Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Ann, so good to see you. Thank you for being here. We’ve already had the opportunity to work together on a number of things, and that’s a reflection of the fact that the United States and Sweden are working together in so many different areas, whether it’s climate, whether it’s COVID, whether it’s on security matters. And, of course, your chairmanship of the OSCE has been particularly critical and important. I very much look forward to talking about that.
And of course, we’re here together for the Arctic Council and a shared commitment to continuing to maintain this region as one of peaceful cooperation, whether it’s on climate, whether it’s on science, technology, whether it’s on supporting indigenous peoples in the region. So I very much look forward to the opportunity to talk about that and the agenda we have, but mostly it’s good finally to be face to face and get to work. So thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER LINDE: Thank you very much. I’m also very happy to be here and to be able to speak to you in person. And I think it’s very clear that now the United States is tapped in fully with multilateral cooperation, not least when it comes to environment and climate, which is one of the main issues here that we’re – discussion in the Arctic Council. I always say that why are you in the Arctic Council: peace, climate, people – that’s the reason. And we want to keep it low tension. And I hope to be able both to discuss these issues, but also as – me being the chairperson-in-office of OSCE, there’s many conflicts where the United States also are involved, be it the central Caucasus, southern Caucasus, or Central Asia, or Nagorno-Karabakh. And I think it’s important for us to discuss also our different views on these.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I look forward to it. Thank you very much.
- Contract Security Guards: Army’s Guard Program Requires Greater Oversight and Reassessment of Acquisition ApproachBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, increased security requirements and a significant number of active duty and reserve personnel sent overseas to support the war on terror left the Department of Defense (DOD) with fewer military personnel to rely on to protect domestic installations. To correct this shortage, Congress is temporarily allowing DOD to use contract security guards to fulfill roles previously performed by military employees. The U.S. Army has awarded contracts worth nearly $733 million to acquire contract guards at 57 Army installations, an investment far greater than those made by other DOD services so far. The requesters asked GAO to assess how the Army has been managing and overseeing its acquisition of security guard services, particularly with regard to the Army's (1) acquisition strategy, (2) employment screening, (3) training of contract guards, and (4) award fee process. This report also discusses DOD's mandated November 2005 report to Congress on the contract guard program.The Army's three-phased approach for acquiring contract security guards has relied heavily on sole-source contracts, despite the Army's recognition early on that it was paying considerably more for its sole-source contracts than for those awarded competitively. The Army has devoted twice as many contract dollars--nearly $495 million--to its sole-source contracts as to its competed contracts and has placed contract security guards at 46 out of 57 installations through sole-sourcing. These sole-source contracts were awarded to two Alaska Native corporation firms under the Small Business Administration's 8(a) Business Development Program. Congress has provided these firms with special advantages in the 8(a) program. During initial planning, the Army worked with a contractor who had not performed guard services before to refine the contract performance work statement. The Army's procedure for screening prospective contract guards is inadequate and puts the Army at risk of having ineligible guards protecting installation gates. The Army found that, at two separate installations, a total of 89 guards were put to work even though they had records relating to criminal offenses, including cases that involved assault and other felonies. Thorough background checks lag far behind the rate at which contract guards are put to work, and the initial screening process relies on prospective guards to be honest when filling out job application forms. In response to an earlier GAO report, DOD agreed to revise its antiterrorism standards to put into place a better mechanism for verifying the trustworthiness of contractors. The Army has given its contractors the responsibility to conduct most of the training of contract guards, and the Army cannot say with certainty whether training is actually taking place and whether it is being conducted according to approved criteria. GAO found that there is no requirement for the Army to certify that a contract guard has completed required training and that Army performance monitors do not conduct oversight of training as a matter of course. GAO also found missing or incomplete training records at several installations. At three installations, guards were certified by the contractor before training had been completed. An investigation discovered that at one installation, contractor personnel had falsified training records; the Army subsequently paid the contractor over $7,000 to re-qualify the guards. The Army has paid out more than $18 million in award fees, but the fees are based only on compliance with basic contractual requirements, not for above-and-beyond performance. Over the life of the contract guard program, the Army has paid out almost 98 percent of the available award fees. The practice of routinely paying contractors nearly the entire available award fee has created an environment in which the contractors expect to receive most of the available fee, regardless of acquisition outcomes. GAO found that many Army performance monitors were not conducting all of the required inspections of contractor activity in order to rate performance.[Read More…]
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- Complaint Seeks Forfeiture of Iranian Oil Aboard Tanker Based on Connection to Terror GroupBy Sam NewsFebruary 3, 2021The United States filed a forfeiture complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging that all oil aboard a Liberian-flagged vessel, the M/T Achilleas (Achilleas), is subject to forfeiture based on U.S. terrorism forfeiture laws. The complaint alleges a scheme involving multiple entities affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to covertly ship Iranian oil to a customer abroad. Participants in the scheme attempted to disguise the origin of the oil using ship-to-ship transfers, falsified documents, and other means, and provided a fraudulent bill of lading to deceive the owners of the Achilleas into loading the oil in question.[Read More…]
- Federal Real Property: Several Factors May Limit Efforts to Reduce Space under New Sale and Transfer ProcessBy Sam NewsDecember 8, 2021What GAO Found The General Services Administration (GSA) is currently in the process of selling federal properties that were recommended for disposal under a new, three-round process established by the Federal Assets Sale and Transfer Act of 2016 (FASTA). However, as of December 2021, GSA has completed the sales process for only one of the 11 properties recommended by the independent Public Buildings Reform Board (the Board) and approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for disposal in the first (2019) round. GSA officials plan to spend around $19 million out of the $46 million currently available in the newly created Asset Proceeds and Space Management Fund (Asset Proceeds Fund), made available through prior annual appropriations acts, to prepare and sell the properties from the 2019 round. For example, GSA plans to spend around $5 million in disposal costs for one property to close out an existing contract for building services. Any sales proceeds generated from the 2019 round are to be deposited into the Asset Proceeds Fund and used to fund costs associated with implementing OMB-approved Board recommendations in subsequent 2021 and 2024 rounds. Proceeds in the Asset Proceeds Fund are subject to congressional appropriation. Without sales proceeds from the 2019 round, there will be $27 million remaining in the Asset Proceeds Fund to implement the Board's next round of recommendations, which are due to OMB for approval by December 2021. This amount may not be sufficient to prepare properties, which under FASTA, could total up to $2.5 billion in potential sales proceeds. The funding available in the Asset Proceeds Fund, the upcoming December 2021 submission deadline, and uncertainty regarding agencies' future space needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic will limit the Board's next planned submission to OMB, according to Board staff. Specifically, Board staff told GAO that the number, value, and complexity of projects recommended for the 2021 round would be less than initially expected. Characteristics of Planned Submissions for the 2021 Round of the Federal Assets Sale and Transfer Act of 2016 (FASTA), as of October 2021, as Compared to What Was Initially Expected for the FASTA 2021 Round aBased on statements from Board staff; final submissions subject to change. bPub. L. No. 114-287, § 12(g)(2)(A), 130 Stat. 1463, 1471 (2016). cBased on comments from OMB in the Federal Register. 86 Fed. Reg. 8926, 8927 (Feb. 10, 2021). dFASTA permits the following eight project types for the 2021 round: sales, consolidations, exchanges, co-locations, reconfigurations, lease reductions, lease to private-sector or local entities, and redevelopment. The Board is planning to submit recommendations for one of these project types: sales. Board staff said that the Board plans to submit a larger, more complex list of projects for the final 2024 round, which has a target of up to $4.75 billion in potential sales proceeds. However, the Board's ability to carry out this plan may be constrained by the limited 2021 submission. For example, the outcome of the 2021 round will likely return less than $90 million in proceeds and presumably result in much less funding than expected to prepare properties worth up to $4.75 billion for the 2024 round. Further, it is unclear when any sales proceeds that are deposited into the Asset Proceeds Fund will be made available by appropriations acts, as required by law. Given all of these factors, it is probable that the FASTA process will not meet expectations or provide insight into ways the federal government can more effectively reduce the federal real property portfolio. Why GAO Did This Study FASTA is effectively a 6-year pilot program designed to utilize several concepts that GAO and other stakeholders previously identified and that could help address long-standing challenges, such as the costly and lengthy disposal process, associated with disposal of unneeded facilities. These challenges are, in part, why the management of federal real property has remained on GAO's high-risk list since 2003. FASTA included provisions for GAO to review the Board's identification and selection process and agencies' efforts to implement the Board's recommendations including those from the 2019 round. This report examines (1) the status of properties approved for disposal in the 2019 round and (2) the factors, if any, that limit the future identification of space reduction under FASTA. GAO reviewed FASTA and analyzed documents from the Board, OMB, and GSA to assess the progress made in selling the properties recommended for disposal in the 2019 round and to identify factors that limited the identification of properties as potential candidates for the next FASTA round in December 2021. GAO also interviewed officials from GSA, as well as staff from the Board and OMB. For more information, contact Jill Naamane at (202) 512-2834 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Rebuilding Iraq: Status of Competition for Iraq Reconstruction ContractsBy Sam NewsSeptember 21, 2021Since 2003, Congress has appropriated more than $20 billion through the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF) to support Iraq rebuilding efforts. The majority of these efforts are being carried out through contracts awarded by the Departments of Defense (DOD) and State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). When awarding IRRF-funded contracts for $5 million or more noncompetitively, agencies are required by statute to provide notification and justification to Congress. In June 2004, GAO found that agencies generally complied with laws and regulations governing competition to award new contracts, but did not always comply with competition requirements when issuing task orders under existing contracts. As mandated by Congress, this report (1) describes the extent of competition in Iraq reconstruction contracts awarded by DOD, USAID, and State since October 1, 2003, based on available data, and (2) assesses whether these agencies followed applicable documentation and congressional notification requirements regarding competition for 51 judgmentally selected Iraq reconstruction contract actions. In written comments, State and USAID concurred with the report findings. DOD provided a technical comment.While no single, comprehensive system currently tracks governmentwide Iraq reconstruction contract data, available data showed that from October 1, 2003, through March 31, 2006, DOD, USAID, and State collectively awarded the majority of Iraq reconstruction contracts competitively. Based on competition information we obtained on $10 billion of the total $11.6 billion in IRRF obligations by these agencies during the period of our review, we found that about $9.1 billion--or 91 percent--was for competitively awarded contracts. While our ability to obtain complete competition data for all DOD Iraq reconstruction contract actions was limited because not all DOD components consistently tracked or fully reported this information, we obtained information on approximately $7 billion, or 82 percent, of DOD's total Iraq reconstruction contract obligations, and of this, we found that competition occurred for nearly all of the obligations. Additionally, based on complete data for the period of our review we found that USAID competitively awarded contract actions for 99 percent of its obligations, while State awarded contract actions competitively for only 10 percent of its obligations. GAO reviewed the files for 51 contract actions totaling $1.55 billion--22 of which were awarded noncompetitively and 29 of which were awarded competitively--almost all of which contained proper documentation. One contract file--for a noncompetitively awarded task order issued by State--did not contain justifications or other required documentation. DOD was also unable to provide documentation for 4 of the competitively awarded contract actions. Of the 22 noncompeted contract actions in GAO's review, State should have notified Congress of 2 actions awarded using other than full and open competition in accordance with notification requirements but did not. State officials told GAO that they have taken steps to address the problem. GAO did not identify any DOD or USAID contract actions within the sample that required notification.[Read More…]
- K-12 Education: U.S. Military Families Generally Have the Same Schooling Options as Other Families and Consider Multiple Factors When Selecting SchoolsBy Sam NewsMarch 8, 2021What GAO Found Traditional public schools were the most commonly available schooling option for military families near military installations, similar to schools available to U.S. families in general, according to GAO's analysis of Department of Education 2018-19 data. Over 90 percent of installations had at least one public schooling option nearby—such as a charter or magnet school—in addition to traditional public schools (see figure). Similar to U.S. schools in general, rural installations generally had fewer schooling options compared to their more highly populated urban counterparts. In addition, about one-half of the military installations GAO analyzed are in states that offer private school choice programs that provide eligible students with funding toward a non-public education. At least two of these states have private school choice programs specifically for military families. Public School Options within Average Commuting Distance of Military Installations, School Year 2018-19 Note: According to GAO's analysis of the Department of Transportation's 2017 National Household Travel Survey, the average commuting distance for rural and urban areas is 20 miles and 16 miles, respectively. For the purposes of this report, the term “military installations” refers to the 890 DOD installations and Coast Guard units included in GAO's analysis. Military families in GAO's review commonly reported considering housing options and school features when choosing schools for their children; however, they weighed these factors differently to meet their families' specific needs. For example, one reason parents said that they accepted a longer commute was to live in their preferred school district, while other parents said that they prioritized a shorter commute and increased family time over access to specific schools. Military families also reported considering academics, perceived safety, elective courses, and extracurricular activities. To inform their schooling decisions, most parents said that they rely heavily on their personal networks and social media. Why GAO Did This Study Approximately 650,000 military dependent children in the U.S. face various challenges that may affect their schooling, according to DOD. For example, these children transfer schools up to nine times, on average, before high school graduation. Military families frequently cite education issues for their children as a drawback to military service, according to DOD. GAO was asked to examine the schooling options available to school-age dependents of active-duty servicemembers. This report describes (1) available schooling options for school-age military dependent children in the U.S.; and (2) military families' views on factors they consider and resources they use when making schooling decisions. GAO analyzed data on federal education, military installation locations, and commuting patterns to examine schooling options near military installations. GAO also conducted six discussion groups with a total of 40 parents of school-age military dependent children; and interviewed officials at nine military installations that were selected to reflect a range of factors such as availability of different types of schooling options, rural or urban designation, and geographic region. In addition, GAO reviewed relevant federal laws and guidance, and interviewed officials from DOD, the Coast Guard, and representatives of national advocacy groups for military children. For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- Home Health Agency and Former Owner to Pay $5.8 Million to Settle False Claims Act AllegationsBy Sam NewsNovember 20, 2020Doctor’s Choice Home Care, Inc. and its former owners, Timothy Beach and Stuart Christensen, have agreed to pay $5.15 million to resolve allegations that the home health agency provided improper financial inducements to referring physicians through sham medical director agreements and bonuses to physicians’ spouses who were Doctor’s Choice employees, the Department of Justice announced today.[Read More…]
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- Transit-Oriented Development: DOT Should Better Document Its Rationale for Financing Decisions and Evaluate Its Pilot ProgramBy Sam NewsDecember 3, 2021What GAO Found Transit agencies and local governments have looked to increase transit ridership and revenues by encouraging growth along transit corridors with transit-oriented development. Such projects generally comprise mixed-use residential and commercial real estate near transit. In 2015, the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act expanded eligibility under two federal financing programs administered by the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Build America Bureau (Bureau) to transit-oriented development projects. While the Bureau has provided information on these programs to many potential project sponsors, it has not approved financing for any transit-oriented development projects since 2016 or clearly documented all project eligibility decisions. Specifically, the Bureau received 29 inquiries from project sponsors—mostly joint ventures by developers and local agencies—about financing such projects. All but seven inquiries were in early stages of development and not ready for the Bureau to assess their eligibility for financial assistance. Of the seven more developed projects, the Bureau determined that six were ineligible for financing and that one project is preliminarily eligible. However, we found the Bureau did not clearly document its rationale for five of the six declared ineligible, in part because it did not follow its procedures for conducting these reviews and implemented new procedures without documenting the changes. Without a clearly documented rationale for eligibility decisions and procedures for making decisions, sponsors lack reasonable assurance that the Bureau is reviewing projects consistently. Transit-Oriented Development Project Inquiries to the Build America Bureau since 2016 The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) awards grants through a pilot program to help transit agencies and communities plan for transit-oriented development. While FTA has invested almost $80 million through this pilot program since FTA made its first awards in 2015, it has not documented a plan to evaluate the pilot or identify lessons learned in line with leading practices. Without such an evaluation, FTA will not be able to understand whether the pilot program is fulfilling its goals to help communities develop strategies to facilitate transit-oriented development. Further, FTA will lack information to inform congressional decisions about the pilot program's future. Why GAO Did This Study U.S. transit agencies face fiscal challenges and rely heavily on local, state, and federal funding to operate rail and bus systems. Transit-oriented development projects could help transit agencies increase ridership and revenues, and Congress has sought ways to support these projects. A 2012 statute established a pilot program for FTA to provide grants to communities to plan for transit-oriented development, and a 2015 statute expanded eligibility under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program and the Railroad Rehabilitation Improvement and Financing program to include transit-oriented development projects. GAO was asked to review DOT's transit-oriented development efforts. This report, among other things, examines: (1) the status of the Bureau's reviews of transit-oriented development projects since 2016 and the extent to which it documented decisions, and (2) how FTA has evaluated the pilot program for transit-oriented development planning. GAO reviewed Bureau documents, surveyed applicants for the Bureau's financing, and interviewed transit agencies in the pilot program selected by ridership, location, and other factors.[Read More…]
- Navy Ships: Timely Actions Needed to Improve Planning and Develop Capabilities for Battle Damage RepairBy Sam NewsJune 2, 2021What GAO Found The Navy has identified several challenges with using its regular maintenance capability (which restores ships to fully operational status) to provide battle damage repairs during a great power conflict. Challenges include—the lack of established doctrine for battle damage repair, unclear command and control roles, and a shortage of repair capacity. The Navy Process for Repairing Ships Damaged in Battle The Navy is in the early stages of determining how it will provide battle damage repair during a great power conflict. Eight organizations are responsible for the Navy's 15 battle damage repair planning efforts, however the Navy has not designated an organization to lead and oversee these efforts. Without designated leadership, the Navy may be hindered in its efforts to address the many challenges it faces in sustaining its ships during a great power conflict. The Navy develops ship vulnerability models during a ship's acquisition to estimate damage during a conflict. These models are also used to inform war games that refine operational approaches and train leaders on decision-making. However, the Navy does not update these models over a ship's decades-long service life to reflect changes to key systems that could affect model accuracy. As a result, it lacks quality data on ship mission-critical failure points to inform its analysis of battle damage repair needs. Without periodically assessing and updating its models to accurately reflect the ship's mission-critical systems, the Navy has limited its ability to assess and develop battle damage repair capabilities necessary to sustain ships in a conflict with a great power competitor. Why GAO Did This Study The ability to repair and maintain ships plays a critical role in sustaining Navy readiness. After the Cold War, the Navy divested many wartime ship repair capabilities. With the rise of great power competitors capable of producing high-end threats in warfare, the Navy must now be prepared to quickly salvage and repair damage to a modern fleet. House Report 116-120, accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, included a provision for GAO to assess the Navy's efforts to identify and mitigate challenges in repairing battle-damaged ships during a great power conflict. GAO's report (1) discusses the challenges the Navy has identified in using its regular maintenance capability for battle damage repair, and (2) evaluates the extent to which the Navy has begun developing the battle damage repair capability it requires to prevail in a great power conflict. GAO reviewed relevant guidance and assessed reports on naval war games and other documentation to identify challenges that may impede the planning and repair of battle-damaged ships and efforts to improve the repair capability for a great power conflict.[Read More…]
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- Justice Department Releases Report On Modernizing The Administrative Procedure ActBy Sam NewsAugust 11, 2020WASHINGTON – The Justice Department released a report today on the need for Congress to update and improve the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the 74-year-old statute setting forth the procedures agencies must follow when regulating individuals, businesses, non-profits, and state and local government entities. The report, entitled Modernizing the Administrative Procedure Act, discusses how the administrative state has developed in ways not foreseen by the APA in 1946, how the APA might be legislatively improved, and how this Administration’s improvements to agencies’ regulatory processes could inform modernizing the APA. The Justice Department, which significantly shaped the original APA, hopes that the ideas and insights discussed in the report will encourage and inform much needed action by Congress to modernize the APA.[Read More…]
- Former Intelligence Analyst Sentenced to 45 Months in Prison for Disclosing Classified Information to ReporterBy Sam NewsJuly 27, 2021A Tennessee man was sentenced today to 45 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for illegally obtaining classified national defense information and disclosing it to a reporter.[Read More…]
- Former Police Officer and Gangster Disciples Member Sentenced to PrisonBy Sam NewsNovember 16, 2020A former DeKalb County, Georgia, police officer and member of the Gangster Disciples was sentenced to 15 years in prison followed by five years of supervised release for racketeering conspiracy involving murder, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak of the Northern District of Georgia.[Read More…]
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