October 1, 2022

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Nowruz Greeting

17 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

On behalf of the State Department, I wish a Happy Nowruz to all those celebrating around the world. Whether in the United States, Iran, the broader Middle East, Central and South Asia, Europe, or elsewhere throughout the globe, we hope this new day brings health, happiness, and time to renew meaningful connections with friends and loved ones.

Gathering with family and friends, decorating the Haft-Sin, and sharing meals or treats like the Haft Mewa are just part of the many traditions from around the world that make this holiday special. While the global pandemic has made it more difficult to celebrate these customs, we hope this year will bring better global health in the days ahead.

May we all be rejuvenated by the sustenance the spring season provides. Nowruzetoon Pirouz! Nowruz Mubarak!

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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  • Indian Health Service: Information on Third-Party Collections and Processes to Procure Supplies and Services
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    What GAO Found The Indian Health Service’s (IHS) third-party collections—that is, payments for patients’ medical care received from public programs such as Medicaid and Medicare or from private insurers—increased from about $943 million in fiscal year 2015 to about $1.15 billion in fiscal year 2019 at its federal facilities. In fiscal year 2020—which included the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic—collections decreased by about 4 percent to $1.10 billion, but they rebounded to about $1.26 billion in fiscal year 2021. According to IHS, these collections are increasingly important, as they represent a significant portion of facilities’ health care delivery budgets. As a result, even a modest decline can affect facility operations. While IHS headquarters conducts some oversight of third-party collections—including reviewing facilities’ biannual data submissions—the agency has delegated much of the responsibility for this oversight to its area offices. Area office officials told GAO they oversee these funds by (1) taking steps to ensure facilities determine and verify whether a patient has or is eligible for insurance from a third-party payer at each patient visit, (2) regularly communicating with and providing training to facility staff, and (3) regularly reviewing facility information, including facilities’ biannual data submissions before they were sent to headquarters. IHS headquarters officials used these data submissions to identify any concerns that need to be addressed by facilities in a corrective action plan—such as a backlog in billing. GAO’s review of the two most recent submissions showed all facilities within the nine area offices submitted these data to headquarters. When procuring products and services needed for its operations, IHS may use the Buy Indian Act to give priority to Indian-owned and -controlled businesses without using a competitive contracting process. IHS’s use of the Act has increased since fiscal year 2015 but generally comprises less than 5 percent of annual non-pharmaceutical contract obligations. (See figure.) IHS officials described actions they have taken that may have contributed to this increase, including creating lists of known Indian-owned businesses to which IHS staff can refer when searching for a product or service. Indian Health Service Non-Pharmaceutical Contract Obligations, Fiscal Years 2015–2020 Why GAO Did This Study IHS provides care to American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) through a system of federally and tribally operated facilities. In addition to receiving appropriated funds, IHS relies on funding from third-party collections to procure services, supplies, and pharmaceuticals needed for its operations. Ensuring AI/ANs have access to quality health care requires IHS to effectively manage its resources such as third-party collections and procurement processes, including those procurements made under the Buy Indian Act. GAO was asked to review IHS’s oversight of third-party collections and its procurements. Among other things, this report examines recent trends in, and IHS’s processes to oversee, third-party collections and the extent to which IHS uses the Buy Indian Act when procuring services and products, such as medical supplies. GAO reviewed agency documents, including policies, and interviewed IHS officials from headquarters and the nine area offices with two or more federally operated facilities—area offices are responsible for monitoring federally operated facilities’ operations and finances. GAO also reviewed data on third-party collections at IHS federally operated facilities for fiscal years 2015 through 2021 and analyzed contracting data from the Federal Procurement Data System for fiscal years 2015 through 2020, the most recent data available at the time GAO began its review. For more information, contact Michelle B. Rosenberg at (202) 512-7114 or RosenbergM@gao.gov.

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    What GAO Found The U.S. Capitol Police (Capitol Police) used a range of methods to prepare its officers to use force and maintain crowd control prior to the January 6, 2021 attack. At the time of the attack, the department had established department-wide use of force and crowd control policies. The department sends new officers to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers and its own Capitol Police Academy for training. The Capitol Police provides all officers with 40 hours of entry-level Civil Disturbance Unit (CDU) training, even if they are not ultimately assigned to the unit. The department equips and trains all officers on the use of a baton, chemical spray, and a firearm, and some officers are trained on other types of force, such as less-lethal munitions (e.g., chemical and kinetic impact). About 150 Capitol Police officers reported 293 use of force incidents using various types of force against attackers on January 6. After the events, the Capitol Police determined that all use of force incidents were justified. The most prevalent force reported was empty hand control techniques (e.g., pushing) (91 incidents), followed by batons (83) (left image below), withdrawing a firearm from its holster (37), chemical spray (34) (right image below), other physical tactics (22), pointing a firearm at an individual (17), less-lethal munitions (7), a diversionary device (1), and firing a firearm (1). Images of the Attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 GAO surveyed officers who were deployed during the January 6 attack. Based on the nongeneralizable responses from the 315 officers who completed the survey, GAO found the following: Some officers felt less prepared. There were mixed views among respondents on whether they felt prepared to use force and apply crowd control tactics during the January 6 attack. Related to use of force, 207 felt well or somewhat prepared and 96 felt slightly or not at all prepared. Related to crowd control tactics, 134 felt well or somewhat prepared and 153 felt slightly or not at all prepared. Lack of sufficient guidance before and during the attack. Most respondents indicated that preoperational guidance (211) or guidance provided during the attack (209) was slightly clear, not at all clear, or not provided. In comparison, fewer respondents indicated that preoperational guidance (45) or guidance during the attack (29) was somewhat or very clear. Based on responses to open-ended questions, GAO identified several common themes among respondents: Perceived discouragement from using force. Many respondents (80) identified concerns related to use of force, including that they felt discouraged or hesitant to use force because of a fear of disciplinary actions (57); and that leadership needed to clarify the appropriate use of force during situations like the January 6 attack (39). More training wanted. Over half of respondents (180) expressed that more training was needed, including crowd control (128), very large or violent crowd control (84), and more realistic training (46). Concerns with the department. Many respondents (151) identified concerns or offered suggestions related to leadership, including that there had been a lack of leadership and communication on January 6, 2021 (99); and that leadership needed to be changed or improved (55). The Capitol Police has taken actions to better prepare officers following the attack but additional opportunities exist to further enhance preparedness. Use of force. The Capitol Police has taken actions to clarify use of force, such as issuing additional guidance to officers and conducting briefings in which its Office of General Counsel addressed common misconceptions related to use of force. However, in October 2021, officials stated that misconceptions related to use of force have been persistent both before and after the attack. The department’s discussions with officers following the attack are a positive step, but based on GAO survey results, such discussions may not have addressed underlying factors related to officer hesitancy to use force. Taking actions to better understand officers’ comprehension of the use of force policy will help Capitol Police ensure that management and officer expectations are aligned. Training and equipment. The Capitol Police has trained additional officers on crowd control tactics and less-lethal force and obtained additional protective and less-lethal force equipment using supplemental appropriations. However, officials stated that their current focus is on improving training for the CDU and that they do not have plans to improve training for non-CDU officers. Yet, non-CDU officers, who represent more than 80 percent of officers, may also be called upon to provide crowd control in emergencies. Further, officials stated that offering more realistic training (e.g., in-person) is challenging because it requires that officers be pulled from their posts, which may lead to paying officers for overtime. While there may be challenges in providing more in-person training, the Capitol Police must balance its need to staff officers to posts to perform their law enforcement duties with the need to train them to effectively accomplish those duties. Enhancing crowd control training for all Capitol Police officers, including non-CDU officers and more realistic training, will help ensure that all officers are better prepared in the future. Concerns with the department and morale. The department used 2021 supplemental appropriations to fund retention bonuses, hazard pay, and initiatives related to mental health. However, officials stated that the department has faced long-term morale issues. For example, analysis of the Capitol Police’s employee viewpoint surveys since 2016 identified similar themes shown by GAO’s survey, such as concerns related to morale, promotions, and leadership. Given the severity of the attack and the likely long-standing nature of the concerns, matters may not be resolved quickly. In light of GAO’s survey findings and the Capitol Police’s forthcoming employee viewpoint survey for 2021, there is an opportunity for the department to identify underlying causes for employee concerns and develop a responsive action plan. Why GAO Did This Study On January 6, 2021, thousands of demonstrators surrounded the U.S. Capitol Building to dispute the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Demonstrators attacked and injured law enforcement officers and breached the building. The Capitol Police is responsible for protecting the Congress, including members, staff, visitors, and facilities. GAO was asked to review a range of issues related to the events surrounding the January 6 attack. This fourth report addresses (1) how the Capitol Police prepared its officers to use force and maintain crowd control during large-scale demonstrations prior to the attack; (2) reported use of force during the attack; (3) Capitol Police officer perspectives on their preparedness for the attack; and (4) changes made to better prepare officers in the future. GAO reviewed Capitol Police policies and training for use of force and crowd control. GAO analyzed the use of force reports from January 6, 2021, which describe the types of force used and supervisors’ determinations on whether the force was justified. GAO also conducted a survey of Capitol Police officers who were on duty at any point on January 6. GAO received responses from 315 officers, a 20 percent response rate. Although not generalizable to all officers on duty that day, the results provide perspectives on officer preparedness. GAO also interviewed department officials and reviewed documents on actions taken since the attack.

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  • COVID-19: Defense-Wide Working Capital Fund Cash Management and Defense Logistics Agency Pandemic Response
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Three Department of Defense (DOD) agencies, including the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), use the Defense-Wide Working Capital Fund (DWWCF) to fund their operations and then deposit the proceeds from sales of goods and services to their customers back into the fund. DOD received $500 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) for the DWWCF in order to position the agency to respond to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. GAO found: DOD Actions Helped Maintain DWWCF Balances within Targeted Ranges. Several transactions increased the DWWCF cash balances. In particular, the DWWCF received nearly $600 million in allotments from appropriations from January 2020 through January 2021, including $500 million from the CARES Act. DLA, which uses the DWWCF to fund operations, such as providing consumable items and fuel to its military customers and other federal agencies, also received $2 billion in advance billings from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from April 2020 through September 2020. DOD officials said they also took actions that had the effect of mitigating the extent to which DWWCF cash balances exceeded the targeted upper cash requirement. DOD transferred $241 million to military services’ working capital funds and reduced fuel prices by 20 percent, among other things. DLA officials said that they expect the $3.6 billion cash balance to decline as advance-billed orders are filled and fuel prices recover. DLA Responded to a Surge in Medical Materials Demand during the Pandemic. From March 2020 through May 2021, DLA executed about 31,000 contract actions marked as COVID-19–related, resulting in $3.67 billion in contract obligations. DLA officials said FEMA and HHS became DLA’s largest customers for COVID-19–related items during the pandemic. COVID-related procurements included test kits, gloves, N95 respirators, hand sanitizers, surgical masks, ventilators, and protective gowns, among other things. DLA Did Not Plan for Pandemic Support, but It Tracked Performance and Identified Lessons Learned. DLA officials told GAO they were not tasked with planning to support civilian agencies in a pandemic, and they had not developed plans for supporting other federal agencies during a pandemic prior to the current pandemic. However, DLA continued to monitor and measure its medical supply chain performance during the pandemic using previously established measures, which showed that its performance decreased during the pandemic. Officials from DLA and from its customer agencies attributed this decrease to difficulties experienced by vendors in responding to medical material demand during the global pandemic. DLA Increased Medical Contracting and Reduced Contracting in Some Other Areas. GAO’s analysis found that DLA obligated $40.1 billion on contracts from March 2020 through February 2021, a decrease of more than $2.0 billion (4.8 percent) as compared with the same 12-month period prior to the pandemic. DLA obligations increased in 64 of 134 product service groups, with the largest increases occurring in the medical, dental, and veterinary equipment and supplies; firefighting, rescue, and safety equipment and environmental protection equipment and materials; and instruments and laboratory equipment groups. DLA obligations decreased in 69 of 134 product service groups, with the largest decreases occurring in the fuels, lubricants, oils and waxes and the aerospace craft components and accessories product service groups.  Of the 11,832 DLA vendors used during this period, GAO found that DLA obligations related to 6,208 (52.5 percent) decreased, 4,960 (41.9 percent) increased, and 664 (5.6 percent) had no change. DLA obligations related to vendors providing medical, dental, and veterinary equipment and supplies had the largest increases, and obligations related to those providing fuels, lubricants, oils, and waxes and those providing aerospace components had the largest decreases. The decreases did not significantly alter the proportion of DLA contracting obligations going to vendors in three primary socioeconomic groups (small disadvantaged, women–owned, and minority–owned). Why GAO Did This Study This report responds to a request from the Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee that GAO review DOD’s management of the DWWCF cash balance and DLA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is part of GAO’s body of work in response to the CARES Act. This report provides information on: (1) actions DOD took from October 2018 through March 2021 to maintain the DWWCF cash balance between its targeted upper and lower cash requirements; (2) the effects of the pandemic on DLA’s supply chain management activity, including medical supplies, starting in March 2020; (3) DLA’s planning to support a pandemic event and tracking of its performance in meeting customer needs from March 2020 through June 2021; and (4) changes in DLA’s contracting activity, by type of product and individual vendor, from March 2019– February 2020 and March 2020–February 2021. GAO reviewed DWWCF cash balances and budget estimates; DLA readiness reports and performance measures; and federal contracting data; and interviewed officials of DLA and its customers. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.

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    The Office of Refugee Resettlement’s (ORR) grant announcements soliciting care providers for unaccompanied children—those without lawful immigration status and without a parent or guardian in the U.S. available to provide care and physical custody for them—lack clarity about what state licensing information is required. Further, ORR does not systematically confirm the information submitted by applicants or document a review of their past performance on ORR grants, when applicable, according to GAO’s analysis of ORR documents and interviews with ORR officials. The grant announcements do not specify how applicants without a state license should show license eligibility—a criterion for receiving an ORR grant—or specify what past licensing allegations and concerns they must report. In addition, the extent to which ORR staff verify applicants’ licensing information is unclear. In fiscal years 2018 and 2019, ORR awarded grants to approximately 14 facilities that were unable to serve children for 12 or more months because they remained unlicensed. In addition, ORR did not provide any documentation that staff conducted a review of past performance for the nearly 70 percent of applicants that previously held ORR grants. Without addressing these issues, ORR risks awarding grants to organizations that cannot obtain a state license or that have a history of poor performance. State licensing agencies regularly monitor ORR-funded facilities, but according to GAO’s survey of these agencies, their information sharing with ORR is limited (see figure). State licensing agencies and ORR staff both said that improved information sharing would benefit their monitoring of facilities. Without such improvements, ORR may lack information about ongoing issues at its facilities. Key Survey Responses on Information-Sharing with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) by the 23 State Agencies That Licensed ORR-Funded Facilities in Fall 2019 ORR requires grantees to take corrective action to address noncompliance it identifies through monitoring, but ORR has not met some of its monitoring goals or notified grantees of the need for corrective actions in a timely manner. For example, under ORR regulations, each facility is to be audited for compliance with standards to prevent and respond to sexual abuse and harassment of children by February 22, 2019, but by April 2020, only 67 of 133 facilities had been audited. In fiscal years 2018 and 2019, ORR also did not meet its policy goals to visit each facility at least every 2 years, or to submit a report to facilities on any corrective actions identified within 30 days of a visit. Without further action, ORR will continue to not meet its own monitoring goals, which are designed to ensure the safety and well-being of children in its care. ORR is responsible for the care and placement of unaccompanied children in its custody, which it provides through grants to state-licensed care provider facilities. ORR was appropriated $1.3 billion for this program in fiscal year 2020. GAO was asked to review ORR’s grant making process and oversight of its grantees. This report examines (1) how ORR considers state licensing issues and past performance in its review of grant applications; (2) state licensing agencies’ oversight of ORR grantees, and how ORR and states share information; and (3) how ORR addresses grantee noncompliance. GAO reviewed ORR grant announcements and applications for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. GAO conducted a survey of 29 state licensing agencies in states with ORR facilities, and reviewed ORR monitoring documentation and corrective action reports. GAO also reviewed ORR guidance and policies, as well as relevant federal laws and regulations, and interviewed ORR officials. GAO is making eight recommendations to ORR on improving clarity in its grant announcements, communication with state licensing agencies, and monitoring of its grantees. ORR agreed with all eight recommendations. For more information, contact Kathryn A. Larin at (202) 512-7215 or larink@gao.gov.

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