January 22, 2022

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Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela Elliott Abrams Travels to Middle East

8 min read

Office of the Spokesperson

Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela Elliott Abrams will travel to Israel, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates from November 7-12 for consultations on Iran.

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  • American Contractor Sentenced for Theft of Government Equipment on U.S. Military Base in Afghanistan
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    An American military contractor was sentenced today to 51 months in prison for her role in a theft ring on a military installation in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
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    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In an effort to reduce veteran suicides, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) tries to reach veterans through partnerships with nongovernmental entities using memorandums of agreement (agreements) focused on mental health and suicide prevention efforts. However, VA cannot readily track—that is, search for and identify—the full universe of its suicide prevention and mental health agreements. For example, it took officials from VA and its Veterans Health Administration (VHA) more than 4 months to identify for GAO 43 relevant agreements entered into across seven offices over a 5-year period. Number of Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Agreements with Nongovernmental Entities across Seven VA and VHA Offices (Oct. 2015 to Oct. 2020) GAO found that VA cannot readily track its agreements because VA policy does not require use of any single database to store agreement information. VA's Strategic Relationships Application, which VA designed to document agreement information, could be used for tracking, but only four of the seven offices with such agreements used it. Requiring its use would facilitate VA's ability to track all of its agreements and identify areas for improvement to better reach veterans not using its services. Individual VA and VHA offices conduct ongoing oversight of their own suicide prevention and mental health agreements, as required by VA policy. For example, officials monitor performance metrics such as the number of veterans served. VA policy also requires annual reviews that are used to determine if a partnership is still needed. However, GAO found that officials did not always document the completion of these annual reviews. VA's policy requires that “significant activity” be documented, but it does not specify that annual reviews fall under that category, though officials managing the policy confirmed they do. Providing specificity on what VA wants documented as significant activity—e.g., by adding examples to the policy or providing specific guidance—would help ensure that annual reviews are being documented and maintained for future use. Why GAO Did This Study Many veterans struggle with mental health conditions, several of which are risk factors for suicide. VA reported that almost two-thirds of veterans that died by suicide in 2019 did not receive VHA services in 2018 or 2019. VA partners with a variety of entities, such as non-profits or academic institutions, through formal agreements aimed at expanding awareness of and access to suicide prevention activities and mental health services, in part to reach veterans not receiving VHA services. The Veterans' Care Quality Transparency Act contained a provision for GAO to review VA's agreements with non-VA entities that are related to suicide prevention activities and mental health services. This report examines (1) how VA tracks such agreements with nongovernmental entities across the department, and (2) how VA oversees individual agreements. GAO reviewed VA and VHA policies, the agreements VA and VHA identified, and related documentation for tracking and oversight. GAO also received demonstrations of two VA databases and interviewed VA and VHA officials and representatives from 14 selected entities that have agreements with VA or VHA with variation in type of entity and services provided.
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    The Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (Goldman Sachs or the Company), a global financial institution headquartered in New York, New York, and Goldman Sachs (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd. (GS Malaysia), its Malaysian subsidiary, have admitted to conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in connection with a scheme to pay over $1 billion in bribes to Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials to obtain lucrative business for Goldman Sachs, including its role in underwriting approximately $6.5 billion in three bond deals for 1Malaysia Development Bhd. (1MDB), for which the bank earned hundreds of millions in fees.  Goldman Sachs will pay more than $2.9 billion as part of a coordinated resolution with criminal and civil authorities in the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and elsewhere. 
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    A firm protested an Air Force contract award for computer graphics, contending that the Air Force: (1) failed to upgrade its bid as a result of changes it made to its final bid; (2) unreasonably determined that the awardee's bid was a low risk; and (3) unreasonably made award to a higher bidder. GAO held that: (1) while evaluating the protester's initial bid, the Air Force properly took into consideration the changes the protester would make to its final bid; (2) the protester failed to prove that the Air Force unreasonably determined that the awardee's bid was low risk; and (3) Air Force reasonably made award to a higher, technically superior bidder. Accordingly, the protest was denied.
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  • June 23, 2021, letter commenting on AICPA’s Professional Ethics Executive Committee’s Proposed Interpretations and Definition of the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct, Responding to Non-Compliance with Laws and Regulations
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    This letter provides GAO's comments on the proposed interpretation and definition entitled Responding to Non-Compliance with Laws and Regulations, which the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) prepared. GAO provides standards for performing high-quality audits of government organizations, programs, activities, and functions and of government assistance received by contractors, nonprofit organizations, and other nongovernment organizations with competence, integrity, objectivity, and independence.1 These standards, often referred to as generally accepted government auditing standards (GAGAS), are to be followed by auditors and audit organizations when required by law, regulation, agreement, contract, or policy. For financial audits, GAGAS incorporates by reference the AICPA's Statements on Auditing Standards. For attestation engagements, GAGAS incorporates by reference the AICPA's Statements on Standards for Attestation Engagements.
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  • Man Charged with Attempting to Provide Material Support to a Foreign Terrorist Organization
    In Crime News
    A Washington man was arrested on Friday, May 28, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on criminal charges related to his alleged efforts to join Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist organization, in order to engage in violent acts of terrorism in the Middle East or the United States.
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  • Vitol Inc. Agrees to Pay over $135 Million to Resolve Foreign Bribery Case
    In Crime News
    Vitol Inc. (Vitol), the U.S. affiliate of the Vitol group of companies, which together form one of the largest energy trading firms in the world, has agreed to pay a combined $135 million to resolve the Justice Department’s investigation into violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and to resolve a parallel investigation in Brazil.
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  • Behavioral Health and COVID-19: Higher-Risk Populations and Related Federal Relief Funding
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic crisis—such as increased social isolation, stress, and unemployment—have intensified concerns about the number of people in the U.S. affected by behavioral health conditions: mental health and substance use disorders. Based on 32 interviews with federal, state, and other stakeholders, and a review of selected research, GAO found that certain populations may be at higher risk of new or exacerbated behavioral health symptoms or conditions related to the pandemic. Six populations were cited by the most stakeholders as being at higher risk of such behavioral health effects for a range of reasons. Children and adolescents, for example, had rising rates of behavioral health conditions before the pandemic and then faced disruptions to school-based behavioral health services, stakeholders said. They also said that people may be part of multiple higher-risk populations, though not everyone at risk will develop symptoms or conditions. Stakeholders cautioned that with the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, it will take time to determine how different populations may be affected in the long term. Populations Cited by the Most Stakeholders as Being at Higher Risk of Behavioral Health Effects As of November 2021, the federal government awarded over $8 billion in COVID-19 relief funding for behavioral health. Over 97 percent of this funding was provided to states and other recipients through six programs: one Federal Emergency Management Agency program, and five Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) programs. For example, SAMHSA awarded about $5.3 billion to 50 states, Washington, D.C., eight U.S. territories and other jurisdictions, and one tribe through supplements to existing substance abuse and mental health block grants using standard statutory formulas. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also awarded about $467 million to 46 states, Washington, D.C., and four U.S. territories via the Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program. GAO's review of program documentation shows that the COVID-19 relief funds for behavioral health, as awarded through the six programs, could generally serve the six higher-risk populations identified by stakeholders. Selected funding recipients in four states and Washington, D.C., reported varying ways they were using, or planned to use, relief funds to reach higher-risk populations. For example, officials in one state said they planned to use some mental health block grant funds to assist children and adolescents in the child protective services system. SAMHSA officials said that it would take time to determine who was actually served by COVID-19 relief funded programs, but said that it was important to examine grantee data to determine whether target populations were reached and identify any gaps, and the agency planned to do so. Why GAO Did This Study The COVID-19 pandemic has had repercussions for the behavioral health of the nation. During the pandemic, U.S. adults have reported higher rates of anxiety and depression symptoms and substance use. To address related concerns, the CARES Act; the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021; and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 appropriated relief funds specifically for behavioral health. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report describes (1) populations that may be at higher risk of behavioral health effects; (2) the amount and type of funding the federal government provided in COVID-19 relief to address behavioral health needs; and (3) whether COVID-19 relief funds for behavioral health could serve higher-risk populations, and how selected funding recipients plan to use these funds. GAO will continue to monitor behavioral health issues as part of ongoing COVID-19 related oversight. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed selected research on COVID-19 and behavioral health, and relevant federal funding opportunity and awards documents. GAO also interviewed stakeholders, such as federal officials, researchers, and grantees. Grantees included state officials and providers in four states and Washington, D.C., selected based on state behavioral health metrics and CARES Act-funded grants received, among other factors. GAO incorporated technical comments from the departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, as appropriate. For more information, contact Alyssa M. Hundrup at (202) 512-7114 or hundrupa@gao.gov.
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    A federal grand jury in Raleigh, North Carolina returned an indictment charging Contech Engineered Solutions LLC and Brent Brewbaker, a former executive at the company, for participating in long-standing conspiracies to rig bids and defraud the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NC DOT), the Department of Justice announced.
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  • Previously Convicted Felon Indicted for Illegally Transporting and Storing Hazardous Waste, Falsifying a Hazardous Waste Manifest and Obstructing an Agency Proceeding
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Hawaii returned an indictment against Anthony Shane Gilstrap, 54, for violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) by transporting hazardous waste without a required manifest, falsifying a hazardous waste manifest, and storing hazardous waste without a permit. He is also charged with obstructing an agency proceeding.
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  • Operation Legend: Case of the Day
    In Crime News
    Each weekday, the Department of Justice will highlight a case that has resulted from Operation Legend. Today’s case is out of the Northern District of Ohio. Operation Legend launched in Cleveland on July 29, 2020, in response to the city facing increased homicide and non-fatal shooting rates.
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  • Opening Remarks by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken Before the Senate Committee on Appropriations
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  • Wife of “El Chapo” Pleads Guilty to Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering
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    The wife of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, leader of the Mexican drug trafficking organization known as the Sinaloa Cartel, pleaded guilty today to charges related to international drug trafficking, money laundering, and a criminal violation of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (the Kingpin Act). 
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