Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
On behalf of the United States of America, I would like to extend our congratulations on the celebration of Timor-Leste’s Restoration of Independence Day. During the 19 years since independence has been restored, Timor-Leste has made enormous progress to build democratic institutions and ensure human rights are upheld. The United States has been proud to partner with Timor-Leste since its independence and we look forward to advancing and strengthening our strong bilateral relationship.
Our relationship maintains shared values of mutual respect, friendship, and cooperation. These shared values provide the foundation for continued collaboration to promote democracy, human rights, and improving the lives of the Timorese people. While the past year has presented challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, I am confident that the spirit of cooperation between Timor-Leste and the United States will endure and that brighter days are ahead for both of our countries.
As a friend and partner, the United States congratulates the people of Timor-Leste on your Restoration of Independence Day.
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- Peacekeeping: Observations on Costs, Strengths, and Limitations of U.S. and UN OperationsBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021As of June 2007, more than 100,000 military and civilian personnel are engaged in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations in 15 locations in Africa, Europe, Asia, the Americas, and the Middle East. In 2006, the United States provided the UN with about $1 billion to support peacekeeping operations. Given that thousands of U.S. troops are intensively deployed in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, UN peacekeeping operations are an important element in maintaining a secure international environment. As requested, this testimony discusses (1) the costs of the current UN mission in Haiti compared with the estimated cost of a hypothetical U.S. operation and (2) the strengths and limitations of the United States and the UN in leading peace operations. This testimony is based on our prior report and information we updated for this hearing. To estimate U.S. costs, we developed parameters for a U.S. mission similar to the UN mission in Haiti, which the Joint Staff validated as reasonable. We then applied DOD's official cost estimating model. However, it is uncertain whether the United States would implement an operation in Haiti in the same way as the UN.We estimate that it would cost the United States about twice as much as it would the UN to conduct a peacekeeping operation similar to the UN mission in Haiti. The UN budgeted $428 million for the first 14 months of the mission. A similar U.S. operation would have cost an estimated $876 million. Virtually the entire cost difference can be attributed to cost of civilian police, military pay and support, and facilities. First, civilian police costs are less in a UN operation because the UN pays police a standard daily allowance, while U.S. police are given salaries, special pay, and training. Second, U.S. military pay and support reflect higher salaries and higher standards for equipment, ammunition, and rations. Third, U.S. facilities-related costs would be twice those of the UN and reflect the cost of posting U.S. civilian personnel in a secure embassy compound. When we varied specific factors, such as increasing the number of reserve troops deployed, the estimated cost for a U.S. operation increased. Cost is not the sole factor in determining whether the United States or the UN should lead a peacekeeping operation. Each offers strengths and limitations. Traditionally, the United States' strengths have included rapid deployment, strong command and control, and well-trained and equipped personnel. However, ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have reduced personnel and equipment readiness levels and resulted in shortfalls for military police, engineers, and civil affairs experts. The UN provides broad multinational support for its missions, with a UN Security Council mandate and direction for its operations. The UN also has access to international civil servants, police, and senior officials who have nation-building experience and diverse language skills. Finally, the UN has fostered a network of agencies and development banks to coordinate international assistance with peacekeeping missions. However, the UN has traditionally had difficulties in rapidly deploying its forces and ensuring unified command and control over its peacekeeping forces.[Read More…]
- South Carolina Couple Pleaded Guilty to Scheme Involving Conspiracy and False Statements to Illegally Obtain a U.S. PassportBy Sam NewsAugust 20, 2020A Huger, South Carolina couple pleaded guilty today in South Carolina before the U.S. District Judge Brucie H. Hendricks in the District of South Carolina to charges stemming from their conspiracy to obtain a U.S. passport by falsely claiming they were the biological parents of a baby born in the Philippines and by using false birth records to apply for a U.S. passport for the baby.[Read More…]
- Overseas Real Property: Prioritizing Key Assets and Developing a Plan Could Help State Manage Its Estimated $3 Billion Maintenance BacklogBy Sam NewsSeptember 15, 2021What GAO Found The Department of State's portfolio of overseas assets and expenditures to operate them have grown, but State-allocated funding for maintenance has stayed nearly the same. For fiscal years 2015 through 2019, both the number and square footage of State's assets increased 11 percent and operations expenditures grew 24 percent. However, maintenance and repair funding has remained nearly unchanged. For example, State's allocation for Maintenance Cost Sharing—for projects collectively funded by State and tenant agencies overseas—was $399 million in fiscal year 2016 and $400 million in 2020. GAO found that more than one-quarter of State's overseas assets are in poor condition according to State's condition standard. Further, 20 percent (almost 400) of assets that State identifies as critical to its mission are in poor condition. Federal accounting standards recognize that what constitutes acceptable asset condition may vary by the importance of specific assets to agencies' missions. However, State set a single acceptable condition standard of “fair” for all assets and did not consider whether some assets, like chancery office buildings, were more critical to State's mission when estimating its $3 billion deferred maintenance backlog. Had State set a higher condition standard for critical assets, its backlog would be higher. By reassessing its condition standard, State could determine whether to adopt an approach that considers asset importance and that could help guide maintenance funding to key assets. Condition of U.S. Embassy Manila, Philippines – Left: Chancery Office Building; Right: Chancery Courtyard Showing Maintenance Issues, Including Mold and Water Damage State follows most, but not all, leading practices for managing deferred maintenance backlogs. Of the nine leading practices, GAO found that State followed five, partially followed three, and did not follow one. For example, State has goals, baselines, and measures for its facility management performance. However, State did not specifically request funding to address the backlog in its congressional budget requests. Officials said they had not found it necessary to specifically request such funding because they only determined that the backlog had substantially increased from $96 million in fiscal year 2019 to $3 billion in fiscal year 2020 after using a new methodology for estimating deferred maintenance and repair. In addition, State does not have a plan to address the backlog, but officials estimated it could take 30 to 40 years to eliminate the backlog with current funding levels. Developing such a plan with specific information on the funding and time frames needed to reduce the backlog would help decision makers better understand how funding levels affect backlog reduction. Why GAO Did This Study State's Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations operates and maintains over 8,500 owned and leased real property assets, including both buildings and structures. According to State, at least 60 percent of a building's total lifecycle cost stems from operations and maintenance costs. GAO has reported that deferring maintenance and repairs can lead to higher costs in the long term and pose risks to agencies' missions. GAO was asked to review State's efforts to manage its operations and maintenance needs. This report examines (1) how operations and maintenance funding for overseas assets changed from fiscal years 2016 through 2020, (2) the condition and maintenance needs of State's overseas assets, and (3) the extent to which State has followed leading practices to address its deferred maintenance backlog. GAO analyzed State data on operations and maintenance funding and asset condition, as well as documentation related to leading facility management practices. GAO also met with State officials in headquarters and in seven embassies.[Read More…]
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- Statement from Attorney General Merrick B. GarlandBy Sam NewsJune 14, 2021U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland today made the following statement:[Read More…]
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- Priority Open Recommendations: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve SystemBy Sam NewsJune 3, 2021What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified eight priority recommendations for the Federal Reserve. Since then, the Federal Reserve has implemented five of those recommendations. As of April 2021, the remaining open three priority recommendations for the Federal Reserve involve the following areas: Collaborating with other financial regulators to communicate with banks that have third-party relationships with fintech lenders about using alternative data in underwriting. Communicating uncertainties surrounding stress testing, including capital ratio estimates. Communicating uncertainties surrounding stress testing, including tolerance levels for key risks, and the degree of uncertainty in projected estimates. The Federal Reserve's continued attention to these issues could improve its ability to more effectively oversee risks to consumers and the safety and soundness of the U.S. banking system. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Daniel Garcia-Diaz at (202) 512-8678 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Two Indicted for $2 Million Scheme that Defrauded Over 20 InvestorsBy Sam NewsMay 12, 2021An indictment charging a District of Columbia man and Connecticut woman with perpetrating an advance fee and investment fraud scheme that defrauded more than 20 victims of more than $2 million was unsealed today in the District of Columbia.[Read More…]
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- Private Security Contractors: DOD Needs to Better Identify and Monitor Personnel and ContractsBy Sam NewsJuly 29, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has been unable to comprehensively identify private security contractor (PSC) contracts and personnel supporting contingency, humanitarian, peace-keeping, or other similar operations, limiting DOD's ability to readily and accurately identify the use of PSCs. DOD uses PSCs, which include companies and their personnel, hired to provide security services for the U.S. government. However, neither DOD nor GAO was able to use DOD's three PSC data sources to readily determine the universe of PSCs, the type of operation or exercise they support, or their functions, activities, and armed or unarmed status. For example, queries of DOD databases using the term “security guard” to identify PSC personnel excluded eight other job titles that may also perform private security functions. DOD has not comprehensively determined and communicated the contracted activities that fall within its definition of private security functions. Further, DOD does not have a means of readily identifying the contracts and personnel performing those activities in data sources. Without better identifying and tracking its PSC contracts and personnel, DOD will not be able to accurately determine its use of PSCs. Since 2009, DOD has established an oversight framework for its use of PSC contracts, but has not fully monitored the implementation of this framework. DOD's framework distributes oversight functions across the department as well as to organizations outside the department (see fig.). Roles and Functions of Entities to Oversee DOD's Use of Private Security Contractor (PSC) Contracts and Personnel However, DOD has not fully monitored whether and how it and the other entities have carried out their PSC oversight roles and functions. For example, GAO reviewed data for deployed contractor personnel with the job title of “security guard” and found that about 12 percent of those individuals were employed by companies not on a DOD list of certified PSC companies. Independent, third-party certification is a key oversight mechanism DOD relies on to ensure it contracts with companies that use approved personnel hiring, screening, training, and reporting practices. DOD lacks a single, senior-level position assigned to fully monitor whether DOD and various entities are carrying out their respective PSC oversight roles and functions. Without assigning this position, DOD increases the risk of incidents that its framework aims to prevent. Why GAO Did This Study During Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001–2014 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003–2011, DOD significantly increased its use of PSCs. In 2008, the Swiss Government and the Red Cross issued the Montreux Document, which generally reaffirmed the obligation nations have to ensure that their PSCs respect international humanitarian law. PSCs supporting DOD have faced international attention resulting from incidents allegedly involving their personnel. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's use of PSCs. GAO assessed the extent to which DOD has (1) identified PSC contracts and personnel used to support contingency operations and (2) established a framework to oversee the department's use of PSC contracts. GAO analyzed DOD contract and personnel data for PSCs from 2009 through 2019, reviewed DOD guidance on PSC use, and conducted interviews with DOD officials and representatives from standards organizations.[Read More…]
- Employee of Government Contractor Pleads Guilty to Fraud and Kickback ChargesBy Sam NewsNovember 19, 2020An employee of a government contractor pleaded guilty today to his involvement in a scheme to overbill a contract administered by the General Services Administration (GSA) by approximately $1.25 million, and solicit and receive kickbacks from a subcontractor in exchange for providing that subcontractor valuable contract modifications.[Read More…]
- Nuclear Weapons: NNSA Should Further Develop Cost, Schedule, and Risk Information for the W87-1 Warhead ProgramBy Sam NewsSeptember 23, 2020The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) did not consider cost estimates in early major design decisions for the W87-1 warhead because it was not required to do so, but NNSA has since changed its guidance to require that cost be considered, according to a May 2019 NNSA review of program documentation. The design decisions that remain for features that would achieve either minimum or enhanced requirements for the W87-1 could affect cost, according to NNSA officials (see table). We found, however, that NNSA did not yet have study plans for assessing the costs and benefits of the remaining decisions consistent with best practices as detailed in NNSA's analysis of alternatives business procedure. NNSA does not require and only recommends that programs such as the W87-1 follow these best practices. By directing the W87-1 program and future weapons programs to follow best practices for design studies, or to justify and document deviations, NNSA would have better assurance that design studies apply consistent, reliable, and objective approaches. NNSA Cost Estimates for W87-1 Warhead Design Variations That Meet Minimum and Enhanced Requirements, as of December 2018 (Dollars in billions) W87-1 design variations Cost estimate rangea Design includes features that meet minimum safety and security requirements 7.7 - 13.3 Design includes enhanced safety and security features 8.6 - 14.8 Difference between the above estimate ranges 0.9 - 1.5 Source: National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) documentation | GAO-20-703 aThe cost ranges reflect low and high estimates for a single design variation. The ranges represent technical and production risk and uncertainty. It is not clear that NNSA will be able to produce sufficient numbers of pits—the fissile cores of the primary—to meet the W87-1 warhead's planned production schedule. Recent NNSA and independent studies have cast doubt on NNSA's ability to ready its two planned pit production facilities in time. If one facility is not ready to produce pits in the early 2030s, for example, NNSA would likely produce fewer weapons than planned, according to GAO's analysis of NNSA plans. We were unable to fully assess the extent to which the two pit production facilities will be ready to produce pits for the W87-1 because NNSA's plutonium program—which is managing the facility readiness efforts—has not yet completed an integrated schedule for the overall pit production effort. An integrated schedule is important, according to best practices, because it integrates the planned work, resources, and budget. An NNSA official stated that the program was building a schedule, but could not provide documentation that it would meet best practices. A schedule consistent with best practices would provide NNSA with better assurance that it will have adequate pits to meet planned W87-1 production. This is a public version of a classified report that GAO issued in February 2020. Information that NNSA or DOD deemed classified or sensitive has been omitted. The Department of Defense (DOD) and NNSA restarted a program in fiscal year 2019 to replace the capabilities of the aging W78 nuclear warhead with the W87-1. NNSA made key design decisions for this weapon from 2010 until the program was paused in 2014. NNSA estimated in December 2018 that the W87-1 would cost $8.6 billion to $14.8 billion, which could make it the most expensive warhead modernization program to date. NNSA plans to newly manufacture the entire warhead, including the two major nuclear components, called the primary and secondary, using facilities it is modernizing or repurposing. You asked us to examine plans for the W87-1 warhead. This report examines, among other things, the extent to which NNSA (1) considered cost estimates in prior design decisions for the W87-1 and the potential effects of remaining design decisions on program cost, and (2) will be able to produce sufficient numbers of key nuclear components to meet W87-1 production needs. GAO reviewed NNSA documentation on prior and remaining design decisions and preliminary cost estimates, reviewed warhead and component production schedules, and interviewed NNSA and DOD officials. GAO is making four recommendations, including that NNSA require programs such as the W87-1 to follow analysis of alternatives best practices when studying design options and that the plutonium program build an integrated schedule consistent with schedule best practices. NNSA generally agreed with the recommendations. For more information, contact Allison B. Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- U.S. Law Enforcement Takes Action Against Approximately 2,300 Money Mules In Global Crackdown On Money LaunderingBy Sam NewsDecember 2, 2020The U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and six other federal law enforcement agencies announced the completion of the third annual Money Mule Initiative, a coordinated operation to disrupt the networks through which transnational fraudsters move the proceeds of their crimes. Money mules are individuals who assist fraudsters by receiving money from victims of fraud and forwarding it to the fraud organizers, many of whom are located abroad. Some money mules know they are assisting fraudsters, but others are unaware that their actions enable fraudsters’ efforts to swindle money from consumers, businesses, and government unemployment funds. Europol announced a simultaneous effort, the European Money Mule Action (EMMA) today.[Read More…]
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- Quantum Computing and Communications: Status and ProspectsBy Sam NewsOctober 19, 2021What GAO Found Quantum information technologies aim to use the properties of nature at atomic scales to accomplish tasks that are not achievable with existing technologies. These technologies rely on qubits, the quantum equivalent of classical computer bits. Scientists are creating qubits from particles, such as atoms or particles of light, or objects that mimic them, such as superconducting circuits. Unlike classical bits, qubits can be intrinsically linked to each other and can be any combination of 0 and 1 simultaneously. These capabilities enable two potentially transformational applications—quantum computing and communications. However, quantum information cannot be copied, is fragile, and can be irreversibly lost, resulting in errors that are challenging to correct. Examples of quantum computing hardware Some quantum computing and communications technologies are available for limited uses, but will likely require extensive development before providing significant commercial value. For example, some small error-prone quantum computers are available for limited applications, and a quantum communications technology known as quantum key distribution can be purchased. According to agency officials and stakeholders, additional quantum technology development may take at least a decade and cost billions, but such estimates are highly uncertain. Quantum computing and communications technologies will likely develop together because of some shared physics principles, laboratory techniques, and common hardware. Quantum computers may have applications in many sectors, but it is not clear where they will have the greatest impact. Quantum communications technologies may have uses for secure communications, quantum networking, and a future quantum internet. Some applications—such as distributed quantum computing, which connects multiple quantum computers together to solve a problem—require both quantum computing and communications technologies. Potential drawbacks of quantum technology include cost, complexity, energy consumption, and the possibility of malicious use. GAO identified four factors that affect quantum technology development and use: (1) collaboration, (2) workforce size and skill, (3) investment, and (4) the supply chain. The table below describes options that policymakers—legislative bodies, government agencies, standards-setting organizations, industry, and other groups—could consider to help address these factors, enhance benefits, or mitigate drawbacks of quantum technology development and use. Policy Options to Help Address Factors that Affect Quantum Technology Development and Use, or to Enhance Benefits or Mitigate Drawbacks Policy options and potential implementation approaches Opportunities Considerations Collaboration (report p. 37) Policymakers could encourage further collaboration in developing quantum technologies, such as collaboration among: Scientific disciplines Sectors Countries Collaboration among disciplines could enable technology breakthroughs. Collaboration could help accelerate research and development, as well as facilitate technology transfer from laboratories to the private sector, federal agencies, and others. International collaboration could bring mutual benefits to the U.S. and other countries by accelerating scientific discovery and promoting economic growth. Intellectual property concerns could make quantum technology leaders reluctant to collaborate. Institutional differences could make collaboration difficult. Export controls may complicate international collaboration, but are also needed to manage national security risks. Workforce (report p. 39) Policymakers could consider ways to expand the quantum technology workforce by, for example: Leveraging existing programs and creating new ones Promoting job training Facilitating appropriate hiring of an international workforce who are deemed not to pose a national security risk Educational programs could provide students and personnel with the qualifications and skills needed to work in quantum technologies across the private sector, public sector, and academia. Training personnel from different disciplines in quantum technologies could enhance the supply of quantum talent. International hiring could allow U.S. quantum employers to attract and retain top talent from other countries. Efforts to increase the quantum technology labor force may affect the supply of expertise in other technology fields with high demand. It may be difficult to adequately develop workforce plans to accommodate quantum technology needs. International hiring could be challenging because of visa requirements and export controls, both in place for national security reasons. Investment (report p. 41) Policymakers could consider ways to incentivize or support investment in quantum technology development, such as: Investments targeted toward specific results Continued investment in quantum technology research centers Grand challenges to spur solutions from the public More targeted investments could help advance quantum technologies. These may include investments in improving access to quantum computers and focusing on real-world applications. Quantum technologies testbed facility investments could support technology adoption, since testbeds allow researchers to explore new technologies and test the functionality of devices. Grand challenges have shown success in providing new capabilities and could be leveraged for quantum technologies. It may be difficult to fund projects with longer-term project timeframes. A lack of standards or, conversely, developing standards too early, could affect quantum technology investments. Without standards, businesses and consumers may not be confident that products will work as expected. Developing standards too early may deter the growth of alternative technology pathways. Supply Chain (report p. 43) Policymakers could encourage the development of a robust, secure supply chain for quantum technologies by, for example: Enhancing efforts to identify gaps in the global supply chain Expanding fabrication capabilities for items with an at-risk supply chain A robust supply chain could help accelerate progress and mitigate quantum technology development risks by expanding access to necessary components and materials or providing improved economies of scale. Quantum material fabrication capabilities improvements could ensure a reliable supply of materials to support quantum technology development. Facilities dedicated to producing quantum materials could help support scalable manufacturing of component parts needed for quantum technology development. The current quantum supply chain is global, which poses risks. For example, it is difficult to obtain a complete understanding of a component’s potential vulnerabilities. Some critical components, such as rare earths, are mined primarily outside of the U.S., which may pose risks to the supply chain that are difficult to mitigate. Quantum manufacturing facilities take a long time to develop and can be costly. Source: GAO. | GAO-21-104422 Why GAO Did This Study Quantum information technologies could dramatically increase capabilities beyond what is possible with classical technologies. Future quantum computers could have high-value applications in security, cryptography, drug development, and energy. Future quantum communications could allow for secure communications by making information challenging to intercept without the eavesdropper being detected. GAO conducted a technology assessment on (1) the availability of quantum computing and communications technologies and how they work, (2) potential future applications of such technologies and benefits and drawbacks from their development and use, and (3) factors that could affect technology development and policy options available to help address those factors, enhance benefits, or mitigate drawbacks. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed key reports and scientific literature; interviewed government, industry, academic representatives, and potential end users; and convened a meeting of experts in collaboration with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. GAO is identifying policy options in this report. For more information, contact Karen L. Howard at (202) 512-6888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]