December 9, 2021

News

News Network

Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Linus Kaikai of Citizen TV

18 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Nairobi, Kenya

U.S. Embassy Nairobi

QUESTION:  Kenya is the first of three stops of the African tour being made by the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and here in Nairobi, a range of issues on the agenda, from democracy to defense agreements and, of course, trade.  At the conclusion of his visit, Secretary Blinken agreed to a few minutes of an interview with us here on Citizen.

Secretary Blinken, thank you very much, and welcome.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Great to be with you.  Thanks for having me.

QUESTION:  Now, I’ve seen the five pillars the Strategic Dialogue between Kenya and the United States focused on.  There is the big one, which is number one – that’s trade and economic prosperity.  And down the line, no mention of the free trade agreement negotiations that were started by former President Donald Trump.  Why is that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, to step back, look at the strength of the relationship as it now exists.  We have about a billion dollars in annual trade between our countries, more than a billion dollars in remittances coming from Kenya to the United States back to Kenya.  AGOA, the trade preference system, will be in effect until 2025.  It gives preferential access to Kenya to the American market. 

And at the same time, what we talked about a lot yesterday was the work we’re doing to ramp up our partnerships when it comes particularly to investment – investment in green technology, in green infrastructure, in communications, in hard infrastructure, but done in a sustainable way.  We have new resources, new tools available in the United States to do that and to encourage private sector investment in Kenya, and that’s what we’re working on.  At the same time, our U.S. Trade Administrator Katherine Tai continues to be in active discussions with her Kenyan counterparts on how to strengthen the trade relationship even more. 

QUESTION:  And the trade representative – you mentioned Katherine Tai – did receive a letter from seven U.S. senators who were asking the Biden administration to resume the talks on free trade – free trade agreement.  Why have those talks not resumed?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, she is in conversations with her Kenyan counterparts, and I’ll make sure that – that’s her portfolio, so I want to leave it to her to discuss that, but she is in conversations with Kenyan counterparts.  And at the same time, we’re working not only to take advantage of AGOA which, again, is in effect until 2025, but, as I said, to deepen the investment relationship.  I think that’s a very powerful way of building a more inclusive economy, creating good jobs, well-paying jobs, and building the foundations for Kenya’s future.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, use this opportunity to clear the doubt of critics who think the Biden administration is not committed to a free trade agreement with Kenya.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’re committed to deepening the economic relationship with Kenya across the board, whether it comes to trade, whether it comes to investment – which, again, I think, is particularly productive and particularly necessary at a time when Kenya and the United States together are focusing on things like green technology, on green infrastructure, on making sure that we’re – we have the right investments in communications technology and in physical infrastructure.  All of these things were the focus of conversations that we had yesterday.

QUESTION:  All right.  Kenya is going to hold an election next year.  We’re just about – just over nine months away.  And one of the concerns and one of the issues that is in your agenda in the African tour is strengthening democracy.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s right.

QUESTION:  Your visit comes at a time when there is a decline in faith of voters in elections.  We saw the experience that the United States itself had, and we have seen – even here in Kenya, the last three elections were heavily contested.  In your view, what needs to be done to restore the faith of voters in elections, of a pillar of democracy?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I think precisely because there’s been something of a democratic recession around the world as countries fall back, experience more and more challenges to democracy, including in the United States.  And as we’ve seen, a lack of faith, a decrease in trust in institutions in democracy in countries around the world – there is an extraordinary opportunity here for Kenya, not only for the Kenyan people, but also actually to serve as a model for countries around the world with the elections.

And if the elections go forward in a free and fair and inclusive way with no violence and with genuine participation across the board, I think that sends a very powerful message.  Of course, it’s, most important, the right thing to do for the Kenyan people, but it goes beyond Kenya.  And so we talked about this as well in our conversations with our counterparts in the government, including with President Kenyatta, and the United States stands ready to support in any way that we can and that’s helpful to help make sure that the elections go forward in exactly that way.  But I think the world will be looking to Kenya, and if Kenya sets a powerful example, it will resonate beyond Kenya. 

QUESTION:  Things have been evolving around elections.  It’s no longer about the threat of violence.  There are more complex issues around vote tallying, transmission of results, and questions that arise after that.  And we saw that even with the U.S. election. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s right, which is why strong, independent institutions are so critical, whether it’s election authorities, whether it’s the judicial system – which of course, in Kenya, is very strong – to make sure that there are objective, transparent checks and balances and processes in place to ensure that the mechanics of the elections are free and fair.  That’s absolutely vital. 

QUESTION:  Secretary, I’m very sure you are aware that Ethiopia dominates as a topic of your tour.  And one of the questions coming out of the Ethiopian conflict is the question of the neutrality of the U.S.  Is the U.S. neutral in the conflict in Ethiopia?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we’re not neutral in the sense that we’re with the people of Ethiopia wherever they are.  This is about Ethiopia.  It’s not about a particular individual; it’s not about a particular region.  It’s about the people of Ethiopia and the desire that they have for a democratic, peaceful future.  And so we’re – no, we’re not taking sides; we don’t take sides.  

We’re simply trying to do a few things to strongly support the efforts of former Nigerian President Obasanjo, who’s leading the mediation effort on behalf of the African Union, to work very closely and coordinate very closely with other leading figures who are involved in trying to move things to a better place, including President Kenyatta here in Kenya – in ourselves engaging with all the parties with some very clear objectives in mind: stop the fighting; to sit down and talk about putting in place a durable ceasefire; to make sure humanitarian assistance can flow and reach people who are desperately in need; and ultimately, to negotiate a political answer to the differences that have emerged over the last year; and certainly to avoid the violence, especially communal violence, which we’re increasingly concerned about; and, of course, to have people who have been detained released from jail. 

That’s what we’re working toward, not in support of any one side but in support of Ethiopia, of its democracy, and of a future for its people that is peaceful and prosperous.

QUESTION:  Are you confident with the leadership being provided by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in this situation?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, this is, again, not about individual leaders.  It is about the work that so many of us are doing in support of putting Ethiopia back on track.  And we’ve engaged closely with Prime Minister Abiy.  We’re in regular contact with him as the duly elected leader of Ethiopia.  We’re in contact as well with all of the other parties to the conflict, including the TPLF and other groups.  And again, our role, our responsibility is to support primarily the efforts of the AU, of President Obasanjo as he is working to bring people together to sit around the table, to stop the fighting, to get humanitarian assistance moving, and to negotiate a political solution, not – there is no military solution —

QUESTION:  Right.  Finally, Secretary —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — to the challenges —

QUESTION:  Finally, Secretary, what is the specific rule – role you are looking for in terms of Kenya and the President Uhuru Kenyatta in this Ethiopian conflict?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, President Kenyatta is widely respected on all sides.  And to the extent that he’s engaged in talking to the different parties and working also in support of what President Obasanjo is doing on behalf of the AU, I think that can be a very effective way of, again, moving people off of the battlefield and to the table to talk and stop fighting, and especially, again, get humanitarian assistance to people who so desperately need it throughout northern Ethiopia.

QUESTION:  Secretary Blinken, thank you for talking to Citizen TV.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks.  Good to be with you.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
More from Area Control Network
1. Global Warming Network
2. Christians Online
3. Put your website in the archives
4. Area Control Network News

News Network

  • Military Personnel: Perspectives on DOD’s and the Military Services’ Use of Borrowed Military Personnel
    In U.S GAO News
    Policies on the use of borrowed military personnel vary among military services. Borrowed military personnel refers to military personnel used for duties outside their assigned positions, such as security protection. DOD policy acknowledges that there may be instances in which military personnel can be used to appropriately satisfy a near-term demand but that DOD must be vigilant in ensuring that military personnel are not inappropriately utilized, particularly in a manner that may degrade readiness. Additionally, the Army and the Marine Corps have their own policies that describes how military personnel may be used on a temporary basis. DOD and the Army, Navy, and Air Force do not centrally track their use of borrowed military personnel, nor do they assess any impacts of that use on the readiness of units and personnel to accomplish their assigned missions. According to DOD and Army officials, the relatively limited use of borrowed military manpower, their limited impacts on readiness, and the existence of other readiness reporting mechanisms serve to obviate the need to collect and analyze this information centrally—especially given the resources that would be required to establish and maintain such a reporting process. The House Armed Services Committee has questioned whether DOD continues to divert servicemembers from their unit assignments to perform nonmilitary functions that could be performed by civilian employees. 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 levels and impacts of borrowed military personnel. This report examines DOD's and the military services' policies on the use of borrowed military personnel, the tracking and reporting of their use of borrowed military personnel, and any impacts of that use on readiness. For more information, contact Cary Russell at (202)512-5431 or RussellC@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Telecommunications: FCC Has Implemented the Lifeline National Verifier but Should Improve Consumer Awareness and Experience
    In U.S GAO News
    As of June 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required consumers nationwide to use the Lifeline National Verifier (Verifier), a centralized process and data system, to check their eligibility for Lifeline. Because consumers who participate in certain federal benefits programs qualify for discounted phone and internet service through Lifeline, the Verifier checks state and federal benefits databases to verify consumers' eligibility. The Verifier also includes a manual review process for consumers to submit documents proving their eligibility if they cannot be found in a database. As of November 2020, the Verifier had connections with databases in 20 states and 2 federal agencies. GAO found that although consumers in states without state database connections had the same likelihood of actually meeting eligibility requirements as consumers in states with such connections, they were less likely to be found eligible for Lifeline through the Verifier (see figure). Average Eligibility Determination for New Lifeline Applicants in States with and without State Database Connections to the Lifeline National Verifier, June 2018 through June 2020 FCC coordinated with state and federal stakeholders to implement the Verifier. However, stakeholders told GAO that many eligible consumers are not aware of the Verifier or Lifeline. Consumers may lack this awareness because FCC's consumer education planning did not always align with key practices, such as developing consistent, clear messages and researching target audiences. As a result, eligible consumers may not apply for Lifeline. Moreover, while FCC originally envisioned tribal governments and organizations assisting residents of tribal lands with the Verifier, it has not provided them with quality information to effectively do so. Although FCC reported that the Verifier is meeting its goal of improving the consumer experience, GAO found that the manual review process, which FCC used to determine the eligibility of more than half of applicants in many states, is challenging for consumers. However, FCC does not collect complete information on consumers' experience with this process, and thus is limited in its ability to identify and address the challenges consumers face. Such challenges likely contributed to eligible consumers giving up on their applications. For example, we found that more than two-thirds of applicants who underwent manual review between June 2018 and June 2020 did not complete their applications. FCC's Lifeline program discounts phone and internet service for eligible low-income consumers. In 2019, FCC authorized $982 million in support for 6.9 million eligible consumers. FCC created the Verifier with the stated goals of reducing fraud and costs and improving the consumer experience. The Verifier includes an online application, connections to state and federal benefits databases, and a standardized manual review process. GAO was asked to review FCC's implementation of the Verifier. This report examines: (1) the status of the Verifier; (2) FCC's coordination with stakeholders and efforts to educate consumers and facilitate tribal stakeholders' involvement; and (3) the extent to which the Verifier is meeting its goals. GAO reviewed FCC orders and documentation; analyzed Verifier performance and Lifeline subscriber data; interviewed FCC and other agency officials, and selected industry, state, tribal, and consumer stakeholders; and surveyed state officials. Stakeholders were selected to obtain a variety of non-generalizable viewpoints. GAO is making six recommendations, including that FCC develop a consumer education plan, provide quality information to tribal organizations, and collect information on consumers' experience with the manual review process. FCC agreed to take steps to address all of GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202)-512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • FY 2022 Notice of Funding Opportunity for Resettlement Support Center (RSC) Africa; RSC Asia; RSC Eurasia; and RSC Latin America
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    FY 2022 Notice of [Read More…]
  • Attorney General Merrick Garland Addresses the 115,000 Employees of the Department of Justice on His First Day
    In Crime News
    Former Acting U.S. Attorney General Monty Wilkinson’s Remarks Good morning. It's my honor to welcome Merrick Garland back to the Department of Justice as the 86th Attorney General of the United States. I'd also like to recognize the Attorney General's wife Lynn, his brother-in-law Mitchell and his nieces Laura and Andrea. In many respects, this is a welcome home ceremony for the Attorney General. Before his appointment to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, he served with distinction in a number of positions here at Main Justice and as an Assistant U. S. Attorney in the District of Columbia.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the COP26 U.S. Center Opening Event
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • The United States Calls for Free, Fair, and Peaceful Elections in Uganda
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Five Individuals Charged for Roles in $65 Million Nationwide Conspiracy to Defraud Federal Health Care Programs
    In Crime News
    The owners of four orthotic brace suppliers and several marketing companies were charged in a complaint unsealed yesterday for allegedly orchestrating a nationwide kickback and bribery scheme to order medically unnecessary orthotic braces for Medicare beneficiaries.
    [Read More…]
  • Retirement Security: Debt Increased for Older Americans over Time, but the Implications Vary by Debt Type
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Americans age 50 or older had significantly more debt in 2016 than in 1989, according to GAO's analysis of Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) data. Debt. The share of older households with debt was 71 percent in 2016 compared to 58 percent in 1989 (see figure). The median debt amount for older households with debt was about three times higher in 2016 ($55,300) than in 1989 ($18,900 in real 2016 dollars) and the share of older households with home, credit card, and student loan debt was significantly higher in 2016 than in 1989. Debt stress. The median ratio of debt to assets—known as the leverage ratio, a measure of debt stress—for older households was twice as high in 2016 than in 1989. Adverse debt outcomes. Measures of older individuals' adverse debt outcomes, including their share of mortgage and credit card debt that was late by at least 90 days, generally followed economic trends, peaking after the Great Recession of 2007-2009, according to GAO's analysis of Consumer Credit Panel (CCP) data from 2003 to 2019. However, the share of student loan debt that was late was significantly higher for older individuals in 2019 than in 2003. These trends in debt, debt stress, and adverse debt outcomes varied by older Americans' demographic and economic characteristics, including their age, credit score, and state of residence. For example, from 2003 to 2019, individuals in their late 70s often had higher shares of credit card and student loan debt that was late than those aged 50-74. In addition, older individuals with credit scores below 720—including those with subprime, fair, or good credit—had median student loan debt amounts that were more than twice as high in 2019 as in 2003. Further, older individuals in the Southeast and West had much higher median mortgage and student loan debt, as well as student loan delinquency rates, in 2019 than in 2003. Percent of Households Age 50 or Older with Any Debt (Left) and Median Leverage Ratio (Right) for These Households, 1989 to 2016 Note: The bars above and below the lines represent the bounds of 95 percent confidence intervals. While older Americans' overall debt and debt stress decreased as they aged, those in low-income households experienced greater debt stress according to GAO's analysis of Health and Retirement Study (HRS) data, a nationally representative survey that follows the same individuals over time. The share of older households in this cohort that had debt continuously decreased as they aged, from about 66 percent of households in 1992 to 38 percent in 2016, and the median leverage ratio declined from about 19 to 13 percent over this period (see figure). However, low-income households in this cohort consistently had greater levels of debt stress than high-income households. This disparity in debt stress increased as these households aged. Estimated Percent of Households with Any Debt for Those Born in 1931-1941 (Left) and Median Leverage Ratio for Those Households from 1992-2016 (Right) Notes: The lines overlapping the bars represent 95 percent confidence intervals. According to experts GAO interviewed, differences in debt type (that is, credit card versus housing debt) and debt stress levels will have varying effects on the retirement security of different groups. For example, experts noted that credit card debt has negative implications for older Americans' retirement security because credit cards often have high, variable interest rates and are not secured by any assets. In contrast, an increase in mortgage debt may have positive effects on retirement security because a home is generally a wealth-building asset. Experts also said that older individuals with lower incomes and unexpected health expenses are likely to experience greater debt stress, which can negatively affect retirement security. Similarly, experts noted that the increased debt stress faced by low-income households is also faced by non-White households. Further, GAO's analysis of data from the Survey of Consumer Finances found that in 2016, debt stress levels were about two times higher for Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Other/multiple-race households than for White households. Experts GAO interviewed noted it is too early to evaluate the retirement security implications of the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because CARES Act provisions suspend or forbear certain debt payments. However, as with past recessions, the COVID-19-related recession may reveal any economic fragility among older Americans who, for example, lost jobs or cannot work because of the pandemic. Why GAO Did This Study GAO reported in 2019 that an estimated 20 percent of older American households aged 55 or older had less than $22,000 in income in 2016 and GAO reported in 2015 that about 29 percent of older households had neither retirement savings accounts (such as a 401(k) plan) nor a defined benefit plan in 2013. Older Americans held nearly half of the total outstanding debt in 2020—and these debts may affect retirement security. The Census Bureau projects the number of older Americans will increase. GAO was asked to report on debt held by older Americans. This report examines (1) how the types, levels, and outcomes of debt changed for older Americans over time, including for different demographic and economic groups; (2) how the types and levels of debt held by the same older Americans changed as they aged, including for those in different demographic groups; and (3) the implications of these debt trends for the general retirement security of older Americans and their families. GAO analyzed data from two nationally representative surveys–the SCF (1989 through 2016 data) and the HRS (1992 through 2016 longitudinal data)–and nationally representative administrative data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's CCP (2003 through 2019). These datasets were the most recent available at the time of GAO's analyses. GAO also reviewed studies and interviewed experts that GAO identified from these studies to further analyze the relationship between debt and retirement security. For more information, contact Kris Nguyen, (202) 512-7215 or NguyenTT@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Conflict Minerals: Actions Needed to Assess Progress Addressing Armed Groups’ Exploitation of Minerals
    In U.S GAO News
    The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) disclosure rule broadly requires that certain companies submit a filing that describes their efforts to conduct a reasonable country-of-origin inquiry (RCOI), and depending on the preliminary determination, perform due diligence to determine the source and chain of custody of their conflict minerals—gold and specific ores for tantalum, tin, and tungsten. After conducting RCOI, an estimated 50 percent of companies filing in 2019 reported preliminary determinations as to whether the conflict minerals came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or adjoining countries (covered countries) or from scrap or recycled sources. The percentage of companies able to make such preliminary determinations increased significantly between 2014 and 2015, and has since leveled off, as shown below. Source of Conflict Minerals in Products as Determined by Companies' Reasonable Country-of-Origin Inquiries, Reporting Years 2014-2019 However, fewer companies reported such determinations after conducting due diligence. In 2019, an estimated 85 percent of companies made preliminary determinations that required them to then perform due diligence. Of those companies, an estimated 17 percent determined that the minerals came from covered countries—a significantly lower percentage of companies making that determination than the 37 percent reported in 2017 or the 35 percent in 2018. Since 2014, companies have noted various challenges they face in making such determinations; however, SEC staff told GAO that they did not know what factors contributed to the decrease in 2019. We will examine this issue during our future review. While the Department of State (State) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have implemented the U.S. conflict minerals strategy since 2011, they have not established performance indicators for all of the strategic objectives. For example, they have no such indicators for the objectives of strengthening regional and international efforts and promoting due diligence and responsible trade through public outreach. Without performance indicators, the agencies cannot comprehensively assess their progress toward achieving these objectives or the overall goal of addressing armed groups' exploitation of conflict minerals. Armed groups in eastern DRC continue to commit severe human rights abuses and to profit from the exploitation of “conflict minerals,” according to State. Provisions in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act required, among other things, that State, USAID, and the SEC take certain actions to promote peace and security. In 2011, State created the U.S. conflict minerals strategy in consultation with USAID to address armed groups' exploitation of conflict minerals. In 2012, the SEC also promulgated regulations containing disclosure and reporting requirements for companies that use conflict minerals from covered countries. The act also included a provision for GAO to annually assess, among other things, the SEC regulations' effectiveness in promoting peace and security. In this report, GAO examines, among other things, how companies responded to the SEC conflict minerals disclosure rule when filing in 2019 and the extent to which State and USAID assessed progress toward the U.S. conflict minerals strategy's objectives and goal. GAO analyzed a generalizable sample of SEC filings, reviewed documents, and interviewed U.S. officials State, in consultation with USAID, should develop performance indicators for assessing progress toward the strategic objectives and goal of the U.S. conflict minerals strategy. State and USAID concurred with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Kimberly M. Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or gianopoulosk@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Nauru National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Statement by Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen on the Pakistani Proceedings Relating to the Abduction and Murder of Daniel Pearl
    In Crime News
    Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen has released the following statement:
    [Read More…]
  • Cyprus Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • NASA to Highlight Comet NEOWISE with Public Broadcast, Media Teleconference
    In Space
    As Comet NEOWISE begins [Read More…]
  • Negative COVID-19 Test Required for Travel to the United States Beginning January 26
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Announcement of a Unity Government in Haiti
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • International Law Enforcement Operation Targeting Opioid Traffickers on the Darknet Results in 150 Arrests Worldwide and the Seizure of Weapons, Drugs, and over $31 Million
    In Crime News
    Today, the Department of Justice, through the Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement (JCODE) team joined Europol to announce the results of Operation Dark HunTor, a coordinated international effort on three continents to disrupt opioid trafficking on the Darknet. The operation, which was conducted across the United States, Australia, and Europe, was a result of the continued partnership between JCODE and foreign law enforcement against the illegal sale of drugs and other illicit goods and services. Operation Dark HunTor builds on the success of last year’s Operation DisrupTor and the coordinated law enforcement takedown earlier this year of DarkMarket, the world’s then-largest illegal marketplace on the Darknet. At the time, German authorities arrested the marketplace’s alleged operator and seized the site’s infrastructure, providing investigators across the world with a trove of evidence. Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) and JCODE have since been compiling intelligence packages to identify key targets.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Nino Scalia of Madison’s Notes Podcast
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco and FBI Director Christopher Wray Deliver Remarks on Sodinokibi/REvil Ransomware Arrest
    In Crime News
    More from: November 8, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Employee Benefits Security Administration: Enforcement Efforts to Protect Participants’ Rights in Employer-Sponsored Retirement and Health Benefit Plans
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Labor's (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration's (EBSA) enforcement focuses on encouraging retirement and health plans to comply with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended, and restoring benefits that were improperly withheld from plan participants. To identify violations, EBSA investigates benefit plans and their service providers. Over two-thirds of investigation leads are identified by EBSA staff. EBSA prioritizes investigating cases that may result in large recoveries or affect many participants, such as restored retirement plan contributions or payment for incorrectly denied medical claims. When agreement cannot be reached, investigators can refer civil cases to DOL's Office of the Solicitor for civil litigation. Criminal cases are referred to Department of Justice. In fiscal year 2020, almost 84 percent of investigations were civil and more than 16 percent were criminal, resulting in over $3 billion in payments to participants and plans. EBSA uses a range of strategies to improve its investigative processes and seeks to ensure enforcement quality through training and oversight. For example, EBSA makes efforts to target investigations for greater impact, such as a 2013 change to prioritize cases with the potential to affect many participants and recover significant assets. As EBSA pursued more complex and technical investigations, the number of closed cases decreased, while monetary recoveries increased (see figure). To ensure investigation quality, EBSA provides training, documents procedures, and reviews open and closed cases to evaluate whether investigation procedures have been followed. Number of EBSA Investigations Closed and Monetary Recoveries, Fiscal Years 2011-2020 The COVID-19 pandemic created a number of immediate and long-term challenges for EBSA and benefit plans. For example, according to stakeholders, plans were initially concerned about how to implement provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act, but those concerns were addressed as the agency issued FAQs and notices. Similarly, EBSA officials reported that court closures temporarily slowed criminal cases, but as virtual hearings increased, litigation resumed. Stakeholders and EBSA officials also described potential long-term challenges, including difficulties locating the many participants who may have left a job due to the pandemic and may be unaware they left behind retirement funds. Why GAO Did This Study Millions of Americans rely on employer benefits for their health care and future financial security. Private sector retirement plans are a key source of income for many retirees and employer-sponsored group health plans cover over one-half of all Americans. Consequently, effective oversight and enforcement are critically important to ensure the integrity of the private employee benefit system, especially in light of the economic and health effects of COVID-19 on American workers and their families. EBSA is charged with protecting the rights of participants in employer-sponsored benefit plans. As of fiscal year 2020, this included about 154 million participants in 722,000 retirement plans and 2.5 million health plans with combined assets of over $10.7 trillion. This report examines (1) how EBSA manages its enforcement process, (2) EBSA's strategies to improve investigative processes and ensure enforcement quality, and (3) the immediate and long-term challenges of COVID-19 for EBSA and private sector retirement and health plans. GAO analyzed EBSA data and documents; and federal laws, regulations, and guidance, including the CARES Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. GAO interviewed officials from EBSA's national office and three regional offices, selected for variation in investigations, and locations as well as stakeholders from nine organizations knowledgeable about benefits compliance requirements, the employer-sponsored benefit industry, and participants' benefit plan experiences. For more information, contact Tranchau (Kris) T. Nguyen at (202) 512-7215 or nguyentt@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]

Crime

Network News © 2005 Area.Control.Network™ All rights reserved.