison, respectively, for their roles in a multi-year scheme to use Maddox’s power as a sitting City Commissioner to extract bribes from Tallahassee companies with business in front of the City Commission. Maddox and Carter-Smith were also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $76,763 and $115,619, respectively, and ordered to pay a forfeiture money judgment in the amount of $70,000.
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  • Retirement Security: Older Women Report Facing a Financially Uncertain Future
    In U.S GAO News
    In all 14 focus groups GAO held with older women, women described some level of anxiety about financial security in retirement. Many expressed concerns about the future of Social Security and Medicare benefits, and the costs of health care and housing. Women in the groups also cited a range of experiences that hindered their retirement security, such as divorce or leaving the workforce before they planned to (see fig.). Women in all 14 focus groups said their lack of personal finance education negatively affected their ability to plan for retirement. Many shared ideas about personal finance education including the view that it should be incorporated into school curriculum starting in kindergarten and continuing through college, and should be available through all phases of life. Women Age 70 and Over by Marital Status Note: Percentages do not add up to 100 percent due to rounding. Individual women's financial security is also linked to their household where resources may be shared among household members. According to the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances, among households with older women, about 23 percent of those with white respondents and 40 percent of those with African American respondents fell short of a measure of retirement confidence, indicating their income was not sufficient to maintain their standard of living. The likelihood of a household reporting high retirement confidence rose in certain cases. For example among households of similar wealth, those with greater liquidity in their portfolio and those with defined benefit plan income were more likely to report high retirement confidence. Older adults represent a growing portion of the U.S. population and older women have a longer life expectancy, on average, than older men. Prior GAO work has found that challenges women face during their working years can affect their lifetime earnings and retirement income. For example, we found women were overrepresented in low wage professions, paid less money than their male counterparts during their careers, and were more likely to leave the workforce to care for family members. Taken together, these trends may have significant effects on women's financial security in retirement. GAO was asked to report on the financial security of older women. This report examines (1) women retirees' perspectives on their financial security, and (2) what is known about the financial security of older women in retirement. GAO held 14 non-generalizable focus groups with older women in both urban and rural areas in each of the four census regions. GAO also analyzed data from three nationally representative surveys—the 2019 Current Population Survey, the Health and Retirement Study (2002-2014 longitudinal data), and the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances. For more information, contact Charles Jeszeck at (202) 512-7215 or
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  • COVID-19: VA Should Assess Its Oversight of Infection Prevention and Control in Community Living Centers
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) took steps—such as issuing guidance and trainings—to support the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Community Living Centers (CLC), which are VA-owned and -operated nursing homes. This guidance focused on, for example, limiting CLC entry and testing residents and staff for COVID-19, while the trainings were intended to prepare staff for, among other things, a surge in cases. However, the agency conducted limited oversight of infection prevention and control in these facilities during the first year of the pandemic, from March 2020 through February 2021. In particular, the agency suspended annual in-person inspections of CLCs before resuming them virtually in February 2021. The agency also required that CLCs conduct a one-time self-assessment of their infection prevention and control practices but did not review the results in a timely manner to make more immediate improvements. VA officials acknowledged these shortcomings as the agency responded in real time to the rapidly evolving pandemic. As VA has described this time as a “learning period,” it could benefit from assessing its decisions and actions related to oversight of infection prevention and control during the pandemic to identify any lessons learned. Such an assessment would align with VA's plans to assess and report on the agency's overall response to the pandemic as well as its strategic goal to promote continuous quality improvement in CLCs. Results from such an assessment—which could look at both successes and missed opportunities—could help VA better prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks in CLCs. Why GAO Did This Study Close to 8,000 veterans per day received nursing home care provided by VA in CLCs in fiscal year 2020. COVID-19 has posed significant risks to nursing home residents and staff, as residents are often in frail health, and residents and staff have close daily contact with each other. The CARES Act includes a provision that GAO monitor the federal response to the pandemic. This report describes, among other objectives, guidance and training VA has issued to help CLCs respond to the pandemic and examines VA's oversight of infection prevention and control in CLCs during the pandemic. GAO analyzed documents, including guidance, training-related materials, and CLC self-assessments of their infection prevention and control practices. GAO also interviewed VA officials and CLC staff, the latter from five facilities selected based on factors such as having been cited for infection prevention and control deficiencies prior to the pandemic.
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