Office of the Spokesperson
Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu will travel to California February 23-25, 2022, to participate in outreach to key domestic constituents in the Bay Area. The Assistant Secretary will engage diaspora, venture capital, industry, and tech leaders, as well as stakeholders and elected officials involved in Afghan resettlement in California. These meetings will provide opportunities to reinforce public-private cooperation, to expand U.S. business engagement in South and Central Asia, and to consult with stakeholders about the Afghan resettlement process.
Additionally, the trip will focus specifically on opportunities to support women’s economic advancement through public-private partnerships, like the U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council and U.S.-India Alliance for Women’s Economic Empowerment.
Assistant Secretary Lu’s engagements in California will be the first of several domestic outreach programs in 2022 which aim to connect U.S. foreign policy with the broad American public.
For media inquiries please contact SCA-Press@state.gov.
- Assistant Secretary Lu Visits Malé and Kathmandu
November 12, 2021
- Department Press Briefing – November 5, 2021
November 5, 2021Jalina Porter, Principal [Read More…]
- Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke Delivers Remarks at Dillard University’s 10th Annual Justice Revius O. Ortique Jr. Lecture on Law and Society
November 18, 2021Thank you, President Kimbrough, for that kind introduction and the invitation to speak tonight.
- North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) Travel Advisory
September 26, 2020Do not travel to North [Read More…]
- Vocational Rehabilitation: More VA and DOD Collaboration Needed to Expedite Services for Seriously Injured Servicemembers
August 25, 2021More than 10,000 U.S. military servicemembers, including National Guard and Reserve members, have been injured in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those with serious injuries are likely to be discharged from the military and return to civilian life with disabilities. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers vocational rehabilitation and employment (VR&E) services to help these injured servicemembers in their transition to civilian employment. GAO has noted that early intervention–the provision of rehabilitation services as soon as possible after the onset of a disability–is a practice that significantly facilitates the return to work. GAO examined how VA expedites VR&E services to seriously injured servicemembers and the challenges VA faces in its efforts to do so.VA has taken steps to expedite vocational rehabilitation and employment services for servicemembers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq with serious injuries. The agency has instructed its regional offices to make seriously injured servicemembers a high priority for all VA assistance, including VR&E services, and has asked DOD to provide data that would help VA identify and monitor this population. It has also deployed additional staff to five major Army military treatment facilities where the majority of the seriously injured are treated. Pending an agreement with DOD for sharing data, VA has relied on its regional offices to learn who the seriously injured are and where they are located. We found that the regional offices we reviewed had developed information that varied in completeness and reliability. We also found that VA does not have a policy for maintaining contact with those with serious injuries who may later be ready for VR&E services but did not initially apply for VR&E. Nevertheless, some regional offices did attempt to maintain contact while other regional offices did not. VA faces significant challenges in expediting VR&E services to seriously injured servicemembers. These include: the inherent challenge that individual differences and uncertainties in the recovery process make it difficult to determine when a servicemember will be ready to consider VR&E services; DOD’s concerns that VA’s outreach, including early intervention with VR&E, could work at cross purposes to military retention goals for servicemembers whose discharge from military service is not yet certain; and the lack of access to data from DOD that would allow VA to readily know which servicemembers are seriously injured and where they are located. VA and DOD generally concurred with our findings and recommendations.
- Veterans Affairs: Systems Modernization, Cybersecurity, and IT Management Issues Need to Be Addressed
July 1, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has faced long-standing challenges in its efforts to deploy information technology (IT) initiatives in two critical areas needing modernization: the department’s aging health information system, known as the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA); and VA’s outdated, non-integrated financial and acquisition management systems requiring complex manual work processes that have contributed to the department reporting financial management system functionality as a material weakness. Specifically, GAO has reported on the challenges that the department has faced with its three previous unsuccessful attempts to modernize VistA over the past 20 years. In February 2021, GAO reported that VA had made progress toward implementing its fourth effort—a modernized electronic health record system. However, GAO stressed that the department needed to address all critical severity test findings (that could result in system failure) and high severity test findings (that could result in system failure, but have acceptable workarounds) before deploying the system at future locations. In March 2021, GAO reported on the department’s Financial Management Business Transformation, a program intended to modernize financial and acquisition systems. GAO found that VA had generally adhered to best practices in the areas of program governance, project management, and testing. However, the department had not fully met best practices for developing and managing cost and schedule estimates. GAO recommended that VA follow such practices to help minimize the risks of cost overruns and schedule delays. GAO has also reported that VA has struggled to secure information systems and associated data; implement information security controls and mitigate known security deficiencies; establish key elements of a cybersecurity risk management program; and identify, assess, and mitigate the risks of information and communications technology supply chains. GAO has made numerous recommendations to VA to address these areas. Many of those recommendations have been addressed, but others have not been fully implemented. VA has demonstrated mixed results in implementing key provisions of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (commonly referred to as FITARA). Specifically, VA has made substantial progress in improving its licensing of software, which led it to identify $65 million in cost savings. Further, it has made some progress in consolidating its data centers and achieving cost savings and avoidances. However, it has made limited progress in addressing requirements related to managing IT investment risk and enhancing the authority of its Chief Information Officer. Fully implementing the act’s provisions would position the department to deliver better service to our veterans through modern, secure technology. Why GAO Did This Study The use of IT is crucial to helping VA effectively serve the nation’s veterans. The department annually spends billions of dollars on its information systems and assets. Its fiscal year 2022 budget request is about $4.8 billion for its Office of Information and Technology and $2.7 billion for electronic health record modernization. GAO was asked to testify on its prior IT work at VA. Specifically, this testimony summarizes results and recommendations from GAO’s issued reports that examined VA’s efforts in (1) modernizing VistA and its financial and acquisition management systems; (2) addressing cybersecurity issues; and (3) implementing FITARA. GAO reviewed its recently issued reports that addressed IT and cybersecurity issues at VA and followed up on the department’s actions in response to recommendations.
- Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with Muslim Frontline Workers on the Occasion of Eid al-Adha
August 3, 2021
- Homeland Security: DHS Needs to Fully Implement Key Practices in Acquiring Biometric Identity Management System
June 9, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initially expected to implement the entire Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) by 2021; however, no segments of the program have been deployed to date. Currently estimated to cost $4.3 billion in total, DHS plans to deploy increment 1 of the program in December 2021 and expects to implement later increments in 2022 and 2024. Increment 1 is expected to replace the functionality of the existing system. Although the multi-billion dollar HART program had suffered continuing delays, until the end of last year, the DHS Chief Information Officer (CIO) had reported the program as low risk on the IT Dashboard, a website showing, among other things, the performance and risks of agency information technology (IT) investments. In May 2020, the Office of the CIO began developing a new assessment process which led to the CIO accurately elevating HART’s rating from low to high risk and reporting this rating to the IT Dashboard in November 2020. In addition, consistent with OMB guidance, the CIO fulfilled applicable oversight requirements for high-risk IT programs by, among other things, conducting a review of the program known as a TechStat review. While the CIO complied with applicable oversight requirements in conducting the TechStat review, GAO noted that DHS’s associated policy was outdated. Specifically, the 2017 policy does not reflect the revised process DHS started using in 2020. As such, until the guidance is updated, other departmental IT programs deemed high risk would likely not be readily aware of the specific process requirements. Concurrent with the CIO’s actions to conduct oversight, HART program management has also acted to implement important risk management practices. Specifically, GAO found that HART had fully implemented four of seven risk management best practices and partially implemented the remaining three (see table). For example, as of February 2021, the program had identified 49 active risks, including 15 related to cost and schedule and 17 related to technical issues. While DHS has plans under way to fully implement two of the partially implemented practices, until it fully implements the remaining practice its efforts to effectively monitor the status of risks and mitigation plans may be hampered. Summary of the Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology Program’s Implementation of the Seven Risk Management Practices Practice GAO assessment 1. Determine risk sources and categories ● 2. Define parameters to analyze and categorize risks ● 3. Establish and maintain a risk management strategy ◑ 4. Identify and document risks ● 5. Evaluate and categorize each identified risk using defined risk categories and parameters, and determine its relative priority ● 6. Develop a risk mitigation plan in accordance with the risk management strategy ◑ 7. Monitor the status of each risk periodically and implement the risk mitigation plan as appropriate ◑ Legend: ● = Fully implemented ◑ = Partially implemented ○ = Not implemented Source: GAO analysis of agency data. | GAO-21-386 Why GAO Did This Study DHS currently uses an outdated system, implemented over 27 years ago, for providing biometric identity management services (i.e., fingerprint matching and facial recognition technology services), known as the Automated Biometric Identification System, or IDENT. In 2016, DHS initiated a multi-billion dollar program known as HART, which is intended to replace the existing system. GAO was asked to evaluate the HART program. Its specific objectives, among others, were to (1) determine the status of the program, (2) assess the extent to which the DHS CIO was accurately reporting risk and meeting applicable oversight requirements, and (3) assess the extent to which the program was identifying and managing its risks. To accomplish these objectives, GAO identified the program’s schedule and cost estimates, assessed the CIO’s risk ratings and HART oversight documentation and related evidence against OMB guidance, and compared the program’s risk management practices to best practices that are essential to identifying and mitigating potential problems. In addition, GAO interviewed appropriate officials.
- Some Courts Slow Reopening Plans as COVID Cases Rise
In U.S CourtsJuly 16, 2020At a time when some states are backtracking on plans to restore business and government operations, a number of federal courts also are slowing plans to reopen courthouse doors as coronavirus (COVID-19) case numbers escalate in many states. In recent weeks, federal courts, especially in Sun Belt “hot spot” states, have issued orders extending courthouse closures, postponement of jury trials, and the use of video and teleconferencing for most or all proceedings. Most of the orders cited rising COVID-19 numbers.
- Ph.D. Chemist Convicted of Conspiracy to Steal Trade Secrets, Economic Espionage, Theft of Trade Secrets and Wire Fraud
April 22, 2021A federal jury in Greeneville, Tennessee, convicted a U.S. citizen today of conspiracy to steal trade secrets, economic espionage and wire fraud.
- Justice Department Acts To Shut Down Fraudulent Websites Exploiting The Covid-19 Pandemic
August 12, 2020The United States Department of Justice announced today that it has obtained a Temporary Restraining Order in federal court to combat fraud related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The enforcement action, filed in Tampa, Florida, is part of the Justice Department’s ongoing efforts prioritizing the detection, investigation, and prosecution of illegal conduct related to the pandemic. The action was brought based on an investigation conducted by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in coordination with the Vietnam Ministry of Public Security.
- Secretary Blinken’s Call with Mexican Foreign Secretary Ebrard
September 21, 2021
- COVID-19: HHS Agencies’ Planned Reviews of Vaccine Distribution and Communication Efforts Should Include Stakeholder Perspectives
November 4, 2021What GAO Found In late 2020 and early 2021, agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) set up federal programs for vaccine distribution and administration. State and local health officials and other stakeholders GAO interviewed said these programs helped higher-risk populations access COVID-19 vaccination. For example, the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) health center program provided vaccinations in medically underserved areas. However, these stakeholders also cited challenges, such as initially having limited or no information on the doses federal programs were sending to pharmacies and health centers in their communities. They said this made it difficult to decide which sites, including pharmacies and health centers, to send their own allocated doses when supply was limited. Stakeholders told GAO the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) education materials, such as provider toolkits, were useful to address the public’s concerns about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, but providers would have liked them sooner to be able start promoting vaccination earlier. These stakeholders, including health officials, said they had difficulty managing public expectations and responding to questions about vaccine availability when they did not receive advance notice about changes in federal priority groups for vaccination. Individual Being Vaccinated as Part of a Federal Program Officials from HHS agencies—CDC and HRSA—stated they intend to conduct after action reviews to identify lessons learned from their COVID-19 vaccine distribution and communication efforts. However, officials said they have not finalized their plans for conducting such reviews, nor do they plan to do so while they continue to respond to the pandemic and have ongoing programs. Thus, it is uncertain whether they will gather input, including on an ongoing basis, from key stakeholders instrumental in vaccine distribution and communication efforts, such as state and local health officials, or whether the results will be shared with those stakeholders. Doing so will help ensure CDC and HRSA learn what worked well and identify areas for improvement to inform future vaccination efforts. Why GAO Did This Study Vaccination remains critical in the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccine implementation—prioritizing, allocating, distributing, and administering doses—requires coordination among federal, state, and local levels and other stakeholders. HHS agencies—including CDC and HRSA—set up federal vaccine distribution programs, such as CDC’s retail pharmacy program that sends doses directly to pharmacies. The federal government also sends vaccine doses to states for further distribution. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines (1) stakeholder perspectives on federal programs to distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines, (2) efforts to inform health officials, providers, and the public about vaccination, and (3) actions HHS agencies are taking to evaluate their vaccine implementation efforts. GAO reviewed data and documents from HHS, CDC, and HRSA, and reviewed information from and interviewed state and local health officials in four states and one city selected, in part, for geographic variation. GAO also interviewed other stakeholders, including 12 national associations representing health care providers and others.
- Justice Department Seeks to Shut Down San Diego Return Preparer
May 13, 2021The United States has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California seeking to bar a San Diego tax return preparer from owning or operating a tax return preparation business and preparing federal income tax returns for others.
- Guatemala Travel Advisory
September 26, 2020Do not travel to [Read More…]
- Contingency Contracting: DOD Has Taken Steps to Address Commission Recommendations, but Should Better Document Progress and Improve Contract Data [Reissued with revisions on Oct. 1, 2021.]
October 1, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken steps to implement the 16 of 30 recommendations it agreed to address and that were made by the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan (Commission). The Commission was established by law to develop recommendations to improve various aspects of contingency contracting, which is the process of obtaining goods, services, and construction and comprises contractor personnel that provided support to operations that may include combat and other activities that are considered contingency operations. However, DOD’s documentation on the status of half of the 16 recommendations as part of an action plan it issued in 2013 was inconsistent or incomplete. By fully documenting the progress of the department’s efforts to implement the recommendations, DOD could help achieve the Commission’s vision for improving the oversight and management of contingency contracting operations. DOD’s information system—Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker-Enterprise Suite (SPOT-ES)—tracks and reports information about contracts and contractor personnel supporting applicable contingency operations. However, GAO found that SPOT-ES is not able to track and report information by the type of applicable contingency operations that DOD contracts and contractors have supported. DOD officials told GAO that there is no definitive list of such contingencies from one authoritative source. In addition, DOD has not designated a single office responsible for monitoring and reporting which operations, exercises, and other activities are associated with an applicable contingency operation in SPOT-ES. Without the ability to identify data on operations, exercises, and other activities that are considered applicable contingency operations within SPOT-ES, DOD planners may find it more difficult to identify and make decisions on contractor personnel or capabilities to support them. Additionally, an office that is designated with the responsibility could provide additional oversight to DOD by better monitoring and reporting on the department’s contractor personnel. GAO also found that information on the status of thousands of quarterly deployment records on contractor personnel supporting applicable contingency operations was missing in SPOT-ES at the time of our review. DOD guidance requires various SPOT-ES users to enter or review information related to contracts and contractor personnel supporting applicable contingency operations. However, it does not clearly specify who is responsible for resolving missing information. Without clarifying the responsibility for resolving missing or inaccurate data in SPOT-ES within DOD guidance, communicating such information to contracting organizations, and taking steps to improve data completeness and accuracy, the reliability of data in SPOT-ES is at risk. Further, DOD’s ability will be hindered when there is a need to locate the whereabouts of contractor personnel during an emergency or when contractors exit at a contingency location. Why GAO Did This Study DOD has relied on contingency contracting to conduct a wide range of activities worldwide. DOD projects that factors, such as the use of high-tech equipment and military force structure reductions, will require contract support in most future operations. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 includes a provision for GAO to review the use of contractors in contingency operations, exercises, and other activities since 2009. This report evaluates the extent to which DOD 1) documented its actions to implement the recommendations made by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, and 2) tracked and reported on contracts and contractor personnel supporting contingencies. GAO performed a content analysis of DOD actions to address the Commission’s recommendations, reviewed laws and DOD guidance, and analyzed contract and personnel data reported from calendar years 2009 through 2020.
- Daughter of Prolific Mexican Cartel Leader Pleads Guilty to Criminal Violation of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act
March 12, 2021A dual U.S.-Mexican citizen pleaded guilty today to willfully engaging in financial dealings with Mexican companies that had been identified as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
- On the Death of Colombian Defense Minister Trujillo
January 27, 2021Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
- Defense Forensics: Additional Planning and Oversight Needed to Establish an Enduring Expeditionary Forensic Capability
August 24, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken some important steps to establish an enduring expeditionary forensic capability by issuing a concept of operations in 2008, followed by a directive in 2011 to establish policy and assign responsibilities. As required by the directive, DOD has drafted a strategic plan to guide the activities of the Defense Forensic Enterprise, including expeditionary forensics. Although the plan includes a mission statement, and goals and objectives–two of the five key elements identified by GAO as integral to a well-developed strategic plan–it does not identify approaches for how goals and objectives will be achieved, milestones and metrics to gauge progress, and resources needed to achieve goals and objectives. GAO’s prior work has shown that organizations need a well-developed strategic plan to identify and achieve their goals and objectives effectively and efficiently. Officials in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (OUSD(AT&L)) said that they decided to create a concise, high-level strategic plan and that they plan to issue guidance tasking the DOD components to develop individual implementation plans that include milestones. However, approaches, metrics, and resources needed to accomplish its goals and objectives were absent from the draft guidance. GAO discussed this omission with OUSD(AT&L), and in response, this office plans to revise its draft guidance. Also, the forensic strategic plan has been in draft for 2 years having undergone multiple revisions, and is still undergoing DOD internal review with no publication date set, and by extension, a publication date has not been set for the proposed DOD component implementation plans. The lack of an approved strategic plan and associated implementation plans limits DOD’s ability to prioritize its efforts to develop an enduring expeditionary forensic capability by the end of 2014. Moreover, OUSD(AT&L) has not reviewed and evaluated the adequacy of DOD components’ expeditionary forensic budget estimates for fiscal years 2013 through 2018, as required by DOD’s directive. OUSD(AT&L) officials said that they were waiting for the DOD components to finalize their budget estimates for fiscal years 2013 through 2018, and waiting for the Joint Capabilities Integration Development System to validate their forensic requirements. Regardless, reviewing and evaluating the DOD components’ proposed budget estimates allows OUSD(AT&L) to advise the DOD components on their resource allocation decisions with respect to expeditionary forensic capabilities. OUSD(AT&L) officials cited several factors that also affected their ability to review and evaluate the DOD components’ forensic budget data, such as aggregation of components’ forensic budget estimates with other costs. Moreover, these officials said the directive does not provide guidance to DOD components on how to collect and report forensic budget data. GAO’s Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government notes that agencies should provide policy and guidance to determine the effectiveness and efficiency of operations. Until OUSD(AT&L) reviews and evaluates the adequacy of DOD components’ forensic budget estimates, and guidance is in place to inform forensic budget collection and reporting, OUSD(AT&L) will continue to experience challenges with identifying the costs associated with DOD’s expeditionary forensic capabilities. Why GAO Did This Study DOD used expeditionary forensics for collecting fingerprints and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) to identify, target, and disrupt terrorists and enemy combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan. The increased incidence of improvised explosive devices and other asymmetric threats has increased demand for expeditionary forensic capabilities. Many of DOD’s expeditionary forensic activities are resourced through DOD’s Overseas Contingency Operations funds. DOD estimates that it cost between $800 million and $1 billion of these funds from 2005 through 2012 to support expeditionary forensics activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, as military operations are projected to draw down in Afghanistan, this funding is expected to substantially decline by the end of 2014. Consequently, DOD is taking steps to establish expeditionary forensics as an enduring capability in DOD’s base budget. GAO was asked to examine DOD’s expeditionary forensic capability. This report assessed the extent to which DOD has taken steps to establish an enduring expeditionary forensic capability. To address this objective, GAO reviewed relevant policy, plans, and budget estimates, and interviewed cognizant DOD officials.
- Joint Statement on the Japan-United States Strategic Energy Partnership (JUSEP)
September 30, 2020