Category Archives: Afghanistan

Media Operations Centers in Afghanistan: $7.2Million Build/Suspend and Demolish Projects

– Domani Spero

 

They’re called MOCs or Media Operations Centers (MOCs). We’re building them in Afghanistan.  One State Department grant was for the construction of one MOC at Balkh University for $3,782,980. A second grant was for the construction of another MOC at Nangarhar University for $3,482,348. The grant awards totaled $7,265,328, and the periods of performance for both grants were October 1, 2013, through December 31, 2014.   According to State/OIG, these grants were executed in Afghanistan by Omran Holding Group (OHG) with two subcontractors, Capitalize Omran—a company based in Washington, DC, responsible for managing the overall project—and TriVision Studios, the firm responsible for outfitting the MOCs with broadcasting equipment. Apparently, the contraction construction related to both grants was suspended in January 2014 and has not resumed. On September 18, State/OIG recommended the immediate termination of the two grant agreements. Why?

Based on preliminary results of the audited sample, OIG identified areas of concern related to two construction grants being executed in Afghanistan by Omran Holding Group (OHG) that require immediate attention. These areas of concern include misuse of Government funds, significant noncompliance with Federal regulations, and inaccurate financial reporting. Additionally, OHG failed to comply with the terms of one grant agreement by beginning construction without required design approval, and also began construction of the building in the wrong location. We therefore recommended, among other actions, that the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) immediately terminate grant agreements S-AF200-13-CA-012 and S-AF200-13-CA-014 with OHG, and that the Bureau of Administration’s Office of the Procurement Executive (A/OPE) develop Department guidance regarding the use of Federal assistance funds for overseas construction.

 

So one MOC was constructed without the required design approval:

“The grants required that the recipient develop building designs for the MOCs and that these designs be approved by the Department prior to the commencement of construction. However, OHG “jumped” the construction schedule and began to construct the Balkh University MOC in December 2013, without prior approval from the Department. As a result, certain aspects of the newly constructed structure were not in accordance with the Department’s requirements for the building design.”

The same MOC was constructed in the wrong location, and had to be demolished no later than October 31, 2014.

“OHG began the Balkh University MOC construction in the wrong location, based on the direction of a local Afghan government official who did not have the authority to direct the grantee, resulting in the need to demolish the new structure.” 

How did we end up from design/build to build/demolish?

State/OIG may have an answer:

“OIG also noted concerns related to the Department’s oversight of construction grants, in general. Specifically, the Department had no policies or procedures for awarding or overseeing construction grants, which resulted in ineffective construction grant agreements. For example, the OHG grant agreements lacked details that are normally included in construction contracts, and the terms and conditions were created by the GOR without documented input or approval from Department legal representatives or construction specialists.”

The Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) and the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) concurred with the recommendations with the later noting that the termination letters for each award are currently in the clearance process. A response from the SRAP also notes that the Public Affairs Section (PAS) at embassy Kabul has “obligated more than 975 awards totaling over  $270,000,000  under extraordinarily challenging circumstances.”

Think about that for a moment.

We don’t know how many MOCs have been constructed in Afghanistan, but in January 2013, the State Department announced a $325,000 award for “the completion of the PAS-funded Media Operations Center (MOC) at Herat University”and a maximum award for $200,00 for the  the operation and maintenance of this facility for a period of up to 24 months.  In spring 2013, the US Embassy in Kabul also announced the inauguration of a state-of-the-art Media Operations Center (MOC) at Kabul University.  The Embassy provided a $2.67 million grant to the HUDA Development Organization, to build and equip the Media Operations Center there.

So just to round-up, our precise and active verbs for these Afghanistan projects now include: design, build, suspend,complete, equip, maintain, and demolish. Also terminate.

Although, possibly, terminate is only good until a new grantee can be located to complete these grants.

Read the audit here (pdf) and weep.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Follow the Money, Foreign Assistance, Govt Reports/Documents, Media, Regional Bureaus, State Department, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Kabul

Urgent Afghanistan Message: Need $537 Million, Send Money At Once … or This Week

– Domani Spero

 

WaPo’s Tim Craig reported today that Afghanistan has nearly run out of money:

Afghanistan’s central government is nearly broke and needs a $537 million bailout from the United States and other international donors within “five or six days” to continue paying its bills, a senior Afghan finance official said Tuesday.
[...]
Officials blame the financial woes on the ongoing stalemate over who won the election to replace outgoing President Hamid Karzai.

“We hope they will pay for us, and we are asking at once,” Aqa said of ongoing discussions with the U.S. government and other international donors. “They are asking me when I need it, and I told them this week or we will have a problem.”
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Afghanistan has an annual operating budget of about $7.6 billion, about 65 percent of which comes from international assistance. The current fiscal crunch is a result of a 25 percent shortfall in Afghanistan’s domestic revenue collection from taxes and customs tariffs this year, Aqa said.
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According to the World Bank, Afghanistan will need more than $7 billion annually for the next decade to sustain a functional government, maintain infrastructure and fund the Afghan army and police.

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the U.S. government has appropriated $104 billion rebuilding and supporting the Afghan government, military and public services, according to the Office of the Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.

Read the full story here.

SIGAR John F. Sopko is quoted in the report saying, “The bottom line: It appears we’ve created a government that the Afghans simply cannot afford.”

Zing! We hope they won’t let him go from that job because he said something real and true.

Now, our question is why is the finance minister doing the asking? Why is the Afghan leader, who called Americans “occupiers” is not the one doing the asking for pocket change here?

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See the Blast Crater From Truck Bomb in the Sept 2013 U.S. Consulate Herat Attack

– Domani Spero

 

About a year ago, the U.S. Consulate in Herat was attacked by militants in Afghanistan (see US Consulate Herat Casualties: One Afghan Police, Eight Local Guards Killed and Suicide Bombers Target US Consulate Herat: Locals Reportedly Killed/Wounded, No American Casualties).  The U.S. Consulate in Herat was inaugurated in June 2012 by Deputy Secretary Bill Burns (see Deputy Sec’y Bill Burns Inaugurates U.S. Consulate Herat). The total casualties includes eight members of the Afghan guard force. Seven of the eight killed are listed in the KIA page of the Diplomatic Security Wiki: the five guards, Mohammed Firooz, Mohammed Aref Sediqi, Sayed Ahmed Sadat, Mohammed Ali Ascari, and Mohammed Zoman; the local guard force interpreter Raminone Rastin, and driver, Javid Sarwarri. All  were contract employees.

Diplomatic Security recently published its 2013 report on Political Violence Against Americans and includes the following:

September 13 – Herat, Afghanistan

Taliban-affiliated insurgents attacked the U.S. Consulate using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. Early in the morning, seven insurgents detonated a truck-borne improvised explosive device outside the Consulate’s entrance. The initial explosion was followed by a second vehicle-borne improvised explosive device minutes later. The insurgents, equipped with small-arms, rocket-propelled grenades, and suicide vests, then engaged U.S. and Afghan security personnel in a sustained firefight, lasting approximately 90 minutes. Eight Afghan guard force members were killed in the violence. Two additional third-country national guard force members were injured.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14

Photo via State Department 2013 Political Violence Against Americans (click on image to see pdf)

An August 2014 OIG inspection report of U.S. Mission Afghanistan (separate post later) says that embassy and military officials told inspectors that the consulate “provides tangible proof of the U.S. commitment to the region. Herat—Afghanistan’s third largest city—is located on key transportation routes and serves as a regional center and economic engine for the west.” Excerpt below:

Rebuilding of the badly damaged consulate building is expected to be completed in summer 2014. Consulate employees were relocated to either ISAF’s Camp Arena or to Embassy Kabul.[snip] The embassy estimates the annual operating cost for Herat is approximately $80 million, most of which is devoted to security.

Despite operational challenges, Consulate Herat is the most productive of the platforms in providing email reporting to the embassy but transmits only a few of its own finished cables. At the time of the inspection, the consulate repairs were nearing completion and the embassy was reviewing the security and life support situations prior to moving personnel back. Once the staff returns, the impediments to sending cables directly should disappear.

Consulate Herat covers the four provinces of western Afghanistan bordering Iran and Turkmenistan: Herat, Badghis, Ghor, and Farah. According to U.S. Embassy Kabul, Consulate Herat is currently headed by Consul and U.S. Senior Civilian Representative Eugene Young William Martin (formerly of USCG Karachi, thanks A!).

Below are some DOD photos in the aftermath of the September 13 attack:

A view in front of the U.S. Consulate, occupied by U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, in Herat Province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

A view in front of the U.S. Consulate, occupied by U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, in Herat Province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, egress from a CH-47 Chinook in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sep. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborates with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, egress from a CH-47 Chinook in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sep. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborates with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, carry equipment into the U.S. Consulate in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, carry equipment into the U.S. Consulate in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, unload equipment from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter at the U.S Consulate in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, unload equipment from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter at the U.S Consulate in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

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SIGAR: Not angling for another gov job, movie role, book advance or to be next YouTube hottie

Domani Spero

 

“Unless a piece of information is legitimately classified or otherwise restricted, it ought to be available, even if disclosure is not technically required. And, when disclosure is legally required, as by the IG Act, then agency refusal to provide timely access to the data is intolerable.” — DIG Gene Aloise, SIGAR 

 

Patrol Boat Purchased for the Afghan National Police (SIGAR photo)

A BOAT, A BOAT! Patrol Boat Purchased for the Afghan National Police (SIGAR photo)

A couple of days ago, Gene Aloise, the Deputy Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) was at the CIGIE Federal Audit Executive Council Annual Conference in Virginia and gave a speech on “Transparency—For the IGs and the Public Interest.” He was standing in for John Sopko, the IG, who apparently is still recovering from knee surgery.  Excerpt below:

You may have noticed that many SIGAR reports have made the news. One reason is that we publish, post, tweet, and otherwise publicize virtually everything we do.

Some people are unhappy with the fact we get press coverage, even though our two-person press shop pales in comparison to the squadrons of PR people at Embassy Kabul, ISAF, or DOD. Some people think we’re doing this to attract attention and gratify our egos.

They are mistaken. Neither John nor I are angling for another government job, movie role, book advance, or trying to become the next YouTube sensation.

We simply follow the basic principles that: (1) unless it’s a security risk or classified, we publish it; and(2) if it’s worth publishing, it’s worth publicizing.

We seek publicity because publicity has impact.

Very few Americans have seen the Health and Human Services Department IG reports on billing fraud against Medicare for motorized wheelchairs. But millions of people have had the chance to read, in print or online, the Washington Post’s 4,000-word illustrated story on August 16 that dramatized and humanized the problem.

The Post noted that Medicare has paid out more than $8 billion for motorized wheelchairs for 2.7 million people, even though a large but unknown portion of the payments involved offers of free wheelchairs, recruitment of people with no mobility problems, and prescriptions faked by corrupt doctors or even by scammers using the names of dead doctors.

That’s the kind of story that gets attention. Editorial writers, ordinary citizens, congressional staff, and think-tank researchers pick up on such revelations and weigh in. Members of Congress call hearings and draft legislation. Agency heads eagerly or reluctantly draft responses, policies, and testimony. With any luck, things get better, whether systematically or a bit at a time.

Let’s face it: No matter how good an IG audit, GAO report, or commission finding may be, if it falls into a black hole and molders unnoticed while Washington bustles on, it helps no one.

Widespread dissemination of IG reports can promote the following good outcomes:

  • Publicity brings problems to the attention of senior leaders whose information gatekeepers may not have relayed unwelcome news.
  • Exposing incidents of waste can motivate people to do the right thing, whether sharpening their own performance or calling out problems.
  • Publicity may prompt managers to take corrective action before they get a nasty memo from the boss.
  • Publicity can deter government contractors from cutting corners, using substandard materials, or tolerating unsafe practices if they fear they may not get paid, or be debarred.
  • Publicity can deter fraud. When potential wrongdoers read about a federal civilian, military member, or contractor going to jail and paying big fines for taking kickbacks or bribes, or stealing, or smuggling, they may decide not to give in to temptation.
  • Publicity can encourage people to come forward to the IG community. Some of our best tips and other information have come from senior officials, including generals and ambassadors, who approach us here or in the field, or use the SIGAR fraud hotline.
  • Publicity that points out successes and best practices can encourage agencies to continue improving their own performance, or to follow the example others have set.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, publicizing our work gives the American taxpayer—and congressional appropriators—confidence that someone appointed by the President of the United States is looking out for how their money is spent.

As our friends in the armed services would say, publicity is a force multiplier for the substantive results of your hard work.

When you turn up an important finding that involves serious threats to mission, to lives, to public funds, or the public interest, don’t be shy about spreading the word beyond the usual channels of distribution. It’s legitimate, it’s helpful, and—even if some officials get peeved at you— it’s a public service.

Read the whole thing here.

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Snapshot: Defense Spending in NATO Member States

– Domani Spero

 

On September 2, President Obama arrived in Tallinn, Estonia. From September 4-5, he will be in Wales for the NATO Summit. There will be 60 world leaders, 70 foreign ministers, 70 defence ministers and 28 NATO member countries invited to the UK summit.

According to the CRS, the formal summit agenda is expected to focus on three main issues:

• Enhancing allied readiness and strengthening collective defense and military capabilities, including through increased troop rotations and military exercises in Central and Eastern Europe;

• Marking the conclusion of NATO’s decade-long mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014 and launching a planned follow-on training mission; and

• Enhancing NATO’s support of partner countries outside the alliance, including through a new “Defense Capacity Building Initiative.”

Apparently, also a key discussion that must be had during the summit is the defense spending of member states.  Below via the CRS:

A key question underlying summit deliberations on collective defense will be whether the allies are willing to devote the resources necessary to meet their stated commitments. As such, a primary objective of NATO leaders and U.S. and UK officials, among others, is to secure allied pledges to reverse the ongoing downward trend in allied defense spending.

In 2013, total defense spending by NATO European allies as a percentage of GDP was about 1.6%; just four NATO allies (Estonia, Greece, the UK, and the United States) met the alliance’s goal of spending 2% of GDP on defense (see Appendix for more allied defense spending figures).  Since 2001, the U.S. share of total allied defense spending has grown from 63% to 72%.13 Many analysts and U.S. officials have long asserted that defense spending in many European countries is not only too low; it is also inefficient, with disproportionately high personnel costs coming at the expense of much-needed research, development, and procurement. In 2013, only four allies (France, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States) met a NATO guideline to devote 20% of defense expenditures to the purchase of major equipment, considered a key indicator of the pace of military modernization.

via CRS

via CRS (click on image for larger view)

Follow the NATO Summit Wales 2014 via GOV.UK here.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Budget, Counting Beans, Defense Department, Follow the Money, Foreign Affairs, Obama, Snapshots, U.S. Missions

Meet the New Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan – Daniel Feldman

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department recently announced that Daniel Feldman succeeded Ambassador James Dobbins as the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP).  Ambassador James Dobbins concluded his tenure July 31. The announcement says that SRAP Feldman spent his first official days as SRAP on travel to Kabul, Afghanistan where he “will reinforce President Obama’s message urging both candidates to continue their dialogue on the details of the political framework that they agreed to during Secretary Kerry’s last visit, and to accelerate the ongoing audit of ballots when it resumes August 2.”

 

Below is SRAP Feldman’s official bio via state.gov:

Daniel F. Feldman is the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP). He has served in the S/SRAP office since its creation in 2009, first as deputy and then as principal deputy to Ambassadors Richard Holbrooke, Marc Grossman, and James Dobbins. He has been deeply engaged in all aspects of U.S. policy formulation and implementation for both countries, including overseeing political transition issues, economic growth initiatives, regional integration efforts, international engagement with key partners, strategic communications, and Congressional outreach. For his service in the S/SRAP office, he was awarded the Secretary’s Distinguished Honor Award by Secretary Clinton.

Before reentering government, he was a law partner and co-chair of the international Corporate Social Responsibility group at Foley Hoag LLP, the only such legal practice in the U.S. His previous government experience includes serving as Director of Multilateral and Humanitarian Affairs at the National Security Council in the Clinton Administration, and as Counsel and Communications Adviser to the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

He was Senior Foreign Policy and National Security Advisor to the Kerry presidential campaign in 2004, communications advisor and recount attorney for the Gore campaign in 2000, and a senior campaign advisor to Senator Mark Warner. He helped to found, and subsequently served on the board of, the National Security Network, and is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He has been appointed a White House Fellow and a Henry Luce Scholar, and was a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and on the South African Supreme (Constitutional) Court. He is a graduate of Tufts University, Columbia Law School, and Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School.

 

Last month,Alyssa Ayres, a deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia during 2010–2013 argued that the departure of Ambassador Dobbins was the perfect time to fold SRAP back into the SCA bureau. “A seamless overview of U.S. relations throughout the SCA region, and the impact of the coming drawdown in Afghanistan, would be far easier to accomplish if our focused diplomacy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan was embedded within the South and Central Asia bureau.” SRAP is one of those offices that reports directly to the Secretary of State. Obviously, the SRAP office will remain a separate entity for the next couple of years or the Secretary would not have appointed a new SRAP. Remains to be seen what changes happen after the drawdown, or under a new administration in 2017.

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Snapshot: Afghanistan Provincial Reconstruction Teams

– Domani Spero

 

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the May 20-21, 2012, NATO summit in Chicago expressed agreement to phase out the PRTs in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The July 2014 CRS report also indicates that as of December 1, 2013, 12 PRTs have been transferred to Afghan control, and that the remaining 16 are to be transferred by the end of 2014.  District Support Teams (DSTs), which help district officials provide government services, are to close by the end of 2014 as well.  USAID and CRS calculations put the PRT projects cost (development and local governance) from FY2001 to 2011 at over USD $1.2 billion.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-03

Screen Shot 2014-08-03

 

Below via the CRS:

The PRTs, the concept for which was announced in December 2002, have performed activities ranging from resolving local disputes to coordinating local reconstruction projects, although most U.S.-run PRTs and most PRTs in combat-heavy areas focused on counterinsurgency. Many of the additional U.S.civilian officials deployed to Afghanistan during 2009 and 2010 were based at PRTs, which have facilities, vehicles, and security. Some aid agencies say they felt more secure since the PRT program began,49 but several relief groups did not want to associate with military forces because doing so might taint their perceived neutrality. Virtually all the PRTs, listed in Table 15, were placed under the ISAF mission. Each PRT operated by the United States has had U.S. forces to train Afghan security forces; DOD civil affairs officers; representatives of USAID, State Department, and other agencies; and Afghan government (Interior Ministry) personnel. USAID officers assigned to the PRTs administer PRT reconstruction projects. USAID spending on PRT projects is in the table at the end of this report.
[...]
Despite the benefits, President Karzai consistently criticized the PRTs as holding back Afghan capacity-building and repeatedly called for their abolition as “parallel governing structures.” USAID observers backed some of the criticism, saying that there was little Afghan input into PRT development project decision-making or as contractors for PRT-funded construction.

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John Kerry in Kabul: Brokering an Election Dispute Agreement in Photos

– Domani Spero

 

Via NYT:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Secretary of State John Kerry spent a second day here in the Afghan capital on Saturday shuttling between the top two presidential contenders and the presidential palace in an effort to forge an agreement on how to audit recent elections and preventAfghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power from collapsing.

The two candidates, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, spent the day inside the United States Embassy building holding separate meetings with Mr. Kerry, according to campaign officials. Mr. Kerry then traveled to the palace to talk to President Hamid Karzai. Talks were continuing into early evening without food or drink because of Ramadan, for which Muslims fast during the day. Mr. Kerry complained, jokingly, to Mr. Karzai that his embassy had “starved” him, according to pool reports.

Here are some photos from his latest Kabul trip to broker an election dispute agreement between Abdullah and Ghani.

Stand Together

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appears before reporters with Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah on July 11, 2014, after he arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan for a meeting about steps to resolve the country’s disputed presidential election between him and fellow candidate Ashraf Ghani. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stands with Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani as he addresses reporters on July 11, 2014, after Ghani arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan for a meeting about steps to resolve the country’s disputed presidential election between him and fellow candidate Abdullah Abdullah. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Shake-hands

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Resolve this or no more aid

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Embrace of Rivals

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Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani, left, prepares to embrace rival Abdullah Abdullah, right, at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 12, 2014, after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry helped broker an agreement on a technical and political plan to resolve the disputed outcome of the election between them. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Harder than it looks

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits with Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah, left, and Ashraf Ghani, right, at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 12, 2014, after he helped broker an agreement on a technical and political plan to resolve the disputed outcome of the election between them. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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U.S. Embassy Kabul Construction Bulge: From $625M to $773M, Est. Completion Now Moved to 2016

– Domani Spero

 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently evaluated the construction of U.S. Embassy Kabul due to “broad congressional interest” in the oversight and accountability of U.S. funds used in Afghanistan. The GAO wanted to see what contracts State put in place to construct new U.S. embassy facilities in Kabul starting in 2009; the extent to which construction requirements, cost, or schedule have changed, and the reasons for the changes; and the extent to which the present expansion matches projected needs.

The GAO reports that contract costs for construction have increased by nearly 24 percent, from $625.4 million to $773.9 million as of May 2014.  The original construction completion was to be the end of  summer 2014; the contractual delivery date for all permanent facilities is now anticipated for July 2016.

With the withdrawal of U.S. troops in the horizon, SIGAR recently said that “constraint on oversight of US-funded Afghan reconstruction will only worsen as more US coalition bases close” and that the “ability to monitor, manage & oversee reconstruction programs in Afghanistan will only become more difficult.”

And yet, Embassy Kabul’s permanent facilities—both older and newly-constructed office and apartment buildings—will eventually contain 1,487 desks and 819 beds.  The projected embassy staffing for 2015 is approximately 600 U.S. direct hires and 1,100 locally employed staff.  Without the military support, State would once more end up with potentially contracting its own security and life-support contractors as it did in Iraq.

Excerpt from the GAO report:

From 2002 through 2009, State took several actions to expand the U.S. embassy compound in Kabul. Initially, OBO refurbished the existing office building, built in the 1960s. Additionally, OBO completed the construction of a new chancery office building, staff apartments, and support facilities. As staffing increases continued, the embassy acquired hundreds of shipping containers for temporary offices and housing. The embassy also compressed office space by putting more desks in the new chancery and old existing office building. Today the Kabul embassy compound consists of the original compound on the west side of Great Massoud Road, referred to as the West Compound, and an expansion compound on the east side of Great Massoud Road, referred to as the East Compound.
[...]

Since the two contracts were awarded in 2009 and 2010, construction requirements have changed, costs have increased, and schedules have been extended. OBO’s original construction requirements have changed. In December 2009, OBO added two stories to planned office annex A. In September 2011, after the U.S. and Afghan governments did not reach agreement to transfer the Afghan Ministry of Public Health site to the U.S. government, OBO removed the parking facilities from Contractor 2’s contract. The embassy also requested that OBO reconfigure the existing office building’s second floor. In March 2012 and September 2013, new security upgrades to perimeter walls and guard towers were added. Because of the building alterations, OBO is building space for more desks and beds than originally planned. The new office annexes under construction are to contain 1,237 desks, a nearly 60 percent increase over the 778 desks originally planned. OBO is also building space for 661 beds, about 50 more than originally planned. 

Contract costs for construction have increased by nearly 24 percent, from $625.4 million to $773.9 million as of May 2014. (See table 1 on page 20 of the enclosure.) This $148.5 million cost increase is the result of multiple contract modifications to change construction requirements, including the transfer of construction requirements from the 1st contract to the 2nd contract.1 

The overall project schedule has also been extended. OBO had originally planned to complete all construction on the compound by the end of summer 2014; the contractual delivery date for all permanent facilities is currently July 2016. 
[...]

Factors affecting the project include: 

    • Increases in numbers and changes in composition of embassy staffing requirements. 
    • Risks introduced by State during planning, such as awarding contracts before the Afghan Ministry of Public Health site was fully acquired and tightly sequencing the work of two contractors on one construction site. 
    • Constructing new facilities on an occupied compound in a conflict environment. 
    • Contractor performance delays and transfer of construction requirements from one contract to another. 
    • Delays and changes to shipping routes of building materials due to difficulties with shipments transiting through Pakistan. 
Via GAO

Via GAO

We’ve seen this before, haven’t we?

It is difficult to determine whether current projects and existing facilities will meet future embassy needs. Long-term construction has been occurring in an unpredictable political and security environment characterized by dramatic changes in U.S. staff levels. Additionally, as the U.S. military draws down its presence in Afghanistan, State will have to decide whether to close its facilities in the field or engage support contractors to replace life-support services currently provided by the military, such as food, water, fuel, and medical services. Such changes may affect embassy staffing and operations. Future composition of U.S. agencies, staffing levels, and embassy facility needs continue to be subject to change.

Once current contracts are completed, the Kabul embassy’s permanent facilities—both older and newly-constructed office and apartment buildings—are to contain 1,487 desks and 819 beds. These totals do not include any desks or beds within temporary offices and housing that State expects to demolish. Furthermore, the desk totals assume that compressed office areas in currently crowded office buildings will be alleviated as some staff move out of those areas and into the newly completed office annexes. 

Projected embassy staffing for 2015 is approximately 600 U.S. direct hires and 1,100 locally employed staff. State is working to identify its and other agencies’ desk positions (both U.S. direct hires and locally employed staff) that will occupy the new office space. State is also examining how to accommodate new support contractors—either on or off compound—that may be used to provide needed services after the U.S. military departs Afghanistan. 

State is conducting a master planning study, due in August 2014, to address on-compound facility needs unmet by current construction. That plan may address parking facilities that were removed from the current construction project. State is also considering the continued use of various leased off-compound facilities in the future.

 

Read the full report here (pdf).

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Filed under Afghanistan, Budget, Congress, Construction, Follow the Money, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, New Embassy Compound, Pakistan, State Department, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Kabul, War

Former FSO Candace Faber on Coming Home With the Maladies of War

– Domani Spero

Candace Faber joined the Foreign Service when she was twenty-four. She learned Dari, Polish, and Russian. At twenty-eight, she was off to Afghanistan where she spent a year at a “a tiny, crowded, dysfunctional world—one we could not leave.”  She wrote that she “often fantasized about walking off compound, just like Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl did in Paktika. In my imagination, even the Taliban seemed kinder than my colleagues.”

She was thirty years old when she resigned from the the FS.

Via Candace Faber on Medium – The Other Veterans:

[S]eeing them take this woman’s very real suffering so lightly, dismissing both her service and her fears as a woman, did more than hurt. It invalidated my own experience.

If a military veteran on a PRT had no right to struggle with readjustment, then by comparison, my year at the U.S. embassy compound in Kabul was a joke. My closest brush with terrorism was a distribution of children’s books I attended in Logar Province, pulling schoolchildren, government officials, and journalists together in a single building. The next day, that building was attacked by a vehicle-borne IED, and two of my colleagues were injured. I was shaken, but I wasn’t there. I also wasn’t there during the September 10 attacks, a fact that only seemed to invalidate my experience further.

In my mind and that of my colleagues, neither that woman nor I had the right to struggle with our transition. There was no excuse save PTSD, and I didn’t have that. I couldn’t have it. I wasn’t a veteran.
[...]
It has been a hard journey, as everyone close to me can attest. Resignation has also had financial consequences. But money matters very little compared to having my mental health back. As of today, I have not had an anxiety attack in months. I credit psychotherapy for my recovery. The only question in my mind is why it took so long for me to get help—and why no one in the Department of State, not even when I announced my intention to resign, suggested the option. Instead, I suffered alone for a year and a half, convinced that I was simply a broken person who could never be put back together again. All of that could have been avoided.

 

Ms. Faber notes that “the paper-based screening” given to her in Kabul was very limited.   “This seems like more of a way to shield the Foreign Service from liability than a good faith effort to support its corps.” She suggested that this should be replaced with in-person screening at appropriate intervals.

Once more, we’re hearing about the security clearance process; she writes, “the federal security clearance process must get rid of its prejudice against mental health treatment, which deters people from seeking the care they need. There is a double standard here: If you are physically wounded in action, you are a hero. But if you come back from a theater of war psychologically broken, wired to treat everyone as a threat, and angry at the world, you cannot seek help without risking your security clearance—and with it, your job.”

Read in full here.

Below are some of our previous blog posts on mental health, PTSD, security clearance and the State Department’s programs:

 

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Filed under Afghanistan, Americans Abroad, Foreign Service, FSOs, MED, Mental Health, PTSD, Realities of the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions, War