January 27, 2022

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Secretary Blinken’s Call with Peruvian Foreign Minister Wagner

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Office of the Spokesperson

The below is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Peruvian Foreign Minister Allan Wagner spoke today and reaffirmed the strength of our bilateral relationship and the deep bonds between the peoples of the United States and Peru.  The Secretary expressed support for the Sagasti administration’s efforts to deal with the COVID-19 health crisis in Peru.  The Secretary and the Foreign Minister committed to work together to address shared challenges such as economic renewal as we recover from the pandemic, environmental protection, and transnational crime.  On regional issues, they agreed on the importance of collaborating to restore democracy and economic stability in Venezuela, as well as meeting the humanitarian needs of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Peru and across the hemisphere.  Secretary Blinken praised Peru’s recent elections as a model of democracy in the region, and emphasized that Peru is an important partner in advancing security and prosperity in South America.

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  • Exposure Notification: Benefits and Challenges of Smartphone Applications to Augment Contact Tracing
    In U.S GAO News
    Why GAO Did This Study With the emergence and rapid global spread of COVID-19, smartphone apps have been developed to supplement manual contact tracing, which is a public health measure used to slow the spread of infectious disease. GAO was asked to conduct a technology assessment of exposure notification apps. This report discusses (1) the benefits of exposure notification apps; (2) the current level of deployment in the U.S.; (3) challenges affecting their use; and (4) policy options that may help address these challenges for future use. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed agency documentation, met with officials from several federal agencies, and conducted a review of technical and policy literature. GAO also interviewed representatives from companies involved in the development of exposure notification apps, public health organizations, federally funded research and development centers, and academic researchers. In addition, GAO analyzed information from a selection of states. GAO is identifying policy options in this report. GAO received technical comments on a draft of this report from five federal agencies and five organizations included in the review, which it incorporated as appropriate. What GAO Found Exposure notification applications (apps)—which determine the proximity of users and notify people who have been in close contact with another user who was likely infectious—are expected to enhance the speed and reach of contact tracing and help slow the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19. As of June 2021, almost half (26/56) of U.S. states, territories, and the District of Columbia had deployed an app for COVID-19, all using a system developed jointly by Google and Apple (see figure). In the absence of a national app, states independently launched apps, resulting in a staggered rollout over 10 months beginning in August 2020. Map of deployment of exposure notification apps by U.S. states and territories, as of June 2021 Reported app development costs for selected states varied, ranging from no cost (provided by a nonprofit organization) to $700,000. Marketing costs for selected states ranged from $380,000 to $3.2 million. Reported app download levels in the selected states ranged from 200,000 to more than 2 million, as of June 2021. GAO identified several challenges limiting app use and the ability of states and others to determine whether the apps were effective: Accuracy of measurements Technical limitations to measuring distance and exposure can result in inaccurate exposure notifications. Privacy and security concerns The public may lack confidence that its privacy is being protected, in part, due to a lack of independent privacy and security assessments and a lack of federal legal protections. Adoption States have faced challenges attracting public interest in downloading and using an exposure notification app. Verification code delays States faced challenges in promptly providing people who tested positive for COVID-19 with a verification code necessary to notify other close contacts of potential exposure using the app. Evidence of effectiveness Limited data are available to evaluate the effectiveness of the apps. Source: GAO. | GAO-21-104622 GAO developed the following four policy options that could help address challenges related to exposure notification apps. The policy options identify possible actions by policymakers, which may include Congress, other elected officials, federal agencies, state and local governments, and industry. See below for details of the policy options and relevant opportunities and considerations. Policy Options to Help Address Challenges of Exposure Notification Apps for Future Use   Opportunities Considerations Research and Development (report page 41) Policymakers could promote research and development to address technological limitations. Research on technological limitations could help increase accuracy, encouraging users to download and use the apps. Research on technologies and architectures other than those used by U.S. states could lead to improvements. Partnerships with technology companies could spur innovation and help with integrating improvements. The research needed may be costly. Improvements may not be cost-effective, since existing apps may already be sufficiently accurate. Research may result in apps that are not functional for the next pandemic, since the current apps were developed for COVID-19. Privacy and Security Standards and Practices (report page 42) Policymakers could promote uniform privacy and security standards and practices for exposure notification apps. Uniform standards and best practices could help address real and perceived risks to the public’s data, potentially increasing adoption. Standards developed by a broad coalition of stakeholders could increase the likelihood of stakeholder agreement and buy-in. Policymakers would need to balance the need for privacy and security with the costs of implementing standards and practices. Implementation of privacy requirements may need to be flexible, since jurisdictions could use different approaches. Standards and practices could be challenging to oversee and enforce. Best Practices (report page 43) Policymakers could promote best practices for approaches to increasing adoption and to measure the effectiveness of exposure notification apps. Best practices could help authorities better promote app adoption. Best practices could help state public health authorities by providing information on procedures and potential approaches for distributing verification codes in a timely manner. Best practices could help public health authorities establish a more rigorous way to measure the extent of app use and any resulting improvements in notifying exposed people. Best practices could require consensus from many public- and private-sector stakeholders, which can be time- and resource-intensive. Current best practices may have limited relevance to a future pandemic. In some cases, stakeholders may lack sufficient information or the experience to develop best practices. National Strategy (report page 44) Policymakers could collaborate to enhance the pandemic national strategy and promote a coordinated approach to the development and deployment of exposure notification apps. Enhanced national coordination that builds on the underlying infrastructure and lessons learned from COVID-19 could prompt faster deployment of apps in the future. A future national marketing campaign with cohesive and coherent messaging could result in wider adoption. Policymakers could recommend a national app that public health authorities could decide to use based on their individual needs. A national app could add more functions by integrating exposure notification capabilities with test scheduling and vaccine delivery coordination. A coordinated national approach would likely have associated costs and require sustained funding during the pandemic. Coordination of groups with divergent perspectives and interests may pose challenges to defining outcomes, measuring performance, and establishing a leadership approach. It is unclear whether potential users would be more or less likely to trust a national exposure notification app than one developed by a state government. Source: GAO. | GAO-21-104622 For more information, contact Karen L. Howard at (202) 512-6888 or howardk@gao.gov or Vijay A. D’Souza, at (202) 512-6240, dsouzav@gao.gov.
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  • Defense Reform: DOD Has Made Progress, but Needs to Further Refine and Formalize Its Reform Efforts
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) has made progress in establishing valid and reliable cost baselines for its enterprise business operations and has additional efforts ongoing. DOD's January 2020 report responding to section 921 of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 addressed most of the key requirements from that section but also had some limitations, which DOD acknowledged. For example, the baselines included only labor and information technology costs because DOD's financial data do not attribute costs to other specific activities required under section 921. However, DOD officials told GAO they have developed and are continuing to refine baselines for all of the department's enterprise business operations, such as financial and human resource management, to enable DOD to better track the resources devoted to these operations and the progress of reform. While still in progress, this effort shows promise in addressing the weaknesses in DOD's section 921 report and in meeting the need for consistent baselines for DOD's reform efforts that GAO has previously identified. GAO found that DOD's reported savings of $37 billion from its reform efforts and a Defense-Wide Review to better align resources are largely reflected in its budget materials; however, the savings were not always well documented or consistent with the department's definitions of reform. Specifically: DOD had limited information on the analysis underlying its savings estimates, including (1) economic assumptions, (2) alternative options, and (3) any costs of taking the actions to realize savings, such as opportunity costs. Therefore, GAO was unable to determine the quality of the analysis that led to DOD's savings decisions. Further, some of the cost savings initiatives were not clearly aligned with DOD's definitions of reform, and thus DOD may have overstated savings that came from its reform efforts rather than other sources of savings, like cost avoidance. For example, one initiative was based on the delay of military construction projects. According to DOD officials, this was done to fund higher priorities. But if a delayed project is still planned, the costs will likely be realized in a future year. Without processes to standardize development and documentation of savings and to consistently identify reform savings based on reform definitions, decision makers may lack reliable information on DOD's estimated reform savings. In coordinating its reform efforts, DOD has generally followed leading practices for collaboration, but there is a risk that this collaboration may not be sustained in light of any organizational changes that Congress or DOD may make. This risk is increased because the Office of the Chief Management Officer (OCMO) and other offices have not formalized and institutionalized these efforts through written policies or agreements. Without written policies or formal agreements that define how organizations should collaborate with regard to DOD's reform and efficiency efforts, current progress may be lost, and future coordination efforts may be hindered. DOD spends billions of dollars each year to maintain key business operations. Section 921 of the NDAA for FY 2019 established requirements for DOD to reform these operations and report on their efforts. DOD has also undertaken additional efforts to reform its operations in recent years. Section 921 called for GAO to assess the accuracy of DOD's reported cost baselines and savings, and section 1753 of the NDAA for FY 2020 called for GAO to report on the OCMO's efficiency initiatives. This report assesses the extent to which DOD has (1) established valid and reliable baseline cost estimates for its business operations; (2) established well-documented cost savings estimates reflecting its reforms; and (3) coordinated its reform efforts. GAO assessed documents supporting costs, savings estimates, and coordination efforts; interviewed DOD officials; observed demonstrations of DOD's reform tracking tools; and assessed DOD's efforts using selected criteria. GAO is making three recommendations—specifically, that DOD establish formal processes to standardize development and documentation of cost savings; ensure that reported savings are consistent with the department's definition of reform; and formalize policies or agreements on its reform efforts. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    Since 2003, the United States has reported obligating $642 billion for U.S. military operations in Iraq and provided about $24 billion for training, equipment, and other services for Iraqi security forces. To assist Congress in overseeing efforts to encourage the Iraqi government to contribute more toward the cost of securing and stabilizing Iraq, this report provides information on (1) the amount and availability of Iraq's budget surplus or deficit, (2) the amount of Iraq's financial deposit balances, and (3) the extent to which Iraq has spent its financial resources on security costs. To conduct this audit, GAO analyzed Iraqi financial data, reviewed U.S. and Iraqi documents, and interviewed U.S. and Iraqi officials.GAO analysis of Iraqi government data showed that Iraq generated an estimated cumulative budget surplus of $52.1 billion through the end of 2009. This estimate is consistent with the method that Iraq uses to calculate its fiscal position. Adjusting for $40.3 billion in estimated outstanding advances as of September 2009 reduces the amount of available surplus funds to $11.8 billion. In April 2010, a senior Ministry of Finance official stated that advances should be deducted from the budget surplus because they are committed for future expenditures or have been paid out. According to this official and Board of Supreme Audit reports on Iraq's financial statements, advances include funds for letters of credit, advance payments on domestic contracts, and other advances. However, Iraq's Board of Supreme Audit has raised concerns that weaknesses in accounting for advances could result in the misappropriation of government funds and inaccurate reporting of expenditures. Furthermore, the composition of some of these advances is unclear; about 40 percent of the outstanding advances through 2008 are defined as "other temporary advances." Under the terms of a February 2010 International Monetary Fund (IMF) arrangement, Iraq agreed to prepare a report on its outstanding advances, which will identify those advances that are recoverable and could be used for future spending, and set a time schedule for their recovery. This Iraqi report is to be completed by September 30, 2010. Another means of assessing Iraq's fiscal position is to examine its financial deposit balances. Iraqi government data and an independent audit report show that, through the end of 2009, Iraq had accumulated between $15.3 billion and $32.2 billion in financial deposit balances held at the Central Bank of Iraq, the Development Fund for Iraq in New York, and state-owned banks in Iraq. This range reflects a discrepancy between the amount of government-sector deposits reported by the Central Bank of Iraq to the IMF and the amount that the Ministry of Finance asserts is available for government spending. In November 2009, the Ministry of Finance reclassified $16.9 billion in state-owned banks as belonging to state-owned enterprises and trusts, leaving $15.3 billion of $32.2 billion available to the Iraqi government for other spending. The IMF is seeking clarification on the amount of financial deposits that is available for government spending. Under the terms of Iraq's 2010 arrangement with the IMF, the Ministry of Finance is required to complete a review of all central government accounts and return any idle balances received from the budget to the central Iraqi Treasury by March 31, 2010. As of August 2010, according to the IMF, this review was still under way. Iraqi government data show that Iraq's security ministries--the Ministries of Defense and Interior--increased their spending from 2005 through 2009 and set aside about $5.5 billion for purchases through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program. However, over this 5-year period, these ministries did not use between $2.5 billion and $5.2 billion of their budgeted funds that could have been used to address security needs. The administration is requesting $2 billion in additional U.S. funding in its fiscal year 2011 budget request to support the training and equipping of Iraq's military and police. GAO believes that Congress should consider Iraq's available financial resources when reviewing the administration's fiscal year 2011 budget request and any future funding requests for securing and stabilizing Iraq. Also, GAO recommends that the Departments of State and the Treasury work with the Iraqi government to further identify available resources.
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    In U.S GAO News
    Since fiscal year 2003, Congress has appropriated more than $46 billion dollars for relief and reconstruction efforts in Iraq. The Department of Defense (DOD) is one of several U.S. agencies that administer U.S.-funded relief and reconstruction programs in Iraq. In particular, DOD manages the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), which is designed to enable local commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan to respond to urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction requirements within their areas of responsibility by carrying out programs that will immediately assist the indigenous population. Thus far, Congress has appropriated more than $3 billion for CERP in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the program's inception, DOD has steadily increased its funding requests in response to theater conditions, and reported obligations have also grown substantially. DOD's funding requests have increased by more than a billion dollars from fiscal years 2004 through 2008. For fiscal year 2008, DOD requested $1.2 billion to fund CERP projects in Iraq and Afghanistan and plans to request an additional $507 million, primarily for CERP in Iraq. Furthermore, DOD's reported obligations for Iraq and Afghanistan have grown from about $179 million in fiscal year 2004 to more than $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2007. In addition, over the same period of time, the number of projects in both countries has grown from about 6,450 to about 8,700. According to DOD regulations, CERP is intended for small-scale, urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction projects for the benefit of Iraqi people. The guidance issued by the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) establishes 19 authorized uses for CERP funds, including transportation, electricity, and condolence payments. CERP funds can be used for both construction and non-construction projects. In Iraq, commanders follow Multinational Corps-Iraq (MNC-I) standard operating procedures for CERP, which expand upon DOD regulations. MNC-I guidance states that the keys to project selection are to (1) execute quickly, (2) employ many Iraqis, (3) benefit the Iraqi people, and (4) be highly visible. DOD regulations identify the roles and responsibilities that different offices play in managing CERP. The Secretary of the Army serves as the executive agent and is responsible for ensuring that commanders carry out CERP in a manner that is consistent with applicable laws, regulations and guidance. The Commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) is responsible for allocating CERP resources. Public Law No. 108-106 and subsequent laws require DOD to provide Congress with quarterly reports on the source, allocation, and use of CERP funds. The reports are compiled based on information about the projects that was entered by unit officials into the Iraq Reconstruction Management System, a database that tracks projects' status and maintains a historical record of all reconstruction activity in Iraq, including those projects funded by CERP. Because of significant congressional interest, we conducted this work under the authority of the Comptroller General to undertake work at his own initiative and examined the following questions regarding the CERP program in Iraq: (1) To what extent does DOD guidance establish selection criteria for CERP projects? (2) To what extent do commanders in Iraq coordinate CERP with other U. S. government agencies and with the government of Iraq? and (3) To what extent do DOD and MNC-I exercise oversight of CERP projects in Iraq?DOD has established broad selection criteria for CERP projects, which gives significant discretion to commanders in determining the types of projects to undertake. CERP is intended to provide commanders a source of funds that allow them to respond to urgent, small-scale humanitarian relief and reconstruction needs that will immediately assist the local Iraqi population. However, DOD guidance provides no definition for small-scale or urgent, which leaves commanders with the responsibility of developing their own definitions. Commanders we interviewed had varying definitions for small-scale. Our review of the quarterly reports to Congress demonstrated the wide spectrum in size and costs of projects. For instance, projects ranged from a waterline repair costing slightly more than $100 to an electrical distribution system costing more than $11 million. In addition, during our visit to Iraq, we observed three projects: a multimillion-dollar sewage lift station, a several hundred thousand dollar sports center and community complex, and a fruit and vegetable stand that had been renovated with a $2,500 grant. Commanders typically defined urgent as restoring a basic human need, such as water and electricity, or projects identified by the local Iraqi government as its most pressing requirement for the area. As a result, the scale, complexity, and duration of projects selected vary across commands. While the majority of CERP projects have cost less than $500,000, the number of projects costing more than $500,000 has increased significantly. According to DOD officials, factors contributing to the increasing number of CERP projects costing more than $500,000 include the lack of other available reconstruction money, improved security in the region and the fact that many of the immediate needs of the Iraq people were addressed during the initial phases of CERP. Commanders reported that they generally coordinated projects with the appropriate U.S. and Iraqi officials, as required by guidance. The officials include Iraqi government personnel as well as military and nonmilitary U.S. officials. MNC-I guidance further states that coordination with local officials is critical to ensure that a project meets a need and will be maintained and that numerous projects have been built that did not meet their intended purpose because of lack of coordination. MNC-I guidance notes that coordination efforts may include synchronizing CERP projects with complementary programs funded by United States Agency for International Development or other nongovernmental organizations within the commander's area of responsibility. While the MNC-I project approval process provides some oversight, the Offices of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), the Army and MNC-I have limited oversight of CERP in Iraq because they (1) do not require units executing projects to monitor them, (2) have not established performance metrics, and (3) have limited knowledge of projects under $500,000. Neither DOD nor MNC-I guidance establishes a requirement for units executing projects to monitor them. MNC-I guidance has a broad requirement for the MNC-I engineer to monitor reconstruction projects, but does not include a requirement for units executing projects to monitor them. No performance metrics exist for CERP. As we have previously reported, federal agencies should develop plans that establish objective, quantifiable, and measurable performance goals that should be achieved by a program. Although MNC-I officials have some visibility over projects costing more than $500,000 because they approve these projects, they have limited visibility and oversight for projects costing less than $500,000. The quarterly reports do not provide information about the number of projects completed during a quarter, the number of projects that have been started but not completed, or the number of projects that have not been sustained or maintained by the Iraqi government or the local population.
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    What GAO Found The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) disclosure rule on conflict minerals broadly requires that certain companies submit a filing that describes their efforts to determine the source of their conflict minerals—tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold. As part of this process, these companies must conduct a reasonable country-of-origin inquiry (RCOI). Depending on the determination reached through this inquiry, some companies must then conduct due diligence to further investigate the source of their minerals. According to GAO's analysis, companies' RCOI determinations have not changed significantly since 2015. In 2020, an estimated 58 percent of the companies that conducted an RCOI reported preliminary determinations regarding whether the conflict minerals in their products may have come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or adjoining countries (covered countries), as the figure shows. Of those companies, an estimated 42 percent reported that they had preliminarily determined that at least some of their minerals may have originated in covered countries, and an estimated 16 percent determined that their minerals were not from a covered country. Source of Conflict Minerals in Products as Determined by Companies' Reasonable Country-of-Origin Inquiries, Reporting Years 2014–2020 In 2020, an estimated 78 percent of the companies that conducted an RCOI went on to conduct due diligence to further investigate the source of their minerals. After conducting due diligence, an estimated 44 percent of these companies reported that they could not determine whether their minerals originated in covered countries. An estimated 38 percent of the companies reported that their minerals may have originated in covered countries, and the remaining 18 percent did not clearly report their due diligence determination. Most filings indicated that companies used standardized tools and programs to attempt to determine the source of their minerals, but filings and industry experts noted challenges relating to these tools and programs. For example, an estimated 96 percent of company filings indicated use of a supplier survey to collect information, but many companies did not receive responses from all their suppliers, of which there could be hundreds in some companies' supply chains. Why GAO Did This Study The United States has sought to improve security in the DRC for over 2 decades. However, according to the Department of State and the United Nations, conflict has persisted and contributed to severe human rights abuses and the displacement of people. Armed groups continue to profit from the mining and trade of “conflict minerals,” according to State. Provisions in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act required, among other things, the SEC to promulgate disclosure and reporting regulations regarding the use of conflict minerals from the DRC and adjoining countries. In 2012, the SEC adopted a conflict minerals disclosure rule requiring companies to file specialized disclosure reports beginning in 2014 and annually thereafter. The act also included a provision for GAO to assess, among other things, the SEC regulations' effectiveness in promoting peace and security in the DRC and adjoining countries. This report examines how companies responded to the SEC conflict minerals disclosure rule when filing in 2020. GAO analyzed a generalizable sample of 100 SEC filings; reviewed SEC documents; and interviewed SEC officials and other stakeholders, including representatives from the private sector and nongovernmental organizations. For more information, contact Kimberly M. Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or gianopoulosk@gao.gov.
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