Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG: So Secretary Blinken, dear Tony, welcome to NATO Headquarters. It’s great have you back here, and thank you for your tremendous leadership and for your tireless efforts in this critical time for our security. Later on today, NATO defense – NATO foreign ministers will meet and coordinate and consult on our response to the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine and also the longer-term implications.
We condemn the attacks on civilians, and over the night we have also seen reports about the attack against a nuclear power plant. This just demonstrates the recklessness of this war and the importance of ending it and the importance of Russia withdrawing all its troops and engage in good faith in diplomatic efforts.
NATO Allies have implemented unprecedented sanctions. We provide support to Ukraine. At the same time, NATO is not part to the conflict. NATO is a defensive alliance. We don’t seek war, conflict with Russia. At the same time, we need to make sure that there is no misunderstanding about our commitment to defend and protect our Allies, and therefore we have increased the presence of NATO forces in the eastern part of the Alliance. This is a defensive presence, and I welcome the strong commitment by – from the United States with more troops. I met many of them, and it’s always great to meet U.S. troops in Europe and to see their commitment and their professionalism being part of the transatlantic bond.
I also welcome that European allies and Canada are stepping up with more presence in the eastern part of the Alliance on land, at sea, and in the air. If anything, I think the crisis we are facing now demonstrates the importance of North America standing together in strategic solidarity in NATO. So once again, Tony, welcome. It’s great to see you here.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Jens, thank you so much, and I really couldn’t say it any better. But simply put, in the wake of Russia’s unprovoked, premeditated aggression against Ukraine, this Alliance came together with speed, with unity, with determination, immediately launching the rapid response task force, putting in place the graduated plans to continue to bolster NATO’s security. Every Ally in one way or another is coming to Ukraine’s assistance. Every Ally in one way or another is helping to strengthen NATO itself. And as the secretary general said, ours is a defensive alliance. We seek no conflict. But if conflict comes to us, we are ready for it, and we will defend every inch of NATO territory.
At the same time, as the secretary general said, we’re preparing for NATO’s future. And the events of the last few weeks as they continue will further inform that future, particularly going into the NATO summit in a few months, and the writing of a new strategic concept. All of these things are coming together at a critical time. But the single common denominator that we found, and that is the strength of everything that we do, is the unity of this Alliance. It’s been on full display in these weeks. It will remain on full display going forward. And I look forward to consulting with you, Jens, about the steps we’re going to take next. Thank you.
SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG: Thank you.
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- Nuclear Triad: DOD and DOE Face Challenges Mitigating Risks to U.S. Deterrence Efforts
May 6, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) plans to replace or modernize existing triad platforms including submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and bomber aircraft, as well as many of the nuclear command, control, and communication systems that facilitate control of them (see below). The Department of Energy (DOE) plans to modernize its nuclear infrastructure to life extend and produce warheads and bombs. DOD will be challenged to meet some U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) operational needs with existing triad systems, shown below, through the end of their service lives. DOD must manage shortfalls in quantities of systems that it can field and capability limitations that reduce effectiveness of these systems. For example, the Navy will have to carefully manage resources to meet USSTRATCOM’s operational requirements for the Ohio class submarine. Further, DOE faces a long-term sustainment challenge with one of its bombs, the B83-1. Existing Nuclear Triad Platforms DOD and DOE are working to replace triad systems nearing retirement, but these replacement programs face schedule risks that could exacerbate challenges with existing triad systems. Replacement programs have risk factors that include concurrency between phases of acquisition programs from development through production, immature technologies, and limited schedule margin. For example, The Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program includes limited schedule margin for testing, and if it fails a major test event it would likely delay initial fielding. The schedules for DOE’s life extension programs are highly dependent on the availability of suitable facilities to manufacture, assemble, and assess bomb and warhead components. However, many DOE facilities needed for these efforts are outdated or obsolete, as more than half of DOE’s facilities are over 40 years old. DOD and DOE have limited ability to mitigate risks to the efficacy of the nuclear deterrent with their current strategy, and are beginning to consider alternatives. Why GAO Did This Study The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review indicates that DOD’s highest priority is the nuclear deterrent, made up of sea, land, and air legs—referred to as the nuclear triad. DOD has reported that due to prior delays and challenges with aging nuclear triad systems, there is little to no margin for delaying replacement systems without incurring risk to the nuclear deterrent. Similarly, DOE faces a demanding schedule for infrastructure projects and programs for the life extension and production of warheads and bombs. In this report, GAO examines (1) the challenges DOD and DOE face in meeting operational needs with existing triad systems; (2) the extent to which DOD and DOE triad acquisition programs face schedule risks, and the implications of delays; and (3) whether DOD and DOE have strategies to mitigate risks to the nuclear deterrent, including acquisition delays. To do this work, GAO analyzed DOD and DOE documentation, interviewed officials, and leveraged GAO work on acquisition best practices, triad systems, and the nuclear enterprise. This is an unclassified version of a classified report we issued in June 2020, and specific classified information has been removed.
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August 17, 2021A firm protested an Air Force contract award for computer graphics, contending that the Air Force: (1) failed to upgrade its bid as a result of changes it made to its final bid; (2) unreasonably determined that the awardee’s bid was a low risk; and (3) unreasonably made award to a higher bidder. GAO held that: (1) while evaluating the protester’s initial bid, the Air Force properly took into consideration the changes the protester would make to its final bid; (2) the protester failed to prove that the Air Force unreasonably determined that the awardee’s bid was low risk; and (3) Air Force reasonably made award to a higher, technically superior bidder. Accordingly, the protest was denied.
- Statement by Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband on World AIDS Day
November 30, 2020On December 1, as our country joins in observing World AIDS Day, the Justice Department stands with all people living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 30 years ago, the department has worked zealously, through enforcement, outreach, and technical assistance, to protect and advance the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS. This past year is no exception.
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- Information Management: Selected Agencies Need to Fully Address Federal Electronic Recordkeeping Requirements
August 24, 2021What GAO Found Seventeen agencies GAO selected for review varied in the extent to which their policies and procedures addressed the electronic recordkeeping requirements in the Managing Government Records Directive and the Federal Records Act ( FRA ) and its amendments. More specifically, 14 of the 17 agencies established records management programs, while three agencies did not. Of those 14 agencies with established records management programs, almost all addressed requirements related to incorporating electronic records into their existing programs, but many did not have policies and procedures to fully incorporate recordkeeping functionalities into electronic systems, establish controls and preservation considerations for systems, and issue instructions on email requirements (see table). Assessment of Selected Agencies’ Policies and Procedures Addressing Key Electronic Records Requirements NARA provided guidance and assistance to the selected agencies, including guidance on electronic records management and training. All of the agencies stated that the assistance was generally helpful and that they relied on it to some extent for implementing the key requirements discussed in this report. Further, NARA oversaw the selected agencies’ implementation of federal records management regulations through their self-assessment progam. However, NARA had not ensured that the selected small or micro agencies that self-assessed to be at high risk of improper records management in calendar year 2017 were taking appropriate actions to make improvements to their records management programs. NARA officials stated they conduct follow-up with the agencies that report poor scores, but they do not proactively require the agencies to address their weaknesses. Until NARA requires these agencies to develop plans to make necessary improvements, these agencies will likely miss important opportunities to improve their record management practices. Why GAO Did This Study The Federal Records Act , a subsequent directive, and NARA regulations establish requirements for agencies to ensure the transparency, efficiency, and accountability of federal records, including those in electronic form. In addition, NARA plays an important role in overseeing and assisting agencies’ records management efforts. GAO was asked to evaluate federal agencies’ implementation of the aforementioned requirements related to electronic records. The objectives were to determine the extent to which (1) selected agencies’ policies and procedures address the electronic recordkeeping requirements in the Managing Government Records Directive and the Presidential and FRA Amendments of 2014 and (2) NARA assisted selected agencies in managing their electronic records. To do so, GAO selected 17 agencies and reviewed their records management policies and procedures. GAO also reviewed laws and requirements pertaining to NARA’s roles and responsibilities for assisting agencies in managing their electronic records. Further, GAO analyzed NARA guidance and other documents that discussed NARA’s efforts in carrying out these responsibilities.
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November 3, 2020Concept Schools, NFP, has agreed to pay $4.5 million as part of a civil settlement to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by engaging in non-competitive bidding practices in connection with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-Rate Program, the Department of Justice announced today.
- Former Bureau of Prisons Corrections Officer Pleads Guilty to Sexually Abusing an Inmate and Witness Tampering
July 20, 2021Eric Todd Ellis, 32, a former Bureau of Prisons (BOP) corrections officer at the FCI-Aliceville facility in Aliceville, Alabama, pleaded guilty today in federal court to one count of sexual abuse of a ward and one count of tampering with a witness.
- Veterans Affairs: VA Needs to Address Persistent IT Modernization and Cybersecurity Challenges
September 16, 2020The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has faced challenges in its efforts to accomplish three critical information technology (IT) modernization initiatives: the department’s health information system, known as the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA); a system for the Family Caregiver Program, which is to support family caregivers of seriously injured post-9/11 veterans; and the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) that collects and stores information and is used for processing disability benefit claims. Specifically, GAO has reported on the challenges in the department’s three previous unsuccessful attempts to modernize VistA over the past 20 years. However, VA has recently deployed a new scheduling system as part of its fourth effort to modernize VistA and the next deployment of the system, including additional capabilities, is planned in October 2020. VA had taken steps to address GAO’s recommendations from its 2014 report to implement a replacement system for the Family Caregiver Program. However, in September 2019, GAO reported that VA had yet to implement a new IT system that fully supports the Family Caregiver Program and that it had not yet fully committed to a date by which it will certify that the new IT system fully supports the program. In September 2015, GAO reported that VA had made progress in developing and implementing VBMS, but also noted that additional actions could improve efforts to develop and use the system. For example, VBMS was not able to fully support disability and pension claims, as well as appeals processing. GAO made five recommendations aimed at improving VA’s efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS; however, as of September 2020, VA implemented only one recommendation. VA’s progress in implementing key provisions of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (commonly referred to as FITARA) has been uneven. Specifically, VA has made progress toward improving its licensing of software and achieving its goals for closing unneeded data centers. However, the department has made limited progress toward addressing requirements related to IT investment risk management and Chief Information Officer authority enhancement. Until the department implements the act’s provisions, Congress’ ability to effectively monitor VA’s progress and hold it fully accountable for reducing duplication and achieving cost savings will be hindered. In addition, since fiscal year 2016, GAO has reported that VA faces challenges related to effectively implementing the federal approach to, and strategy for, securing information systems; effectively implementing information security controls and mitigating known security deficiencies; and establishing elements of its cybersecurity risk management program. GAO’s work stressed the need for VA to address these challenges as well as manage IT supply chain risks. As VA continues to pursue modernization efforts, it is critical that the department take steps to adequately secure its systems. 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—VA’s budget for IT now exceeds $4 billion annually. However, over many years, VA has experienced challenges in managing its IT projects and programs, which could jeopardize its ability to effectively support key programs such as the Forever GI Bill. GAO has previously reported on these IT management challenges at VA. 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, a system for the Family Caregiver Program, and VBMS; (2) implementing FITARA; and (3) addressing cybersecurity issues. In developing this testimony, GAO reviewed its recently issued reports that addressed IT management issues at VA and GAO’s biannual high-risk series. GAO also incorporated information on the department’s actions in response to recommendations. GAO has made numerous recommendations in recent years aimed at improving VA’s IT system modernization efforts, implementation of key FITARA provisions, and cybersecurity program. VA has generally agreed with the recommendations and has begun to address them. For more information, contact Carol C. Harris at (202) 512-4456 or email@example.com.
- Deputy Attorney General Convenes Inaugural Meeting of the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force
May 28, 2021Yesterday, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco convened the first meeting of the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force. Launched earlier this month, the Task Force is marshalling the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across the federal government to enhance enforcement efforts against COVID-19 related fraud.
- Transportation Research: Additional Actions Could Improve DOT’s Internal Collaboration and Reliability of Information on Research Activities
August 10, 2020The Department of Transportation (DOT) uses a multistep, centralized process to prioritize and select research activities it will fund. DOT’s modal administrations—which focus on specific modes of transportation like air, rail, and highways—conduct and manage most of DOT’s research. The modal administrations GAO spoke to used a variety of methods to prioritize and select research, including soliciting stakeholders’ feedback on research needs. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R) is responsible for reviewing this proposed research to ensure alignment with DOT’s strategic plans and to prevent duplicative research efforts, as required by statute. DOT has multiple efforts to facilitate research collaboration both externally and internally, but in guidance to promote collaboration, OST-R did not incorporate all leading practices. Specifically, OST-R established topical-research working groups on 12 multimodal subject areas in October 2018 and issued accompanying guidance. This guidance incorporated some leading collaboration practices, such as directing working groups to identify leadership roles and relevant participants. However, the guidance did not incorporate two leading practices—defining and monitoring progress toward long-term outcomes and regularly updating and monitoring written agreements. Taking steps to ensure the working groups follow these practices could provide OST-R greater assurance that the groups coordinate their efforts effectively, better plan long-term research, and better position themselves to address future transportation challenges. OST-R has taken some steps to help ensure that its public database on DOT-funded research projects (the Research Hub) contains complete and accurate information, as required by DOT’s data management policy; however, data reliability issues remained. For example, as of July 2019—the latest available data at the time of GAO’s analysis—36 percent of records in the database were missing research partners’ contact information, hindering the research community’s ability to obtain current project details. Taking additional steps, such as providing instructions to the modal administrations on how to improve the completeness and accuracy of the information they give OST-R for the Research Hub, would help ensure the database is fulfilling DOT’s intended purpose that it serve as a reliable source of information on the department’s research portfolio. Examples of Research Activities on Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems and Connected Vehicles Funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation DOT’s research activities are critical to DOT’s mission to make the nation’s transportation system safer and more efficient. To meet current research needs and prepare for emerging technologies, DOT partners with public and private entities. In fiscal year 2018, DOT funded about 2,300 partners and had a research budget exceeding $1 billion. GAO was asked to review DOT’s research activities. This report addresses: (1) how DOT prioritizes and selects which research activities it will undertake; (2) the extent to which DOT facilitates research collaboration with external stakeholders and across the department; and (3) the extent to which DOT ensures its Research Hub database contains complete and accurate project information. GAO reviewed documents and analyzed data from DOT; observed DOT-funded research; interviewed DOT officials from OST-R and four selected modal administrations; and used GAO’s leading collaboration practices to assess the extent of collaboration. GAO also interviewed 17 DOT research partners, including universities and associations. GAO recommends that OST-R (1) take steps to ensure the topical-research working groups follow all leading collaboration practices, and (2) take additional steps to ensure the information in the Research Hub is complete and accurate. DOT concurred with GAO’s recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth Repko at (202) 512-2834 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- 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.
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