Office of the Spokesperson
The below is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met today with Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra in Washington, D.C. Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Hoekstra condemned the atrocities committed by Russia in Bucha and elsewhere in Ukraine, and underscored their support for holding accountable those behind them. They agreed on the need to continue providing security and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and to increase pressure on Russia. The Secretary expressed support for stronger European defense compatible with NATO, and they discussed ways to strengthen European security. The Secretary thanked Foreign Minister Hoekstra for his country’s exemplary cooperation in addressing semiconductor supply chain shortages and energy volatility and emphasized the positive role of U.S.-Netherlands relations in forging a stronger Transatlantic partnership. In anticipation of Dutch-American Friendship Day next week, the Secretary highlighted our shared values, strong economic relations, and outstanding political cooperation.
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken with U.S. Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau Tulinabo S. Mushingi and Senegalese Economy Minister Amadou Hott at an MOU Signing with U.S. Companies
November 20, 2021
- Medicare: Additional Reporting on Key Staffing Information and Stronger Payment Incentives Needed for Skilled Nursing Facilities [Reissued with revisions on Aug. 10, 2021.]
August 11, 2021What GAO Found Medicare covers short-term care for residents in about 15,500 skilled nursing facilities (SNF) after a hospital stay. GAO’s analysis of 2019 staffing data found that almost all SNFs frequently met a federal requirement for a registered nurse (RN) on site for 8 hours per day. Fewer SNFs frequently met two other staffing measures that specify different numbers of nursing hours per resident per day. For example, about half of SNFs frequently met Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) case-mix measures—hours worked per resident that vary based on the medical needs of each SNF’s residents—that CMS uses to set SNF staffing ratings. Further, about one-quarter of SNFs frequently met staffing thresholds for minimum RN and total nurse staffing that a CMS staffing study identified as needed to avoid quality problems. SNFs are not subject to these quality thresholds for ratings or as requirements, but many stakeholders have recommended that they be used as SNF staffing thresholds. Percent of Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs) That Met Registered (RN) Nurse Staffing Requirement or Measures, 2019 CMS reports certain key staffing information—such as RN overall staffing hours—on its Care Compare website, but does not report other important information. For example, GAO found that average RN staffing hours decreased about 40 percent on weekends, but CMS does not directly report this information. This limits the ability of beneficiaries to make informed choices among SNFs when choosing a facility. GAO estimated that in 2018 Medicare spent over $5 billion on critical incidents that CMS defines as potentially preventable—which are mostly about 377,000 hospital readmissions occurring within 30 days of the SNF admission. Current law directs CMS to make reductions of up to 2 percent to certain SNFs’ payments to incentivize them to improve care, but does not address additional reductions. Experts have noted that payment incentives under current law may not be sufficient to motivate SNFs to improve their staffing, which in turn could lead to reductions in critical incidents. Without stronger payment incentives, Medicare is unlikely to reduce the billions in spending on potentially preventable critical incidents or the patient harm that can occur from them. Why GAO Did This Study In 2019, Medicare spent nearly $28 billion on care provided to 1.5 million beneficiaries in SNFs—a type of nursing facilty that provides residents short-term rehabilitation care after a hospital stay rather than long-term nursing home care that Medicare does not cover. SNFs must meet federal standards to participate in Medicare. CMS rates SNFs on factors such as staffing and quality of care and publishes its ratings on the Care Compare website. GAO was asked to examine SNF staffing and rates of critical incidents. This report examines (among other objectives): SNF performance on staffing measures, CMS reporting of staffing information on Care Compare, and Medicare payments for critical incidents. GAO analyzed CMS staffing and critical incidents data, information on Care Compare, and Medicare claims data for 2018 and 2019. GAO also interviewed CMS officials and other stakeholders such as key researchers and beneficiary groups.
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- Secretary Blinken Participates in the Summit for Democracy
December 8, 2021
- Joint Statement on the United States – Iceland Strategic Dialogue
March 2, 2021
- FBI Report on Crime Shows Decline in Violent Crime Rate for Third Consecutive Year
September 28, 2020Today, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released its 2019 edition of Crime in the United States, which showed that violent crime decreased nationwide for the third consecutive year. After decreases in both 2017 and 2018, the violent crime rate dropped an additional one percent this past year and the property crime rate decreased 4.5 percent.
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken to Mission Indonesia Staff
December 14, 2021
- U.S. Department of State Concludes $840,000 Settlement of Alleged Export Violations by Torrey Pines Logic, Inc. and Dr. Leonid B. Volfson
January 31, 2022
- Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau Before Their Meeting
February 26, 2021
- Abusive Tax Schemes: Offshore Insurance Products and Associated Compliance Risks
August 31, 2020Federal law provides certain tax benefits for transactions involving genuine insurance products, including insurance products held offshore. While taxpayers may lawfully hold offshore insurance products, they contain features that make them vulnerable for use in abusive tax schemes. For example, offshore insurance products can be highly technical and individualized, making enforcement challenging, according to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials. Furthermore, insurance is not defined by federal statute, potentially making a determination of what constitutes genuine insurance for federal tax purposes unclear. Offshore micro-captive insurance products, which are made by small insurance companies owned by the businesses they insure, may be abused if the corporate taxpayer improperly claims deductions for payments made to a micro-captive for federal tax purposes. Courts have applied certain considerations to determine whether these deductions can be claimed. For example, one consideration is whether the insurance legitimately distributes risk across participating entities. IRS officials said they expend significant resources reviewing these schemes because of the varied ways insurance companies may work. Offshore variable life insurance products, which are insurance policies with investment components over which the insured has certain control, may be abused if the individual taxpayer fails to meet IRS reporting requirements or pay appropriate federal income taxes. Federal regulations require that taxpayers with certain foreign life insurance accounts report this information to IRS and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The structure of life insurance products may vary and taxpayers are required to pay taxes based on the underlying type of financial product the policy represents. The figure below shows how noncompliance may occur when taxpayers use life insurance and micro-captive insurance in abusive tax schemes. Abusive Use of Micro-captive and Life Insurance When structured in abusive ways, insurance products held offshore can be designed to aid in unlawful tax evasion by U.S. taxpayers. Two products that IRS has recently warned have the potential for such abuse include micro-captive insurance and variable life insurance policies. GAO was asked to review how taxpayers may abuse offshore insurance products. This report describes (1) how offshore insurance tax shelters provide opportunities for income tax abuse; (2) how offshore micro-captive insurance is used and how it is used in abusive tax schemes; and (3) how offshore variable life insurance is used and how it is used in abusive tax schemes. GAO reviewed IRS tax and information return forms, relevant U.S. case law and IRS guidance, academic and trade publications, and applicable statutes and regulations. GAO also interviewed IRS officials and professionals in the tax preparation and insurance industries. For more information, contact Jessica Lucas-Judy at (202) 512-9110 or LucasJudyJ@gao.gov.
- Critical Infrastructure Protection: CISA Should Improve Priority Setting, Stakeholder Involvement, and Threat Information Sharing
March 1, 2022What GAO Found Through the National Critical Infrastructure Prioritization Program, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is to identify a list of systems and assets that, if destroyed or disrupted, would cause national or regional catastrophic effects. Consistent with the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, the program works to annually update and prioritize the list. The program’s list is used to inform the awarding of preparedness grants to states. However, nine of 12 CISA officials and all 10 of the infrastructure stakeholders GAO interviewed questioned the relevance and usefulness of the program. For example, stakeholders identified cyberattacks as among the most prevalent threats they faced but said that the program’s list was not reflective of this threat. Further, according to CISA data, since fiscal year 2017, no more than 14 states (of 56 states and territories) provided updates to the program in any given fiscal year. Ensuring that its process for determining priorities reflects current threats, such as cyberattacks, and incorporates input from additional states would give CISA greater assurance that it and stakeholders are focused on the highest priorities. In 2019, CISA published a set of 55 critical functions of government and the private sector considered vital to the security, economy, and public health and safety of the nation. According to CISA officials, this new National Critical Functions framework is intended to better assess how failures in key systems, assets, components, and technologies may cascade across the 16 critical infrastructure sectors. Examples of critical functions are shown below in CISA’s four broad categories of “connect” (nine of the 55 functions), “distribute” (nine), “manage” (24), and “supply” (13). Examples of Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) National Critical Functions CISA is currently carrying out a process to break down each of the 55 national critical functions (such as “supply water”) into systems (such as “public water systems”) and assets (including infrastructure such as “water treatment plants”), as illustrated below. Examples of Critical Infrastructure Systems and Assets That Support the National Critical Function “Supply Water” CISA plans to integrate the National Critical Functions framework into broader prioritization and risk management efforts, and has already used it to inform key agency actions. For example, CISA used the framework to analyze the impact of COVID-19 on critical infrastructure. Although CISA initiated the functions framework in 2019, most of the federal and nonfederal critical infrastructure stakeholders that GAO interviewed reported being generally uninvolved with, unaware of, or not understanding the goals of the framework. Specifically, stakeholders did not understand how the framework related to prioritizing infrastructure, how it affected planning and operations, or where their particular organizations fell within it. In response, CISA officials stated that stakeholders with local operational responsibilities were the least likely to be familiar with the National Critical Functions, which were intended to improve the analysis and management of cross-sector and national risks. Still, CISA officials acknowledged the need to improve connection between the National Critical Functions framework and local and operational risk management activities and communications. In addition, CISA lacks an available documented framework plan with goals and strategies that describe what it intends to achieve and how. Without such a documented plan, stakeholders’ questions regarding the framework will likely persist. CISA offers physical and cybersecurity assessments to critical infrastructure partners, but the agency’s 2020 reorganization resulted in challenges in communicating and coordinating the delivery of some cybersecurity services. According to regional staff, their ability to effectively coordinate the cybersecurity services that CISA headquarters delivered was impaired because of staff placement following the reorganization. Specifically, staff conducting outreach and offering a suite of cybersecurity assessments to critical infrastructure stakeholders are located in regional offices, while CISA offers additional cyber assessment services using staff from a different division—the Cybersecurity Division—which operates out of headquarters. Addressing these communication and coordination challenges can improve CISA’s cybersecurity support. CISA analyzes and shares threat information related to critical infrastructure; however, stakeholders reported needing more regionally specific information to address those threats. For instance, selected stakeholders that GAO spoke to said that CISA’s threat information helped them to understand the broader threat landscape, such as threats to election security and COVID-19 response efforts. Almost half (12 of 25) of the stakeholders reported needing additional information related to the threats specific to their regions and local infrastructure. Specifically, stakeholders told us that organizations in their regions were primarily concerned with active shooters, chemical spills, or biological attacks and, thus, needed information that was applicable to those threats. Why GAO Did This Study The risk environment for critical infrastructure ranges from extreme weather events to physical and cybersecurity attacks. The majority of critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector, making it vital that the federal government work with the private sector, along with state, local, tribal, and territorial partners. CISA is the lead federal agency responsible for overseeing domestic critical infrastructure protection efforts. GAO was asked to review CISA’s critical infrastructure prioritization activities. This report examines (1) the extent to which the National Critical Infrastructure Prioritization Program currently identifies and prioritizes nationally significant critical infrastructure, (2) CISA’s development of the National Critical Functions framework, and (3) key services and information that CISA provides to mitigate critical infrastructure risks. GAO analyzed agency documentation and conducted interviews with critical infrastructure stakeholders representing the energy, water and wastewater systems, critical manufacturing, and information technology sectors; six of 10 CISA regions; and six states to understand the need for any improvements to CISA’s efforts, among other things. GAO selected these six states based on population size and the amounts of grant awards received from DHS’s State Homeland Security Program.
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- Man Sentenced for Engaging in Illicit Sexual Conduct with Minors in the Republic of Kenya
February 4, 2021A Pennsylvania man was sentenced today to over 15 years in prison plus a lifetime of supervised release, and ordered to pay $16,000 in restitution for engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place.
- Joint Statement by the Foreign Ministers of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
September 26, 2020
- Military Training: DOD Continues to Improve Its Report on the Sustainability of Training Ranges
August 25, 2021Recent operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations around the world have highlighted the need for U.S. forces to train as they intend to fight. Military training ranges provide the primary means to accomplish this goal. The Department of Defense’s (DOD) training ranges vary in size from a few acres, for small arms training, to over a million acres for large maneuver exercises and weapons testing, and include broad open ocean areas for offshore training and testing. New advances in military technology to combat emerging threats in ongoing operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations around the world generate the need to continually update and maintain DOD’s training ranges. Senior DOD and military service officials have reported for some time that they face increasing difficulties in carrying out realistic training at military installations due to outside influences. DOD has defined a number of factors–including air pollution, noise pollution, endangered species, critical habitats and other protected resources, and urban growth around installations–that it says encroach upon its training ranges and capabilities. Because the military faces obstacles in acquiring new training lands, the preservation and sustainment of its current lands are a priority. Sustainable training range management focuses on practices that allow the military to manage its ranges in a way that ensures their usefulness well into the future. As required by section 366(a) of the Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003 (as amended), DOD was to submit a comprehensive plan for using existing authorities available to the department to address training constraints caused by limitations on the use of worldwide military lands, marine areas, and airspace to Congress in fiscal year 2004 with annual progress reports beginning in fiscal year 2005 and extending through 2013. Enclosure I includes the full text of section 366 as amended. As part of the preparation of this plan, the Secretary of Defense was to conduct an assessment of current and future training range requirements and an evaluation of the adequacy of DOD’s current range resources to meet those requirements. The plan was also to include: (1) proposals to enhance training range capabilities and address any shortfalls in resources identified pursuant to that assessment and evaluation; (2) goals and milestones for tracking planned actions and measuring progress; (3) projected funding requirements to implement planned actions; and (4) designation of an office in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and in each of the military departments responsible for overseeing implementation of the plan.DOD reported progress in implementing its comprehensive plan as required by section 366 of the Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003 (as amended), by providing new goals, actions, and milestones for this plan as described above. DOD also reported actions taken or to be taken to address training constraints caused by limitations on the use of military lands, marine areas, and airspace. For example, in the 2010 range assessments, all four of the military services reported increased range capability scores. Also, according to the 2010 sustainable ranges report, regional partnerships have enabled DOD to work successfully with multistate, multiagency teams to address substantial sustainability issues. For example, OSD and military service officials stated that renewable energy development has the potential to significantly impact their ability to train and is a growing area of concern. Coordination with these regional partnerships has allowed DOD to identify and address renewable energy development by seeking compatible land uses that are mutually beneficial to all concerned parties. By forming these partnerships, DOD has taken steps to prevent conflicts between military training and proposed renewable energy development. DOD’s 2010 sustainable ranges report also includes additional updates to the special interest section for each of the services. The special interest section briefly highlights critical issues facing the services regarding range capabilities and encroachment factors. For example, this year the Air Force provides information about the integration of unmanned aerial systems into existing airspace and its efforts to increase flight safety. We previously reported that by highlighting its most pressing range sustainability issues, DOD officials can begin to prioritize the department’s actions to address range issues in the most efficient and effective manner. DOD officials told us the sustainable ranges report will continue to include annual updates to the special interest section regarding general issues relevant to the report.
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- Priority Open Recommendations: Department of Education
July 7, 2021What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified six priority recommendations for the Department of Education. Since then, Education has implemented three of those recommendations by taking action to: (1) raise awareness of the threat of lead in school drinking water and collaborate with EPA to encourage testing; (2) help borrowers in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program better understand eligibility requirements; and (3) improve its cyber risk management framework to better protect the agency’s systems and data. In May 2021, GAO identified four additional priority recommendations for Education, bringing the total number to seven. These recommendations involve the following areas: protecting the investment in higher education and ensuring the well-being and education of the nation’s school-age children. Education’s continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Jackie Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or email@example.com.
- Daughter of Prolific Mexican Cartel Leader Pleads Guilty to Criminal Violation of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act
March 12, 2021A dual U.S.-Mexican citizen pleaded guilty today to willfully engaging in financial dealings with Mexican companies that had been identified as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
- Utah Dentist Found Guilty of Tax Crimes
March 21, 2022A federal jury convicted a Utah man on Thursday of tax evasion, filing false tax returns and impeding the IRS.