Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
On behalf of the United States of America, I congratulate the people of Suriname as you celebrate your country’s independence.
As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue our work building a bright future for our two nations. The United States remains a steadfast partner of Suriname. Together we are advancing democracy, accountability in governance, and human rights around the world. We are developing our trade ties, expanding economic opportunities, tackling climate change, and sharing expertise and tools to fight corruption and stem illicit smuggling. With our shared values and close ties, we are truly neighbors, partners, and friends.
I offer my best wishes for health, prosperity, and security to the people of Suriname on this anniversary of your independence.
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- State Partnership Program: Improved Oversight, Guidance, and Training Needed for National Guard’s Efforts with Foreign PartnersBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021What GAO FoundMany State Partnership Program stakeholders, including State Partnership Program Coordinators, Bilateral Affairs Officers, and combatant command officials, cited benefits to the program, but the program lacks a comprehensive oversight framework that includes clear program goals, objectives, and metrics to measure progress against those goals, which limits the Department of Defenses (DOD) and Congress ability to assess whether the program is an effective and efficient use of resources. The benefits described by all stakeholders focused on the programs contributions to meeting their specific missions, such as building security relationships, providing experience to guardsmen, and supporting combatant commands missions. Goals, objectives, and metrics to measure progress are necessary for management oversight, and National Guard Bureau officials told GAO that they recognize the need to update the programs goals and develop metrics and have initiated efforts in these areas. Officials expect completion of these efforts in summer 2012. Until program goals and metrics are implemented, DOD cannot fully assess or adequately oversee the program.State Partnership Program activity data are incomplete as well as inconsistent and funding data are incomplete for fiscal years 2007 through 2011; therefore GAO cannot provide complete information on the types and frequency of activities or total funding amounts for those years. GAO found that the multiple data systems used to track program activities and funding are not interoperable and users apply varying methods and definitions to guide data inputs. The terminology used to identify activity types is inconsistent across the combatant commands and the National Guard Bureau. Further, funding data from the National Guard Bureau and the combatant commands were incomplete, and while the National Guard Bureau provided its total spending on the program since 2007, it could not provide information on the cost of individual activities. Although the National Guard Bureau has initiated efforts to improve the accuracy of its own State Partnership Program data, without common agreement with the combatant commands on what types of data need to be tracked and how to define activities, the data cannot be easily reconciled across databases.The most prominent challenge cited by State Partnership Program stakeholders involved how to fund activities that include U.S. and foreign partner civilian participants. Activities involving civilians, for example, have included subject-matter expert exchanges on military support to civil authorities and maritime border security. Although DOD guidance does not prohibit civilian involvement in activities, many stakeholders have the impression that the U.S. military is not permitted to engage civilians in State Partnership Program activities and some states may have chosen not to conduct any events with civilians due to the perception that it may violate DOD guidance. DOD and the National Guard Bureau are working on developing additional guidance and training in this area. Until these efforts are completed, confusion may continue to exist and hinder the programs full potential to fulfill National Guard and combatant command missions.Why GAO Did This StudyThe National Guards State Partnership Program is a DOD security cooperation program that matches state National Guards with foreign countries to conduct joint activitiesincluding visits between senior military leaders and knowledge sharing in areas such as disaster managementthat further U.S. national security goals. The program has partnerships between 52 U.S. state and territory National Guards and 69 countries. In fiscal year 2011, program expenditures were at least $13.2 million. The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act directed GAO to study the program. GAO determined (1) the extent to which State Partnership Program activities are meeting program goals and objectives; (2) the types and frequency of activities and funding levels of the program; and (3) any challenges DOD faces in the programs implementation. GAO collected written responses to questions from State Partnership Program Coordinators at the state level, Bilateral Affairs Officers at the U.S. embassies in the partner nations, and officials at the combatant commands, reviewed documents, and interviewed DOD officials.[Read More…]
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks at a Climate/Sustainable Products EventBy Sam NewsOctober 21, 2021
- Science & Tech Spotlight: Advanced Plastic RecyclingBy Sam NewsSeptember 14, 2021Why This Matters Plastic waste in the U.S. has grown tenfold from 1970 to 2018, while recycling rates have remained low. Mounting plastic waste in landfills and oceans can contaminate ecosystems and adversely affect human health and wildlife. Chemical recycling technologies have the potential to improve plastic recycling, but several challenges remain. The Technology What is it? Plastics are found in many everyday items—including food packaging, water bottles, bags, and appliances. They are largely made from fossil fuel-based chemicals combined with various additives—such as stabilizers or flame retardants—to achieve a desired result (e.g., strength, rigidity, color, heat resistance). The majority of plastic waste in the U.S. ends up in landfills, with a relatively small portion incinerated and an even smaller portion recycled. The accumulating plastic waste in landfills generally does not biodegrade or break down. Figure 1. Methods of plastic waste disposal in the U.S. Plastic recycling technologies reprocess or remanufacture plastic waste for reuse. Currently, the dominant technology for plastic recycling is mechanical recycling, which uses physical processes—such as sorting, grinding, washing, separating, drying, and re-granulating—to recover plastics that can be substituted for virgin, or new, plastics. However, mechanical recycling technology is expensive, labor intensive, and generally results in lower quality plastics than virgin plastics. Consequently, industry is considering advanced recycling technologies— namely, chemical recycling—as an alternative or complement to mechanical recycling. Chemical recycling technologies use heat, chemical reactions, or both, to recycle used plastic into virgin-equivalent plastic, fuel, or other chemicals. In addition, recent advances in sorting technology—one of the physical processes common to both chemical and mechanical recycling technologies—may also increase the efficiency of chemical recycling and lead to increased plastic recycling. For example, artificial intelligence technologies have the potential to increase automated sorting efficiency. Similarly, another advanced technology efficiently sorts materials by identifying their molecular vibrations. How does it work? Chemical recycling can promote a closed-loop system, known as a circular economy, wherein plastics are reused rather than discarded in landfills or incinerated. There are three general categories of chemical recycling technologies: conversion, decomposition, and purification. Figure 2. Closed-loop chemical recycling Conversion focuses on converting polymers—long-chain hydrocarbon molecules built from smaller repeating units called monomers—in mixed or sorted plastics into smaller molecules. This can occur through a variety of techniques, including pyrolysis and gasification. Pyrolysis, sometimes called "plastics to fuel," turns plastic waste into a synthetic crude oil that can be refined into diesel fuel, gasoline, heating oil, or waxes. This process involves heating the plastic waste to high temperatures (300-900°C) in the absence of oxygen. Different forms of pyrolysis use different temperatures, pressures, and processing times. Gasification also heats plastic waste to high temperatures (500- 1300°C) in a low-oxygen environment to convert plastic waste to synthesis gas, or "syngas." Syngas—a fuel mixture containing mainly hydrogen and carbon monoxide—can be combusted for electric power generation or converted into other fuels or chemicals, such as ethanol and methanol. Decomposition breaks down polymers in sorted plastics into monomers to produce new plastics. This decomposition can be done with heat or chemicals. Chemical decomposition uses solvents to break the polymers into monomers. Some decomposition technologies use enzymes to break down polymers at temperatures as low as room temperature, resulting in less energy consumption. Purification uses solvents to separate polymers from additives or contaminants. Unlike other types of chemical recycling, purification does not break or modify the polymer. Purification may be used with mixed or sorted plastics. How mature is it? While technologies such as pyrolysis and gasification are mature, their use in plastic recycling is relatively new, due in part to the low cost of virgin plastic material and the challenges associated with recycling contaminated or complex plastic products. Conversion is currently the most mature of the chemical recycling technologies, with several companies using pyrolysis, and at least one company using gasification on a commercial scale. Several companies are also developing, or are in the initial phases of piloting, thermal and chemical decomposition. Purification is the least mature chemical recycling technology, although research into it is ongoing. Advanced sorting technologies vary in maturity, with molecular vibrations for material identification already in use, and artificial intelligence sorting still under development. Opportunities Resource conservation. Chemical recycling can produce raw materials of virgin quality, thereby decreasing demand for fossil fuels and other natural resources. Reduced landfill use. A significant amount of plastic waste ends up in landfills. New technologies could reduce the need for landfills, which may reduce the release of harmful chemicals into the environment. New markets. Developing advanced recycling technologies could promote domestic business and employment. Chemical recycling creates a market for plastic waste and a new way to reuse some plastics. Challenges Adoption hurdles. Companies looking to use chemical recycling may face several hurdles, including process and technology challenges, high startup and operating costs, underdeveloped domestic markets for recycled products, and limited incentives for recycling innovation and investment. Suitability. Chemical recycling may not be suitable for all types of plastic, particularly when polymer chains are irreversibly bonded together. Competition. Virgin plastics are typically cheaper to produce than recycled plastics, in part due to transportation costs and limited recycling infrastructure, making it hard for recycling processes to compete. Policy Context & Questions With the volume of plastic waste expected to grow over time, some key questions for policymaker consideration include: What steps could the federal government, states, and other stakeholders take to further incentivize chemical recycling rather than disposal? What are the potential benefits and challenges of these approaches? What steps could policymakers take to support a transition toward a circular economy, including innovation and investment in manufacturing and recycling capacity? What might policymakers do to promote advanced recycling technologies while also reducing the hazards associated with existing plastic production and recycling methods? For more information, contact: Karen L. Howard at (202) 512-6888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- Federal Contracting: Actions Needed to Improve Department of Labor’s Enforcement of Service Worker Wage ProtectionsBy Sam NewsNovember 23, 2020The Department of Labor (DOL) completed over 5,000 Service Contract Act (SCA) cases, which for many resulted in the awarding of back wages to federally contracted security guards, janitors, and other service workers, in fiscal years 2014 through 2019, according to available data. DOL enforces the SCA, which was enacted to protect workers on certain types of federal service contracts. DOL found SCA violations—primarily of wage and benefit protections—in 68 percent of cases. Employers across a range of service industries agreed to pay around $224 million in back wages (see figure for examples). Sixty cases resulted in debarment—a decision to prevent an employer from being awarded new federal contracts for 3 years. DOL's strategic plan emphasizes optimizing resources for resolving cases using all available enforcement tools. However, DOL does not analyze its use of enforcement tools, such as debarment or employer compliance agreements. Therefore, DOL may lack a complete picture of how it uses resources on different strategies for resolving SCA cases, as well as the effectiveness of these enforcement strategies. Back Wages Paid for SCA Cases in Example Industries, Fiscal Years 2014-2019 Note: Mail haul refers to surface mail transportation by contract carriers. Values are adjusted for inflation and expressed in fiscal year 2019 dollars using the Gross Domestic Product Price Index from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis. DOL reported various challenges to enforcing the SCA, including difficulty communicating with contracting agencies. For example, DOL officials told GAO that poor communication with contracting agencies—particularly with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS)—can affect and delay cases, though USPS officials told GAO they were unaware of any communication gaps. Without addressing communication issues between USPS and DOL, USPS's implementation and DOL's enforcement of the SCA may be weakened. GAO found that contracting agencies may face SCA implementation challenges, including not having key information about SCA debarments and violations from DOL. When recording SCA debarments, DOL does not always include the unique identifier for an employer so that contracting agencies can accurately identify debarred firms. DOL also does not have a process that consistently or reliably informs contracting agencies about SCA violations by employers. Without improved information sharing by DOL, an agency may award a contract to an employer without being aware of or considering its past SCA violations. The SCA ensures that service workers on certain federal contracts receive pay and benefits that reflect current employment conditions in their locality. From fiscal years 2014 through 2019, the U.S. government obligated over $720 billion on service contracts covered under the SCA. GAO was asked to review SCA implementation and enforcement. This report examines (1) what available data reveal about past SCA cases, (2) what challenges DOL reports facing in enforcing the SCA, and (3) how contracting agencies implement the SCA. GAO analyzed DOL and federal procurement data for fiscal years 2014 through 2019, the most recent years available; reviewed a nongeneralizable sample of contract performance assessments; examined practices at three agencies selected to represent a range of contracting services and agency size; interviewed DOL officials; and reviewed relevant federal laws, policy, and guidance. GAO is making six recommendations, including that DOL analyze its use of enforcement tools; that DOL and USPS implement written protocols to improve communication with each other; and that DOL improve its information sharing with contracting agencies on SCA debarments and investigation outcomes. DOL and USPS generally concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Thomas M. Costa at (202) 512-7215 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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