Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
QUESTION: And once again tonight I am joined by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Mr. Secretary, nothing the U.S. or Europeans have done has been able to stop any of this from happening. Now the President has announced new and harsher sanctions. What’s the goal at this point? Do you believe Putin will suddenly turn around his tanks and head home because of harsher sanctions?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Lester, we’ve been warning about this for a long time. We’ve been planning on this for a long time. We’ve gotten allies and partners together for a long time. And we’ve made it clear that, on the one hand, if President Putin decided to pursue the path of diplomacy and dialogue, we’re ready for that and prepared to engage on that; but equally, if he pursued the path of aggression – which, tragically, is exactly what he’s done – we’re prepared on that too. And as a result, we have responded in a united way, swiftly, and with real consequence to impose very severe costs on Russia for the aggression it’s committing against Ukraine.
QUESTION: If Russia begins to feel cornered and maybe even desperate in all this, do you worry they could become more dangerous and perhaps directly threaten NATO countries?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, Lester, when it comes to threatening NATO countries, we have something very powerful called Article 5 – an attack on one is an attack on all. Russia knows that, and that’s exactly why, among other things, one of our responses has been to shore up NATO’s defenses – to put more forces, to put more equipment on its eastern flank, the countries closest to Russia – to deter any aggression that Russia might be contemplating against NATO countries.
But in terms of doing other things, look, I think you just have to listen to President Putin’s own words. This is something he was planning all along. We made every possible effort to deter him, to dissuade him from taking this course. But clearly, this has been something that he’s planned for a long time, and it’s much bigger than NATO. This is all about trying to get Ukraine back into his orbit, to reconstitute, if he could, something approximating the Soviet empire, short of that re-exerting a sphere of influence to subjugate countries on his borders to his will. That’s what’s going on.
QUESTION: And very quickly, any signs that he is losing support at home?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, much, much too early to say. We’ve seen protests. We’ve seen at least reports of more than a thousand people being arrested for protesting against war, but much too soon to say. As the impact of this is felt, as the consequences of what President Putin has done is felt, including in Russia, that will have an impact.
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken, always good to talk to you. Thank you for joining us.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks. Thanks for having me.
- Reserve Forces: Army National Guard and Army Reserve Readiness for 21st Century Challenges
August 31, 2021Ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have required the deployment of large numbers of Army National Guard and Army Reserve personnel. The Department of Defense (DOD) faces the unprecedented challenge of sustaining large-scale, long-duration operations with an all-volunteer military force. In addition, DOD’s homeland defense missions have taken on higher priority, and National Guard forces have state responsibilities for homeland security activities as well as their traditional roles in responding to natural disasters. Over the past few years, GAO has examined the effects of ongoing military operations and domestic missions on the Army National Guard and Army Reserve. This statement, which draws on prior GAO work, focuses on (1) challenges in sustaining Army reserve component equipment and personnel readiness while supporting ongoing operations and (2) the extent to which the Army’s planned transformation initiatives will alleviate equipment and personnel shortages and enhance readiness.The Army National Guard and Army Reserve have made significant contributions to ongoing military operations, but equipment shortages and personnel challenges have increased and, if left unattended, may hamper the reserves’ preparedness for future overseas and domestic missions. To provide deployable units, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve have transferred large quantities of personnel and equipment to deploying units, an approach that has resulted in growing shortages in nondeployed units. Also, reserve units have left significant quantities of equipment overseas and DOD has not yet developed plans to replace it. The Army National Guard reports that its units have less than one-third of their required equipment, and the Army Reserve reports that its units have about half of the modern equipment they need to deploy. These shortages could also adversely affect reserve units’ ability to perform homeland defense missions and provide support to civil authorities in the event of natural disasters or terrorist attacks. The Army also faces shortages of personnel trained in some high-demand skills. These readiness challenges have occurred because the Army reserve components’ role has shifted from a strategic reserve force to an operational force that is being used on an ongoing basis. However, DOD has not fully reassessed its equipment, personnel, and training needs and developed a new model for the reserves appropriate to the new strategic environment. GAO has made recommendations that DOD conduct a comprehensive reassessment of equipment, personnel, training, and funding requirements given the reserve components’ shift to an operational role, but DOD’s progress to date in addressing them has been limited. Without a comprehensive reassessment of equipment and personnel policies, the Army’s reserve components may not be well prepared to deal with future events at home or abroad. The Army has begun two transformational initiatives intended to enhance reserve units’ ability to conduct 21st century operations and plans to spend over $24 billion for equipment over the next 5 years. These initiatives are significant, but the extent to which they will alleviate equipment and personnel challenges is unclear. The Army faces challenges in managing both initiatives’ costs and achieving intended capabilities. First, although the Army is making progress in transforming its forces to more flexible modular units, it has not provided detailed information on the capabilities, costs, and risks of its plans, and reserve units are likely to lack some key equipment items well into the future. Second, the Army is implementing a force generation model through which reserve units’ readiness will be increased as units move closer to eligibility for deployment. However, the Army has not fully determined the equipment, personnel, and training that units will require at each stage of the cycle or fully identified the resources to implement its plans. Without detailed implementation plans, decision makers will not have sufficient information with which to assess both DOD’s progress and performance in transforming the Army reserve components and whether investment decisions are being targeted to the highest priority areas.
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- Investment Management: Key Practices Can Provide More Opportunities for Minority- and Women-Owned Asset Managers
December 9, 2021What GAO Found GAO identified four key practices institutional investors, such as retirement plans, can use to increase opportunities for minority- and women-owned (MWO) asset managers. These practices are consistent with federal interests in increasing opportunities for MWO businesses. Top leadership commitment. Demonstrate commitment to increasing opportunities for MWO asset managers. Remove potential barriers. Review investment policies and practices to remove barriers that limit the participation of smaller, newer firms. Outreach. Conduct outreach to inform MWO asset managers about investment opportunities and selection processes. Communicate priorities and expectations. Explicitly communicate priorities and expectations about inclusive practices to investment staff and consultants and ensure those expectations are met. The key practices are closely related; improvements or shortfalls in one may contribute to improvements or shortfalls in another. The practices do not require investors to develop targets or allocations for MWO asset management firms or change performance standards. In 2017, the federal entities (retirement plans, an endowment, and an insurance program) GAO reviewed varied in their use of the practices. GAO recommended that four entities that made partial or no use of the practices take steps to more fully apply them. Since 2017, the four entities have addressed these recommendations by taking actions to implement key practices in their asset manager selection processes. Specifically, The Navy Exchange and Command Service and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service issued letters asking their retirement plan consultants to include MWO firms in their databases and when searching for investment managers. The Tennessee Valley Authority Retirement System documented its commitment to equal opportunity for MWO firms in its service provider evaluation policy. The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board awarded a new contract in which Thrift Savings Plan participants will have access to a mutual fund window with over 5,000 mutual funds. A tool will allow participants to screen for funds managed by MWO firms. Implementing the key practices allows institutional investors to widen candidate pools in their asset manager searches and help ensure they find the most qualified firms meeting their needs. The practices also could eliminate some of the barriers MWO firms face and increase opportunities for these firms. Why GAO Did This Study Asset management firms manage trillions of dollars in the U.S. for a variety of clients, including institutional investors. Federal entities also use asset managers. But MWO asset managers face challenges when competing for investment management opportunities. For example, institutional investors often prefer to contract with large asset managers with brand recognition and with whom they are familiar. This statement discusses (1) key practices institutional investors can use to increase opportunities for MWO asset managers and (2) how selected federal entities have used these practices. This statement is based on a 2017 GAO report (GAO-17-726) and also describes actions taken to implement the report’s recommendations. For the 2017 report, GAO identified key practices by examining practices nonfederal retirement plans and foundations used, reviewing industry reports, and validating the practices with input from 10 industry stakeholders and experts. GAO also reviewed investment policies of eight entities that manage or sponsor federal retirement plans, an endowment, and an insurance program. For more information, contact Michael E. Clements at (202) 512-8678 or email@example.com.
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- Spectrum Management: Agencies Should Strengthen Collaborative Mechanisms and Processes to Address Potential Interference
July 20, 2021What GAO Found The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) regulate and manage spectrum, and other agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are among federal spectrum users. To address potential interference among proposed uses of spectrum, these agencies employ various coordination mechanisms. For domestic matters, the agencies coordinate through an NTIA-led committee that provides input to FCC’s spectrum proceedings. For U.S. participation in the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRC), agencies coordinate via a preparatory committee that provides input used to develop U.S. positions that the Department of State submits to a regional body or directly to the WRC (see figure). Technical Coordination Process for U.S. Participation in WRC These mechanisms reflect some key collaboration practices but do not fully reflect others. For example, while the documents that guide coordination between FCC and NTIA and the preparatory committee emphasize reaching consensus whenever possible, there are no clearly defined and agreed-upon processes for resolving matters when agencies cannot do so. Additionally, neither document has been updated in almost 20 years, though agency officials said conditions regarding spectrum management activities have changed in that time. GAO’s review of U.S. participation in ITU’s 2019 WRC shows that these issues affected collaboration. For example, disputes among the agencies and the inability to reach agreement on U.S. technical contributions challenged the U.S.’s ability to present an agreed-upon basis for decisions or a unified position. NOAA and NASA conduct and FCC and NTIA review technical interference studies on a case-by-case basis. When originating from ITU activities, the agencies conduct or review technical interference studies through participation in international technical meetings and the preparatory committee process. However, the lack of consensus on study design and, within the U.S. process, specific procedures to guide the design of these types of studies, hampered U.S. efforts to prepare for the 2019 WRC. For example, the U.S. did not submit its studies on certain key issues to the final technical meeting, resulting in some stakeholders questioning whether the corresponding U.S. positions were technically rooted. Agreed-upon procedures could help guide U.S. efforts to design these studies and consider tradeoffs between what is desirable versus practical, to mitigate the possibility of protracted disagreements in the future. Why GAO Did This Study This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO’s June 2021 report, entitled Spectrum Management: Agencies Should Strengthen Collaborative Mechanisms and Processes to Address Potential Interference (GAO-21-474). For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Karen L. Howard at (202) 512-6888 or email@example.com.
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- Federal Oil and Gas Revenue: Actions Needed to Improve BLM’s Royalty Relief Policy
October 6, 2020In reaction to falling domestic oil prices due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) developed a temporary policy in spring 2020 for oil and gas royalty relief. The policy aimed to prevent oil and gas wells from being shut down in way that could lead to permanent losses of recoverable oil and gas. During March through June 2020, BLM gave companies the opportunity to apply for a reduction in the royalty rates for certain oil and gas leases on federal lands. BLM approved reductions from 12.5 percent of total revenue on oil and gas sold from those leases to an average of less than 1 percent for a period of 60 days. However, BLM did not establish in advance that royalty relief was needed to keep applicants’ wells operating, according to BLM officials. BLM also did not assess the extent to which the temporary policy kept oil and gas companies from shutting down their wells or the amount of royalty revenues forgone by the federal government. By evaluating the extent to which the policy met BLM’s objective of preventing unrecoverable loss of oil and gas resources–and likely costs, such as forgone revenues—BLM could better inform its decisions about granting royalty relief that provides a fair return to the government, should the agency decide to consider such relief in the future. BLM officials told GAO that BLM state offices implementing the temporary policy for royalty relief made inconsistent decisions about approving applications for relief because the temporary policy did not supply sufficient detail to facilitate uniform decision-making. The officials added that their state offices did not have recent experience in processing applications for oil and gas royalty relief. Several of the officials had never received or processed royalty relief applications. In addition, GAO found that ongoing guidance for processing royalty relief decisions—within BLM’s Fees, Rentals and Royalties Handbook , last revised in 1995—also does not contain sufficient instructions for approving royalty relief. For example, the handbook does not address whether to approve applications in cases where the lease would continue to be uneconomic, even after royalty relief. As a result, some companies that applied for royalty relief were treated differently, depending on how BLM officials in their state interpreted the policy and guidance. In particular, officials from two state offices told GAO they denied royalty relief to applicants because the applicants could not prove that royalty relief would enable their leases to operate profitably. However, two other state offices approved royalty relief in such cases. The fifth state office denied both of the applications it received for other reasons. BLM’s existing royalty relief guidance did not address this issue, and BLM’s temporary policy did not supply sufficient detail to facilitate uniform decision-making in these situations. BLM’s directives manual states that BLM should provide BLM employees with authoritative instructions and information to implement BLM programs and support activities. Until BLM updates the royalty relief guidance, BLM cannot ensure that future relief decisions will be made efficiently and equitably across the states and provide a fair return to the federal government. BLM manages the federal government’s onshore oil and gas program with the goals of facilitating safe and responsible energy development while providing a fair return for the American taxpayer. In April 2020, oil and gas producers faced financial challenges from a drop in demand for oil during the COVID-19 pandemic. If oil and gas prices decline, it places financial stress on oil and gas companies, thereby increasing bankruptcies and the risk of wells being shut down. BLM developed a temporary policy to provide oil and gas companies relief from royalties that they owe to the federal government when they sell oil and gas produced on federal lands. This testimony discusses (1) BLM’s development of the temporary policy for royalty relief and what is known about the policy’s effects, and (2) BLM’s implementation of this policy across relevant states. To do this work, GAO reviewed BLM documents; analyzed royalty data; and interviewed BLM officials from headquarters and the five BLM state offices with jurisdiction over states that account for 94 percent of royalties from oil and gas production on federal lands. GAO is making two recommendations. BLM should (1) evaluate the effects of its temporary royalty relief policy and use the results to inform its ongoing royalty relief program, and (2) update its guidance to provide consistent policies for royalty relief. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.