Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will visit Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal from November 15-20, underscoring the depth and breadth of our relationships with African partners. During the visit, the Secretary will advance U.S.-Africa collaboration on shared global priorities, including ending the COVID-19 pandemic and building back to a more inclusive global economy, combatting the climate crisis, revitalizing our democracies, and advancing peace and security.
Secretary Blinken will begin his trip in Nairobi, where he will meet with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Ambassador Raychelle Omamo, affirming our strategic partnership with Kenya. The Secretary and representatives of the Kenyan government will discuss our shared interests as members of the UN Security Council, including addressing regional security issues such as Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan. The Secretary will advance U.S.-Kenyan cooperation on ending COVID-19, improving clean energy access, and protecting the environment. The Secretary will underscore U.S. support for a peaceful and inclusive Kenyan election in 2022.
Secretary Blinken will then travel to Abuja, where he will meet with President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, and Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama and discuss furthering cooperation on global health security, expanding energy access and economic growth, and revitalizing democracy. The Secretary will deliver a speech on U.S.-Africa policy in the capital of Africa’s largest democracy. Additionally, the Secretary will engage with Nigerian entrepreneurs in the digital sector.
The Secretary will conclude his trip in Dakar, where he will meet with President Macky Sall and Foreign Minister Aïssata Tall Sall to reaffirm the close partnership between our two countries. Given President Sall’s upcoming African Union chairmanship, Secretary Blinken looks forward to discussing regional issues and shared values. The Secretary will engage in events that highlight America’s strong commercial relationship with Senegal, amplify the role of female Senegalese entrepreneurs, and showcase the U.S. partnership to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
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- Disaster Recovery: COVID-19 Pandemic Intensifies Disaster Recovery Challenges for K-12 SchoolsBy Sam NewsOctober 14, 2020Local education officials in natural disaster-affected areas told us the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues and contributed to lost instructional time, staff burnout, delays in recovery projects, and financial strain in their communities. These officials explained that after the natural disaster, restoring students' mental health was a top priority. Many local education officials said that the services needed to treat trauma and other disaster-related mental health issues were not readily available in their areas, and some noted that providing mental health services has been especially difficult during the pandemic. For example, one official said that because half of her students live in poverty, they usually access mental health services through the school, and were cut off from those services during the pandemic. Some local education officials said they were also particularly worried about the effects of the pandemic on their low-income and other at-risk students, noting that these students are especially vulnerable to learning loss. The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected districts by slowing progress on some disaster recovery projects. For example, an official in a district affected by wildfire said that an effort to restore running water to damaged school buildings was delayed due the pandemic. The U.S. Department of Education (Education) supported school recovery efforts by awarding nearly $1.4 billion to assist schools in over 30 states and U.S. territories with recovery from presidentially-declared major disasters occurring between 2017 and 2019, although some local education officials reported difficulty in using these grant funds during the pandemic. Education provided this funding through the Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations (Restart) and the Project School Emergency Response to Violence grant programs, among others. Local education officials from several districts and counties said that they are using or planning to use Education disaster grants to provide mental health services to students and cover other costs associated with re-opening, such as additional transportation services, but that during the pandemic this was sometimes challenging. For example, officials in two counties said that timeframes for using Restart funds, which expire after 2 years, were too short for long-term recovery needs such as mental health services, particularly with the compounding effects of the pandemic. Education officials said that grantees may request waivers to extend the end dates of these grants and that as of October 2020, no Restart grantees who experienced a 2018 disaster had done so. With regard to oversight, Education officials said they paused on-site monitoring efforts for recent disaster grants as a result of the pandemic, but have continued to hold quarterly phone calls with Restart grantees. These grantees have noted some challenges related to the grant program but have not discussed specific technical assistance needs, according to Education officials. More than 260 presidentially-declared major disasters have occurred since 2017, affecting every state and several U.S. territories, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Many of these natural disasters have had devastating effects, including rendering K-12 school facilities unusable for lengthy periods of time. These schools are now experiencing the compounding challenge of recovering from natural disasters while managing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing practices and building closures are meant to keep staff and students safe, but may also complicate recovery efforts for disaster-affected districts. The Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019 provided funds for GAO to audit issues related to presidentially-declared major disasters that occurred in 2018. We reviewed (1) how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected schools recovering from recent natural disasters; and (2) support Education has provided to help school recover from recent natural disasters and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected schools' use of these resources. We interviewed 29 local education officials representing over 50 school districts in California, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Florida, and Hawaii, which were selected because they were affected by a diverse set of major natural disasters in 2018 that occurred in a mix of populated and less-populated areas. In addition, through a national school superintendents association, we convened a discussion group of superintendents who have experienced natural disasters and mentor other affected districts. Finally, we reviewed federal guidance and interviewed Education officials. For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- Capitol Attack: Special Event Designations Could Have Been Requested for January 6, 2021, but Not All DHS Guidance is ClearBy Sam NewsAugust 9, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has specific designations available for planned special events that bolster security-planning processes and coordination between federal, state, and local entities. For example, these designations enhance coordination of protective anti-terrorism measures and counterterrorism assets, and restrict access. These designations include the National Special Security Event (NSSE) and the Special Event Assessment Rating (SEAR). These designations were not assigned to the events occurring on January 6, 2021. The events of January 6 included 1) a non-permitted protest at the U.S. Capitol, 2) a scheduled Presidential rally at the Ellipse, and 3) a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 election results. If requested, the Presidential rally and joint session of Congress could have been considered for a designation as an NSSE or SEAR because, for example, they were large events with Presidential or Vice Presidential attendance. However, according to DHS officials, the non-permitted incident at the U.S. Capitol was not consistent with factors currently used for NSSE and SEAR designations. This non-permitted incident was not designated, even though there were other indications, such as social media posts, that additional security may have been needed at the Capitol Complex on January 6. While DHS has developed factors for designating an event an NSSE, it is not clear whether they are adaptable to the current environment of emerging threats. Being able to be dynamic and responsive to change would enable federal entities to implement better security planning. Further, although Secret Service officials stated that a request from the local government in Washington, D.C. would typically initiate consideration for an NSSE designation, D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency officials indicated that they did not think the District Government had the authority to request an NSSE designation for an event on federal property. Updating and communicating its policy for requesting an NSSE designation will help DHS ensure that relevant agencies are aware of, and understand, the process for requesting such event designations and may help to better secure the Capitol Complex and other federal properties in the future. Why GAO Did This Study The attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 resulted in assaults on approximately 140 police officers, and about $1.5 million in damages, according to information from the Department of Justice and the U.S. Capitol Police. In addition, the events of the day led to at least seven deaths. Questions have been raised about the extent to which necessary steps were taken to adequately secure the Capitol Complex, and share intelligence information. We have a body of work underway that examines the preparation, coordination, and response on January 6, that we will begin issuing over the next several months. GAO was asked to review, among other things, coordination between federal and local entities for security and emergency support for events at the U.S. Capitol and surrounding areas on January 6, 2021. Specifically, this report examines the extent to which federal, state, and local government entities requested a special event designation for the planned events of January 6, 2021 to include: (1) the definition of an NSSE and its designation process; (2) the definition of SEAR and its designation process; (3) the characteristics of past NSSE and SEAR events; (4) the applicability of NSSE and SEAR designations to the events of January 6 and the extent to which they were considered; and, (5) why NSSE and SEAR designations were not considered for the events of January 6. GAO reviewed policies and processes for DHS special event designations, interviewed officials from relevant agencies, and examined DHS data on recent events that received special event designations.[Read More…]
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- Warfighter Support: Army Has Taken Steps to Improve Reset Process, but More Complete Reporting of Equipment and Future Costs Is NeededBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021What GAO FoundSince GAOs 2007 review, the Army has taken steps to improve its use of reset in targeting equipment shortages. In 2007, GAO noted that the Armys reset implementation strategy did not specifically target shortages of equipment on hand among units preparing for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan in order to mitigate operational risk. GAO recommended that the Army act to ensure that its reset priorities address equipment shortages in the near term to ensure that the needs of deploying units could be met. The Department of Defense (DOD) did not concur, and stated that there was no need to reassess its approaches to equipment reset. However, in 2008, the Army issued its Depot Maintenance Enterprise Strategic Plan, noted that filling materiel shortages within warfighting units is a key challenge facing the depot maintenance enterprise, and called for changes in programs and policies to address materiel shortages within warfighting units. Further, recognizing that retrograde operationsthe return of equipment from theater to the United Statesare essential to facilitating depot level reset and redistribution of equipment, the Army in 2010 developed the retrograde, reset, and redistribution (R3) initiative to synchronize retrograde, national depot-level reset efforts, and redistribution efforts. In March 2011, the Army issued an R3 equipment priority list, and revised and reissued an updated list at the end of fiscal year 2011 with full endorsement from all Army commands. The R3 initiative has only begun to be fully implemented this year, and thus it is too early to tell whether it will provide a consistent and transparent process for addressing the Armys current or future equipping needs.GAO found that the Armys monthly reports to Congress do not include expected future reset costs or distinguish between planned and unplanned reset of equipment. GAO has reported that agencies and decision makers need visibility into the accuracy of program execution in order to ensure basic accountability and to anticipate future costs. However, the Army does not include its future reset liability in its reports to Congress, which DOD most recently estimated in 2010 to be $24 billion. Also, the Army reports to Congress include the number of items that it has repaired in a given month using broad categories, such as Tactical Wheeled Vehicles, which may obscure progress on equipment planned for reset. For example, GAOs analysis of Army data showed that 4,144 tactical wheeled vehicles were planned for reset in fiscal year 2010, while 3,563 vehicles were executed. According to the Armys current reporting method, this would result in a reported completion rate of 86 percent, but GAOs analysis showed that only approximately 40 percent of the equipment that was reset had been planned and programmed. This reporting method may also restrict visibility over the Armys multiyear reset liability. For example, both the M1200 Knight and the M1151 HMMWV are categorized as Tactical Wheeled Vehicles, but anticipated reset costs for the M1200 are significantly higher. In 2010 more M1200s were repaired than planned, thus accounting for a larger share of the budgeted reset funds. With fewer funds remaining, some equipment planned and budgeted for repair was not reset, pushing that workload to future fiscal years. These differences are not captured in the Armys monthly reports, and thus Congress may not have a complete picture of the Armys short- and long-term progress in addressing reset.Why GAO Did This StudyFrom 2007 to 2012, the Army received about $42 billion to fund its expenses for the reset of equipmentincluding more than $21 billion for depot maintenancein support of continuing overseas contingency operations in Southwest Asia. Reset is intended to mitigate the effects of combat stress on equipment by repairing, rebuilding, upgrading, or procuring replacement equipment. Reset equipment is used to supply non-deployed units and units preparing for deployment while meeting ongoing operational requirements. In 2007, GAO reported that the Armys reset strategy did not target equipment shortages for units deploying to theater. For this report, GAO (1) examined steps the Army has taken to improve its equipment reset strategy since 2007, and (2) determined the extent to which the Armys reset reports to Congress provide visibility over reset costs and execution. To conduct this review, GAO reviewed and analyzed DOD and Army documentation on equipment reset strategies and monthly Army reports to Congress, and interviewed DOD and Army officials.[Read More…]
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- 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…]
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- Veterans Health Care: Agency Efforts to Provide and Study Prosthetics for Small but Growing Female Veteran PopulationBy Sam NewsNovember 12, 2020The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides veterans with prosthetic services to assist with their mobility, vision, and hearing needs. The proportion of prosthetics VHA provided to female veterans has been small compared to the share provided to male veterans. However, in fiscal years 2015 to 2019, this proportion grew from 6.8 percent to 7.9 percent and accounted for about $889.1 million of the $15.4 billion total cost of prosthetics. Artificial limbs comprised a relatively small number of the total prosthetics VHA provided to veterans in fiscal years 2015 to 2019; however, veterans who use artificial limbs have complex needs and are significant users of health care services. VHA provided prosthetic services to a small but growing female veteran amputee population (almost 3 percent of veteran amputees in fiscal year 2019), who were generally younger than male veteran amputees. VHA has established an individualized patient care approach in its Amputation System of Care that seeks to address the prosthetic needs of each veteran, including accounting for gender-specific factors. VHA officials said that using a standardized, multidisciplinary approach across VA medical facilities also helps them incorporate the concerns and preferences of female veterans. For example, veterans are provided care by a team that includes a physician, therapist, prosthetist (clinician who helps evaluate prosthetic needs and then designs, fabricates, fits, and adjusts artificial limbs), and other providers as needed. Female veteran amputees GAO spoke with at one VA medical facility said they were satisfied with their VHA care. They also noted a lack of commercially available prosthetic options that VHA providers can use to meet women's needs. Examples of Female Veterans' Artificial Limb Prosthetics Women are generally studied less than their male counterparts in prosthetic and amputee rehabilitation research. VHA designated prosthetics for female veterans a national research priority in 2017, and has funded eight related studies as of May 2020: four pertain to lower limb amputation, three pertain to upper limb amputation, and one pertains to wheelchairs. VHA officials noted the importance of this research priority and the ongoing challenge of recruiting study participants due to the small female veteran population. VHA researchers said they employ various tactics to address this challenge, such as using multi-site studies and recruiting participants from the non-veteran population. Women are the fastest growing veteran subpopulation, with the number of female veterans using VHA health care services increasing 29 percent from 2014 to 2019. Female veterans accounted for an estimated 10 percent of the total veteran population in fiscal year 2019. They are eligible to receive a full range of VHA health care services, including obtaining prosthetics. House Report 115-188 included a provision for GAO to review VHA's prosthetic services for female veterans. This report examines 1) trends in prosthetics provided by VHA to female veterans; 2) characteristics of the female veteran population with limb loss and how VHA provides prosthetic services to these veterans through its Amputation System of Care; and 3) VHA's research efforts and the challenges that exist in studying prosthetics for female veterans with limb loss. GAO analyzed VHA documents, as well as data from fiscal years 2015 to 2019 on prosthetics and veterans with amputations. GAO interviewed agency officials from VHA central office and officials and female veteran amputees at two VA medical facilities selected for expertise in amputation care and prosthetics research activities. In addition, GAO interviewed VHA researchers conducting studies on prosthetics for female veterans. GAO provided a draft of this report to VA. VA provided general and technical comments, which were incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or email@example.com.[Read More…]