Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
On behalf of the United States, I send warm wishes to the people of the Dominican Republic as you celebrate your Independence Day on February 27. As longstanding partners with shared democratic values, the Dominican Republic and the United States collaborate closely on a wide range of shared priorities, and we both benefit from expansive economic and people-to-people ties.
The Dominican Republic stands out as a defender of democracy, grounded in its commitment to fight corruption, promote transparent governance, and advance institutional reforms. The United States is proud to support these reforms, which will benefit all Dominicans for generations to come.
In the past year, the United States proudly contributed financial and technical assistance for the Dominican Republic’s effective and lifesaving COVID-19 response. The United States looks forward to deepening our collaboration with the Dominican government as we build back better in the coming year. We pledge to continue to strengthen our robust and wide-ranging bilateral agenda geared toward tackling corruption, combating socio-economic exclusion, promoting economic prosperity, and bolstering our strategic security partnership.
We congratulate all Dominicans on 178 years of independence.
- Secretary Blinken’s Call with Dutch Foreign Minister Hoekstra
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- Lead Paint in Housing: HUD Has Not Identified High-Risk Project-Based Rental Assistance Properties
December 16, 2020During fiscal years 2018 and 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) obligated about $421 million through two grant programs to state and local governments to help identify and control lead paint hazards in housing for low-income households. HUD also issued guidelines for evaluating and controlling lead paint hazards, generally encouraging abatement (such as replacing building components containing lead) as the preferred long-term solution. HUD has supported research on lead paint hazard control and provided education and outreach to public housing agencies, property owners, and the public through publications and training events. HUD monitors lead paint-related risks in its Project-Based Rental Assistance Program, one of HUD’s three largest rental assistance programs, through management reviews and periodic physical inspections, but has not conducted a comprehensive risk assessment to identify properties posing the greatest risk to children under the age of 6. HUD’s management reviews include assessing property owners’ compliance with lead paint regulations—such as by reviewing lead disclosure forms, records of lead inspections, and plans to address lead paint hazards. Inspectors from HUD’s Real Estate Assessment Center also assess the physical condition of properties, including identifying damaged paint that could indicate lead paint risks. According to HUD officials, they have not conducted risk assessments in project-based rental assistance housing because they believe the program has relatively few older and potentially riskier properties. However, GAO’s analysis of HUD data found that 21 percent of project-based rental assistance properties have at least one building constructed before 1978 (when lead paint was banned in homes) and house over 138,000 children under the age of 6. If HUD used available program data to inform periodic risk assessments, HUD could identify which of the properties pose the greatest risk of exposure to lead paint hazards for children under the age of 6. Unless HUD develops a strategy for managing the risks associated with lead paint and lead paint hazards in project-based rental assistance housing, it may miss the opportunity to prevent children under the age of 6 from being inadvertently exposed to lead paint in those properties. Project-Based Rental Assistance Properties with at Least One Building Built before 1978 and That House Children under Age 6, as of December 31, 2019 Note: Children under the age of 6 are at the greatest risk of lead exposure because they have frequent hand-to-mouth contact, often crawl on the floor, and ingest nonfood items. Lead paint exposure in children under the age of 6 can cause brain damage, slowed development, and learning and behavioral problems. Exposure to lead paint hazards can cause serious harm to children under 6 years old. HUD is required by law to reduce the risk of lead paint hazards in HUD-assisted rental housing—including project-based rental assistance (subsidies to make privately owned multifamily properties affordable to low-income households). The 2019 Consolidated Appropriations Act Joint Explanatory Statement includes a provision for GAO to review, among other things, HUD’s oversight of lead paint and related hazards in affordable rental housing. This report (1) describes how HUD programs and guidance address lead paint hazards in HUD-assisted and other low-income rental housing, and (2) examines HUD’s oversight procedures for assessing risk for lead paint hazards in project-based rental assistance housing. GAO reviewed HUD and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lead paint regulations and documents on lead programs and methods for addressing lead paint hazards. GAO reviewed HUD oversight policies and procedures and analyzed HUD data on building and tenant age. GAO interviewed staff at HUD, EPA, and organizations that advocate for safe affordable housing. GAO recommends that HUD (1) conduct periodic risk assessments for the Project-Based Rental Assistance Program and (2) develop and implement plans to proactively manage identified lead paint risks. HUD agreed to conduct periodic risk assessments and develop and implement a plan to proactively manage risks. For more information, contact John H. Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Judiciary Seeks New Judgeships, Reaffirms Need for Enhanced Security
In U.S CourtsMarch 16, 2021The Judicial Conference of the United States, the Judiciary’s policy-making body, today addressed two of its most pressing issues – a proposal to add 79 new judgeships for courts across the country and initiatives to improve both personal and courthouse security.
- Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Jayme West and Jim Sharpe of Arizona Morning News on KTAR Phoenix
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- Voters with Disabilities: State and Local Actions and Federal Resources to Address Accessibility of Early Voting
July 22, 2021What GAO Found Selected states and localities have taken steps to make voting prior to Election Day accessible for people with disabilities, but election officials and advocacy officials reported that challenges persist. Election officials reported taking steps to make in-person early voting accessible such as addressing barriers to physical access and providing accessible voting equipment (see figure), but election and advocacy officials reported challenges including physical obstacles such as gravel parking lots and voting equipment not being set up properly. Voting by mail may be an accessible option and has been used more frequently by those with disabilities than others. However, election and advocacy officials also noted that some voters with disabilities have difficulty marking paper mail ballots; six of seven states GAO contacted offer them electronic delivery and marking options. Steps Taken by Selected States and Localities to Make Early In-Person Voting Accessible Selected states and localities have taken steps to make voting information available and accessible, but voters with disabilities may encounter challenges with both. States and some localities have provided information about accessible voting options on their websites, but advocacy officials reported challenges, such as one state not providing information about the accessibility features of its voting equipment. States have also taken steps to make websites accessible, such as ensuring compatibility with screen readers used by people with visual disabilities. However, election and advocacy officials reported, among other things, that some website content such as digital materials, lacks accessibility features and some content is not written in plain language. Federal agencies have assisted state and local election officials in their efforts to ensure accessible voting. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has provided guidance and educational resources on voting accessibility, such as a checklist for assessing polling places, which some selected states and localities have found useful. The Election Assistance Commission (EAC)—a national clearinghouse of information about election administration—has also provided resources on topics such as accessible voting equipment and partnering with disability advocates. However, selected states and localities GAO contacted reported mixed feedback on the usefulness of EAC resources. Although the EAC communicates regularly with election officials, it does not have a mechanism for collecting and using feedback from these officials about the usefulness of its existing accessibility resources or additional resource needs. Implementing such a mechanism would better positon the EAC to meet election officials’ needs. Why GAO Did This Study An estimated 38 million Americans with disabilities were eligible to vote in the November 2020 election, according to a Rutgers University study. Federal law generally requires that all aspects of voting be accessible to people with disabilities. Recent increases in voting in person and by mail prior to Election Day have focused attention on these voting modes. GAO was asked to examine the accessibility of voting prior to Election Day and voting information. This report addresses steps taken by selected states and localities to (1) make voting prior to Election Day accessible, and the challenges in doing so; and (2) make voting information available and accessible, and the challenges in doing so. It also addresses (3) DOJ and EAC efforts to assist states and localities with voting accessibility. GAO interviewed state election and advocacy officials in seven states, and local officials in six of the states and reviewed associated documentation. These states were selected to provide variation in turnout between voters with and without disabilities, and election policies, among other factors. The results from these states and localities are not generalizable, but provide perspectives on accessibility. GAO also analyzed 2016 and 2020 data from a nationwide survey of voters, reviewed DOJ and EAC guidance and resources, and interviewed federal officials.
- State Department Terrorist Designation of Ousmane Illiassou Djibo
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- Louisiana Federal Court Permanently Shuts Down Hammond Tax Preparer
December 20, 2021A federal court in the Eastern District of Louisiana has permanently enjoined a Hammond tax return preparer from preparing federal income tax returns for others and from owning or operating any tax return business in the future.
- Deputy Secretary Biegun’s Visit to Bangladesh
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- Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Changes in Global Hawk’s Acquisition Strategy Are Needed to Reduce Program Risks
August 31, 2021Global Hawk offers significant military capabilities to capture and quickly transmit high-quality images of targets and terrain, day or night, and in adverse weather–without risk to an onboard pilot. Global Hawk first flew in the late 1990s as a demonstrator and supported recent combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2001, the Air Force began an acquisition program to develop and produce improved Global Hawks. In 2002, the Department of Defense (DOD) restructured and accelerated the program to include a new, larger and more capable air vehicle. GAO was asked to review the program and discuss (1) the restructuring’s effect on the Air Force’s ability to deliver new capabilities to the warfighter and (2) whether its current business case and management approach is knowledge-based and can help forestall future risks.The restructuring of the Global Hawk program impacts the acquisition program in multiple ways. More and accelerated funding: Funding, which previously spanned 20 years, now is compressed in about half the time. The restructured plan requires $6.3 billion through fiscal year 2012; the original plan would have needed $3.4 billion by that time. The budget request is now three times higher for some years. Immature technologies: Several critical technologies needed to provide the advanced capabilities are immature and will not be tested on the new air vehicle until late in the program, after which most of the air vehicles will already have been bought. New requirements, new costs: DOD’s desire to add additional Global Hawk capabilities tripled development costs. The program acquisition unit cost increased 44 percent since program start, yet fewer vehicles are to be produced than originally planned. Challenges, trade-offs, and delays: The addition of new capabilities has led to space, weight, and power constraints for the advanced Global Hawk model. These limitations may result in deferring some capabilities. Some key events and activities–many related to testing issues–have been delayed. Global Hawk’s highly concurrent development and production strategy is risky and runs counter in important ways to a knowledge-based approach and to DOD’s acquisition guidance. The restructuring caused gaps in product knowledge, increasing the likelihood of unsuccessful cost, schedule, quality, and performance outcomes. Because the restructured program is dramatically different from the initial plan for the basic model, the business case now seems out of sync with the realities of the acquisition program.
- Justice Department Files Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Against Village of Hinsdale, Illinois Under Fair Housing Act
November 24, 2020The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit against the Village of Hinsdale, Illinois, alleging disability discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
- Private Security Contractors: DOD Needs to Better Identify and Monitor Personnel and Contracts
July 29, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has been unable to comprehensively identify private security contractor (PSC) contracts and personnel supporting contingency, humanitarian, peace-keeping, or other similar operations, limiting DOD’s ability to readily and accurately identify the use of PSCs. DOD uses PSCs, which include companies and their personnel, hired to provide security services for the U.S. government. However, neither DOD nor GAO was able to use DOD’s three PSC data sources to readily determine the universe of PSCs, the type of operation or exercise they support, or their functions, activities, and armed or unarmed status. For example, queries of DOD databases using the term “security guard” to identify PSC personnel excluded eight other job titles that may also perform private security functions. DOD has not comprehensively determined and communicated the contracted activities that fall within its definition of private security functions. Further, DOD does not have a means of readily identifying the contracts and personnel performing those activities in data sources. Without better identifying and tracking its PSC contracts and personnel, DOD will not be able to accurately determine its use of PSCs. Since 2009, DOD has established an oversight framework for its use of PSC contracts, but has not fully monitored the implementation of this framework. DOD’s framework distributes oversight functions across the department as well as to organizations outside the department (see fig.). Roles and Functions of Entities to Oversee DOD’s Use of Private Security Contractor (PSC) Contracts and Personnel However, DOD has not fully monitored whether and how it and the other entities have carried out their PSC oversight roles and functions. For example, GAO reviewed data for deployed contractor personnel with the job title of “security guard” and found that about 12 percent of those individuals were employed by companies not on a DOD list of certified PSC companies. Independent, third-party certification is a key oversight mechanism DOD relies on to ensure it contracts with companies that use approved personnel hiring, screening, training, and reporting practices. DOD lacks a single, senior-level position assigned to fully monitor whether DOD and various entities are carrying out their respective PSC oversight roles and functions. Without assigning this position, DOD increases the risk of incidents that its framework aims to prevent. Why GAO Did This Study During Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001–2014 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003–2011, DOD significantly increased its use of PSCs. In 2008, the Swiss Government and the Red Cross issued the Montreux Document, which generally reaffirmed the obligation nations have to ensure that their PSCs respect international humanitarian law. PSCs supporting DOD have faced international attention resulting from incidents allegedly involving their personnel. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review DOD’s use of PSCs. GAO assessed the extent to which DOD has (1) identified PSC contracts and personnel used to support contingency operations and (2) established a framework to oversee the department’s use of PSC contracts. GAO analyzed DOD contract and personnel data for PSCs from 2009 through 2019, reviewed DOD guidance on PSC use, and conducted interviews with DOD officials and representatives from standards organizations.
- Facial Recognition: CBP and TSA are Taking Steps to Implement Programs, but CBP Should Address Privacy and System Performance Issues
September 2, 2020U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has made progress testing and deploying facial recognition technology (FRT) at ports of entry to create entry-exit records for foreign nationals as part of its Biometric Entry-Exit Program. As of May 2020, CBP, in partnership with airlines, had deployed FRT to 27 airports to biometrically confirm travelers’ identities as they depart the United States (air exit) and was in the early stages of assessing FRT at sea and land ports of entry. Facial Recognition Technology in Use at an Airport CBP has taken steps to incorporate some privacy principles in its program, such as publishing the legislative authorities used to implement its program, but has not consistently provided complete information in privacy notices or ensured notices were posted and visible to travelers. Ensuring that privacy notices contain complete information and are consistently available would help give travelers the opportunity to decline to participate, if appropriate. Further, CBP requires its commercial partners, such as airlines, to follow CBP’s privacy requirements and can audit partners to assess compliance. However, as of May 2020, CBP had audited only one of its more than 20 airline partners and did not have a plan to ensure all partners are audited. Until CBP develops and implements an audit plan, it cannot ensure that traveler information is appropriately safeguarded. CBP has assessed the accuracy and performance of air exit FRT capabilities through operational testing. Testing found that air exit exceeded its accuracy goals—for example, identifying over 90 percent of travelers correctly—but did not meet a performance goal to capture 97 percent of traveler photos because airlines did not consistently photograph all travelers. A plan to improve the photo capture rate would help CBP better fulfill the program’s mission of creating biometrically confirmed traveler departure records. Further, while CBP monitors air exit’s performance, officials are not alerted when performance falls short of minimum requirements. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has conducted pilot tests to assess the feasibility of using FRT but, given the limited nature of these tests, it is too early to fully assess TSA’s compliance with privacy protection principles. Within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), CBP is charged with the dual mission of facilitating legitimate travel and securing U.S. borders, and TSA is responsible for protecting the nation’s transportation system. For both CBP and TSA, part of their inspection and screening responsibilities includes reviewing travel identification documents and verifying traveler identities. Beginning in 1996, a series of federal laws were enacted to develop and implement an entry-exit data system, which is to integrate biographic and, since 2004, biometric records for foreign nationals. This report addresses (1) the status of CBP’s deployment of FRT, (2) the extent to which CBP has incorporated privacy protection principles, (3) the extent to which CBP has assessed the accuracy and performance of its FRT, and (4) the status of TSA’s testing and deployment of FRT and how TSA has incorporated privacy protection principles. GAO conducted site visits to observe CBP’s and TSA’s use of FRT, which were selected to include all three travel environments—air, land, and sea; reviewed program documents; and interviewed DHS officials. GAO is making five recommendations to CBP to (1) ensure privacy notices are complete, (2) ensure notices are available at locations using FRT, (3) develop and implement a plan to audit its program partners for privacy compliance, (4) develop and implement a plan to capture required traveler photos at air exit, and (5) ensure it is alerted when air exit performance falls below established thresholds. DHS concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or email@example.com.
- The Art-tivist Movement in Cuba: One Year and No Dialogue
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- North Carolina Man Pleads Guilty to Violating Fair Housing Act and Threatening a Family Because of Their Race
August 6, 2020The Justice Department announced today that Douglas Matthew Gurkins, 34, pleaded guilty today in federal court in the Eastern District of North Carolina to one count of criminal interference with the Fair Housing Act, for using threats of force against an African American family because of the family members’ race and because they were renting a dwelling.
- Maryland Nuclear Engineer Pleads Guilty to Espionage-Related Offense
February 14, 2022A Maryland man pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to communicate restricted data related to the design of nuclear-powered warships to a person he believed was a representative of a foreign nation.
- China Travel Advisory
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- GAO Audits Involving DOD: Status of Efforts to Schedule and Hold Timely Entrance Conferences
August 14, 2020GAO began 42 new audits that involved the Department of Defense (DOD) in the third quarter of fiscal year 2020. Of the 42 requested entrance conferences (i.e., initial meetings between agency officials and GAO staff) for those audits, DOD scheduled 41 within 14 days of notification and held all 42 entrance conferences within 30 days of notification. Scheduling was delayed for one entrance conference, which was scheduled 21 days after notification, because DOD and GAO were working to reach agreement on the primary action officer, which is the appropriate office or component within the department that coordinates DOD’s response to the audit. The entrance conference was held 8 days after it was scheduled. Entrance conferences allow GAO to communicate its audit objectives and enable agencies to assign key personnel to support the audit work. GAO’s agency protocols govern GAO’s relationships with audited agencies. These protocols assist GAO in scheduling entrance conferences with key agency officials within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit. The ability of the Congress to conduct effective oversight of federal agencies is enhanced through the timely completion of GAO audits. In past years, DOD experienced difficulty meeting the protocol target for the timely facilitation of entrance conferences. In Senate Report 116-48 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision for GAO to review DOD’s scheduling and holding of entrance conferences. In this report, GAO’s agency protocols govern GAO’s relationships with audited agencies. These protocols assist GAO in scheduling entrance conferences with key agency officials within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit. The ability of the Congress to conduct effective oversight of federal agencies is enhanced through the timely completion of GAO audits. In past years, DOD experienced difficulty meeting the protocol target for the timely facilitation of entrance conferences. In Senate Report 116-48 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision for GAO to review DOD’s scheduling and holding of entrance conferences. In this report, GAO evaluates the extent to which DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit, consistent with GAO’s agency protocols, and held those conferences within 30 days. This is the third of four quarterly reports that GAO will produce on this topic for fiscal year 2020. In the first two quarterly reports, GAO found that DOD had improved its ability to meet the protocol target. GAO analyzed data on GAO audits involving DOD and initiated in the third quarter of fiscal year 2020 (April 1, 2020, through June 30, 2020). Specifically, GAO identified the number of notification letters requesting entrance conferences that were sent to DOD during that time period. GAO determined the number of days between when DOD received the notification letter for each new audit and when DOD scheduled the entrance conference and assessed whether DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of notification, which is the time frame identified in GAO’s agency protocols. GAO also determined the date that each requested entrance conference was held by collecting this information from the relevant GAO team for each audit and assessed whether DOD held entrance conferences for new audits within 30 days of notification, which was the time frame identified in the mandate for this review For more information, contact Elizabeth Field at (202) 512-2775 or Fielde1@gao.gov.
- Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michael Murray Delivers Remarks at University of Michigan Law School
October 14, 2020I am here today to speak about the intersection of the antitrust laws and the financial sector of our economy. The financial markets and the financial services industry are currently undergoing massive transformation. New technologies are disrupting how we do business, how we transact with each other, and how the economy functions. Much of this change benefits consumers with innovative, low cost, and convenient products and services. But with rapid change also comes the opportunity for anticompetitive conduct and its attendant harm. Incumbents may predict and resist their demise and seek to slow innovation and the growth of rivals, and market participants who should compete against each other can agree to act jointly to the detriment of the American consumer.