Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
The United States is committed to the safe return of all U.S. citizens taken captive. We delivered on that commitment late last night in Nigeria, where some of our bravest and most skilled warriors rescued a U.S. citizen after a group of armed men took him hostage across the border in Niger.
Thanks to the extraordinary courage and capabilities of our military, the support of our intelligence professionals, and our diplomatic efforts, the hostage will be reunited with his family.
We will never abandon any American taken hostage.
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- Justice, Education Departments Issue Fact Sheet on Supporting Students at Risk of Self Harm during COVID-19 EraBy Sam NewsOctober 13, 2021In recognition of World Mental Health Day, today the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) jointly issued a fact sheet to support students with mental health disabilities, their families, and their schools in the era of COVID-19. Along with the fact sheet, OCR released a letter to educators highlighting the civil rights obligations of schools and postsecondary institutions to students with mental health disabilities.[Read More…]
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- Justice Department Settles with Georgia-Based Staffing Company to Resolve Immigration-Related Discrimination ClaimsBy Sam NewsMay 24, 2021The Department of Justice announced today that it reached a settlement with Pyramid Consulting, Inc., an IT staffing company based in Georgia.[Read More…]
- Afghanistan and Iraq: DOD Should Improve Adherence to Its Guidance on Open Pit Burning and Solid Waste ManagementBy Sam NewsAugust 23, 2021From the start of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. military and its contractors have burned solid waste in open burn pits on or near military bases. According to the Department of Defense (DOD), burn pit emissions can potentially harm human health. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) guidance directs the military's use of burn pits, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) provides healthcare and other benefits to veterans and their families. GAO was asked to report on the (1) extent of open pit burning in Afghanistan and Iraq, and whether the military has followed its guidance; (2) alternatives to burn pits, and whether the military has examined them; and (3) extent of efforts to monitor air quality and potential health impacts. GAO visited four burn pits in Iraq, reviewed DOD data on burn pits, and consulted DOD and VA officials and other experts. GAO was unable to visit burn pits in Afghanistan.The military has relied heavily on open pit burning in both conflicts, and operators of burn pits have not always followed relevant guidance to protect servicemembers from exposure to harmful emissions. According to DOD, U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq generate about 10 pounds of solid waste per soldier each day. The military has relied on open pit burning to dispose of this waste mainly because of its expedience. In August 2010, CENTCOM estimated there were 251 burn pits in Afghanistan and 22 in Iraq. CENTCOM officials said the number of burn pits is increasing in Afghanistan and decreasing in Iraq, which reflects U.S. troop reallocations and efforts to install waste incinerators. Despite its reliance on burn pits, CENTCOM did not issue comprehensive burn pit guidance until 2009. Furthermore, to varying degrees, operators of burn pits at four bases GAO visited in Iraq were not complying with key elements of this guidance, such as restrictions on the burning of items, including plastic, that produce harmful emissions. DOD officials also said that, from the start of each conflict, operators routinely burned items that are now prohibited. The continued burning of prohibited items has resulted from a number of factors, including the constraints of combat operations, resource limitations, and contracts with burn pit operators that do not reflect current guidance. Waste management alternatives could decrease the reliance on and exposure to burn pits, but DOD has been slow to implement alternatives or fully evaluate their benefits and costs, such as avoided future costs of potential health effects. Various DOD guidance documents discourage long-term use of burn pits, encourage the use of incinerators and landfills, or encourage waste minimization such as source reduction. DOD has installed 39 solid waste incinerators in Iraq and 20 in Afghanistan, and plans to install additional incinerators in Afghanistan. To date, source reduction practices have not been widely implemented in either country and recycling consists primarily of large scrap metals. DOD plans to increase recycling at its bases in Iraq, but recycling at bases in Afghanistan has been limited. Further, DOD has not fully analyzed its waste stream in either country and lacks the information to decrease the toxicity of its waste stream and enhance waste minimization. U.S. Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq do not sample or monitor burn pit emissions as provided by a key CENTCOM regulation, and the health impacts of burn pit exposure on individuals are not well understood, partly because the military does not collect required data on emissions or exposures from burn pits. Army public health officials have, however, sampled the ambient air at bases in each conflict and found high levels of particle pollution that causes health problems but is not unique to burn pits. These officials identified logistical and other challenges in monitoring burn pit emissions, and U.S. Forces have yet to establish pollutant monitoring systems. DOD and VA have commissioned studies to enhance their understanding of burn pit emissions, but the lack of data on emissions specific to burn pits and related exposures limit efforts to characterize potential health impacts on service personnel, contractors, and host-country nationals. Among other things, GAO recommends that the Secretary of Defense improve DOD's adherence to relevant guidance on burn pit operations and waste management, and analyze alternatives to its current practices. In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD said that it concurred with five of the six recommendations and partially concurred with the sixth. GAO addressed a DOD suggestion to clarify the sixth recommendation. VA reviewed the draft report and had no comments.[Read More…]
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- Technology Modernization Fund: Implementation of Recommendations Can Improve Fee Collection and Proposal Cost EstimatesBy Sam NewsDecember 10, 2021What GAO Found The Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) provides awards to agencies to, among other things, modernize aging federal information systems. Of the initial $175 million that Congress appropriated for TMF, the Technology Modernization Board had approved 11 projects totaling about $89 million (see table), as of August 2021. Agency proposals were to include estimates of any project-related savings; agencies could use these savings to satisfy the requirement that they reimburse the TMF for any transfers within 5 years. For the seven projects approved in 2018 and 2019, two have reported generating cost savings but those savings are not documented. For the remaining five projects, two no longer plan on savings, two plan on savings starting in 1 to 3 years, and one does not know when savings will begin. Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) Project Awards, as of August 31, 2021 (in dollars) Agency and TMF project Total award amount Date of award Department of Agriculture (Agriculture) Farmers.Gov Portal 4,000,000 June 7, 2018 Department of Energy Enterprise Cloud Email 3,743,702 June 7, 2018 Department of Housing and Urban Development Unisys Migration 13,850,013 June 7, 2018 Agriculture Infrastructure Optimization 500,000 October 29, 2018 Department of Labor (Labor) Visa Application Transformation 3,500,000 October 29, 2018 General Services Administration (GSA) Application Modernization 9,816,833 October 29, 2018 GSA NewPay 16,986,021 February 11, 2019 Agriculture Specialty Crops Systems Modernization 8,000,000 October 21, 2019 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Charge and Case Management System Modernization 4,000,000 October 21, 2019 U.S. Customs Border and Protection Automated Commercial Environment Collections Module 15,000,000 July 27, 2020 Labor Data Modernization 9,600,000 March 21, 2021 Total 88,996,569 Source: GAO analysis of agency TMF project documentation as of August 31, 2021. | GAO-22-105117 In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 appropriated an additional $1 billion to the TMF. In May 2021, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) provided updated TMF guidance to agencies regarding this $1 billion. Among other things, the guidance (1) prioritizes projects that cut across agencies and address immediate cybersecurity gaps, and (2) allows agencies to apply for a partial or minimal reimbursement of the TMF funds provided (partial is agencies repaying 25 to 100 percent of the award while minimal is greater than zero but less than 25 percent). On September 30, 2021, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced the approval of seven new projects with awards totaling at least $311 million (one of the seven projects is classified; no award figure is publicly available). In deciding on these seven, the Technology Modernization Board received 113 project proposals requesting a total of more than $2.3 billion. Regarding TMF operating costs and fees collected to offset those costs, as of August 2021, GSA had received fee payments totaling about $810,000, or about 29 percent of its operating expenses of $2.8 million (see table below). Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) Program Management Office Operating Expenses and Fee Collection, as of August 31, 2021 (in dollars) Fiscal year Operating expenses Fee collection 2018 408,662 0 2019 851,958 33,165 2020 835,725 245,096 2021a 712,170 530,628 Total 2,808,515 808,889 Source: GAO analysis of TMF Program Management Office and TMF project documentation, | GAO-22-105117 a2021 operating expenses and fee collection are for the first 11 months of fiscal year 2021 (Oct-Sept). A key reason for this shortfall is that six of the seven initially approved projects narrowed their scopes. This led to reduced award amounts transferred to agencies, which in turn resulted in about a $1.12 million reduction in anticipated fees. Relatedly, OMB and GSA have not yet implemented GAO's prior recommendation to develop and implement a plan to fully recover operating expenses with fee collection. Doing so would provide greater assurance that fees collected would be sufficient to offset operating costs. OMB funding guidelines require projects to include a reliable estimate of any project-related savings. However, most of the TMF projects' reported savings estimates derived from cost estimates continue to be unreliable. Specifically, three of the four projects reviewed did not fully incorporate best practices for a reliable cost estimate, as defined in OMB Circular A-11 (which references GAO's Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide ) (see table below). GAO Assessment of Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) Projects' Cost Estimates Characteristic TMF Project Comprehensive Well-documented Accurate Credible Department of Agriculture Specialty Crops System Modernization Minimally met Minimally met Minimally met Not met Department of Labor Data Modernization Partially met Partially met Partially met Not met U.S. Customs and Border Protection Automated Commercial Environment Collections Module Met Met Substantially met Met U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Charge and Case Management System Modernization Partially met Minimally met Minimally met Not met Source: GAO analysis of agency TMF cost estimate documentation as of August 31, 2021. | GAO-22-105117 Note: Evidence was provided to satisfy a given characteristic's best practices: Not met = none; minimally met = a small portion; partially met = about half; substantially met = a large portion; met = complete evidence. Given the significant expansion in available TMF funds, it is increasingly important that GSA implement GAO's prior recommendation to improve the instructions for the TMF cost estimate template required of each proposal. Such action would help ensure that the TMF board is reviewing documentation that is complete, accurate, and reliable. Why GAO Did This Study Enacted in 2017, the provisions commonly referred to as the Modernizing Government Technology Act established the TMF in recognition of the challenges in modernizing federal information systems. OMB and GSA administer the TMF, and a Technology Modernization Board comprised of federal IT executives reviews agency project proposals. Pursuant to the law, OMB's 2018 TMF guidance directed agencies with approved projects to reimburse the amounts transferred from the fund and pay a fee, within 5 years of award. Fees were to be based in part on a percentage of award amounts transferred to the agency. GSA uses TMF appropriations to cover its operating expenses, and collects the fees from awarded projects to offset these expenses. The act includes a provision for GAO to report biannually on the TMF. This second TMF report, among other things, (1) identifies the status of the fund and approved projects, (2) determines the TMF's operating costs and fees collected to offset those costs, and (3) assesses the reliability of selected projects' cost saving estimates. GAO identified projects approved for TMF funding and reviewed the extent to which selected projects were generating cost savings. GAO also reviewed OMB and GSA's administrative fund processes, and GSA financial data on TMF operating costs. In addition, GAO analyzed TMF project and supporting cost estimate documentation for the four projects awarded funds between September 2019 and August 2021 and compared its analysis to the characteristics of a reliable cost estimate.[Read More…]
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- Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco Testifies Before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women ActBy Sam NewsOctober 5, 2021Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Grassley, and members of the Committee. I appreciate very much the opportunity to speak to you today. The Violence Against Women Act has had an enormous impact in combatting domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, and I am here to urge Congress to reauthorize and to strengthen it.[Read More…]
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- Surface Transportation Security: TSA Has Taken Steps to Improve its Surface Inspector Program, but Lacks Performance TargetsBy Sam NewsJuly 30, 2020According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Surface Transportation Security Inspector Operations Plan (TSA's plan), surface transportation security inspectors—known as surface inspectors—are to enter key details for program activities in the Performance and Results Information System (PARIS)—TSA's system of record for all surface inspector activities. In December 2017, GAO reported that TSA was unable to fully account for surface inspector time spent assisting with non-surface transportation modes, including aviation, due to data limitations in PARIS, and recommended TSA address these limitations. Since GAO's report, TSA updated PARIS to better track surface inspector activities in non-surface transportation modes. Transportation Security Administration Surface Inspectors Assess Security of a Bus System TSA's plan outlines steps to align work plan activities with risk assessment findings. However, TSA cannot comprehensively ensure surface inspectors are targeting program resources to high-risk modes and locations because it does not consistently collect information on entity mode or location in PARIS. According to officials, TSA plans to update PARIS and program guidance to require inspectors to include this information in the system by the end of fiscal year 2020. TSA's plan outlines performance measures for the surface inspector program, but does not establish quantifiable performance targets for all activities. Targets indicate how well an agency aspires to perform and could include, for example, entity scores on TSA security assessments, among others. By developing targets, TSA would be better positioned to assess the surface inspector program's progress in achieving its objective of increasing security among surface transportation entities. Surface transportation—freight and passenger rail, mass transit, highway, maritime and pipeline systems—is vulnerable to global terrorism and other threats. TSA is the federal agency primarily responsible for securing surface transportation systems. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires TSA to submit a plan to guide its Surface Transportation Security Inspectors Program. The Act includes a provision for GAO to review TSA's plan. This report examines the extent to which TSA's plan and its implementation: (1) address known data limitations related to tracking surface inspector activities among non-surface modes, (2) align surface operations with risk assessments, and how, if at all, TSA ensures inspectors prioritize activities in high-risk modes and locations, and (3) establish performance targets for the surface inspector program. GAO reviewed TSA's June 2019 plan and analyzed data on inspector activities for fiscal years 2017 through 2019. GAO interviewed officials in headquarters and a non-generalizable sample of 7 field offices selected based on geographical location and the presence of high-risk urban areas. GAO recommends that TSA establish quantifiable performance targets for the surface inspector program's activity-level performance measures. DHS concurred with our recommendation. For more information, contact Triana McNeil at (202) 512-8777 or McNeilT@gao.gov.[Read More…]
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- Operation Legend: Case of the DayBy Sam NewsSeptember 29, 2020Each 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 Illinois. Operation Legend launched in Chicago on July 22, 2020, in response to the city facing increased homicide and non-fatal shooting rates.[Read More…]