December 4, 2021

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Senior Advisor for Energy Security

7 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

I am appointing Amos Hochstein to serve as the Department’s Senior Advisor for Energy Security, underscoring the Administration’s commitment to promote energy security for the United States and our allies and partners.  His immediate focus will be implementation of measures to reduce the risks posed by the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, as outlined in the July 21 Joint Statement of the United States and Germany on Support for Ukraine, European Energy Security, and our Climate Goals.

Senior Advisor Hochstein brings decades of experience to this role, having held senior positions in the State Department, academia, and the private sector.  He is uniquely suited to support the development and implementation of an integrated U.S. strategy to strengthen global energy security, especially in Central and Eastern Europe.  This appointment demonstrates the Administration’s resolve to utilize energy diplomacy to ensure the security of supply during this critical time of energy transition, push back against the Kremlin’s use of energy as a geopolitical weapon, and to advance a more secure and sustainable energy future for Ukraine and frontline NATO and EU countries.

 

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    What GAO Found The Point-in-Time (PIT) count is a nationwide count of people experiencing homelessness on a single night, conducted by Continuums of Care (CoC)—local planning bodies that coordinate homelessness services. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allows CoCs to use different methods to estimate homeless populations—including a census (complete count), sampling, or a combination of these. For counting unsheltered individuals (those on the street or in other uninhabitable places), HUD requires CoCs to use in-person methods—for example, by having enumerators visually locate and attempt to ask questions of these individuals on the night of the count. HUD permits CoCs to also use administrative data—that is, records collected by public and nonprofit agencies on people who use their services. However, HUD does not provide CoCs with examples of how to extract and use administrative data for the unsheltered count. By doing so, HUD could help improve the quality and consistency of CoCs' estimates and position CoCs to provide better estimates, particularly if in-person counts are again disrupted, as they were in 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. PIT count is similar to Canada's and England's approaches in that they are nationally administered and localities can choose among various approved methods to conduct in-person local counts. The Netherlands and Australia use more centralized methods and statistical analyses to develop estimates. For example, Australia produces an estimate using data from the general census of the population. Little comprehensive data exist on PIT count costs, but a GAO survey of 41 CoCs provided information on funding sources and key resources required from their most recent unsheltered PIT count prior to 2021: Of the 41 CoCs, 31 used HUD funds, 19 used state or local funds, and 10 used private donations (often in combination with government funds). All 41 CoCs reported using volunteers to complete their PIT counts, with large cities using the most volunteer hours. Respondents reported an average of 4.8 work hours (paid staff and volunteers) for every person counted in their PIT count of unsheltered individuals. The most common PIT count costs were for incentives for volunteers and meals. Examples of Homeless Encampments in Oakland, California, in 2021 Why GAO Did This Study HUD's PIT count is a key tool for estimating the size of the U.S. homeless population. However, developing an accurate understanding of the extent of homelessness is challenging due to the hidden nature of the population. Further, some members of Congress and others have raised questions about the reliability of HUD's estimates. GAO was asked to review the PIT count and alternative methods for estimating the size of homeless populations. This report (1) examines communities' approaches for counting people experiencing homelessness and HUD's guidance for using these approaches, (2) describes approaches used by selected foreign countries to estimate their homeless populations, and (3) describes what is known about funding sources and resources expended by selected communities in conducing the PIT count. GAO conducted a literature review to identify methods to estimate homelessness and selected four countries for case study based on a literature review and recommendations from researchers. GAO also surveyed a nongeneralizable sample of 60 CoCs and received responses from 41 of them about PIT count costs and funding sources, reviewed agency guidance and documents, and interviewed U.S. and foreign government officials.
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  • Operational Contract Support: Actions Needed to Enhance the Collection, Integration, and Sharing of Lessons Learned
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    What GAO Found The Department of Defense's (DOD) geographic combatant commands are improving efforts to collect operational contract support (OCS) issues from operations and exercises needed to develop lessons learned, but the military services are generally not collecting them. Currently, four of the six geographic combatant commands—U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Central Command, U.S. Northern Command, and U.S. Southern Command—have identified OCS as a critical capability in their joint training plans and have incorporated it into planning, execution, and assessment of exercises, while U.S. European Command and U.S. Pacific Command continue to make progress doing so. However, with the exception of the Army, the military services and their component commands are not generally collecting OCS issues to develop lessons learned. Officials from the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy stated that the lack of OCS awareness caused by not having (1) service-wide guidance on collecting OCS issues and (2) an OCS training requirement for senior leaders hinders their ability to develop lessons learned. Without guidance and a training requirement for senior leaders to improve OCS awareness, it will be difficult for DOD to ensure consistent collection of OCS issues and build on efficiencies that the services have identified to adequately plan for the use of contractor support. DOD has made progress resolving some OCS issues, but does not have a focal point for integrating OCS issues identified through the Joint Lessons Learned Program (JLLP). The combatant commands and services are to use the JLLP to develop lessons learned related to joint capabilities from operations and exercises to improve areas such as doctrine and training. Currently, there are multiple organizations across DOD that are working on separate and sometimes disjointed OCS lessons-learned efforts. DOD has undertaken initial efforts to assign an OCS joint proponent with lessons-learned responsibilities. A joint proponent is an entity intended to lead collaborative development and integration of joint capability. However, DOD has not determined whether the joint proponent will be responsible for providing formal oversight and integration of OCS issues from the JLLP. As it develops the joint proponent, including such roles and responsibilities will help better position DOD to integrate all OCS issues from the JLLP, thereby addressing any gaps in its efforts. DOD organizations do not consistently use the Joint Lessons Learned Information System (JLLIS) to share OCS issues and lessons learned due to the system's limited functionality. JLLIS is the JLLP's system of record and is to facilitate the DOD-wide collection and sharing of lessons learned. However, GAO found that geographic combatant commands and the Army use JLLIS to varying degrees. Further, DOD is generally not sharing OCS lessons learned in JLLIS because the system is not functional for users searching OCS issues due to, among other reasons, not having an OCS label and not having a designated location for sharing OCS lessons learned. JLLIS's limited functionality impedes information sharing department-wide. Until DOD improves the functionality of JLLIS, it will be difficult for users to search for OCS issues, and DOD runs the risk of not being able to systematically track and share OCS lessons learned department-wide, which could negatively affect joint force development and readiness. Why GAO Did This Study DOD has spent billions of dollars on contract support during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002 and anticipates continuing its heavy reliance on contractors in future operations. Generally, OCS is the process of planning for and obtaining needed supplies and services from commercial sources in support of joint operations. GAO has previously identified long-standing concerns with DOD's efforts to institutionalize OCS. This report examines the extent to which (1) the geographic combatant commands and the services collect OCS issues to develop lessons learned, (2) DOD has a focal point for integrating OCS issues from the JLLP, and (3) DOD organizations use JLLIS to share OCS issues and lessons learned. GAO evaluated OCS and lessons-learned guidance and plans and met with DOD commands and offices responsible for OCS planning, integration, policy, and contractor-management functions.
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    The interagency process for acquiring private land for border barrier construction along the southwest border involves the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Border Patrol and the Department of Defense's U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) as well as the Department of Justice. The key acquisition steps are (1) identifying the landowners affected by planned barriers, (2) contacting landowners to obtain access to their property for surveying and other due diligence activities, (3) negotiating with landowners, and (4) concluding the acquisition preferably through negotiated purchase or via condemnation. The government may acquire temporary access to or permanent ownership of property by initiating a condemnation proceeding in federal district court. In this judicial process, the government articulates the public use necessitating the acquisition and the estimated compensation for the landowner, among other things. Border Barrier Construction in South Texas GAO's analysis of USACE data shows that, as of July 2020, the federal government acquired 135 private tracts, or sections, of land and is working to acquire 991 additional tracts. The privately owned land the government acquired or is working to acquire totals about 5,275 acres or 8.2 square miles, and most of it—1,090 of 1,126 tracts—is in south Texas. The Border Patrol planned for private land acquisition in south Texas to take 21 to 30 months compared with 12 months for comparable land acquisitions in other regions. Border Patrol estimated private land acquisition in south Texas would take more time due to factors unique to south Texas, including: Barrier placement in south Texas. Additional time is needed for the government to work with landowners to ensure that they have access to and are justly compensated for any negative impact on the value of remaining property between the border barrier and the Rio Grande River, according to Border Patrol officials. Missing or incomplete land records. Border Patrol officials said that it often takes time to identify parties with interest in a tract of land due to missing or incomplete land records. In cases where the government is unable to identify interested parties, the government has to use the condemnation process to resolve title issues and acquire ownership. In January 2017, the President issued Executive Order 13767, which directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to immediately plan, design, and construct a wall or other physical barriers along the southwest border. These new barriers would add to or replace 654 miles of primary pedestrian and vehicular barriers constructed as of fiscal year 2015. Of the nearly 2,000-mile southwest border, roughly 30 percent is federal land. Private, tribal, and state-owned land constitutes the remaining 70 percent of the border. GAO was asked to review the U.S. government's efforts to acquire privately owned land along the southwest border for barrier construction. GAO's review focused on the government's acquisition of private land and did not address acquisition of federal, state, or tribal property. This report examines (1) federal agencies' process for acquiring private land identified for the construction of border barriers and (2) the status of federal acquisition of private land for the barrier construction. GAO reviewed key documents; interviewed Border Patrol, USACE, and Department of Justice officials; and interviewed stakeholder organizations and landowners. GAO also analyzed data on the status of private land acquisition and conducted a site visit to areas in south Texas. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or GamblerR@gao.gov.
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  • COVID-19 Housing Protections: Mortgage Forbearance and Other Federal Efforts Have Reduced Default and Foreclosure Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Many single-family mortgage borrowers who missed payments during the pandemic used the expanded mortgage forbearance provision in the CARES Act. This provision allowed borrowers with loans insured, guaranteed, made directly, purchased, or securitized by federal entities (about 75 percent of all mortgages) to temporarily suspend their monthly mortgage payments. Use of the forbearance provision peaked in May 2020 at about 7 percent of all single-family mortgages (about 3.4 million) and gradually declined to about 5 percent by February 2021, according to GAO's analysis of the National Mortgage Database. As of February 2021, about half of all borrowers who used forbearance during the pandemic remained in forbearance. In addition, Black and Hispanic borrowers, who were more likely to have been economically affected by the pandemic, used forbearance at about twice the rate of White borrowers. Forbearance was also more common among borrowers at a greater risk of mortgage default—specifically, first-time, minority, and low- and moderate-income homebuyers with mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration and rural homebuyers with loans guaranteed by the Rural Housing Service (see fig. 1). Figure 1: Estimated Percentage of Single-Family Mortgage Loans in Forbearance, by Loan Type (January 2020–February 2021) A small percentage of borrowers who missed payments during the pandemic have not used forbearance—less than 1 percent of those covered by the CARES Act. Yet, borrowers who have not used forbearance may be at a greater risk of default and foreclosure, according to GAO's analysis of the National Mortgage Database. For example, these borrowers tended to have lower subprime credit scores, indicating an elevated risk of default, compared to borrowers who were current or in forbearance, who tended to have higher prime or near prime credit scores. Federal agencies and the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the enterprises) have taken steps to make these borrowers aware of forbearance options, such as through direct phone calls and letters. In addition, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) amended mortgage servicing rules in June 2021 to require servicers to discuss forbearance options with borrowers shortly after any delinquency. Foreclosures declined significantly during the pandemic because of federal moratoriums that prohibited foreclosures. The number of mortgages entering foreclosure decreased by about 85 percent on a year-over-year basis from June 2019 to June 2020 and remained as low through February 2021, according to mortgage data provider Black Knight (see fig. 2). Figure 2: Number of Single-Family Mortgage Loans Entering Foreclosure, by Month (June 2019–February 2021) Note: Foreclosure data were only available through February 2021 at the time of our review. The number of new foreclosures includes vacant and abandoned properties and non-federally backed loans, which the CARES Act did not cover. Federal entities have taken additional steps to limit pandemic-related mortgage defaults and foreclosures. Federal housing agencies and the enterprises have expanded forbearance options to provide borrowers with additional time to enter and remain in forbearance. In addition, they streamlined and introduced new loss mitigation options to help borrowers reinstate their loans after forbearance, including options to defer missed payments until the end of a mortgage. Borrowers in extended forbearances generally have large expected repayments—an average of $8,300 as of February 2021, according to the National Mortgage Database. As a result, delinquent borrowers exiting forbearance have most commonly deferred repayment, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Further, CFPB's amended mortgage servicing rules allow servicers to streamline processing of loss mitigation actions and establish procedural safeguards to help limit avoidable foreclosures until January 1, 2022. The risk of a spike in defaults and foreclosures is further mitigated by the relatively strong equity position of borrowers due to rapid home price appreciation. Home equity—or the difference between a home's current value and any outstanding loan balances—can help borrowers with ongoing hardships avoid foreclosure by allowing them to refinance their mortgage or sell their home to pay off the remaining balance. According to GAO's analysis of the National Mortgage Database, few borrowers (about 2 percent) who were in forbearance or delinquent in February 2021 did not have home equity after accounting for home price appreciation. By comparison, during the peak of foreclosures in 2011 after the 2007–2009 financial crisis, about 17 percent of all borrowers and 44 percent of delinquent borrowers had no home equity (see fig. 3). Figure 3: Estimated Percentage of Single-Family Mortgage Borrowers without Home Equity as of 2020 and 2011, by Loan Type and Status Why GAO Did This Study Millions of mortgage borrowers continue to experience financial challenges and potential housing instability during the COVID-19 pandemic. To address these concerns, Congress, federal agencies, and the enterprises provided borrowers with options to temporarily suspend their mortgage payments and placed a moratorium on foreclosures. Both provisions begin to expire in the coming months. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to monitor federal efforts related to COVID-19. This report examines (1) the extent to which mortgage forbearance may have contributed to housing stability during the pandemic, (2) federal efforts to promote awareness of forbearance among delinquent borrowers, and (3) federal efforts to limit mortgage default and foreclosure risks after federal mortgage forbearance and foreclosure protections expire. GAO analyzed data on mortgage performance and the characteristics of borrowers who used forbearance from January 2020 to February 2021 using the National Mortgage Database (a federally managed, generalizable sample of single-family mortgages). GAO also reviewed data from Black Knight and the Mortgage Bankers Association on foreclosures and forbearance repayment. In addition, GAO interviewed representatives of federal entities about efforts to communicate with borrowers and limit default and foreclosure risks. To highlight potential risks, GAO also analyzed current trends in home equity among delinquent borrowers relative to the 2007–2009 financial crisis. For more information, contact John Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or PendletonJ@gao.gov.
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  • DOD Systems Modernization: Maintaining Effective Communication Is Needed to Help Ensure the Army’s Successful Deployment of the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System
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    The Department of Defense (DOD) has had long-standing, serious problems with its numerous military component-unique personnel and pay systems, including accurately paying its military personnel on time and monitoring and tracking them to, from, and within their duty stations. For example, in the early 1990s, Army Reserve and National Guard troops received inaccurate or late pay and benefits after serving in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. We previously reported that the lack of integration among DOD's multiple military personnel and pay systems, among other things, caused these and similar errors. To address these and other problems, in February 1998, DOD initiated a program to design and implement the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System (DIMHRS). DIMHRS is intended to provide a joint, integrated, standardized personnel and pay system for all military components (including active and reserve components). In November 2004, DOD accepted the design of the first phase of DIMHRS for personnel and pay functions and then proceeded with development of the system. Meanwhile, as we reported in 2006, some Army Reserve and National Guard troops continued to receive inaccurate pay resulting in part from a lack of integration in Army personnel and pay systems. Furthermore, personnel and pay problems have been exacerbated by the hundreds of thousands of military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, whose families depend on receiving accurate and timely pay, in addition to DOD's need to track military personnel in and out of theater. DOD is concurrently working with the Army, Air Force, and Navy, but the Army is to be the first to deploy DIMHRS. Therefore, we focused our review on DOD's plans to deliver the system to the Army for deployment. DOD has planned five DIMHRS deployment dates for the Army with the most recent one scheduled in March 2009. Four of the deployment dates were postponed--April 2006, April 2008, July 2008, and October 2008. As of April 2008, DOD moved the October date to March 2009. DIMHRS uses software referred to as a commercial-off-the-shelf product. According to DIMHRS program officials, including the Deputy Director of the Business Transformation Agency, the product will address all military component requirements. In February 2005, we reported that because DOD was not managing the DIMHRS program effectively, including its requirements, it was at increased risk of not delivering promised system capabilities and benefits on time. Since our 2005 report, we have monitored DOD's progress in managing the DIMHRS program under the authority of the Comptroller General to conduct evaluations on his own initiative. Specifically for this report, our objective was to determine to what extent DOD has effectively communicated the DIMHRS's capabilities to the Army in order for the Army to prepare for deployment of the system in March 2009.DOD has taken some recent steps to improve communications with the Army about DIMHRS's capabilities in an effort to better prepare the Army for deployment of the system in March 2009. However, Army officials still have some concerns about the extent to which Army requirements are being incorporated into DIMHRS. In addition, DOD has not established a clear, well-defined process for maintaining effective communications to better prepare the Army to deploy DIMHRS. Effective communication is a key federal internal control standard that calls for communications to constantly flow down, across, and up the organization to help it achieve all of its objectives. Such communication would improve the Army's understanding of what the system will deliver thus enabling the Army to better design and implement effective business processes to work with DIMHRS. The Army has had problems receiving assurance from DOD about the extent to which its requirements would be included in DIMHRS. For example, in September 2007, when the Army compared versions 3.0 and 3.1 of the system requirements document, it noted that DOD's DIMHRS program office had not effectively communicated with the Army the rationale or negotiated the acceptance of the Army's requirements that were dropped, changed, or both, which were agreed upon in version 3.0. During the Army's review of version 3.1, it identified and submitted 717 issues for DOD to resolve. Furthermore, when communicating changes for version 3.1, the format made it difficult for the Army to perform its comparative analysis. Army officials said that when the DIMHRS program office does not effectively communicate to them the differences between its requirements and the system, they have difficulty conducting a gap analysis between the system's planned capabilities and their own requirements. The gap analysis forms the basis upon which the Army can determine whether it needs to develop or adjust its business processes prior to deploying DIMHRS. DOD recently took steps to improve its communications with the Army about DIMHRS's capabilities and its impact on Army requirements. For example, in May 2008, the DIMHRS program office began to meet with Army officials to discuss the development of a formal process of delivering and adjudicating the documented updates to the design; this includes the differences between the Army's requirements--documented need of what a particular product or service should be or do--and the DIMHRS's requirements, which are documented in the system requirements document. According to Army officials, with respect to version 3.2, they identified 311 issues with 98 issues remaining in July 2008, which the DIMHRS program office is working to resolve. Additionally, in April 2008, the DIMHRS program office shared more detailed information about DIMHRS's capabilities through activities, such as demonstrations of the system capabilities. Moreover, the Deputy Director of the Business Transformation Agency stated that moving the deployment date to March 2009 allowed the DIMHRS program office and the Army the time to communicate about DIMHRS's capabilities. Although these steps have been taken, DOD has not developed and documented a clearly defined process for maintaining effective communications of the differences between DIMHRS's capabilities and Army requirements. Without a clearly defined process for maintaining effective communications, the Army may not be effectively prepared to deploy the system when scheduled, and DOD may deliver a system that will require extensive and expensive investments.
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