Reconsider travel to Tonga due to COVID-19.
Read the Department of State’s COVID-19 page before you plan any international travel.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 3 Travel Health Notice for Tonga due to COVID-19.
Tonga has lifted stay at home orders, and resumed some transportation options and business operations. Visit the Embassy’s COVID-19 page for more information on COVID-19 in Tonga.
Read the Country Information page.
If you decide to travel to Tonga:
Last Update: Reissued with updates to COVID-19 information.
- Two Georgia Correctional Officers Indicted for Civil Rights and Related Offenses for Assaulting InmatesBy Sam NewsDecember 11, 2020A federal grand jury in Macon, Georgia, returned a 4-count indictment against former supervisory correctional officer Sergeant Patrick Sharpe, 29, and former correctional officer Jamal Scott, 33, of the Valdosta State Prison (VSP) for their roles in using excessive force against inmates incarcerated at the facility.[Read More…]
- U.S.-Armenia-Azerbaijan Joint StatementBy Sam NewsOctober 25, 2020Office of the [Read More…]
- Contingency Contracting: Observations on Actions Needed to Address Systemic ChallengesBy Sam NewsAugust 23, 2021The Department of Defense (DOD) obligated about $367 billion in fiscal year 2010 to acquire goods and services to meet its mission and support its operations, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan. GAO's work, as well as that of others, has documented shortcomings in DOD's strategic and acquisition planning, contract administration and oversight, and acquisition workforce. These are challenges that need to be addressed by DOD and by the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as they carry out their missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and prepare for future contingencies. Today's statement discusses (1) contract management challenges faced by DOD, including those that take on heightened significance in a contingency environment; (2) actions DOD has taken and those needed to address these challenges; and (3) similar challenges State and USAID face. The statement is drawn from GAO's body of work on DOD contingency contracting, contract management, and workforce, as well as prior reports on State and USAID's contracting and workforce issues.DOD faces a number of longstanding and systemic challenges that hinder its ability to achieve more successful acquisition outcomes--obtaining the right goods and services, at the right time, at the right cost. These challenges include addressing the issues posed by DOD's reliance on contractors, ensuring that DOD personnel use sound contracting approaches, and maintaining a workforce with the skills and capabilities needed to properly manage acquisitions and oversee contractors. The issues encountered with contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan are emblematic of these systemic challenges, though their significance and impact are heightened in a contingency environment. GAO's concerns regarding DOD contracting predate the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. GAO identified DOD contract management as a high-risk area in 1992 and raised concerns in 1997 about DOD's management and use of contractors to support deployed forces in Bosnia. In the years since then, GAO has continued to identify a need for DOD to better manage and oversee its acquisition of services. DOD has recognized the need to address the systemic challenges it faces, including those related to operational contract support. Over the past several years, DOD has announced new policies, guidance, and training initiatives, but not all of these actions have been implemented and their expected benefits have not yet been fully realized. While DOD's actions are steps in the right direction, DOD needs to (1) strategically manage services acquisition, including defining desired outcomes; (2) determine the appropriate mix, roles, and responsibilities of contractor, federal civilian, and military personnel; (3) assess the effectiveness of efforts to address prior weaknesses with specific contracting arrangements and incentives; (4) ensure that its acquisition workforce is adequately sized, trained, and equipped; and (5) fully integrate operational contract support throughout the department through education and predeployment training. In that regard, in June 2010 GAO called for a cultural change in DOD that emphasizes an awareness of operational contract support throughout all aspects of the department. In January 2011, the Secretary of Defense expressed concerns about DOD's current level of dependency on contractors and directed the department to take a number of actions. The Secretary's recognition and directions are significant steps, yet instilling cultural change will require sustained commitment and leadership. State and USAID face contracting challenges similar to DOD's, particularly with regard to planning for and having insight into the roles performed by contractors. In April 2010, GAO reported that State's workforce plan did not address the extent to which contractors should be used to perform specific functions. Similarly, GAO reported that USAID's workforce plan did not contain analyses covering the agency's entire workforce, including contractors. The recently issued Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review recognized the need for State and USAID to rebalance their workforces and directed the agencies to ensure that they have an adequate number of government employees to carry out their core missions and to improve contract administration and oversight. GAO has made multiple recommendations to the agencies to address contracting and workforce challenges. The agencies have generally agreed with the recommendations and have efforts under way to implement them.[Read More…]
- Special Envoy Malley’s Trip to the Middle East By Sam NewsOctober 13, 2021Office of the [Read More…]
- [Protest of Contract Award]By Sam NewsSeptember 2, 2021A firm protested the award of a contract by a firm which the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) hired to operate a computer complex. The protester contended that: (1) it should not have been excluded from the competitive range; (2) the acceptance of the awardee's proposal effected a material change in the solicitation; and (3) neither NASA nor its contractor obtained a Delegation of Procurement Authority from the General Services Administration prior to issuing the request for proposals and contracting with the awardee. The contractor stated that the protester's proposal was unacceptable because it lacked technical information, was deficient, and could not be evaluated. The protester stated that it should have been included in the competitive range because its proposal took no exceptions to the technical requirements. In addition, it contended that it should not have been excluded for informational deficiencies because the solicitation cautioned offerers against submitting elaborate proposals. GAO found that the contractor's decision to exclude the protester from the competitive range was reasonable. Although the solicitation cautioned against overly elaborate proposals, this did not excuse offerers from discussing their proposals in detail. GAO found that Federal regulations required neither NASA nor its contractor to obtain a Delegation of Procurement Authority. Finally, GAO did not find it necessary to resolve the question of the awardee's cost proposal because, even if the allegation were correct, the protester would not have been entitled to an amendment dealing with cost proposals since it was excluded from the competitive range on the basis of its technical proposal. Accordingly, the protest was denied.[Read More…]
- Youth Homelessness: HUD and HHS Could Enhance Coordination to Better Support CommunitiesBy Sam NewsNovember 2, 2021What GAO Found The Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) have taken steps to coordinate their programs that serve youth experiencing homelessness. These programs include HUD's Continuum of Care program, which funds housing and homelessness services for people of all ages in nearly all communities across the country, and HHS's Runaway and Homeless Youth program, which funds emergency shelters, transitional housing, and supportive services for youth in a few hundred communities. For example, HHS was involved in the development of HUD's Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, which provides grants to several dozen communities to address youth homelessness. In addition, the agencies integrated data collection for the Runaway and Homeless Youth program into local data systems operated under the Continuum of Care program to help program providers better coordinate client services at the local level. GAO's review of documents and interviews with local program providers, agency officials, researchers, and advocates identified several challenges in serving youth experiencing homelessness, including both young adults and minors (those under 18). For example: Under the Continuum of Care program, communities must establish a process, known as coordinated entry, for prioritizing who receives limited housing resources. Many providers of homelessness services reported that their community's process tends to prioritize young adults lower than older adults. This is partly because these processes, following HUD guidance, give higher priority to those who have been homeless longer and who have documented disabilities. HUD has provided some information to communities on serving youth through coordinated entry, but this information largely has not addressed how to ensure that young adults are not consistently prioritized below other groups for housing. Most providers GAO interviewed reported that minors experiencing homelessness unaccompanied (without a parent or caregiver) do not participate in the coordinated entry process, with several noting there are limited housing options that can serve minors. Some providers and other stakeholders discussed challenges coordinating between the homelessness and child welfare systems to serve this group. However, HUD and HHS have provided limited information about or examples of how providers could coordinate to better serve unaccompanied minors. Although HUD and HHS have taken some steps to coordinate the Continuum of Care and Runaway and Homeless Youth programs, providers of these programs reported challenges in coordination and communication, including a lack of understanding of one another's programs and a need for more strategic planning on services for youth. HUD and HHS have acknowledged a need for additional information related to serving youth. Additional support from HUD and HHS in the areas identified above could help to improve coordination and the delivery of services to both young adults and minors at the local level. Why GAO Did This Study Youth homelessness is a widespread problem, with one recent study estimating that one in 10 young adults experience some form of homelessness over the course of a year—such as living on the streets or in a shelter or temporarily staying with others. GAO was asked to study youth homelessness. This report examines, among other things, HUD's and HHS's coordination to address youth homelessness and challenges communities face in serving youth through HUD and HHS programs. GAO analyzed federal agency documents related to homelessness efforts; conducted structured interviews with a nongeneralizable sample of 24 local homelessness providers, selected to reflect communities of different sizes and with different types of programs for youth; and interviewed other local program staff, youth homelessness researchers and advocates, and federal officials.[Read More…]
- Pain Clinic Owner Sentenced for Role in Operating Pill Mills in Tennessee and FloridaBy Sam NewsOctober 21, 2020A pain clinic owner was sentenced today to over 33 years in prison for her role in operating several pill mills in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Hollywood, Florida.[Read More…]
- Department Press Briefing – March 2, 2021By Sam NewsMarch 3, 2021Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
- NASA Maps Beirut Blast DamageBy Sam NewsIn SpaceSeptember 26, 2020Scientists are using [Read More…]
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Colombian Vice President and Foreign Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez De Rincon Before Their MeetingBy Sam NewsOctober 6, 2021
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov Before Their MeetingBy Sam NewsJuly 3, 2021
- Justice Department Warns About Fake Unemployment Benefit WebsitesBy Sam NewsMarch 4, 2021The Department of Justice has received reports that fraudsters are creating websites mimicking unemployment benefit websites, including state workforce agency (SWA) websites, for the purpose of unlawfully capturing consumers’ personal information.[Read More…]
- The United States Announces New Humanitarian Aid in Central America and Mexico By Sam NewsOctober 15, 2021Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
- Remarks for the Monaco Blue InitiativeBy Sam NewsApril 23, 2021John Kerry, Special [Read More…]
- Transportation Research: Additional Actions Could Improve DOT’s Internal Collaboration and Reliability of Information on Research ActivitiesBy Sam NewsAugust 10, 2020The Department of Transportation (DOT) uses a multistep, centralized process to prioritize and select research activities it will fund. DOT's modal administrations—which focus on specific modes of transportation like air, rail, and highways—conduct and manage most of DOT's research. The modal administrations GAO spoke to used a variety of methods to prioritize and select research, including soliciting stakeholders' feedback on research needs. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R) is responsible for reviewing this proposed research to ensure alignment with DOT's strategic plans and to prevent duplicative research efforts, as required by statute. DOT has multiple efforts to facilitate research collaboration both externally and internally, but in guidance to promote collaboration, OST-R did not incorporate all leading practices. Specifically, OST-R established topical-research working groups on 12 multimodal subject areas in October 2018 and issued accompanying guidance. This guidance incorporated some leading collaboration practices, such as directing working groups to identify leadership roles and relevant participants. However, the guidance did not incorporate two leading practices—defining and monitoring progress toward long-term outcomes and regularly updating and monitoring written agreements. Taking steps to ensure the working groups follow these practices could provide OST-R greater assurance that the groups coordinate their efforts effectively, better plan long-term research, and better position themselves to address future transportation challenges. OST-R has taken some steps to help ensure that its public database on DOT-funded research projects (the Research Hub) contains complete and accurate information, as required by DOT's data management policy; however, data reliability issues remained. For example, as of July 2019—the latest available data at the time of GAO's analysis—36 percent of records in the database were missing research partners' contact information, hindering the research community's ability to obtain current project details. Taking additional steps, such as providing instructions to the modal administrations on how to improve the completeness and accuracy of the information they give OST-R for the Research Hub, would help ensure the database is fulfilling DOT's intended purpose that it serve as a reliable source of information on the department's research portfolio. Examples of Research Activities on Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems and Connected Vehicles Funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation DOT's research activities are critical to DOT's mission to make the nation's transportation system safer and more efficient. To meet current research needs and prepare for emerging technologies, DOT partners with public and private entities. In fiscal year 2018, DOT funded about 2,300 partners and had a research budget exceeding $1 billion. GAO was asked to review DOT's research activities. This report addresses: (1) how DOT prioritizes and selects which research activities it will undertake; (2) the extent to which DOT facilitates research collaboration with external stakeholders and across the department; and (3) the extent to which DOT ensures its Research Hub database contains complete and accurate project information. GAO reviewed documents and analyzed data from DOT; observed DOT-funded research; interviewed DOT officials from OST-R and four selected modal administrations; and used GAO's leading collaboration practices to assess the extent of collaboration. GAO also interviewed 17 DOT research partners, including universities and associations. GAO recommends that OST-R (1) take steps to ensure the topical-research working groups follow all leading collaboration practices, and (2) take additional steps to ensure the information in the Research Hub is complete and accurate. DOT concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth Repko at (202) 512-2834 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- NASA: Lessons from Ongoing Major Projects Can Inform Management of Future Space TelescopesBy Sam NewsDecember 1, 2021What GAO Found The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) relies on complex instruments and spacecraft to accomplish its missions—including to better understand the universe and our place in it. NASA's astrophysics projects currently include three major space telescopes (see figure). James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) continues to make progress toward its planned launch in December 2021, 90 months later than originally planned. Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (Roman) set cost and schedule baselines in February 2020, but COVID-19 led to cost and schedule growth. Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Re-ionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) set cost and schedule baselines in January 2021. Technical problems pushed the critical design review to January 2022. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Major Space Telescope Projects Three lessons learned from GAO's work, some of which NASA has adopted, provide NASA an opportunity to strengthen management of future space telescopes. Manage cost and schedule performance for large projects to limit portfolio implications for portfolio. Increases associated with NASA's most costly and complex missions have cascading effects on the rest of the portfolio, and JWST's cost and schedule increases over the years have had outsized effects. Minimize risk in program decisions to better position projects for successful execution. GAO has found that major projects often underestimate cost and technical risk, contributing to cost overruns and unstable designs. Consistently update cost and schedule estimates to provide realistic information to decision makers. NASA now requires major projects to develop and update a joint cost and schedule confidence level—an integrated analysis of a project's cost, schedule, risk, and uncertainty. Why GAO Did This Study The projects in NASA's current portfolio of major space telescopes—JWST, Roman, and SPHEREx—have roots in past decadal surveys on Astronomy and Astrophysics from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. NASA is now considering the results of the National Academies' 2020 decadal survey, which may spur new projects in this portfolio. NASA has made improvements in acquisition management in recent years, but it remains a long-standing challenge for the agency. This statement reflects GAO's observations on (1) the current status of NASA's major telescope projects, and (2) lessons learned that can be applied to NASA's management of its future telescope projects as it considers the results of this decadal study. This statement is based on ongoing work on the status of NASA's major projects, which is planned to be published in Spring spring 2022, and past GAO reports on JWST and NASA's acquisitions of major projects.[Read More…]
- Environmental Liabilities: NASA’s Reported Financial Liabilities Have Grown, and Several Factors Contribute to Future UncertaintiesBy Sam NewsJanuary 15, 2021The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) estimated cleanup and restoration across the agency would cost $1.9 billion as of fiscal year 2020, up from $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2019. This reflects an increase of $724 million, or 61 percent, from 2014. NASA identified contamination at 14 centers around the country, as of 2019. Five of the 14 centers decreased their environmental liabilities from 2014 to 2019, but liability growth at the other centers offset those decreases and contributed to the net increase in environmental liabilities. Santa Susana Field Laboratory, California, had about $502 million in environmental liabilities growth during this period (see fig.). Nearly all this growth resulted from California soil cleanup requirements that NASA did not anticipate. These NASA Centers Reported Increases or Decreases in Restoration Project Environmental Liabilities Greater Than $10 Million Between Fiscal Years 2014 and 2019 NASA's reported fiscal year 2019 environmental liabilities estimate for restoration projects does not include certain costs, and some factors may affect NASA's future environmental liabilities, potentially increasing or decreasing the federal government's fiscal exposure. Certain costs are not included in the fiscal year 2019 estimate because some projects are in a developing stage where NASA needs to gather more information to fully estimate cleanup costs. Further, NASA limits its restoration project estimates to 30 years, as the agency views anything beyond 30 years as not reasonably estimable. Sixty of NASA's 115 open restoration projects in fiscal year 2019 are expected to last longer than 30 years. With regard to factors that could affect future environmental liabilities, NASA is assessing its centers for contamination of some chemicals it had not previously identified but does not yet know the impact associated cleanup will have on the agency's liabilities in part because standards for cleaning up these chemicals do not yet exist. New cleanup requirements for emerging contaminants could increase NASA's environmental liabilities and create additional fiscal exposure for the federal government. Additionally, NASA is committed, through an agreement with the state of California, to clean soil at Santa Susana Field Laboratory to a certain standard, but the agency issued a decision in September 2020 to pursue a risk-based cleanup standard, which the state of California has opposed. According to NASA, a risk-based cleanup standard at Santa Susana Field Laboratory could decrease NASA's environmental liabilities and reduce the federal government's fiscal exposure by about $355 million. Decades of NASA's research for space exploration relied on some chemicals that can be hazardous to human health and the environment. NASA identified 14 centers around the country with hazardous chemicals that require environmental cleanup and restoration. NASA's Environmental Compliance and Restoration Program oversees the agency's environmental cleanup. NASA's environmental liabilities estimate is reported annually in the agency's financial statement. Federal accounting standards require agencies responsible for contamination to estimate and report their future cleanup costs when they are both probable and reasonably estimable. This report describes (1) NASA's environmental liabilities for restoration projects from fiscal years 2014 to 2019—the most recent data available at the time of our review—and (2) factors that could contribute to uncertainties in NASA's current or future environmental liabilities. GAO reviewed NASA financial statements, guidance, and other relevant reports and interviewed NASA officials from headquarters and three centers, selected because of changes in their reported liabilities. NASA provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which were incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Southwest Border Security: Actions Are Needed to Address the Cost and Readiness Implications of Continued DOD Support to U.S. Customs and Border ProtectionBy Sam NewsFebruary 23, 2021Since April 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has submitted 33 requests for assistance (RFA) to the Department of Defense (DOD) for support to U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) mission at the southwest border. DOD established six criteria for evaluating RFAs, which it documents in decision packages. When reviewing four selected decision packages, GAO found that DOD fully evaluated four of these six criteria. GAO found that DOD developed rough cost estimates that were not reliable. In addition, DOD did not fully evaluate the effect on military readiness of providing support at the time the Secretary of Defense considered DHS's requests. Without reliable cost estimates and a timely readiness analysis, DOD is limited in its ability to evaluate the effect of supporting DHS on its budget and readiness rebuilding efforts. DOD's Detection and Monitoring Support Mission DOD has not provided Congress with timely information on the full costs it has incurred since 2018 in supporting DHS. Specifically, during this review, DOD did not submit its statutory report to Congress for fiscal year 2019, which was due March 31, 2020. Additionally, GAO found that DOD's internal tracking of obligations excludes potentially significant costs of border support activities, such as installation support costs and the cost of benefits retroactively provided to members of the National Guard. By providing more timely and complete information to Congress, DOD would enhance Congress's ability to conduct oversight and make funding decisions for DOD and DHS. DOD and DHS employed several key interagency collaboration practices for DOD's support on the southwest border, but they have not agreed on a common outcome for DOD's support in fiscal year 2021 and beyond. DHS anticipates needing at least the current amount of DOD support for the next 3 to 5 years, possibly more, and officials stated that the desired outcome is for DOD to provide the capabilities requested in the RFAs. This differs from DOD's desired outcome, which is to provide temporary assistance until DHS can independently execute its border security mission. Defining and articulating a common outcome for DOD's support could enable DOD to more effectively plan for the resources it will need to support DHS and enable DHS to plan to manage its border security mission more effectively with its own assets. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in February 2021. Information on force protection that DOD deemed sensitive has been omitted. For decades, the U.S. southwest border has been vulnerable to cross-border illegal activity such as illegal entries, smuggling of drugs and contraband, and terrorist activities. Since 2002, DOD has supported DHS's mission to secure the nation's borders and episodically supported its efforts to manage surges in foreign nationals without valid travel documents who are seeking entry—most recently since April 2018, when the President directed the Secretary of Defense to support DHS in securing the southwest border. GAO was asked to examine this support. This report assesses the extent to which (1) DOD has evaluated DHS's RFAs, (2) DOD has reported to Congress the full costs of its support, and (3) DOD and DHS have collaborated on border security operations. GAO reviewed RFAs that DHS submitted to DOD between April 2018 and March 2020 and a non-generalizable sample of decision packages that DOD prepared in response, and conducted four site visits to border locations where military personnel were stationed. GAO makes seven recommendations, five to DOD to improve its analysis and reporting of cost and unit-level readiness impacts of supporting southwest border operations and one each to DOD and DHS to define a common outcome for DOD's future support. DOD agreed with one recommendation and disagreed with five. GAO continues to believe the recommendations are warranted as discussed in the report. DHS agreed with the recommendation to it. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- DHS Employee Morale: Some Improvements Made, but Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen Employee EngagementBy Sam NewsJanuary 12, 2021The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and each of its major components face the same key drivers of employee engagement—as measured by the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (OPM FEVS)—as the rest of the federal government (see table). Higher scores on the OPM FEVS indicate that an agency has the conditions that lead to higher employee engagement, a component of morale. Key Drivers of Employee Engagement across the Federal Government, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and within Each DHS Component Agency DHS has implemented department-wide employee engagement initiatives, including efforts to support DHS employees and their families. Additionally, DHS's major operational components, such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration, among others, have developed annual action plans to improve employee engagement. However, DHS has not issued written guidance on action planning and components do not consistently include key elements in their plans, such as outcome-based performance measures. Establishing required action plan elements through written guidance and monitoring the components to ensure they use measures to assess the results of their actions to adjust, reprioritize, and identify new actions to improve employee engagement would better position DHS to make additional gains in this area. In addition, approval from the DHS Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO) and component leadership for these plans would help ensure department-wide commitment to improving employee engagement. DHS has faced challenges with low employee morale and engagement—an employee's sense of purpose and commitment—since it began operations in 2003. DHS has made some progress in this area, but data from the 2019 OPM FEVS show that DHS continues to rank lowest among similarly-sized federal agencies. GAO has reported that increasing employee engagement can lead to improved agency performance, and it is critical that DHS do so given the importance of its missions. GAO was asked to review DHS employee morale. This report addresses (1) drivers of employee engagement at DHS and (2) the extent that DHS has initiatives to improve employee engagement and ensures effective engagement action planning. To answer these objectives, GAO used regression analyses of 2019 OPM FEVS data to identify the key drivers of engagement at DHS. GAO also reviewed component employee engagement action plans and met with officials from DHS and component human capital offices as well as unions and employee groups. GAO is making three recommendations. DHS OCHCO should, in its anticipated written guidance, establish the elements required in employee engagement action plans and the approval process for these plans. OCHCO should also monitor components' action planning to ensure they review and assess the results of their actions to improve employee engagement. DHS concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Chris Currie at (404) 679-1875 or CurrieC@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken and German Chancellor Angela Merkel Before Their MeetingBy Sam NewsJune 23, 2021