Office of the Spokesperson
The below is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke today with Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau. Secretary Blinken welcomed the Foreign Minister’s engagement in Kyiv and Moscow and expressed his support for Foreign Minister Rau’s initiative to launch a Renewed European Security Dialogue at the OSCE. The Secretary reiterated his commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and determination to deter and defend against further Russian aggression. The Secretary thanked the Foreign Minister for Poland’s assistance with U.S. citizens who are leaving Ukraine.
- Military Operations: Recent Campaigns Benefited from Improved Communications and Technology, but Barriers to Continued Progress Remain
August 25, 2021Recent U.S. combat operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq benefited from new Department of Defense (DOD) strategies and technologies, such as improvements in force networks and increased use of precision weapons, designed to address changes in the security environment resulting from the continuing terrorist threat and the advent of the information age. Based on the authority of the Comptroller General, GAO reviewed these conflicts, with a focus on bombing operations, to gain insight into the changes being implemented by DOD. This report focuses on (1) assessing the impact on operational effectiveness of improvements in force networks and in the use of precision weapons and (2) identifying key barriers to continued progress.Improvements in force networks and in the use of precision weapons are clearly primary reasons for the overwhelming combat power demonstrated in recent operations. However, the full extent to which operations have been speeded up or otherwise affected is unclear because DOD does not have detailed measures of these effects. Enhancements to networked operations, such as improved sensors and surveillance mechanisms, and more integrated command and control centers, have improved DOD’s ability to share a broad view of the battlefield and communicate quickly with all elements of the force–reducing the time required for analysis and decision making in combat operations. However, recognizing that the full impact of these changes is unclear, DOD is conducting a series of case studies to better understand the effects of networked operations. Improvements in force networks have also been enhanced by the use of precision-guided weapons and associated technologies. These improvements not only provide commanders with greatly increased flexibility, such as the ability to conduct bombing operations in poor weather and from higher and safer altitudes, but also increase the accuracy of bombing operations. GAO’s analysis found that the percentage of attacks resulting in damage or destruction to targets increased markedly between operations in Kosovo and those in Afghanistan. Notwithstanding these improvements, certain barriers inhibit continued progress in implementing the new strategy. Four interrelated areas stand out as key: (1) a lack of standardized, interoperable systems and equipment, which reduces effectiveness by requiring operations to be slowed to manually reconcile information from multiple systems and limiting access to needed capabilities among military services; (2) continuing difficulties in obtaining timely, high quality analyses of bombing damages, which can slow ground advances and negate other improvements in the speed of operations; (3) the absence of a unified battlefield information system to provide standardized measures and baseline data on bombing effectiveness, which creates confusion about the success of new tactics and technologies, about assumptions used in battlefield simulation programs, and about procurement decisions; and (4) the lack of high quality, realistic training to help personnel at all levels understand and adapt to the increased flow of information, more centralized management, and other changes in the operating environment brought about by the strategic changes.
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Attorney General Merrick Garland, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, Mexican Security Secretary Rosa Icela Rodriguez, and Mexican Interior Secretary Adan Augusto Lopez Hernandez Remarks Before the U.S.-Mexico High-Level Security Dialogue
October 8, 2021Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
- Pipeline Safety: Performance Measures Needed to Assess Recent Changes to Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety Regulations
June 22, 2021What GAO Found In 2019, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a final rule amending its hazardous liquid pipeline safety regulations. Selected pipeline operators and officials from PHMSA and selected states’ pipeline safety offices said that these changes would enhance pipeline safety and present no significant challenges. They said the most beneficial changes expanded the scope of inspections. For example, in addition to existing requirements for operators to use specialized tools to inspect pipelines in “high consequence areas”—defined by population and environmental factors—the 2019 Rule requires such inspections outside of those areas. While operators noted the rule’s potential to improve safety, all 11 operators GAO interviewed identified specific amendments that could increase their costs. For example, several operators said they would need to modify or replace some of their pipeline to allow for certain inspection tools required by the changes. PHMSA and state pipeline safety officials said they did not anticipate oversight challenges or additional costs because the changes did not alter their inspection process. Specialized In-Line Inspection Tool Being Placed in a Launch Point on a Pipeline PHMSA held meetings with and provided guidance to operators and inspectors on the changes but has not developed measures to assess if the changes improve safety. Leading performance management practices call for agencies to track progress toward goals using measures that include targets for expected levels of performance and timeframes. While PHMSA has desired outcomes for the 2019 Rule, including safety improvements, PHMSA officials said they have not established performance measures for those outcomes because some of the changes have long-term compliance deadlines, and so data are not yet available to assess effectiveness. However, other changes have shorter-term deadlines for compliance and PHMSA could use data it already collects from operators for its assessment. Without performance measures, PHMSA cannot determine whether the changes made by the 2019 Rule are achieving their intended outcomes and contributing to PHMSA’s safety goals. Why GAO Did This Study The U.S. hazardous liquid pipeline network runs for over 220,000 miles and is a critical component of the nation’s economy. Pipelines are considered to be a relatively safe mode of transporting crude oil, refined petroleum products, and other hazardous liquids, but accidents can occur that result in loss of life and environmental damage. PHMSA, within the Department of Transportation (DOT), sets the federal minimum pipeline safety standards and generally ensures operator compliance. In 2016, a pipeline safety statute included a provision for GAO to report on hazardous liquid pipeline safety after PHMSA issued a specific final rule amending its safety regulations, which it did in 2019. This report examines: (1) perspectives of selected pipeline stakeholders on the benefits and challenges of the amendments made by the 2019 Rule and (2) steps PHMSA has taken to inform stakeholders of these amendments and to measure their effects on pipeline safety. GAO reviewed relevant statutes and regulations; analyzed PHMSA accident data from calendar years 2011-2020; interviewed 11 pipeline operators—selected by pipeline type, miles, and product type—as well as pipeline industry and safety stakeholders, and PHMSA and pipeline safety officials from six states.
- Insurance Broker Sentenced for $3.8 Million Fraud Scheme
May 27, 2021A licensed insurance broker and the owner of Benefits Consulting Associates LLC was sentenced to 70 months in prison Wednesday for his role in a scheme to defraud CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield of more than $3.8 million.
- Former Minister of Government of Bolivia, Owner of Florida-Based Company, and Three Others Charged in Bribery and Money Laundering Scheme
May 26, 2021Two Bolivian nationals and three U.S. citizens were arrested on May 21, and May 22, in Florida and Georgia on criminal charges related to their alleged roles in a bribery and money laundering scheme. The former Minister of Government of Bolivia and another former Bolivian official are accused of receiving bribes paid by a U.S. company and individuals to secure a Bolivian government contract, and then using the U.S. financial system to launder those bribes.
- Pennsylvania Man Charged with Trafficking in Endangered and Invasive Fish
November 16, 2020A Pennsylvania man has been indicted in the Western District of Pennsylvania for violating the Lacey Act.
- Surface Transportation Security: TSA Has Taken Steps to Improve its Surface Inspector Program, but Lacks Performance Targets
July 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.
- Concrete Contractor Agrees to Settle False Claims Act Allegations for $3.9 Million
February 17, 2021COLAS Djibouti SARL (Colas Djibouti) ¬has agreed to resolve for $3.9 million civil allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by selling substandard concrete used to construct U.S. Navy airfields in the Republic of Djibouti, the Department of Justice announced today. Colas Djibouti, a French limited liability company, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Colas SA, a French civil engineering company.
- Four Defendants Indicted for Laundering Target Gift Cards Purchased by Fraud Victims
September 28, 2021A federal grand jury in Los Angeles returned an indictment against four California-based defendants for their alleged roles laundering fraud proceeds stored on gift cards. The indictment, which was unsealed today, charges U.S. citizen Blade Bai, 33, of El Monte; and Chinese citizens Bowen Hu, 26, of Hacienda Heights; Tairan Shi, 27, of Diamond Bar; and Yan Fu, 58, of Chino Hills, with conspiring to launder proceeds of wire fraud that were stored on gift cards issued by retailer Target.
- Imposing Visa Restrictions on Additional Individuals Undermining Belarusian Democracy
February 18, 2021Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
- Pipeline Safety: Information on Keystone Accidents and DOT Oversight
August 23, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) required TC Energy to take additional safety measures specified in a special permit as conditions of allowing certain portions of the Keystone Pipeline (Keystone) to operate at a higher stress level than allowed by regulation. PHMSA reviewed technical information and drew on its experience granting similar permits to natural gas pipelines to develop 51 conditions with which TC Energy must comply. Most pipeline safety and technical stakeholders GAO interviewed agreed the conditions offset the risks of operating at a higher stress level. However, PHMSA did not allow TC Energy to fully operate Keystone at this higher stress level until 2017, after TC Energy replaced pipe affected by industry-wide pipeline quality issues. Keystone’s accident history has been similar to other crude oil pipelines since 2010, but the severity of spills has worsened in recent years. Similar to crude oil pipelines nationwide, most of Keystone’s 22 accidents from 2010 through 2020 released fewer than 50 barrels of oil and were contained on operator-controlled property such as a pump station. The two largest spills in Keystone’s history in 2017 and 2019 were among the six accidents that met PHMSA’s criteria for accidents “impacting people or the environment.” According to PHMSA’s measures for these more severe types of accidents, from 2010 to 2020 TC Energy performed better than nationwide averages, but worse in the past five years due to the 2017 and 2019 spills. Keystone Accidents Impacting People or the Environment, 2010-2020 In response to each of Keystone’s four largest spills, PHMSA issued Corrective Action Orders requiring TC Energy to investigate the accidents’ root causes and take necessary corrective actions. These investigations found that the four accidents were caused by issues related to the original design, manufacturing of the pipe, or construction of the pipeline. PHMSA also issued other enforcement actions and assessed civil penalties to TC Energy for deficiencies found during inspections, such as inadequate corrosion prevention and missing pipeline markers. Based in part on its experience overseeing Keystone, PHMSA officials said they have increased resources to conduct inspections during construction of other pipelines and are establishing a more formal process to document and track the compliance of all special permits, including Keystone’s permit. Why GAO Did This Study Since it began operating in 2010, Keystone has transported over 3 billion barrels of crude oil from Canada to refineries in Illinois, Oklahoma, and Texas, according to its operator, TC Energy. Prior to construction, TC Energy requested and obtained a special permit from PHMSA to operate certain portions of the pipeline at a higher stress level than is allowed under PHMSA’s regulations. Since TC Energy was the first and remains the only hazardous liquid pipeline operator to request a waiver of this particular regulation, the Keystone special permit is unique. GAO was asked to review PHMSA’s oversight of the Keystone Pipeline. This report discusses: (1) PHMSA’s actions to approve the Keystone special permit and allow the pipeline to operate at a higher stress level, (2) how Keystone accidents compare to accidents on all U.S. crude oil pipelines since 2010, and (3) PHMSA’s actions in response to Keystone safety issues. GAO reviewed applicable statutes and regulations, the special permit, and PHMSA enforcement actions. It also analyzed PHMSA’s pipeline accident data from 2010 to 2020 to describe Keystone’s accidents and compare TC Energy to PHMSA’s performance measures. GAO also interviewed TC Energy representatives, PHMSA officials, and 17 stakeholders selected to provide a range of perspectives representing industry associations; pipeline safety and technical stakeholders; and environmental, tribal, and state organizations. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or KrauseH@gao.gov.
- Eleven Defendants Charged with Murder in Indian Country
May 14, 2021A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Oklahoma has returned separate indictments charging 11 defendants with murder and other various violent crimes arising out of Indian Country.
- Department of Justice Marks 20th Anniversary of Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act with Comprehensive 20-Year Report
September 22, 2020The Justice Department today marked the 20th Anniversary of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by releasing a comprehensive report detailing how RLUIPA has helped preserve the religious liberty rights of thousands of individuals and institutions.
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken And International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi Before Their Meeting
October 18, 2021Office of the [Read More…]
- Former Venezuelan Official Charged in Connection with International Bribery and Money Laundering Scheme
August 6, 2020Charges were unsealed today against a former official at Citgo Petroleum Corporation, a Houston-based subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA).
- Military Uniforms: Issues Related to the Supply of Flame Resistant Fibers for the Production of Military Uniforms
August 23, 2021Prior to Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Department of Defense (DOD) personnel with flame resistant (FR) uniforms were mainly aviators, fuel handlers, and tank crews. With the growing prevalence of the improvised explosive device (IED) threat, all ground forces serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have been exposed to the possibility of fire-related injuries. The Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 extended to 2015 the authority to procure fire resistant rayon fiber for the production of uniforms from certain foreign countries, provided by section 829 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 and originally set to expire in 2013. This letter discusses the briefing developed in response to the requirement in the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 to report on the supply chain for FR fiber for the production of military uniforms. Specifically, the act required GAO to analyze several elements of the supply chain, including the current and anticipated sources of FR rayon fiber; actions DOD has taken to identify alternatives to FR rayon fiber; impediments to the use of such alternatives; and the impediments posed to efficient procurement of FR rayon fiber by existing statutory or regulatory requirements; among others. On March 15, 2011, we provided a draft of the briefing to Congress to satisfy this requirement.In summary, an Austrian-headquartered company is presently the only source used for FR rayon fiber to support the manufacturing of FR uniforms for DOD. However, the department has taken a number of steps over the past 5 years to identify alternative FR fabric blends. For example, the military services have sought fabric/garment submissions through sources sought notices, market surveys, or solicitations in 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2010 to explore available options and have tested a wide variety of FR fabrics. Based on our review of military service testing, it is unclear if FR rayon’s flame resistant characteristics are better than all other alternatives. Further, some DOD and industry officials stated that FR rayon has several advantages, including improved comfort, moisture absorbency, and ability to be dyed, while others have stated that fabrics with FR rayon tend to be less durable than those using other FR fibers. With respect to legal requirements applying to the production and use of FR rayon fibers, immediately relevant to our assessment was the Berry Amendment, which generally prohibits the use of funds available to DOD for the procurement of certain items when not grown, reprocessed, reused, or produced in the United States, absent an exception. Two exceptions relevant to FR rayon fiber are the general availability exception under the Berry Amendment itself, which results in a domestic nonavailability determination (DNAD), and the exception unique to FR rayon provided by the authority found in section 829 of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2008. DOD indicated that a DNAD issued in 2001 for rayon yarn for use in military clothing and textile items provides the basis for the waiver presently used for purchase of FR rayon for military uniforms. We are not making any recommendations in this report.
- Justice Department Settles with New Jersey-Based IT Consulting Company to Resolve Immigration-Related Discrimination Claims
January 26, 2021The Department of Justice announced today that it reached a settlement with Quantum Integrators Group (Quantum), an IT consulting and staffing company based in New Jersey. The settlement resolves claims that Quantum (1) discriminated against a lawful permanent resident by requiring her, based on her citizenship status, to provide unnecessary documentation before it would refer her for an employment opportunity, and (2) routinely required other work-authorized non-U.S. citizens to present unnecessary documents to prove their eligibility to work.
- Defense Management: Improved Planning, Training, and Interagency Collaboration Could Strengthen DOD’s Efforts in Africa
August 25, 2021When the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) became fully operational in 2008, it inherited well over 100 activities, missions, programs, and exercises from other Department of Defense (DOD) organizations. AFRICOM initially conducted these inherited activities with little change. However, as AFRICOM has matured, it has begun planning and prioritizing activities with its four military service components, special operations command, and task force. Some activities represent a shift from traditional warfighting, requiring collaboration with the Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, and other interagency partners. GAO’s prior work has identified critical steps and practices that help agencies to achieve success. For this report, GAO was asked to assess AFRICOM in five areas with respect to activity planning and implementation. To do so, GAO analyzed DOD and AFRICOM guidance; observed portions of AFRICOM activities; interviewed officials in Europe and Africa; and obtained perspectives from interagency officials, including those at 22 U.S. embassies in Africa.AFRICOM has made progress in developing strategies and engaging interagency partners, and could advance DOD’s effort to strengthen the capacity of partner nations in Africa. However, AFRICOM still faces challenges in five areas related to activity planning and implementation. Overcoming these challenges would help AFRICOM with future planning, foster stability and security through improved relationships with African nations, and maximize its effect on the continent. (1) Strategic Planning. AFRICOM has created overarching strategies and led planning meetings, but many specific plans to guide activities have not yet been finalized. For example, AFRICOM has developed a theater strategy and campaign plan but has not completed detailed plans to support its objectives. Also, some priorities of its military service components, special operations command, and task force overlap or differ from each other and from AFRICOM’s priorities. Completing plans will help AFRICOM determine whether priorities are aligned across the command and ensure that efforts are appropriate, complementary, and comprehensive. (2) Measuring Effects. AFRICOM is generally not measuring long-term effects of activities. While some capacity-building activities appear to support its mission, federal officials expressed concern that others–such as sponsoring a news Web site in an African region sensitive to the military’s presence–may have unintended effects. Without assessing activities, AFRICOM lacks information to evaluate their effectiveness, make informed future planning decisions, and allocate resources. (3) Applying Funds. Some AFRICOM staff have difficulty applying funding sources to activities. DOD has stated that security assistance efforts are constrained by a patchwork of authorities. Limited understanding of various funding sources for activities has resulted in some delayed activities, funds potentially not being used effectively, and African participants being excluded from some activities. (4) Interagency Collaboration. AFRICOM has been coordinating with partners from other federal agencies. As of June 2010, AFRICOM had embedded 27 interagency officials in its headquarters and had 17 offices at U.S. embassies in Africa. However, the command has not fully integrated interagency perspectives early in activity planning or leveraged some embedded interagency staff for their expertise. (5) Building Expertise. AFRICOM staff have made some cultural missteps because they do not fully understand local African customs and may unintentionally burden embassies that must respond to AFRICOM’s requests for assistance with activities. Without greater knowledge of these issues, AFRICOM may continue to face difficulties maximizing resources with embassy personnel and building relations with African nations. GAO recommends that AFRICOM complete its strategic plans, conduct long-term activity assessments, fully integrate interagency personnel into activity planning, and develop training to build staff expertise. DOD agreed with the recommendations.
- Indictment Charges Alaska Man for Threatening a California Synagogue
September 21, 2020A federal grand jury in Alaska, returned an indictment charging William Alexander, 49, for threatening to kill the congregants of a California synagogue, the Justice Department announced today.
- More than 700 Members Of Transnational Organized Crime Groups Arrested in Central America in U.S. Assisted Operation
November 27, 2020Today, senior law enforcement officials from the United States, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras announced criminal charges in Central America against more than 700 members of transnational criminal organizations, primarily MS-13 and 18th Street gangs, which resulted from a one-week coordinated law enforcement action under Operation Regional Shield (ORS).