Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
Government House, Cabinet Ministers of Ukraine
PRIME MINISTER SHMYHAL: (Via interpreter) Your Excellency Under Secretary, your excellencies ambassadors, dear colleagues, I would like to welcome you, Your Excellency Mr. Blinken, with the first official visit to Ukraine. I welcome you, Madam Nuland, with the appointment of Under Secretary of State on Political Issues. Indeed, this is a symbolic thing, that your first visit in these days is happening to Ukraine after you have embraced these positions. I’m sure that the unity of interests of Ukraine and the United States is indeed a fundamental base to further develop strategy in security, in technological energy, and other strategic spheres.
I would like to assure you that Ukraine is unwavering in its reform agenda, in particular fighting corruption and ensuring the rule of law. Taking this opportunity, I would like to express our gratitude for support to provide the technical logistics and military equipment and support programs via various programs, via State – Department of State (inaudible) USAID, which are critical to ensure safety, security, and defense of our country.
We are grateful for the unwavering stance of the United States on non-support and immediate seizure of the aggressive policy of Russia in the eastern parts of Ukraine and along the eastern border of Ukraine. I would like to thank you personally, Your Excellency Blinken, when you expressed your strong standpoint when you were talking to Mr. Heiko Maas of Germany on the finalization of the North Stream 2 construction and understanding the repercussions even when this project is fulfilled for Eastern and Central European (inaudible). The only mechanism for preventing Russia to use North Stream as an energy tool and energy weapon is prevention of its completion and making it up and running, so I thank you for such unwavering, trustworthy support in this direction.
Thank you. The floor is yours.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much. Thank you for your hospitality today. Thank you for all of the good work we’re already doing together. I’m here really for two very simple reasons. One is to, on behalf of President Biden, just reaffirm our strong support for Ukraine, our strong partnership with Ukraine, and our commitment to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity. And President Biden thought it was very important that I come here as early as possible to say that directly and to say that here in Ukraine, and second, to say also that we stand very strongly with you as you continue to strengthen Ukraine’s democracy, to advance the reform agenda, to strengthen institutions, to fight corruption, and to in effect help deliver for the Ukrainian people what they need and what they’re entitled to from government. We’re your full partner in that as well.
We’ve had very good conversations already with the president, with the foreign minister, with members of – leading of the Rada, et cetera, and I appreciated the opportunity we just had to speak as well. And I know we have some work to do and we’re ready to do it, so thank you again.
- COVID-19 Contracting: Observations on Contractor Paid Leave Reimbursement Guidance and UseBy Sam NewsSeptember 3, 2020Section 3610 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act generally authorizes agencies at their discretion to reimburse a contractor for the cost of paid leave incurred during the pandemic so that it can maintain its workforce in a ready state. Between March 2020—when the CARES Act was enacted—and early July 2020, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and each of the seven other agencies in GAO's review issued guidance to implement section 3610. While largely similar, GAO's work identified some differences across these guidance documents, including the extent to which the rates used to calculate these reimbursements could include profit or fees. OMB issued additional guidance on July 14, 2020, that addressed these differences and clarified how agencies should handle each situation. For example, OMB noted that profit or fees should generally not be reimbursed but provided options for addressing situations in which removing profit or fees would be burdensome. OMB advised agencies to report the amount reimbursed using section 3610 authority via contract modifications to the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation (FPDS-NG). After excluding reported obligations identified by agency officials as not associated with section 3610 authority, the reported data indicated that agencies made relatively little use of the authority through July 2020 (see figure). However, the Department of Energy (DOE) reimbursed contractors for almost $550 million in paid leave costs, stating it used existing obligations rather than adding funding via a contract modification. As a result, these amounts were not reported to FPDS-NG as section 3610 reimbursements. Obligations Using Section 3610 Authority Reported to the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation by Selected Agencies from January 31 to July 20, 2020 Agency officials and industry representatives GAO interviewed identified several factors that limited section 3610 obligations to date, including the absence of dedicated funding. With the exceptions of the Department of Defense (DOD) and DOE, agency officials GAO met with either did not expect a large amount or were uncertain about the level of future requests for section 3610 reimbursements. DOD officials stated that they expected requests amounting to billions of dollars. In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which provides over $2 trillion in emergency assistance and healthcare response for individuals, families, and businesses affected by COVID-19. The CARES Act also includes a provision for GAO to review federal contracting pursuant to authorities provided in the Act. This report addresses the implementation of section 3610 of the CARES Act, which authorizes federal agencies to reimburse contractors for paid leave related to the COVID-19 pandemic through September 30, 2020. This report describes (1) the extent to which section 3610 implementation guidance provided by selected federal agencies and OMB differs and (2) the extent to which selected federal agencies reported use of section 3610 authority through July 20, 2020. GAO reviewed relevant guidance issued by OMB and the seven federal agencies with contract obligations greater than $10 billion in fiscal year 2019; interviewed cognizant officials from OMB and each agency; and reviewed comments provided by and spoke with representatives from four industry associations. GAO also analyzed public procurement data reported by selected agencies to FPDS-NG through July 20, 2020 on the use of section 3610 authority. GAO will continue to assess how agencies are implementing section 3610 authority as part of a series of planned reports regarding the federal response to COVID-19. For more information, contact Timothy J. DiNapoli at (202) 512-4841 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Defense Acquisitions: Resolving Development Risks in the Army’s Networked Communications Capabilities Is Key to Fielding Future ForceBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021The Army has embarked on a major transformation of its force. Central to this transformation is the Future Combat Systems (FCS), a $108 billion effort to provide warfighters with the vehicles, weapons, and communications needed to identify and respond to threats with speed, precision, and lethality. Establishing reliable, robust communications and networking capabilities is key to FCS's success. Each of the systems integral to the FCS communications network--the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), and the System of Systems Common Operating Environment (SOSCOE)--rely on significant advances in current technologies and must be fully integrated to realize FCS. Given the complexity and costs of this undertaking, GAO was asked to review each of these key development efforts to identify any risks that may jeopardize the successful fielding of FCS.Each of the programs for developing FCS's communications network is struggling to meet ambitious sets of user requirements and steep technical challenges within highly compressed schedules. As currently structured, the programs are at risk of not delivering intended capabilities for the first spiral of FCS, slated to start in fiscal year 2008. The JTRS Cluster 1 program--a program to develop radios for ground vehicles and helicopters--began development with an aggressive schedule, immature technologies, and a lack of clearly defined and stable requirements. As currently designed, the radio will only have a transmission range of only 3 kilometers--well short of the required 10 kilometers--and will not meet security requirements for operating in an open networked environment. The program's struggle to mature and integrate key technologies has contributed to significant cost and schedule growth. A recent review of the program concluded that the current program structure is not executable, and in April 2005, DOD directed the Army to stop work and notify the contractor that it was considering terminating the contract. Meeting requirements for JTRS Cluster 5 radios--miniaturized radios, including those that soldiers carry--is even more technically challenging given their smaller size, weight, and power needs. The smallest of these radios weighs only about 1 pound, compared with 84 pounds for Cluster 1 radios. Several programmatic changes and a contract award bid protest have further slowed program progress. The Army is considering options for restructuring the program to meet the needs of FCS and address the technical issues encountered in the Cluster 1 program. The Army does not expect to fully mature the technologies for WIN-T--communications equipment that supports an expanded area of battlefield operations and interfaces with JTRS radios--when production begins in March 2006. Moreover, the compressed schedule assumes nearly flawless execution and does not allow sufficient time for correcting problems. Significant interdependencies among the critical technologies further increase overall program risk. The program was directed to deliver networking and communications capabilities sooner to meet near-term warfighting needs and synchronize with the restructured FCS program. A plan for how to develop and field WIN-T capabilities sooner to address FCS needs remains undetermined. According to Army network system integration officials, SOSCOE--the operating software to integrate the communications network--may not reach the necessary technical maturity level required to meet program milestones. In addition, top-level FCS requirements are still evolving and have not been translated into more detailed specifications necessary for writing SOSCOE software.[Read More…]
- Veterans Affairs: Ongoing Financial Management System Modernization Program Would Benefit from Improved Cost and Schedule EstimatingBy Sam NewsApril 20, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Financial Management Business Transformation (FMBT) program has begun implementing the Integrated Financial and Acquisition Management System (iFAMS), with the first deployment of certain capabilities at the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) on November 9, 2020. FMBT program officials identified various challenges, such as FMBT program funding shortfalls, which represent the difference between VA's original requirement and the President's budget request, and coordination with other major initiatives. VA has taken various steps to address its challenges. For example, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, VA postponed the initial NCA deployment 4 months and converted planning, training, and testing activities to virtual events. In addition, the FMBT program and Veterans Health Administration (VHA) worked together to address the FMBT program funding shortfall by postponing iFAMS implementation at VHA for at least 2 years to coordinate with the implementation of a new logistics system. Following information technology (IT) management best practices on major transformation efforts, such as the FMBT program, can help build a foundation for ensuring responsibility, accountability, and transparency. VA has generally met such practices for program governance, Agile project management, and testing and defect management. However, it has not fully met certain best practices for developing and managing cost and schedule estimates. As a result, its estimates were not reliable. Specifically, VA's estimates substantially met one, and partially or minimally met three of the four characteristics associated with reliable cost and schedule estimates, respectively. For example, VA minimally met the “credible” characteristic associated with reliable cost estimates, in part, because it did not compare its cost estimate to an independently developed estimate. GAO Assessment of VA Cost and Schedule Estimates against Best Practice Characteristics Cost estimate characteristic Assessment of cost estimate Schedule estimate characteristic Assessment of schedule estimate Comprehensive Partially met Comprehensive Partially met Well-documented Substantially met Well-constructed Partially met Accurate Partially met Credible Partially met Credible Minimally met Controlled Substantially met Legend: substantially met = VA provided evidence that satisfies a large portion of the criterion; partially met = VA provided evidence that satisfies about one-half of the criterion; minimally met = VA provided evidence that satisfies a small portion of the criterion Source: GAO assessment of the Department of Veterans Affairs Financial Management Business Transformation program documentation. | GAO-21-227 Reliable cost and schedule estimates provide a road map for project execution and are critical elements to delivering large-scale IT systems. Without reliable estimates, VA management may not have the information necessary for informed decision-making. Further, following cost and schedule best practices helps minimize the risk of cost overruns and schedule delays and would better position the FMBT program for effective and successful implementation on future deployments. Why GAO Did This Study VA's core financial system is approximately 30 years old and is not integrated with other relevant IT systems, resulting in inefficient operations and complex work-arounds. The FMBT program is VA's current effort and third attempt to replace its aging financial and acquisition systems with one integrated system. The first two attempts were unsuccessful after years of development and hundreds of millions of dollars in cost. GAO was asked to review the progress of the FMBT program. This report (1) describes the status of the FMBT program, including steps VA has taken to address challenges it has identified, and (2) examines the extent to which VA has followed certain IT management best practices. GAO summarized FMBT program risks and challenges that VA identified, reviewed FMBT program documentation and compared it with relevant guidance and best practices, and interviewed cognizant VA officials.[Read More…]
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- Financial Audit: Bureau of the Fiscal Service’s FY 2021 and FY 2020 Schedules of Federal DebtBy Sam NewsNovember 9, 2021What GAO Found GAO found (1) the Bureau of the Fiscal Service's Schedules of Federal Debt for fiscal years 2021 and 2020 are fairly presented in all material respects, and (2) although internal controls could be improved, Fiscal Service maintained, in all material respects, effective internal control over financial reporting relevant to the Schedule of Federal Debt as of September 30, 2021. GAO's tests of selected provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements related to the Schedule of Federal Debt disclosed no instances of reportable noncompliance for fiscal year 2021. Although Fiscal Service made some progress in addressing previously reported control deficiencies, unresolved information system control deficiencies continued to represent a significant deficiency in Fiscal Service's internal control over financial reporting, which although not a material weakness, is important enough to merit attention by those charged with governance of Fiscal Service. From fiscal year 1997, GAO's first year auditing the schedules, through September 30, 2021, total federal debt managed by Fiscal Service has increased from $5.4 trillion to $28.4 trillion, and the debt limit has been raised 21 times. Total Federal Debt Outstanding, September 30, 1997, through September 30, 2021 During fiscal year 2021, total federal debt increased by $1.5 trillion, with debt held by the public increasing by $1.3 trillion, and intragovernmental debt holdings increasing by $0.2 trillion. The main factor for the increase in debt held by the public was the reported $2.8 trillion federal deficit in fiscal year 2021, which was due primarily to economic disruptions caused by COVID-19 and federal spending in response. The increase in debt held by the public was less than the deficit primarily because of a $1.6 trillion decrease in the government's cash balance. Due to delays in raising the debt limit during fiscal year 2021, the Department of the Treasury deviated from its normal debt management operations and took extraordinary actions—consistent with relevant laws—to avoid exceeding the debt limit. Delays in raising the debt limit have created disruptions in the Treasury market and increased borrowing costs. To improve federal debt management and place the government on a sustainable long-term fiscal path, GAO has previously suggested that Congress consider establishing a long-term plan that includes alternative approaches to the debt limit, and fiscal rules and targets. Why GAO Did This Study GAO audits the consolidated financial statements of the U.S. government. Because of the significance of the federal debt to the government-wide financial statements, GAO audits Fiscal Service's Schedules of Federal Debt annually to determine whether, in all material respects, (1) the schedules are fairly presented and (2) Fiscal Service management maintained effective internal control over financial reporting relevant to the Schedule of Federal Debt. Further, GAO tests compliance with selected provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements related to the Schedule of Federal Debt. Federal debt managed by Fiscal Service consists of Treasury securities held by the public and by certain federal government accounts, referred to as intragovernmental debt holdings. Debt held by the public primarily represents the amount the federal government has borrowed to finance cumulative cash deficits and is held by investors outside of the federal government—including individuals, corporations, state or local governments, the Federal Reserve, and foreign governments. Intragovernmental debt holdings represent balances of Treasury securities held by federal government accounts—primarily federal trust funds such as Social Security and Medicare—that typically have an obligation to invest their excess annual receipts (including interest earnings) over disbursements in federal securities. In commenting on a draft of this report, Fiscal Service concurred with GAO's conclusions. For more information, contact Cheryl E. Clark at (202) 512-3406 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- Cybersecurity and Informtion Technology: Federal Agencies Need to Strengthen Efforts to Address High-Risk AreasBy Sam NewsJuly 29, 2021What GAO Found In March 2021, GAO issued its high-risk series update and emphasized that federal agencies' needed to implement numerous critical actions to strengthen the nation's cybersecurity and information technology (IT) management efforts. In the update, GAO reiterated the importance of agencies addressing four major cybersecurity challenges facing the nation: (1) establishing a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy and performing effective oversight, (2) securing federal systems and information, (3) protecting cyber critical infrastructure, and (4) protecting privacy and sensitive data. Overall, the federal government has to move with a greater sense of urgency to fully address key cybersecurity challenges. In particular: Develop and execute a more comprehensive federal strategy for national cybersecurity and global cyberspace . In September 2020, GAO reported that the White House's national cyber strategy and associated implementation plan addressed some, but not all, of the desirable characteristics of national strategies, such as goals and resources needed. Mitigate global supply chain risks . GAO reported in December 2020 that few of the 23 civilian federal agencies it reviewed implemented foundational practices for managing information and communication technology supply chain risks. Address weaknesses in federal agencies information security programs. GAO reported in July 2019 that 23 agencies almost always designated a risk executive, but had not fully incorporated other key risk management practices, such as establishing a process for assessing agency-wide cybersecurity risks. In its March update, GAO also stressed the importance of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and federal agencies fully implementing critical actions recommended to improve the management of IT to better manage tens of billions of dollars in IT investments. GAO emphasized, for example, that OMB had demonstrated its leadership commitment to improving IT management, but sustaining this commitment was critically important; twenty-one of 24 federal agencies had not yet implemented recommendations to fully address the role of Chief Information Officers, including enhancing their authorities; OMB and agencies needed to address modernization challenges and workforce planning weaknesses; and agencies could take further action to reduce duplicative IT contracts and reduce the risk of wasteful spending. Until OMB and federal agencies take critical actions to strengthen efforts to address these important high-risk areas, longstanding and pervasive weaknesses will likely continue to jeopardize the nation's cybersecurity and management of IT. Why GAO Did This Study The nation's critical infrastructures and federal agencies are dependent on IT systems and electronic data to carry out operations and to process, maintain, and report essential information. Each year, the federal government spends more than $100 billion on cybersecurity and IT investments. GAO has long stressed the continuing and urgent need for effective cybersecurity, as underscored by recent events that have illustrated persistent and evermore sophisticated cyber threats and incidents. Moreover, many IT investments have failed, performed poorly, or suffered from ineffective management. Accordingly, GAO has included information security on its high-risk list since 1997 and added improving the management of IT acquisitions and operations in 2015. In its March 2021 high-risk series update, GAO reported that significant attention was needed in both of these important areas. GAO was asked to testify on federal agencies' efforts to address cybersecurity and the management of IT. For this testimony, GAO relied on selected products it previously issued.[Read More…]
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