Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
The United States and the international community are paying close attention to the Taliban’s actions inside Afghanistan, and it is with alarm and deep concern we learned of the Taliban’s decision to stifle the Afghan people’s access to independent, objective, international media sources. Media outlets such as the Voice of America, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and Deutsche Welle have reported that their local broadcasting partners have been prevented from airing their programming in the country due to new, restrictive, and unpublished guidelines from the Taliban.
The United States is committed to supporting the right of freedom of expression the world over, especially for journalists and human rights defenders, to operate freely without fear of violence against them.
In addition to this restrictive new media policy, the Taliban continue to move Afghanistan in the wrong direction by failing to uphold commitments they have made, including their March 23 decision to prevent girls from attending secondary school. Each of these actions alone is alarming, but combined, they make clear the Taliban are not living up to the essential commitments they made to the Afghan people and the international community.
Education and freedom of expression are human rights held by every person in Afghanistan. These are not Western values or concessions to the international community; they are human rights and essential to a peaceful and prosperous Afghan society, which is something the Taliban claim to desire. We urge the Taliban to cease these infringements on the rights of Afghans, and we continue to stand with the Afghan people.
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- DOD Financial Management: Actions Needed to Address Deficiencies in Controls over Army Active Duty Military Payroll
August 24, 2021What GAO FoundGAO identified deficiencies in the design of key control procedures relied on by the Army and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service-Indianapolis (DFAS-IN) to detect errors in payroll disbursements to active duty Army military personnel. Specifically, GAO found that the Army’s procedures for reviewing Unit Commander Finance Reports (UCFR) do not (1) provide for monitoring of required UCFR reviews to better assure detection of payroll errors, (2) require reporting on completed UCFR reviews in all cases, and (3) clearly establish time frames for completing and reporting on UCFR reviews. GAO’s analysis of DFAS data on military pay debts and Army investigations of potential fraud completed over the past 2 years identified numerous instances of the effect of errors or irregularities in Army active duty payroll disbursements that went undetected for lengthy periods of time, including some that were not detected for up to 2 years or until the soldier left the Army. For example:A soldier who separated from the Army in 2009 continued to receive active duty pay totaling about $185,000 until 2011.A soldier who was absent without leave from January 2010 to September 2011 received military pay of $33,268 to which she was not entitled.A soldier under investigation for possible fraud allegedly received over $34,000 in paratrooper and language proficiency pay but did not have a documented record of jumps performed or up-to-date proficiency certifications.GAO’s analysis determined that the Army could reduce its risk of lengthy delays in detecting and correcting pay errors with more stringent UCFR monitoring and reporting requirements.GAO also found that DFAS and the Army have procedures and metrics in place that focus on the timeliness of manual processing and payroll adjustments for error corrections. However, they do not have procedures and metrics to enable them to gather data on active duty pay errors that were related to causes other than timeliness, such as over- and underpayments, data entry errors, and unauthorized payments. Further, the design of existing Defense Joint Military Pay System-Active Component and DFAS-IN Case Management System procedures for transaction processing and error correction did not provide for monitoring to capture data on all types of pay errors and their causes that would be useful in identifying the extent to which there are any additional systemic payroll control weaknesses. For example, an Army National Guard colonel deployed on active duty to Afghanistan reported that he experienced financial hardship when his military pay was stopped for 1-1/2 months. The absence of data on the extent and causes of all types of Army active duty military payroll errors impairs the Army’s ability to identify and address any adverse trends that may indicate the existence of other systemic control weaknesses. Overall, the control deficiencies that GAO identified increase the risk that the nearly $47 billion in reported fiscal year 2011 Army active duty military payroll includes Army servicemembers who received pay to which they were not entitled and others who did not receive the full pay they were due. Further, to the extent that errors in Army active duty pay are not identified and addressed in a timely manner, they can have a negative effect on soldier welfare and, ultimately, could erode soldiers’ focus on their Army mission.Why GAO Did This StudyIn March 2012, GAO reported on challenges that DOD and the Army face in achieving audit readiness with respect to the over $45 billion in reported fiscal year 2010 Army active duty military payroll disbursements. In performing that work, GAO identified indications of possible weaknesses in selected processes, systems, and controls relied on to reasonably assure the validity and accuracy of reported Army active duty military payroll that were beyond the scope of that audit. GAO subsequently completed work on those issues and is presenting the results in this report. GAO (1) assessed the design of key controls for payroll accuracy and (2) determined the extent to which the Army and DFAS-IN have monitoring controls to identify and address any systemic weaknesses. GAO compared selected Army and DFAS-IN processes, systems, and controls for assuring payroll accuracy to applicable internal control standards and to applicable provisions of law, regulations, and policies and procedures. GAO also interviewed officials and examined related data and information.
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- Countering Illicit Finance and Trade: Better Information Sharing and Collaboration Needed to Combat Trade-Based Money Laundering
December 13, 2021What GAO Found Trade-based money laundering (TBML) is one of the primary mechanisms criminal organizations and others use to launder illicit proceeds, and the basic techniques involve the mis-invoicing of goods and services, such as through over- and under-invoicing. The Bank Secrecy Act requires, among other things, financial institutions to report suspicious financial transactions to the Department of the Treasury. But for most trade transactions, financial institutions lack visibility into the types of documentation that would allow them to identify suspicious activity. Also, many trade-related documents, such as purchase orders, invoices, and customs documents, are vulnerable to fraudulent manipulation. Criminal organizations exploit these vulnerabilities for other trade-related financial crimes, such as customs fraud, trafficking in counterfeit goods, and sanctions evasion. The Department of Homeland Security (specifically, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations) established the Trade Transparency Unit (TTU) to combat TBML through the analysis of financial and trade data, including import and export data exchanged with partner countries. The TTU uses the Data Analysis and Research for Trade Transparency System (DARTTS) to analyze trade and financial data to identify suspicious transactions that may warrant investigation for money laundering or other crimes. TTU officials told GAO that they conduct most of their analysis in response to specific requests from agents in the field to support ongoing investigations. TBML schemes often involve many types of illicit activity—such as the trade of counterfeit goods and sanctions evasion—that cut across multiple agencies’ roles and responsibilities. However, current federal collaborative efforts to combat TBML do not include some key agencies involved in overseeing trade, and information on suspicious financial and trade activity is siloed among different agencies. For example: Treasury’s national strategy for combating money laundering does not incorporate the views and perspectives of several agencies positioned to identify illicit trade, as well as private-sector entities, such as freight forwarders. There is no formal collaboration mechanism focused on combating TBML, such as a working group or task force, among federal agencies with anti-money laundering and trade enforcement responsibilities. Such a mechanism could facilitate the sharing of information and data on trade-facilitated financial crimes between federal agencies and with private-sector entities. According to agency officials familiar with DARTTS, data from this system are not proactively analyzed to, among other things, identify emerging trends or patterns of illicit activity. Further, the data and analysis are not shared with other relevant agencies involved in combating illicit finance and trade that could potentially identify suspicious activity. TTU officials told GAO that the TTU’s data-sharing agreements with partner countries limit its ability to share DARTTS data, but the TTU could take steps to explore ways to incorporate interagency data sharing into those agreements. With access to relevant data, U.S. agencies may be able to better identify emerging risks and trends related to TBML and other illicit trade schemes. Why GAO Did This Study Criminal organizations and other malign actors exploit vulnerabilities in the U.S. financial and trade systems to obscure the source and destination of ill-gotten proceeds and further their illicit activity. TBML is one of the most challenging forms of money laundering to investigate because of the complexities of trade transactions and the large volume of international trade. U.S. agencies report there has been an increase in TBML activity, in part because criminals are using more sophisticated schemes to avoid detection. GAO was asked to provide information on U.S. efforts to combat TBML. This report examines, among other things, (1) vulnerabilities in the U.S. financial and trade systems that are exploited to facilitate TBML, (2) the data U.S. agencies use to detect and combat TBML, and (3) the extent to which U.S. agencies collaborate to share information to combat TBML. GAO reviewed U.S. agency reports, data, and other documentation. GAO also interviewed U.S. agency officials and representatives of private-sector entities, including from the financial, trade, and technology sectors.
- Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy: Agency Has Practices for Avoiding Duplication and Involving Stakeholders in the Development of Research Programs
February 3, 2022What GAO Found The potential to transform the energy sector through transformative research and development, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) supporting efforts, are critical to enhancing the United States’ economic and energy security. ARPA-E is tasked with carrying out transformative energy-related research that does not duplicate work being done by other agencies. GAO found ARPA-E has practices in place to help manage overlap and duplication during its program development cycle. ARPA-E coordinates with other stakeholders in the Department of Energy (DOE), as well as those at other agencies, by inviting officials from those offices to participate early in the program development process. These opportunities occur primarily in the initial stages of the program development cycle (see figure), which ARPA-E calls the “envision,” “engage,” and “evaluate” stages. This participation has occurred on an ongoing basis and has helped manage overlapping research efforts while identifying potential duplication. ARPA-E’s Five-Stage Cycle for the Development of New Research Programs, including Project Selection ARPA-E officials participate in DOE working groups, coordinate on announcements for open funding opportunities, and participate in other strategic coordination efforts to inform DOE stakeholders of the agency’s energy-related research and development efforts. In addition, ARPA-E’s Strategic Vision was developed in 2013, as required by the America COMPETES Act, to guide future investments. The act was amended in 2020 to require an updated Strategic Vision by October 1, 2021. According to officials from DOE’s applied science offices, an up-to-date Strategic Vision could provide them a better understanding of the issue areas on which ARPA-E is focused, allowing DOE stakeholders to ensure that they are appropriately coordinating with ARPA-E on relevant research efforts. ARPA-E officials are working with DOE to issue a new Strategic Vision by February 2022. Why GAO Did This Study Congress established ARPA-E in 2007 as an agency dedicated to developing energy technology that may otherwise be too high-risk for private industry to undertake. GAO was asked to review ARPA-E’s efforts to coordinate its research with other DOE offices. This report examines (1) the practices ARPA-E uses to manage overlap and duplication of its energy research with DOE’s other research efforts, and (2) the actions ARPA-E takes to coordinate with DOE stakeholders in conducting its energy research and development activities. GAO reviewed DOE policies and other agency documents; interviewed DOE officials; and collected and analyzed data on selected ARPA-E projects since ARPA-E’s first appropriation in 2009. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or RuscoF@gao.gov.
- Seven Members of Los Angeles-Based Fraud Ring Sentenced for Multimillion-Dollar COVID-19 Relief Scheme
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December 21, 2021Thank you for that warm welcome. It is my honor to join you today, and a privilege to return to this memorial. I want to thank President Kara Weipz and the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 organization for inviting me back this year – and for all the work you do year-round to lift up the legacies of the 270 lives we lost – far too suddenly and far too soon.
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- Electricity Grid Resilience: Climate Change Is Expected to Have Far-reaching Effects and DOE and FERC Should Take Actions
March 10, 2021What GAO Found Climate change is expected to have far-reaching effects on the electricity grid that could cost billions and could affect every aspect of the grid from generation, transmission, and distribution to demand for electricity, according to several reports GAO reviewed. The type and extent of these effects on the grid will vary by geographic location and other factors. For example, reports GAO reviewed stated that more frequent droughts and changing rainfall patterns may adversely affect hydroelectricity generation in Alaska and the Northwest and Southwest regions of the United States. Further, transmission capacity may be reduced or distribution lines damaged during increasing wildfire activity in some regions due to warmer temperatures and drier conditions. Moreover, climate change effects on the grid could cost utilities and customers billions, including the costs of power outages and infrastructure damage. Examples of Climate Change Effects on the Electricity Grid Since 2014, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have taken actions to enhance the resilience of the grid. For example, in 2015, DOE established a partnership with 18 utilities to plan for climate change. In 2018, FERC collected information from grid operators on grid resilience and their risks to hazards such as extreme weather. Nevertheless, opportunities exist for DOE and FERC to take additional actions to enhance grid resilience to climate change. For example, DOE identified climate change as a risk to energy infrastructure, including the grid, but it does not have an overall strategy to guide its efforts. GAO’s Disaster Resilience Framework states that federal efforts can focus on risk reduction by creating resilience goals and linking those goals to an overarching strategy. Developing and implementing a department-wide strategy that defines goals and measures progress could help prioritize DOE’s climate resilience efforts to ensure that resources are targeted effectively. Regarding FERC, it has not taken steps to identify or assess climate change risks to the grid and, therefore, is not well positioned to determine the actions needed to enhance resilience. Risk management involves identifying and assessing risks to understand the likelihood of impacts and their associated consequences. By doing so, FERC could then plan and implement appropriate actions to respond to the risks and achieve its objective of promoting resilience. Why GAO Did This Study According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, changes in the earth’s climate are under way and expected to increase, posing risks to the electricity grid that may affect the nation’s economic and national security. Annual costs of weather-related power outages total billions of dollars and may increase with climate change, although resilience investments could help address potential effects, according to the research program. Private companies own most of the electricity grid, but the federal government plays a significant role in promoting grid resilience—the ability to adapt to changing conditions; withstand potentially disruptive events; and, if disrupted, to rapidly recover. DOE, the lead agency for grid resilience efforts, conducts research and provides information and technical assistance to industry. FERC reviews mandatory grid reliability standards. This testimony summarizes GAO’s report on grid resilience to climate change. Specifically, the testimony discusses (1) potential climate change effects on the electricity grid; and (2) actions DOE and FERC have taken since 2014 to enhance electricity grid resilience to climate change effects, and additional actions these agencies could take. GAO reviewed reports and interviewed agency officials and 55 relevant stakeholders.
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- Defense Contracting: Actions Needed to Explore Additional Opportunities to Gain Efficiencies in Acquiring Foreign Language Support
August 24, 2021What GAO FoundDOD has taken some steps to gain efficiencies in its approach to contracting for certain types of foreign language support services and products, but its contracting approach for other types remains fragmented across multiple components, and DOD has not explored whether additional opportunities exist to gain efficiencies across this broader range of contracting activity. In 2005, DOD sought to centralize and standardize contracting efforts for foreign language support by designating the Army as an executive agent to manage contracting in this area. In performing its responsibilities, the executive agent has focused its efforts solely on arranging for contracts to acquire translation and interpretation services for contingency operations because of the rapidly increasing requirements for these services. Specifically, from fiscal year 2008 through 2012, the Army, as executive agent, obligated about $5.2 billion for contracts to provide DOD components with translation and interpretation services for contingency operations. During the same time period, we found that multiple DOD components contracted independently for foreign language support outside of the executive agent’s management. Specifically, to support the needs of contingency operations, predeployment training, and day-to-day military activities, we identified 159 contracting organizations in 10 different DOD components that obligated approximately $1.2 billion on contracts for foreign language support outside of those managed by the executive agent. In some cases, DOD has gained efficiencies by centralizing contracting for certain foreign language support contracts under an executive agent, but DOD has not comprehensively assessed whether additional opportunities exist to gain efficiencies across a broader range of foreign language support contracts. Best practices for service acquisition suggest that DOD’s acquisition approach should provide for an agency-wide view of service contract spending and promote collaboration to leverage buying power across multiple organizations. Implementing such an approach requires an analysis of where an organization is spending its money, which should be the starting point for gaining knowledge that can assist agencies in determining which products and services warrant a more coordinated acquisition approach.8 In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD agreed with our recommendations. DOD also provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which we incorporated, where appropriate. However, DOD has not conducted an analysis of this type to evaluate the whole range of services and products that are currently managed outside the executive agent and determine whether additional efficiencies could be gained. Without a more complete understanding of where the department is spending resources on foreign language support contracts, DOD does not have all of the information it needs to make informed decisions about the types of services and products that could be managed by the executive agent and does not have reasonable assurance that it is fully leveraging its buying power for foreign language support.Why GAO Did This StudyAccording to the Department of Defense (DOD), the ability of U.S. military personnel to communicate and interact with multinational partners, security forces, and local indigenous populations can be critical factors to mission success, as evidenced by operational experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. DOD utilizes language professionals and regional experts within its ranks of military personnel to provide foreign language support, such as foreign language skills, regional expertise, and cultural awareness capabilities needed to execute missions, as well as contracted interpreters and translators who provide this support. To meet increased demands on the need for foreign language support from ongoing contingency operations, DOD has relied on contactors to supplement the capability provided by military personnel. For example, the number of contractor personnel required to provide foreign language translation and interpretation services for contingency operations more than tripled from 2004 to 2010 (from about 4,000 to about 14,000). As of November 2012, the number of contractor personnel required by DOD was approximately 9,000. As a result, DOD has made considerable investments in providing contract support. For example, DOD obligated about $6.8 billion from fiscal years 2008 through 2012 to acquire a variety of foreign language-related services and products to support its forces.We have identified opportunities for DOD to improve its approach to contracting from a broad perspective as well as in areas related to foreign language support. For example, DOD contract management is on our list of high-risk areas in the federal government. In 2013, we noted that DOD needed to take steps to strategically manage the acquisition of services, including developing the data needed to define and measure desired outcomes to improve outcomes on the billions of dollars that DOD spends annually on goods and services. Furthermore, since 2009 we have identified a number of management challenges that DOD has faced in developing a strategic planning process to transform foreign language and regional proficiency capabilities, identifying training requirements, and reducing unnecessary overlap and duplication in foreign language and cultural awareness training products acquired by the military services.We conducted this work in response to a congressional mandate set forth in Section 21 of Public Law 111-139. That legislation requires that we identify government programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives with duplicative goals and activities and report our findings to Congress. Our objective for this report was to determine the extent to which DOD has taken steps to achieve efficiencies in its approach to contracting for foreign language support, and whether additional opportunities exist to gain further efficiencies.
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