Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
PRESIDENT HERZOG: So shalom, welcome, Secretary of State Antony, Tony, Blinken, a good friend, a long-time friend, and a great friend of the State of Israel. Your visit means a lot to us, and we welcome you whole-heartedly here in Jerusalem. And we congratulate you for joining this wonderful summit which will take place today, the Negev Summit, which will include foreign ministers from regional states that are so important to this unified front, which has been built in the region, which is based on the Abraham Accords, and which moves forward in peace and mutual cooperation and respect.
I want to commend Foreign Minister Yair Lapid for convening this summit, and wish him success in this very important gathering. We will work together to find further regional cooperations, and for the benefit of all peoples in the region, and the benefit of peace, and, of course, preventing any threats against Israel, as well as my own personal commitment to move forward and try to help in all relevant cooperations and activities that are pushing forward together with our friends and allies in this region.
I will conclude by saying, Foreign Minister, that – Foreign Secretary, that we all welcome you here not only because you are a friend, but also because the United States is Israel’s most important ally and closest friend in the world. And we see you as friends and part of the family. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you so much, Mr. President. It’s wonderful to be with you, it’s wonderful to be in Israel, it’s wonderful to be here in this very special place. And it’s also an honor.
To your point, this evening, when we head to the Negev, what is happening there is something that I think would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. And what we’re seeing is normalization become the new normal for this region. And I think it’s going to attract more and more countries, as they see the benefits of these partnerships among so many of the leading countries in – from the region.
The United States is very proud to be a part of that, to support the efforts to deepen the partnerships with countries that have already normalized with Israel, and to help seek new partners, and to make sure that, as we’re working together, we’re doing it in a way that, of course, stands up for our common security – because we face common challenges – but also finds ways to make meaningful difference in the lives of our citizens.
And that’s the tremendous opportunity of what is coming together in the Negev later today: the opportunity to work together, invest together in infrastructure, in global health, in dealing with climate change, renewable energy, bringing our businesses together, bringing our people together. It’s an incredibly powerful and positive vision for the future, and Israel is making that real, and I applaud that.
And I also have to say, Mr. President, how much we applaud the leadership of this government, including, for example, on trying to bring an end to Russia’s horrific aggression against Ukraine. Prime Minister Bennett has made important efforts to see if there’s a diplomatic path forward. We applaud them. We applaud the support that you’re providing, including the humanitarian hospital, a field hospital in Israel that is set up that is able to see directly, by a video link with –
PRESIDENT HERZOG: Yes, I spoke to them on Friday night, (inaudible) congratulated them all.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s a wonderful thing.
PRESIDENT HERZOG: Yes.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And, of course, there is much to discuss about the relationship to Palestinians, and our support for them, and the work that’s being done to try to improve their lives, as well.
So lots to talk about. But for me it’s always especially wonderful and meaningful to be in Israel. The United States has a deep attachment to this country, to this relationship, to this partnership, to this alliance. We have a sacrosanct commitment to Israel’s security. President Biden reaffirmed that again recently with the provision of $1 billion for Iron Dome, something that has saved lives in the past and, if necessary, will do so in the future.
And I will just say simply, in concluding, it’s also very meaningful to me on a personal level, as well. So thank you.
PRESIDENT HERZOG: Thank you very much. I – no, I will just say to all the visitors in the Negev Summit: Secretary of State Tony Blinken, foreign ministers of the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain, and Egypt. (In Hebrew.) We welcome you all to the State of Israel. (In Hebrew.) Thank you.
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- Military Housing: Actions Needed to Improve the Process for Setting Allowances for Servicemembers and Calculating Payments for Privatized Housing Projects
January 25, 2021The Department of Defense (DOD) has established a process to determine basic allowance for housing (BAH) rates, which help cover the cost of suitable housing in the private sector for servicemembers. However, DOD has not always collected rental data on the minimum number of rental units needed to estimate the total housing cost for certain locations and housing types. GAO analysis found that 44 percent (788 of 1,806) of locations and housing types had fewer than the minimum sample-size target. Until DOD develops ways to increase its sample size, it will risk providing housing cost compensation that does not accurately represent the cost of suitable housing for servicemembers. DOD followed congressional requirements for calculating BAH reductions and payments to privatized housing projects. However, while the 2019 congressionally mandated payments lessened the financial effects of BAH reductions, as intended, they did not do so commensurate with the amount of the BAH reduction. GAO found that privatized housing projects received payments that were either over or under the amount of revenue lost from reductions made to BAH, in some cases by $1 million or more. (see figure) Number of Privatized Housing Projects and Amounts That Congressionally Mandated Payments Were Above or Below the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) Reduction Estimate (in 2019) These distortions occurred because the legal requirements for calculating the BAH reduction and the congressionally mandated payments differ. Specifically, the law requires that the BAH reduction be a set dollar amount, regardless of location, while payments to privatized housing projects are required to differ by location. This required method of calculating the BAH reduction amounts is consistent with how prior reductions were calculated. According to DOD, BAH rates were reduced so that servicemembers share a portion of housing costs, and that reduction amount was the same for servicemembers with the same pay grade and dependency status, regardless of location. Until Congress takes steps to ensure congressionally mandated payment calculations are consistent with how BAH reductions are calculated, some privatized housing projects will continue to receive more or less than was intended. DOD spent about $20 billion in fiscal year 2019 on BAH—often one of the largest components of military pay. BAH is designed to cover a portion of servicemembers’ housing rental and utility costs in the private sector. Starting in 2015, DOD reduced BAH rates so that servicemembers share a portion of housing costs. The majority of servicemembers rely on the civilian housing market, while others rely on government housing or privatized housing projects. These projects rely on BAH as a key revenue source. In 2018-2020, Congress required DOD to make payments to these projects to help offset the BAH reduction. Senate Report 116-48 included a provision for GAO to review DOD’s BAH process. This report evaluates, among other things, the extent to which (1) DOD established a process to determine BAH and (2) DOD’s congressionally mandated payments to projects lessened the effects of BAH reductions. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed relevant guidance and other documents, analyzed key data, and interviewed cognizant DOD officials. GAO is making a matter for congressional consideration to revise statutory language to ensure payments to privatized housing projects are consistent with BAH reductions. GAO is also making three recommendations, including that DOD review its sampling methodology to increase sample size. DOD concurred with two recommendations. DOD also partially concurred with one recommendation, which GAO continues to believe is valid, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or email@example.com.
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In addition to requests for equipment from DOD’s existing stocks, warfighters have requested new capabilities, such as: technology to counter improvised explosive devices (IED); technology related to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) to provide increased situational awareness; and equipment related to command and control to enhance operations on the battlefield. In meeting urgent needs, it is important for DOD to efficiently use the department’s financial resources. DOD has spent billions of dollars over the past several years to address urgent warfighter needs. Our past work on weapons acquisition has shown that the department has often pursued more programs than its resources can support. Additionally, our past work also has shown that DOD has had difficulty translating needs into programs, which often has led to cost growth and delayed delivery of needed capabilities to the warfighter. Today, we are publicly releasing a report that addresses (1) what entities exist within DOD for responding to urgent operational needs, and the extent to which there is fragmentation, overlap, or duplication; (2) the extent to which DOD has a comprehensive approach for managing and overseeing its urgent needs activities; and (3) the extent to which DOD has evaluated the potential for consolidations of its various activities and entities. This statement will first briefly discuss challenges we reported in April 2010 that affected the overall responsiveness of DOD’s urgent needs processes and then highlight the key findings and recommendations of today’s report. Today’s report contributed to our findings in another report being released today that addresses opportunities to reduce potential duplication in government programs.We reported in April 2010 on several challenges that affected DOD’s responsiveness to urgent needs: (1) Training: We found challenges in training personnel that process urgent needs requests. For example, we found that while the Army required selected officers to attend training on how to address requirements and identify resources for Army forces, officers at the brigade level responsible for drafting and submitting Army and joint urgent needs requests–and those at the division level responsible for reviewing the requests prior to submission for headquarters approval–were not likely to receive such training.(2) Funding: We found that funding was not always available when needed to acquire and field solutions to joint urgent needs. This result occurred in part because the Office of the Secretary of Defense had not given any one organization primary responsibility for determining when to implement the department’s statutory rapid acquisition authority or to execute timely funding decisions. (3) Technical maturity and complexity: We found that attempts to meet urgent needs with immature technologies or with solutions that are technologically complex could lead to longer time frames for fielding solutions to urgent needs. Also, we found that DOD guidance was unclear about who is responsible for determining whether technologically complex solutions fall within the scope of DOD’s urgent needs processes. In our report being released today, we identified cases of fragmentation, overlap, and potential duplication of efforts of DOD’s urgent needs processes and entities. However, the department is hindered in its ability to identify key improvements to its urgent needs processes because it does not have a comprehensive approach to manage and oversee the breadth of its efforts. Many of these entities were created, in part, because the department had not anticipated the accelerated pace of change in enemy tactics and techniques that ultimately heightened the need for a rapid response to the large number of urgent needs requests submitted by the combatant commands and military services. While many entities started as ad hoc organizations, several have been permanently established. DOD has taken some steps to improve its fulfillment of urgent needs. These steps include developing policy to guide joint urgent need efforts, establishing a Rapid Fielding Directorate to rapidly transition innovative concepts into critical capabilities, and working to establish a senior oversight council to help synchronize DOD’s efforts. Despite these actions, the department does not have a comprehensive approach to manage and oversee the breadth of its activities to address capability gaps identified by warfighters in-theater. In addition to not having a comprehensive approach for managing and overseeing its urgent needs efforts, DOD has not conducted a comprehensive evaluation of its urgent needs processes and entities to identify opportunities for consolidation. Given the overlap and potential for duplication we identified, coupled with similar concerns raised by other studies, there may be opportunities for DOD to further improve its urgent needs processes through consolidation. In the report we publicly release today, we make several recommendations to promote a more comprehensive approach to planning, management, and oversight of DOD’s fulfillment of urgent needs. In summary, we are recommending that: (1) DOD develop and promulgate DOD-wide guidance across all urgent needs processes that establishes baseline policy for the fulfillment of urgent needs, clearly defines common terms, roles, responsibilities, and authorities, designates a focal point to lead DOD’s urgent needs efforts, and directs the DOD components to establish minimum urgent needs processes and requirements; and (2) DOD’s Chief Management Officer evaluate potential options for consolidation to reduce overlap, duplication, and fragmentation, and take appropriate action.
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