Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
On behalf of the government of the United States and the American people, I congratulate the people of Sint Maarten on Sint Maarten Day.
The commercial, educational, historic, and cultural ties between our two countries remain strong and vital. We look forward to working with you to build back better after the COVID-19 pandemic through the U.S.-Caribbean Resilience Partnership, promoting economic resilience and recovery, and strengthening regional capacity for effective disaster response. We celebrate the many young people from Sint Maarten who study in the United States each year and then return to contribute to the island’s bright future. Our joint law enforcement efforts continue to make the Western Hemisphere safer for us all.
With steadfast friendship, we look forward to many opportunities for collaboration with the government and people of the “Friendly Island” in the years to come. Happy Sint Maarten Day.
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- [Protest of Air Force Contract Award for Modernization Support Services]By Sam NewsAugust 18, 2021A firm protested an Air Force contract award for systems modernization support services, contending that the Air Force: (1) unreasonably determined that its proposal represented a moderate risk; (2) treated the protester and the awardee unfairly in the evaluation of the two firms' proposed architectures; (3) inappropriately evaluated its bid under the development-implementation processes evaluation factor; (4) should have considered the awardee's poor past performance on three large programs; and (5) should have rejected the awardee's proposal, since the solicitation prohibited the submission of more than one proposal by a bidder. GAO held that the Air Force: (1) reasonably determined the protester's bid represented a moderate risk, since its proposed architecture was based upon emerging technology and would require a substantial amount of custom software development; (2) treated the protester and the awardee fairly in the risk assessment; (3) appropriately considered the bidder's past performance in the bid evaluation, since the solicitation criteria provided for consideration of bidder's relevant experience; (4) properly limited its consideration of the awardee's performance to those procurements that the awardee itself performed as opposed to those performed by affiliated entities; and (5) properly accepted proposals from the awardee and an affiliated entity, since each were a separate business entity within a larger corporation. Accordingly, the protest was denied.[Read More…]
- Facial Recognition Technology: Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Should Better Assess Privacy and Other RisksBy Sam NewsJune 29, 2021What GAO Found GAO surveyed 42 federal agencies that employ law enforcement officers about their use of facial recognition technology. Twenty reported owning systems with facial recognition technology or using systems owned by other entities, such as other federal, state, local, and non-government entities (see figure). Ownership and Use of Facial Recognition Technology Reported by Federal Agencies that Employ Law Enforcement Officers Note: For more details, see figure 2 in GAO-21-518. Agencies reported using the technology to support several activities (e.g., criminal investigations) and in response to COVID-19 (e.g., verify an individual's identity remotely). Six agencies reported using the technology on images of the unrest, riots, or protests following the death of George Floyd in May 2020. Three agencies reported using it on images of the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Agencies said the searches used images of suspected criminal activity. All fourteen agencies that reported using the technology to support criminal investigations also reported using systems owned by non-federal entities. However, only one has awareness of what non-federal systems are used by employees. By having a mechanism to track what non-federal systems are used by employees and assessing related risks (e.g., privacy and accuracy-related risks), agencies can better mitigate risks to themselves and the public. Why GAO Did This Study Federal agencies that employ law enforcement officers can use facial recognition technology to assist criminal investigations, among other activities. For example, the technology can help identify an unknown individual in a photo or video surveillance. GAO was asked to review federal law enforcement use of facial recognition technology. This report examines the 1) ownership and use of facial recognition technology by federal agencies that employ law enforcement officers, 2) types of activities these agencies use the technology to support, and 3) the extent that these agencies track employee use of facial recognition technology owned by non-federal entities. GAO administered a survey questionnaire to 42 federal agencies that employ law enforcement officers regarding their use of the technology. GAO also reviewed documents (e.g., system descriptions) and interviewed officials from selected agencies (e.g., agencies that owned facial recognition technology). This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in April 2021. Information that agencies deemed sensitive has been omitted.[Read More…]
- Hanford Cleanup: DOE’s Efforts to Close Tank Farms Would Benefit from Clearer Legal Authorities and CommunicationBy Sam NewsJanuary 7, 2021The Department of Energy (DOE) has retrieved nuclear waste from all the tanks at C-farm—the first of 18 tank farms (i.e., groupings of tanks) at DOE's Hanford site in southeastern Washington State. The waste is a byproduct of decades of nuclear weapons production and research. DOE is obligated under agreements with the state's Department of Ecology (Ecology) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to move waste from older, single-shell tanks to newer, more durable, double-shell tanks and ultimately to dispose of it. Example of a Tank and of Waste in a Tank at Hanford DOE intends to “close” the C-farm by leaving the nearly empty tanks in place and filling them with grout. However, DOE faces challenges, in part because this approach depends on: (1) DOE's determination under its directives that residual tank waste can be managed as a waste type other than high-level waste (HLW) and (2) Ecology's approval. DOE has started the determination process, but as GAO has previously found, DOE is likely to face a lawsuit because of questions about its legal authority. Ecology has raised concerns that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has not independently reviewed DOE's analysis for this determination. By Congress clarifying DOE's authority at Hanford to determine, with NRC involvement, that residual tank waste can be managed as a waste type other than HLW, DOE would be in a better position to move forward. Another challenge DOE faces in closing C-farm is how to address contaminated soil caused by leaks or discharges of waste from the tanks. DOE and Ecology officials do not agree on a process for evaluating contaminated soil at C-farm or on what role NRC should play in this process. They interpret their agreement differently, particularly regarding whether NRC must review DOE's analysis of contaminated soil. If the two parties cannot resolve this issue, Ecology may deny DOE a permit for C-farm closure. By using an independent mediator to help reach agreement with Ecology on how to assess soil contamination, including NRC's role, DOE would be better positioned to avoid future cleanup delays. DOE has not developed a long-term plan for tank-farm closure, in part, because a plan is not required. However, leading practices in program management call for long-term planning. In addition, DOE faces technical challenges that may take years to address as noted by representatives from various entities or tribal governments. For example, an internal DOE document states there is a 95 percent probability DOE will run out of space in its double shell tanks—space needed to continue retrieval operations. Planning for and building new tanks requires years of work. By developing a long-term plan, DOE could better prepare to address technical challenges. The Hanford site in Washington State contains about 54 million gallons of nuclear waste, which is stored in 177 underground storage tanks. In fiscal years 1997 through 2019, DOE spent over $10 billion to maintain Hanford's tanks and retrieve waste from them. DOE expects to spend at least $69 billion more on activities to retrieve tank waste and close tanks, according to a January 2019 DOE report. Senate Report 116-48, accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, included a provision for GAO to review the status of tank closures at Hanford. GAO's report examines the status of DOE's efforts to retrieve tank waste, challenges DOE faces in its effort to close the C-farm, as well as DOE's approach for closing the remaining tank farms. GAO toured the site; reviewed DOE documents, laws, and regulations; and interviewed officials and representatives from local, regional, and national entities and tribal governments. Congress should consider clarifying DOE's authority at Hanford to determine, with NRC involvement, whether residual tank waste can be managed as a waste type other than HLW. GAO is also making three recommendations, including that DOE (1) use an independent mediator to help reach agreement with Ecology on a process for assessing soil contamination, including NRC's role and (2) develop a long-term plan for its tank waste cleanup mission at Hanford. DOE concurred with all three recommendations. For more information, contact David C. Trimble at (202) 512-3841 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- 2018 Pacific Island Disasters: Federal Actions Helped Facilitate the Response, but FEMA Needs to Address Long-Term Recovery ChallengesBy Sam NewsFebruary 3, 2021The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) took steps prior to the 2018 disasters in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Guam, and Hawaii to facilitate response in the region, where time and distance from the continental United States create unique challenges. For instance, FEMA increased the capacity of two Pacific-area supply distribution centers and helped develop area specific disaster response plans. FEMA and its federal partners, such as the Department of Defense (DOD), had varied response roles, which local officials in the CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii considered effective. For example, DOD provided temporary roof repair for disaster survivors in the CNMI. Damage from Typhoon Yutu in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (left) and the Kilauea Volcano Eruption in Hawaii (right) As of October 2020, FEMA obligated $877 million—more than 70 percent of which was for Individual and Public Assistance missions—following the 2018 disasters and made progress addressing some region specific challenges. However, FEMA has not fully addressed housing assistance issues in the CNMI. For example, it experienced delays implementing its Permanent Housing Construction program in the CNMI due to contracting shortfalls and lack of experienced staff. As of October 2020, only about 30 percent of homes were completed and returned to survivors. GAO found that these housing assistance challenges are consistent with lessons learned from prior FEMA missions in other remote areas of the U.S. Developing guidance that addresses lessons learned in the Permanent Housing Construction program could help streamline assistance to disaster survivors. GAO also identified delays in FEMA's obligation of Public Assistance program funds—used to repair or replace disaster-damaged public infrastructure such as utilities, roads, and schools—in the CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii. Specifically, on average, it took over a year for FEMA to approve funds for projects awarded after the 2018 disasters. FEMA and local officials identified potential reasons for the delays, including cost estimation challenges. FEMA established cost factors in the CNMI to account for higher construction costs, and GAO found that FEMA collects some data on the timeliness of individual steps in the process. However, FEMA has not analyzed the data to help identify causes of the delays, which could allow it to target solutions to address them. The CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii experienced an unprecedented number of natural disasters in 2018—including typhoons, earthquakes, mudslides, and volcanic eruptions. FEMA is the lead federal agency responsible for helping states and territories prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters. Due to the remoteness of Hawaii and the Pacific territories, disaster response and recovery can be challenging. Title IX of the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019 includes a provision for GAO to review FEMA's response and recovery efforts for 2018 natural disasters, including those in the Pacific region. This report examines (1) how FEMA and its federal partners prepared for and responded to the 2018 disasters in the CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii; and (2) the extent to which FEMA assisted the CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii in recovering from the 2018 natural disasters. GAO analyzed program documents, response plans, and data on FEMA obligations, expenditures, and grant process steps as of October 2020; interviewed federal, state, territorial, and local officials; and visited disaster-damaged areas in Hawaii. GAO is making four recommendations, including that FEMA (1) incorporate lessons learned into Permanent Housing Construction guidance; and (2) use performance data to identify and address inefficiencies in the Public Assistance program. The Department of Homeland Security concurred, and FEMA is taking actions in response. For more information, contact Chris Currie at (404) 679-1875 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Troubled Asset Relief Program: Status of Two Remaining Active Investment ProgramsBy Sam NewsDecember 2, 2021What GAO Found As of September 30, 2021, three participants remained in the Troubled Asset Relief Program's (TARP) two active investment programs. Those participants included one institution in the Capital Purchase Program (CPP) and two institutions in the Community Development Capital Initiative (CDCI). Combined, the Department of the Treasury's (Treasury) total investment for these programs was $205.10 billion. By the end of September 2021, Treasury had received $227.36 billion in proceeds (repayments and income). As of that date, outstanding investments totaled about $13 million. Treasury's total investment for the CPP program has been $204.90 billion; by December 2009, Treasury had disbursed all funds to 707 financial institutions nationwide. As of September 30, 2021, Treasury had received $226.77 billion in repayments and income from its CPP investments and sales of original CPP investments. The remaining outstanding investment balance for CPP is about $12 million and one institution remained in the program, as of September 30, 2021. Treasury's total investment for the CDCI program has been $570 million for 84 institutions. Of the total investment, Treasury disbursed $207 million through CDCI from July through September 2010. An additional $363 million represented exchanges of investments from CPP into CDCI. As of September 30, 2021, Treasury had received $593 million in repayments and income from CDCI participants. The remaining outstanding investment balance is about $1 million and two institutions remained in the program, as of September 30, 2021. Why GAO Did This Study The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, as amended, included a provision that GAO report at least annually on TARP activities and performance. As a result, GAO has been monitoring, analyzing, and providing updates on TARP programs since 2008. This report provides an update on the status of Treasury's investment and participation in the remaining TARP investment programs, as of September 30, 2021. This includes CPP, which was designed to provide capital to financially viable financial institutions through the purchase of senior preferred shares that would pay dividends and warrants to purchase shares of common or preferred stock, and CDCI, which was designed to provide capital to Community Development Financial Institutions by purchasing preferred shares and subordinated debentures. To assess the programs' status, GAO reviewed Treasury reports on the status of CPP and CDCI. In addition, GAO reviewed information from Treasury officials to identify the agency's current efforts to exit from outstanding investments made under these programs. Finally, GAO used financial and regulatory data to assess the financial condition of institutions remaining in the programs and those that had left the programs. For more information, contact John Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Memphis Physicians Agree To Pay More Than $340,000 for Alleged OverbillingBy Sam NewsOctober 30, 2020Doctor Shoaib Qureshi, Doctor Imran Mirza, Memphis Primary Care Specialists, Lunceford Family Health Center, and Getwell Family Medicine agreed to pay $341,690 to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by knowingly charging Medicare for services rendered by nurse practitioners at the higher reimbursement rate for physician services, the Justice Department announced today.[Read More…]
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- Five Peruvians Extradited For Overseeing Call Centers That Threatened And Defrauded Spanish-Speaking U.S. ConsumersBy Sam NewsOctober 27, 2020Five residents of Lima, Peru, were extradited to the United States and made their initial appearances in Miami federal court, where they stand accused of operating a large fraud and extortion scheme targeting Spanish-speaking consumers in the United States, the Department of Justice and U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced today.[Read More…]
- Homeland Security: DHS Needs to Fully Implement Key Practices in Acquiring Biometric Identity Management SystemBy Sam NewsJune 9, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initially expected to implement the entire Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) by 2021; however, no segments of the program have been deployed to date. Currently estimated to cost $4.3 billion in total, DHS plans to deploy increment 1 of the program in December 2021 and expects to implement later increments in 2022 and 2024. Increment 1 is expected to replace the functionality of the existing system. Although the multi-billion dollar HART program had suffered continuing delays, until the end of last year, the DHS Chief Information Officer (CIO) had reported the program as low risk on the IT Dashboard, a website showing, among other things, the performance and risks of agency information technology (IT) investments. In May 2020, the Office of the CIO began developing a new assessment process which led to the CIO accurately elevating HART's rating from low to high risk and reporting this rating to the IT Dashboard in November 2020. In addition, consistent with OMB guidance, the CIO fulfilled applicable oversight requirements for high-risk IT programs by, among other things, conducting a review of the program known as a TechStat review. While the CIO complied with applicable oversight requirements in conducting the TechStat review, GAO noted that DHS's associated policy was outdated. Specifically, the 2017 policy does not reflect the revised process DHS started using in 2020. As such, until the guidance is updated, other departmental IT programs deemed high risk would likely not be readily aware of the specific process requirements. Concurrent with the CIO's actions to conduct oversight, HART program management has also acted to implement important risk management practices. Specifically, GAO found that HART had fully implemented four of seven risk management best practices and partially implemented the remaining three (see table). For example, as of February 2021, the program had identified 49 active risks, including 15 related to cost and schedule and 17 related to technical issues. While DHS has plans under way to fully implement two of the partially implemented practices, until it fully implements the remaining practice its efforts to effectively monitor the status of risks and mitigation plans may be hampered. Summary of the Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology Program's Implementation of the Seven Risk Management Practices Practice GAO assessment 1. Determine risk sources and categories ● 2. Define parameters to analyze and categorize risks ● 3. Establish and maintain a risk management strategy ◑ 4. Identify and document risks ● 5. Evaluate and categorize each identified risk using defined risk categories and parameters, and determine its relative priority ● 6. Develop a risk mitigation plan in accordance with the risk management strategy ◑ 7. Monitor the status of each risk periodically and implement the risk mitigation plan as appropriate ◑ Legend: ● = Fully implemented ◑ = Partially implemented ○ = Not implemented Source: GAO analysis of agency data. | GAO-21-386 Why GAO Did This Study DHS currently uses an outdated system, implemented over 27 years ago, for providing biometric identity management services (i.e., fingerprint matching and facial recognition technology services), known as the Automated Biometric Identification System, or IDENT. In 2016, DHS initiated a multi-billion dollar program known as HART, which is intended to replace the existing system. GAO was asked to evaluate the HART program. Its specific objectives, among others, were to (1) determine the status of the program, (2) assess the extent to which the DHS CIO was accurately reporting risk and meeting applicable oversight requirements, and (3) assess the extent to which the program was identifying and managing its risks. To accomplish these objectives, GAO identified the program's schedule and cost estimates, assessed the CIO's risk ratings and HART oversight documentation and related evidence against OMB guidance, and compared the program's risk management practices to best practices that are essential to identifying and mitigating potential problems. In addition, GAO interviewed appropriate officials.[Read More…]
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- Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Changes in Global Hawk’s Acquisition Strategy Are Needed to Reduce Program RisksBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021Global Hawk offers significant military capabilities to capture and quickly transmit high-quality images of targets and terrain, day or night, and in adverse weather--without risk to an onboard pilot. Global Hawk first flew in the late 1990s as a demonstrator and supported recent combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2001, the Air Force began an acquisition program to develop and produce improved Global Hawks. In 2002, the Department of Defense (DOD) restructured and accelerated the program to include a new, larger and more capable air vehicle. GAO was asked to review the program and discuss (1) the restructuring's effect on the Air Force's ability to deliver new capabilities to the warfighter and (2) whether its current business case and management approach is knowledge-based and can help forestall future risks.The restructuring of the Global Hawk program impacts the acquisition program in multiple ways. More and accelerated funding: Funding, which previously spanned 20 years, now is compressed in about half the time. The restructured plan requires $6.3 billion through fiscal year 2012; the original plan would have needed $3.4 billion by that time. The budget request is now three times higher for some years. Immature technologies: Several critical technologies needed to provide the advanced capabilities are immature and will not be tested on the new air vehicle until late in the program, after which most of the air vehicles will already have been bought. New requirements, new costs: DOD's desire to add additional Global Hawk capabilities tripled development costs. The program acquisition unit cost increased 44 percent since program start, yet fewer vehicles are to be produced than originally planned. Challenges, trade-offs, and delays: The addition of new capabilities has led to space, weight, and power constraints for the advanced Global Hawk model. These limitations may result in deferring some capabilities. Some key events and activities--many related to testing issues--have been delayed. Global Hawk's highly concurrent development and production strategy is risky and runs counter in important ways to a knowledge-based approach and to DOD's acquisition guidance. The restructuring caused gaps in product knowledge, increasing the likelihood of unsuccessful cost, schedule, quality, and performance outcomes. Because the restructured program is dramatically different from the initial plan for the basic model, the business case now seems out of sync with the realities of the acquisition program.[Read More…]
- ‘All too frequent tragedies demand action to improve judicial security,’ Judge tells Judicial ConferenceBy Sam NewsIn U.S CourtsSeptember 15, 2020“Four federal judges and three family members have been killed since 1979. These horrific tragedies must stop,” Judge David W. McKeague told the Judicial Conference of the United States today.[Read More…]