Office of the Spokesperson
The below is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:
On August 2, Secretary Blinken co-hosted the second Mekong-U.S. Partnership ministerial. The Secretary emphasized U.S. commitment to a resilient, secure, interconnected, and open Mekong sub-region and emphasized the region’s importance to the prosperity and unity of ASEAN. The Secretary unveiled the Mekong-U.S. Partnership’s four flagship projects, noted the 8.5 million vaccine doses and over $58 million in U.S. COVID-19 assistance to Mekong sub-region countries, and described how the United States government has provided $4.3 billion in foreign assistance to the sub-region since 2009.
The six Partnership countries discussed progress on improving COVID-19 response and health security; delivering sustainable infrastructure development including through the Japan-U.S.-Mekong Power Partnership; empowering human capital and building the foundations for a Mekong digital economy; promoting women’s economic empowerment; protecting the environment and sustainably managing water and other natural resources; and combating non-traditional security threats, including trafficking in persons, wildlife, timber, narcotics, and weapons. The Secretary highlighted that U.S. engagement with civil society across the sub-region is critical to accomplishing the goals of the Partnership.
Secretary Blinken urged the countries to take immediate action to hold the Burmese military regime accountable to the ASEAN five-point consensus. He called for joint action to press the Burmese military regime to end the violence, release those unjustly detained, and restore Burma to the path to democracy.
For more information, please visit MekongUSPartnership.org and follow our Facebook page.
- VA Disability Exams: Actions Needed to Improve Program ManagementBy Sam NewsMay 13, 2021What GAO Found In recent years, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has significantly expanded the Veterans Benefits Administration's (VBA) use of contractors to perform disability medical exams instead of relying on Veterans Health Administration (VHA) medical centers. According to VBA officials, VA's policy is to continue using contractors for most exams. GAO previously identified sound practices agencies can use to plan for significant programmatic changes. However, VBA has not applied several of these practices to its plans for allocating workloads among its contractors and VHA medical centers. For example, VBA has not assessed potential risks to capacity and exam quality in allocating the bulk of exams to contractors. Employing such practices could help VBA identify potential risks stemming from this long-term program change and better plan for addressing future workload needs. Percent of Disability Exams Performed by VBA Contractors and by VHA Medical Centers, Fiscal Years 2017-2021 Over time, VA has also permitted contractors to complete exams for more complex disability claims—such as Gulf War Illness—according to VBA officials, but VBA does not conduct targeted reviews specifically to assess the quality of the exam reports completed for these exams. VBA data show that exam reports for selected complex claims were returned to examiners for correction or clarification at about twice the rate that exam reports were returned overall. Disability medical examiners told GAO that these types of exams can be challenging. Without specifically assessing how well contractors perform on exams for complex claims, VBA is missing an opportunity to identify actions that could help ensure veterans receive high quality exams and that exam reports are completed correctly. Why GAO Did This Study This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO's March 2021 report, entitled VA Disability Exams: Better Planning Needed as Use of Contracted Examiners Continues to Grow (GAO-21-444T). This testimony also builds upon prior GAO reporting on VBA's contract exam program in October 2018 (GAO-19-13).[Read More…]
- Member of White Supremacist Gang Pleads Guilty to Violent Assault and Conspiracy to Sell FirearmsBy Sam NewsMay 7, 2021A member of the Aryan Circle (AC) pleaded guilty Thursday to his role in an October 2016 violent assault, as well as conspiring to sell firearms to a convicted felon. Another individual pleaded guilty on April 19, to conspiring with members of the AC to sell methamphetamine.[Read More…]
- Former Louisiana Construction Company Owner Pleads Guilty to Tax FraudBy Sam NewsJuly 7, 2021A Louisiana man pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to defraud the IRS.[Read More…]
- Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry’s Visit to Japan and the People’s Republic of ChinaBy Sam NewsSeptember 3, 2021Office of the [Read More…]
- Sam’s Test Record for Drupal TestingBy Sam NewsMay 8, 2021This is Sam's Test Record for Drupal Testing.[Read More…]
- Businessman Sentenced for Foreign Bribery and Money Laundering Scheme Involving PetroEcuador OfficialsBy Sam NewsJanuary 28, 2021An Ecuadorian businessman living in Miami was sentenced today to 35 months in prison for his role in a $4.4 million bribery and money laundering scheme that funneled bribes to then-public officials of Empresa Pública de Hidrocarburos del Ecuador (PetroEcuador), the state-owned and state-controlled oil company of Ecuador.[Read More…]
- IRS Reorganization: Planning Addressed Key Reform Practices, but Goals and Measures for the Plan Have Not Been FinalizedBy Sam NewsNovember 18, 2020GAO identified advantages of, challenges related to, and options for improving the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) current organizational structure, based on GAO's review of prior work and interviews with IRS officials and stakeholders. For example, one advantage of the current structure, according to several interviewees, is that IRS's divisions have developed specialized expertise on different types of taxpayers with similar needs, such as small businesses. Several interviewees also believed that addressing some of IRS's challenges may not require significant changes to IRS's organizational structure. GAO and others have identified challenges and options to improve IRS's structure, processes, and operations in the following areas: (1) customer service; (2) communication and coordination within IRS; (3) technology; and (4) strategic human capital management and training. While developing its reorganization plan required by the Taxpayer First Act, IRS addressed or partially addressed all six of the key practices for agency reforms that GAO reviewed (see table below). GAO Assessment of IRS's Reorganization Planning Process against Key Reform Practices Key reform practice Extent addressed Establishing goals and outcomes ◑ Involving employees and key stakeholders ● Using data and evidence ● Addressing fragmentation, overlap, and duplication ◑ Addressing high-risk areas and long-standing management challenges ◑ Leadership focus and attention ● Legend: ● Generally addressed ◑ Partially addressed ○ Not addressed Source: GAO analysis of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) information. | GAO-21-18 IRS established a senior-level team—the Taxpayer First Act Office—to lead the reorganization planning, involved employees and key stakeholders, and used multiple sources of data and evidence to inform its planning. Although IRS has developed preliminary goals for the plan, it has not yet finalized and communicated the goals and performance measures for the plan. IRS has also researched potential actions it could take to address long-standing management challenges at IRS, such as those related to areas of fragmentation, overlap, duplication, and high risk that GAO has identified. However, IRS has not yet decided on specific actions to address those areas in its plan. IRS officials told us that they intend to take these additional steps, but COVID-19 delayed the completion of their reorganization plan to December 2020. As a result, it is still unclear whether the reorganization plan will have outcome-oriented goals and performance measures or whether it will identify specific actions to address long-standing management challenges. Taking these steps could help IRS identify and achieve the intended outcomes of the reorganization plan, and identify reforms that can create long-term gains in efficiency and effectiveness. The Taxpayer First Act required that a comprehensive written plan to redesign IRS be submitted to Congress by September 30, 2020. Reforming and reorganizing a federal agency as large and complex as IRS is not an easy task. However, a potential reorganization could provide IRS with an opportunity to address emerging and long-standing challenges. GAO was asked to review IRS's organizational structure and IRS's plans to reform it. This report examines (1) reported advantages of, challenges related to, and options for potentially improving IRS's organizational structure; and (2) the extent to which IRS's reorganization planning process is consistent with selected leading practices. GAO reviewed documents from IRS and other sources; interviewed IRS officials and stakeholders, including three former IRS commissioners; and assessed IRS's reorganization planning process against selected key practices for agency reform efforts developed by GAO. GAO is making three recommendations to IRS as it finalizes its reorganization plan, including that IRS should finalize goals and performance measures, and identify specific actions to address long-standing management challenges. IRS responded that it plans to implement GAO's recommendations when it submits its final reorganization plan to Congress in December 2020. For more information, contact James R. McTigue, Jr. at (202) 512-9110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Navy Readiness: Actions Needed to Evaluate and Improve Surface Warfare Officer Career PathBy Sam NewsJune 18, 2021What GAO Found U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officers (SWOs) separate from the SWO community earlier and at higher rates compared with officers in similar U.S. Navy communities, and female SWOs separate at higher rates than male SWOs. Retention Rates for U.S. Navy Officers and Surface Warfare Officers by Gender Note: GAO compared the U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer community separation rates with those of the other unrestricted line officer communities in the U.S. Navy: Naval Aviation, Submarine, and Explosive Ordinance Disposal and Special Warfare. GAO found that after 10 years of service, around the first major career milestone: 33 percent of SWOs remain in their community, compared with 45 percent of officers from similar U.S. Navy officer communities, and 12 percent of female SWOs remain in their community, compared with 39 percent of male SWOs. By using existing information to develop a plan to improve SWO retention, the Navy will be better positioned to retain a diverse and combat-ready community. The career path for U.S. Navy SWOs differs from those in similar positions in selected foreign navies and other U.S. Navy and U.S. maritime communities. Career Path for U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officers Compared with Others The U.S. Navy made incremental career path changes for SWOs following the 2017 collisions, but has not regularly evaluated or fundamentally changed its SWO career path for over a century. GAO found that by a factor of four to one, SWOs believe specialized career paths would better prepare them for their duties than the current generalist career path. Without periodic evaluations of current approaches, including alternative career paths, and the use of those evaluations, the U.S. Navy may miss an opportunity to develop and retain proficient SWOs. Why GAO Did This Study SWOs are U.S. Navy officers whose primary duties focus on the safe operation of surface ships at sea. In 2017, the Navy had two collisions at sea that resulted in the death of 17 sailors and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to Navy ships. Following the collisions, the Navy identified deficiencies in the SWO career path and staffing policies, and took action to improve these areas. The John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 contained a provision that GAO assess issues related to the U.S. Navy SWO career path. Among other things, this report (1) assesses trends in separation rates of SWOs with those of similar U.S. Navy officer communities, and trends in SWO separation rates by gender; (2) describes how the career path of U.S. Navy SWOs compares to those of selected foreign navies and other U.S. Navy and U.S. maritime communities; and (3) assesses the extent to which the U.S. Navy has used or evaluated alternative career paths. GAO analyzed U.S. Navy officer personnel data; selected foreign navies and U.S. maritime officer communities for comparison; and surveyed a generalizable sample of Navy SWOs.[Read More…]
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro KulebaBy Sam NewsNovember 10, 2021
- Opening Remarks by Secretary Antony J. Blinken Before the Senate Foreign Relations CommitteeBy Sam NewsSeptember 14, 2021
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio Before Their MeetingBy Sam NewsOctober 6, 2021
- Russian National Convicted of Charges Relating to Kelihos BotnetBy Sam NewsJune 16, 2021A federal jury in Connecticut convicted a Russian national on Tuesday for operating a “crypting” service used to conceal “Kelihos” malware from antivirus software, enabling hackers to systematically infect victim computers around the world with malicious software, including ransomware.[Read More…]
- State Department: Implementation of Grants Policies Needs Better OversightBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021What GAO Found The Department of State (State) has established policies and guidance that provide a supportive environment for managing grants and cooperative agreements (grants). In addition, State provides its grants officials mandatory training on these policies and guidance, and routinely identifies and shares best practices. State's policies are based on federal regulations, reflect internal control standards, and cover topics such as risk assessment and monitoring procedures. State's policies also delineate specific internal control activities that grants officials are required to both implement and document in the grant files as a way of promoting accountability (see fig.). Key Internal Control Activities Required through a Grant's Life Cycle GAO found that inconsistent implementation of policies and guidance weakens State's assurance that grant funds are used as intended. Inadequate risk analysis . In most of the files GAO reviewed, grants officials did not fully identify, assess, and mitigate risks, as required. For example, officials conducted a risk identification process for 45 of the 61 grants that GAO reviewed. While grants officials identified risk in 28 of those 45 grants, they mitigated risks in only 11. Poor documentation . Grants officials generally did not adhere to State policies and procedures relating to documenting internal control activities. For example, 32 of the 61 files reviewed did not contain the required monitoring plan. Considerable turnover among grants officials makes documenting internal control activities particularly important. State's periodic management reviews of selected bureaus' and overseas missions' grant operations have also found that key documentation was frequently missing or incomplete and made recommendations to address the problem. However, State has not consistently followed up to ensure the implementation of these recommendations, as internal control standards require. State does not have processes for ensuring compliance with risk analysis and documentation requirements. Without the proper implementation of its internal control policies for grants management, State cannot be certain that its oversight is adequate or that it is using its limited oversight resources effectively. Why GAO Did This Study Grants are key tools that State uses to conduct foreign assistance. In fiscal year 2012, State obligated over $1.6 billion worldwide for around 14,000 grants to individuals and organizations for a variety of purposes, such as fostering cultural exchange and facilitating refugee resettlement. However, recent GAO and Inspectors General reports have identified challenges with State's management of these funds. This report examines (1) the policies and guidance that State has established to administer and oversee grants, and (2) the extent to which the implementation of those policies and guidance provides reasonable assurance that funds are being used as intended. GAO analyzed State's policies and guidance, and interviewed cognizant grants officials at 14 bureaus headquartered in Washington, D.C., and three overseas missions (Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Turkey). GAO also conducted file reviews for a sample of 61 grants totaling approximately $172 million. Selection criteria included total dollar value of grants in a country, geographic diversity, and balance among bureaus.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Announces Two Million Dollar Settlement of Race Discrimination Lawsuit Against Baltimore County, MarylandBy Sam NewsNovember 4, 2020The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement, through a court-supervised settlement agreement, with Baltimore County, Maryland, resolving the United States’ claims that the Baltimore County Police Department (BCPD) discriminated against African American applicants for employment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.[Read More…]
- Department of Justice Forecasts an Increase in Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-UAS) Protection Activities and Criminal Enforcement ActionsBy Sam NewsOctober 13, 2020The Department of Justice (DOJ) today announced the protection activities undertaken by the FBI to counter the threat posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) at certain National Special Security Events (NSSEs), Special Events Assessment Rating (SEAR) events, and select mass gatherings throughout the country over the past fiscal year. DOJ and the FBI are publicizing protection activities in an effort to deter careless and criminal UAS operators in light of an anticipated increase in enforcement activity in response to the misuse of UAS.[Read More…]
- Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Brightbill Delivers Remarks at the 2020 Annual Pennsylvania Chamber Environmental Virtual ConferenceBy Sam NewsOctober 29, 2020I am happy to be back home in Pennsylvania — in a sense — and have the opportunity to speak with the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. Since this organization’s founding in 1916, this Chamber has advocated for job creation and greater prosperity for all Pennsylvanians. It represents almost 50 percent of Pennsylvania’s private workforce with a membership of 10,000 businesses ranging from sole proprietors to Fortune 100 companies.[Read More…]
- Secretary Blinken’s Call with Mozambican President NyusiBy Sam NewsJuly 14, 2021Office of the [Read More…]
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken Before Virtual Meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru KenyattaBy Sam NewsApril 27, 2021
- Federal Judges Reinventing the Jury Trial During PandemicBy Sam NewsIn U.S CourtsAugust 27, 2020A group of federal judges around the country are reinventing the jury trial so that it is not only a fair forum for the administration of justice, but also a safe experience for everyone in the courtroom, including defendants and jurors.[Read More…]
- DOD Financial Management: Continued Efforts Needed to Correct Material Weaknesses Identified in Financial Statement AuditsBy Sam NewsOctober 13, 2020The Department of Defense (DOD) continues to face financial management issues and challenges that have prevented it from obtaining a clean audit opinion on the fair presentation of its financial statements. Specifically, financial statement auditors issued disclaimers of opinion on DOD's and the military services' fiscal year 2018 and 2019 financial statements. These disclaimers resulted from numerous material weaknesses based on thousands of notices of findings and recommendations (NFR) that the auditors issued. Of the 2,409 NFRs issued to DOD and its components in fiscal year 2018, DOD's auditors were able to close 623 (26 percent) in fiscal year 2019; the remaining 1,786 (74 percent) remained open. These results provide useful insights on DOD's remediation progress since beginning department-wide full audits in fiscal year 2018; it is important for DOD to equal or exceed this progress in the future. Financial statement audits have value beyond the audit opinion and can help management save resources and improve military readiness. DOD leadership identified a number of benefits that resulted from these financial statement audits. For example, the Navy identified a warehouse that was not in its property records that contained approximately $126 million in aircraft parts. The Navy was able to fill over $20 million in open orders for these parts. By using these parts, aircraft were repaired quicker and made available for use, which improved military readiness. To help guide and prioritize department-wide efforts, DOD identified eight audit remediation priority areas (four in 2019 and four in 2020), seven of which specifically related to material weaknesses that its auditor reported. The military services also developed methodologies to prioritize NFRs and determined that over half of their fiscal year 2018 NFRs are high priority and significant to their financial statement audits. DOD and its components have taken steps to develop corrective action plans (CAP) to address NFRs. However, most of the CAPs that GAO tested did not include at least one data element or evidence that a root-cause analysis was performed, as directed by Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and other related guidance, in part, because DOD guidance and monitoring efforts did not clearly identify the need for such documentation. As a result, DOD and its components may lack sufficient information and assurance that their remediation efforts will resolve the underlying causes associated with the NFRs and related material weaknesses. Based on these issues, DOD and its components are at increased risk that their actions may not effectively address identified deficiencies in a timely manner. DOD developed an NFR Database that contains useful information on deficiencies that financial auditors identified and actions to address them, which has improved its ability to monitor and report on audit remediation efforts using dashboard reports based on real-time data contained in the database. However, certain database information on which these reports are based may not be accurate, reliable, and complete. For example, although DOD reviews NFR Database information monthly, it does not follow up on instances of outdated information or other exceptions identified to ensure components resolve them timely. Without complete and reliable information on DOD's audit remediation efforts, internal and external stakeholders may not have quality information to effectively monitor and measure DOD's progress. DOD is responsible for about half of the federal government's discretionary spending, yet it remains the only major federal agency that has been unable to receive a clean audit opinion on its financial statements. After years of working toward financial statement audit readiness, DOD underwent full financial statement audits in fiscal years 2018 and 2019. This report, developed in connection with fulfilling GAO's mandate to audit the U.S. government's consolidated financial statements, examines the (1) actions taken by DOD and the military services to prioritize financial statement audit findings; (2) extent to which DOD and its components developed CAPs to address audit findings in accordance with OMB, DOD, and other guidance; and (3) extent to which DOD improved its ability to monitor and report on audit remediation efforts. GAO reviewed documentation and interviewed officials about DOD's and the military services' audit remediation prioritization, monitoring, and reporting. GAO selected a generalizable sample of 98 NFRs to determine whether CAPs to address them were developed according to established guidance. GAO is making five recommendations to DOD to improve the quality of CAPs to address audit findings and information in the NFR Database and related reports provided to internal and external stakeholders to monitor and assess audit remediation efforts. DOD concurred with three of GAO's recommendations, partially concurred with one recommendation, and disagreed with one recommendation. GAO continues to believe that all the recommendations are valid. For more information, contact Asif A. Khan at (202) 512-9869 or email@example.com.[Read More…]