Category Archives: Budget

Cuban Twitter: Short Message Service for Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan?

– Domani Spero

The month of April started off with a bang for USAID!  We saw the Twitter Cubano story first, and then there’s USAID’s reportedly $1billion a year “DARPA-like” innovation lab.  Also SIGAR John Sopko accused USAID of cover up in Afghanistan. And no, USAID Administrator is not going to New Delhi as the next US Ambassador to India. We were seriously intrigued by  the ZunZuneo story, the secret Cuban Twitter reported by the Associated Press. Can you blame us?

 

We thought the Associated Press did a great investigative piece. Sorry, we are not convinced that this was ‘breathlessly written.’

In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.

McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company’s ties to the U.S. government.

McSpedon didn’t work for the CIA. This was a program paid for and run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid.

For a look on how much the U.S. Government spent on Cuban Democracy between 1996-2011, see a snapshot of the funding here.

In an interview with Popular Science, USAID’s Administrator, Rajiv Shah, who led USAID through the program, defended it.

“One of the areas we work in is in the area of rights protection and accountability,” Shah said. The highest-level official named in the AP documents is a mid-level manager named Joe McSpedon.

But Shah—despite the fact that the program was unknown to the public—said the idea that ZunZuneo was a covert operation is “inaccurate,” and pointed out that there are other USAID programs that require secrecy, such as protecting the identities of humanitarian workers in Syria. “These projects are notified to Congress and the subject of a thorough accountability report,” he said.

 

The AP story mentions two USAID connected companies: Creative Associates International as contractor and Denver-based Mobile Accord Inc. as one of the subcontractors.

According to Denver Business Journal, Mobile Accord is the parent organization of the mGive business, which helps nonprofits raise donation via text message, and of the GeoPoll business handling opinion surveys in developing nations.

The Guardian reports that the money that Creative Associates spent on ZunZuneo was “publicly earmarked for an unspecified project in Pakistan, government data show. But there is no indication of where the funds were actually spent.”

So we went digging over at USASpending.gov. The first contract we located is a State Department contract with Mobile Accord in the amount of $969,000 and signed on September 18, 2009.  The contract description says: “Short Message Service Support to Be Provided to Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of PAKISTAN.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-04

 

The second contract also with Mobile Accord in the amount of $720,000 was signed in July 8, 2010:

Screen Shot 2014-04-04

So if Twitter Cubano was not a “covert”operation, what’s this over $1.6 million contract between the State Department and Mobile Accord for the Northwest Frontier Pakistan about?  The folks who prepared this data for USASpending.gov did not really intend to be inaccurate with this public information, right?  They just inadvetently spelled ‘Cuba’ as ‘Northwest Frontier Pakistan.’

And this is the official version of  ‘truth in reporting”as public service? What you don’t know can’t harm you?

If this money actually went to Twitter Cubano, and was hidden in plain sight, how are we to believe the accuracy of the data we see on the USASpending website?

Where else do we have similar projects for democracy promotion and/or regime change if possible, do you know?

* * *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta
About these ads

1 Comment

Filed under Budget, Congress, Counting Beans, Follow the Money, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Assistance, Foreign Policy, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Pakistan, Social Media, State Department, Technology and Work, USAID

Snapshot: Cuba Democracy Funding to State and USAID – FY1996-2011

– Domani Spero

The Associated Press recently produced an investigative piece on ZunZuneo, a Twitter Cubano reportedly aimed at undermining the socialist government in Cuba that was managed by USAID.

The official government response cited a GAO report from 2013 which make no mention of ZunZeneo. The report, however, provides a snapshot of how much we have spent on the Cuba Democracy project from 1996-2011. Ay mucho dinero:

In fiscal years 1996 through 2011, Congress appropriated $205 million for Cuba democracy assistance, appropriating 87 percent of these funds since 2004. Increased funding for Cuba democracy assistance was recommended by the interagency Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which was established by President George W. Bush in 2003.13 Program funding, which peaked in 2008 with appropriations totaling $44.4 million, has ranged between $15 and $20 million per year during fiscal years 2009 through 2012. For fiscal year 2013, USAID and State reduced their combined funding request to $15 million, citing operational challenges to assistance efforts in Cuba.14

In fiscal years 1996 through 2011, $138.2 million of Cuba democracy funds were allocated to USAID and $52.3 million were allocated to State. (see GAO report pdf).

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-03

* * *

Enhanced by Zemanta

Leave a comment

Filed under Budget, Congress, Counting Beans, Follow the Money, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Govt Reports/Documents, Snapshots, State Department, U.S. Missions, USAID

Dear Future D/MR Heather Higginbottom — Your Third Priority Up Close With Prospective Savings

– Domani Spero

We would guess from the kind of email we get that a good number of our readers are not newbies or prospective employees of the State Department.  But every now and then, we’d hear from folks interested in joining the Foreign Service.  Recently, we heard from a prospective employee informing us that there are 600 individuals currently waiting on the State Department “Register.”

“Some have even lost their jobs after having Diplomatic Security show up to interview their supervisors and coworkers, only to be timed off the register for lack of hiring.”

Of course, being on the Register does not guarantee that you will be given a firm offer of employment.  But it means that 600 people have taken and passed the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT), have submitted their Personal Narratives, have passed the QEP and taken the Oral Assessment, have completed the required clearances: Medical and Security, have gone through the  Final Review Panel and are waiting on The Register, the rank-ordered list of successful candidates, sorted by career track.

Here is careers.state.gov:

“You should be aware that your placement on the Register does not guarantee an appointment as a Foreign Service Officer, for the number of appointments depends on the needs of the Foreign Service. Your rank-order on the Register is dynamic. People with higher scores will be placed above you regardless of when they are placed on the Register. Likewise, you will be placed above candidates with lower scores, regardless of how long they have been on the Register. Your name may stay in the Register for a maximum of 18 months. After that, your name will be removed. You may decline the first offer of employment. If you decline a second offer, your name will be removed from the Register. “

Screen Shot 2013-12-08

But … but… the State Department makes no mention that invitation to join the Foreign Service not only depends on the “needs of the Foreign Service” it also depends on funding from Congress.

Below is an extract from FY2014 State and Foreign Operations Budget Request:

The Administration’s FY2014 request seeks to grow its Human Resources account (under Diplomatic & Consular Programs) by 5% over its FY2012 level, to a total of $2.60 billion. While the Administration’s FY2014 request indicates that it plans 186 new positions at the Department of State altogether, 151 of these would be funded by consular fees and devoted to meeting increasing visa demand. The remaining 35 new positions (30 Foreign Service, 5 Civil Service) for which State seeks appropriated funding would be focused on the high priorities of the “rebalance” to Asia, and to staffing the Secretary’s Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues. As a point of comparison, the State Department requested appropriated funding for 121 new positions in its FY2013 request, and for 133 in its FY2012 request.

It is not clear from the justification above if the 186 new positions are FSOs or Limited Career Appointees (LNAs) tasked to handle visa work in selected places around the globe (Brazil, China, Mexico).  But what is clear is given the budget constraints, officials at the State Department know that their authority to hire new employees is severely restricted.

And yet, the FSOT continue to be administered multiple times a year.  Interviews continue to be conducted. The selection process continue to chug along as usual resulting in a glut of candidates waiting on the Register.  A good number of these individuals will most probably time out after 18 months.

So we asked a former State Department official who previously worked at BEX if this makes sense.  And got a royal scolding. Like, “what planet are you living in, girl?” Apparently, it’s what they do “free from reality” according to our source.

“It means little if there are 10 or 10,000 on the register. Also, all those people in HR and DS have to be kept busy, so they march on.”

That’s a little harsh, right?

But look,  if 600 people are sitting on the Register, that’s 600 candidates ready to hire.  Which also means the State Department had already paid for the medical examination of these individuals.  In addition, it had already conducted “a comprehensive background investigation, in cooperation with other federal, state, and local agencies, and has determined each candidate’s suitability for appointment to the Foreign Service and for a Top Secret security clearance.”

According to the GAO, the fiscal year 2012 base price for a top secret clearance investigation conducted by OPM is $4,005 and the periodic reinvestigation is $2,711.  For the State Department, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Personnel Security and Suitability, conducts all national agency and credit history checks in support of their investigations. Diplomatic Security investigators located worldwide also conduct all other investigative leads, which includes local law enforcement checks. While there is no readily available data on the TS clearance adjudications for State, it has been suggested elsewhere that the the average cost to process a TS clearance is between $3,000 and about $15,000, depending upon individual factors.

If we take the lower figure, $6,700 X 600 = $4,020,000.

If we take the upper figure, $15,000 X = $9,000,000.

The actual cost of processing the TS clearance for 600 candidates sitting on the Register is probably somewhere in the middle.  Add the medical clearance cost for the candidates and family members and you got quite a pile of money there.

If we only hire a third from that pool of candidates, how much money have we wasted?

President Obama recently announced the nomination of Heather Higginbottom, the new Counselor in the Office of the Secretary of State to be the third Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources. During her November confirmation hearing, Ms. Higginbottom told the Senate that her third priority, if confirmed, will be management, reform, and innovation.

Well, here’s one place to start.

* * *

Leave a comment

Filed under Budget, Congress, Counting Beans, Foreign Service, FSOs, Govt Reports/Documents, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department

Welcome Back, State/OIG, We’ve Missed You!

– By Domani Spero

On September 30, Mr. Linick’s first day in office, we posted this:  Senate Confirms Steve Linick; State Dept Finally Gets an Inspector General After 2,066 Days.

One day later, he lost 65% of his entire staff. State Dept Declares Inspector General Office “Non-Essential”, Furloughs All Staffers Except a Handful (Corrected).

In one of its six offices (Inspection, Audit, Investigation, General Counsel, Public Affairs and EX) four out of approximately 50 employees were declared “excepted.”  The rest were given letters notifying them that they had been furloughed. So on Tuesday, the first day of the shutdown, the State/OIG employees worked no more than four hours to “shutdown” then went home for an undetermined period of time.  They’re back at work today but we fear that the 16-day furlough will have a demoralizing impact.

Besides the IG office, the International Water Boundary Commission was also furloughed. The total number of employees furloughed by State, a number hard to come by, was reportedly in the low hundreds.

The Cable’s John Hudson who puts the number at about 340 employees, reports that this “disproportionate furlough allotment has led critics to accuse the department of undervaluing the watchdog office, though the department strongly disputes that.”

“On day one, they sent home the IG’s office without knowing how long the shutdown would last,” a Congressional staffer familiar with State’s shutdown planning told The Cable. “I think the Department’s action speaks for itself about its commitment to transparency, accountability, and oversight.”

But State’s IG spokesman Douglas Welty denied the allegation. “OIG does not feel ‘targeted’ or ‘undervalued’ at all,” he said. “While there was certainly a significant impact on OIG operations with about 65% of our staff furloughed due to the government shutdown, work on several priority issues and projects continued.”

That may be, but as The Cable notes, “the optics of OIG taking a disproportionate share of the furloughs isn’t great for an office with a history of being marginalized.”

We were told that while it was “a challenge” to have about 65% of OIG staff furloughed one day after Mr. Linick started as the Inspector General, some critical work did continue.  For instance, the Office of Audits excepted staff did continue work on financial statement audits, as well as those working on projects and investigations in the Middle East Region Office (MERO).  The MERO Directorate is responsible for performing engagements within the Middle East and South and Central Asia, in addition to the general operation of overseas offices in Kabul Afghanistan; Islamabad, Pakistan; and Baghdad, Iraq.  However, several overseas and domestic inspections have been delayed.  The exceptions were two overseas inspections that did continue despite the shutdown because they were already in the field.

Screen Shot 2013-10-17 at 8.47.17 PM

If you want the upside here, it is probably that while Mr. Linick’s transition has not been smooth, the last two weeks did give him time to meet with his senior staff (at least those not furloughed) and get a thorough briefings on OIG’s structure, operations and priority issues.  The downside, of course, is — the new kid in the block was in no position to make the case for continued operation when he just got there. And what a reception!    On a related note, Emilia Disanto has been appointed Acting Deputy Inspector General as of October 1. Karen Ouzts is the new Assistant Inspector General for Administration, with appointment date of  September 4, 2013. And  Norman P. Brown, the Acting Assistant Inspector General for Audits was appointed to his position on September 13, 2013.

Now —  we understand that the reason why the OIG was furloughed was due to its annual fiscal year funding, as opposed to multi-year or no-year funding for the rest of the State Department.  Of all the many offices at State, OIG is one of the very few offices with one-year funding.  But since the OIG is tasked with investigating fraud, waste and mismanagement of an agency with multi-year/no-year funds, wouldn’t it make sense that its funding corresponds/mirrors with the designated Federal entity’s funding to which the Inspector General reports? So if State has multi-year funding, shouldn’t State/OIG ought to have multi-year funding, too?

Something to watch out for when State/OIG, a statutorily created independent entity, makes its 2015 Congressional Budget Justification. For now we just want to say —

🎈🎈🎈

Welcome back folks, we’ve missed you!

🎈🎈🎈

Leave a comment

Filed under Budget, Congress, Follow the Money, Huh? News, State Department

State Dept’s Made in the USA Glass Stemware Makes News on Shutdown Week

– By Domani Spero

In April 2010, this made the news: Not Made in the USA Glass Stemware Causes Not-So-Diplomatic Protest.  This week, the glass stemware controversy returned for another news splash.  The Cable reports that the State Dept Defends Its $5 Million Order for Hand-Crafted Glassware.

Apparently, according to The Cable, Congress is asking the State Department for specifics about a recent $5 million contract for handcrafted glasses for use in embassies around the world.

The order with a potential five-year contract covers “20 different styles of custom handcrafted stem and barware from the Vermont-based glassblowing company Simon Pearce.”  The Daily Mail says this includes 12,000 pieces of stemware for American embassies from a company that makes hand blown crystal that retails for up to $85-per-wine glass. Even the Wine Spectator covered the need for quality stemware here.

Below is an excerpt from Valley News on how this contract was “re-competed”:

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Agencies, which oversees State Department funding, was instrumental in helping Simon Pearce get the contract. Leahy wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry in support of the bid by Simon Pearce, a news release says.

“It is wonderful to have such an exquisite example of Vermont craftsmanship on display and in use in our embassies around the world,” Leahy said in the release. “Marcelle and I have visited many of those embassies, and knowing that Simon Pearce’s products will be there is something that all Vermonters should be proud of,” Leahy said.

A State Department official, speaking on background, told The Cable that neither the order nor the timing is unusual:  “It’s not unusual for lots of contracts to be awarded by the end of the fiscal year.” 

The Cable quotes one Hill aide who was less than happy with this contract. “Seems like a poor use of funds given the current budget environment.” 

Aah! Aah! Aah!  Wanna bet that the Hill aide was not Senator Leahy’s. Okay.

Today is Day 11 of the shutdown but just a couple of weeks ago was “use it or lose it” week. In many cases, agencies must spend all their allotted funds by September 30, the end of the fiscal year.  If they don’t, they lose the money, or Congress could cut short their future funding.  So agencies are certainly incentivized to spend.  Jeffrey B. Liebman and Neale Mahoney who did a 2010 paper on Do Expiring Budgets Lead to Wasteful Year-End Spending? noted that “spending spikes in all major federal agencies during the 52nd week of the year as the agencies rush to exhaust expiring budget authority.”

Apparently, some contractors even make 25% of their annual business on that 52nd week alone.  The last week of September — AKA: the end-of-year spending binge, the Flush, or just Christmas in September.

If you think State is the only one doing this, get ready for a booo!

WaPo details some of the end of year binges in late September:

  • The Department of Veterans Affairs bought $562,000 worth of artwork.
  • The Agriculture Department spent $144,000 on toner cartridges.
  • The Coast Guard spent $178,000 on “Cubicle Furniture Rehab.”

According to Feds here, government offices in their equivalent of shop till you drop week, bought three years worth of staples. What the what?  One office purchased 10 portable generators “that just sit there.” One department reportedly bought some flat screen TVs “which are not used, just big shiny black wall decorations.”

One from the National Guard said, “We had to go to the range every year to expend all of our remaining ammunition. It was fun for a while, but we were firing so much that it became tedious. When you get BORED from shooting MACHINE GUNS, there is a problem.”

The Washington Times reported that in the waning months of the 2012 fiscal year, the Navy paid $51,000 for clarinets and $21,000 for an organ. The Army spent $40,000 on violins. And the Army National Guard reportedly bought $18,000 worth of coffee mugs for recruitment.

This year, we saw some more interesting purchases in kind and volume during the last week of September.  The U.S. Navy spent $135,330.67 for book and overhead scanners. The U.S. Army spent $16,597.46 for kettlebells. The Department of Veterans Affairs spent $48,953.58 on trash cans. The Department of Homeland Security used $213,879.72 to leased copiers.

And oh, the U.S. Army spent $4,152,000.00 to purchase GUNS, OVER 30MM UP TO 75MM.

Perhaps the more interesting purchases are $50,937.3 for an E-1 Between US Embassy, Paris, France and Elysee Palace, Paris, France by the Defense Information Systems Agency and $409,305.47 for a Catholic Priest by the Department of the Army, a firm-fixed-priced contract with a base period of one year beginning 1 October 2013 plus four one-year option periods.

Surprised? Me, too.

Anyway, it has been suggested even by the Feds that agencies be allowed to roll over their funds for next year’s funding. But the Liebman-Mahoney paper suggests that “even with rollover authority, there remain incentives for agencies to use up their full allocation of funding. Large balances carried over from one period to another are likely to be interpreted by OMB and Congressional appropriators as a signal that budget resources are excessive and lead to reduced budgets in subsequent periods.”

Given that Continuing Resolutions have now become the norm rather than the exception,  the propensity to hoard funds or to shop till you drop when funds are available is not going to get any better.  The solution might be to regularized funding and not to penalized agencies when they are unable to spend all their allocated funds.

But what do we know.  That’s the way it’s been for a long time now.  And since Congress is busy with some CC or Continuing Craziness of their own making, we are not hopeful that they will find a solution that works soon. For now, the Hill aide can continue being “less than enthused” because obviously there’s no fault in the Congress’ stars.

($_$)

Leave a comment

Filed under Budget, Congress, Counting Beans, Diplomatic Life, Follow the Money, Foreign Affairs, Govt Reports/Documents, Leaks|Controversies, State Department, U.S. Missions

State Department’s Magic Number on the Furloughs?

– By Domani Spero

Via the October 7 Daily Press Brief with Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf:

QUESTION: We have some congressional sources who are telling us that the magic number on the furloughs at State is 343, half of them being – 179 – being from OIG, the Office of Inspector General. Can you confirm those numbers for me?

MS. HARF: Well, I can say that we currently have, I would say, hundreds of employees furloughed. Again, as we’ve said, it’s a small number. We talked about that some are from the Office of the Inspector General; some are from another office as we’ve talked about as well. And I would underscore that every day this goes on longer, we risk having that number go up to the thousands. Thankfully, we’re not there yet. But every day this goes on longer we get closer.

Via WordItOut

QUESTION: So can give us any –

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I’m sorry, just one quick follow-up.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about any upcoming impacts that might happen, say, later this week or next week if this thing drags on?

MS. HARF: I don’t have a timeline. I think this was where Elise was about to go. I don’t have a timeline for when furloughs might happen. No additional steps to announce at this point. As we’ve said, we’ve sharply curtailed travel, participation in conferences, public participation, and other events. That’s happening – that’s already started happening, was happening last week, but nothing new on top of that to announce at this point.

As of October 7, AFSA is telling members that “Bureaus, with the exception of the OIG, have yet to notify any employees of their excepted/non-excepted status.”  It reiterated once more that the Department “intends to provide some notice before any emergency furloughs.”

(o_O)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under AFSA, Budget, Congress, Foreign Affairs, Staffing the FS, State Department

State Dept Declares Inspector General Office “Non-Essential”, Furloughs All Staffers Except a Handful (Corrected)

– By Domani Spero

 

The State Department Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy sent a letter to employees on September 30 reiterating, that “Department offices, bureaus, and State elements at our posts overseas will continue to function for a limited period of time.

In the September 30 Daily Press Briefing (DPB), State Department was going to stay open despite the shutdown.  (See Shutdown News:  State Department Stays Open and Operational. For Now.)

The MGT memo and the October 1 DPB now indicates that “a small number of offices” will be impacted initially by the shutdown.

When pressed for the affected offices, Ms. Psaki promised to get “a specific list.” But she added that “the way that it’s categorized, the impacted offices are those that operate with one-year funds that do not have available carryover funds to sustain operations. So they don’t have funds from the previous fiscal year and they are on one-year funding mechanisms.”

QUESTION: I’m just concerned, when you said they’ll be – continue to function for a time, I know you wouldn’t give weeks or days. But if I’m overseas and I need to see somebody at the embassy, I better get myself there right away?
[...]
QUESTION: What does “for a time” mean? I mean, “for a time” could be anything, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I separated –

QUESTION: I mean, you said –

MS. PSAKI: Let me just finish. I separated out that as – the consular services as – I think as I said, since consular operations are fee-funded, there is significantly less chance at any point those individuals will be furloughed. And passport and consular services are fee-funded, which means they pay for themselves. So obviously, those operations will continue. Now, we can’t predict how long this will continue, so I’m just conveying that we’re taking it day by day.

We were looking for some clarity like this:

“SIGAR’s FY 2013 Appropriations provided $48.04M (post sequestration)5 in funds as multi-year funds. At present, SIGAR is projecting a carryover of$7.9M in unobligated funding to FY 2014, which will remain available through September 30, 2014. SIGAR will use this funding to delay the large disruption a lapse in funding would cause to SIGAR’s employees and operations. SIGAR projects the available funding will sustain current operations through December I, 2013 (61 days).”

We hope such clarity is forthcoming from the podium but we’re not holding our breath.  So folks will be left guessing how long the carryover funds will last for the rest of the agency.

In any case, Ms. Psaki was also asked about furloughed employees:

QUESTION: Were there any employees that, let’s say, came today and had to leave after four hours, like was suggested by some?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I referred to just a minimal number impacted by one-year funded programs. But the vast majority of employees reported to work today, are here today. Given that we are part of – we are a national security agency and we represent American interests around the world, that’s where our staffing levels are at this point.

QUESTION: So it’s safe to assume that some people did come to work, spent two or three hours, and then were asked to go home?

MS. PSAKI: I did not imply that. I think there’s a small, minimal number that are impacted by the one-year programs. That’s – beyond that, I don’t have specific numbers.

We just don’t understand this.  How hard is it to admit that yes, some employees had been furloughed?  Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

The State Department’s Office of Inspector General (State/OIG) has approximately 50 200 employees.  In one of its six offices (Inspection, Audit, Investigation, General Counsel, Public Affairs and EX) four out of approximately 50 employees were declared “excepted.”  The rest were given letters notifying them that they had been furloughed. So on Tuesday, the first day of the shutdown, the State/OIG employees worked no more than four hours to “shutdown” then went home for an undetermined period of time.  We understand that all inspections (save one already in the field) have been suspended.

That’s right.  The office entrusted with ensuring that waste, fraud, and abuse does not occur within the Department was deemed “non-essential” and sent home without pay.  (Also see Senate Confirms Steve Linick; State Dept Finally Gets an Inspector General After 2,066 Days).

Correction:  State/OIG’s Inspection branch has approximately 65 employees; adding the number of staffers from Audit, Investigation and other units we are told totals approximately 200 employees. One branch has four employees designated as “excepted” out of 50 employees.  We are guesstimating that about 10-12% of the total IG staff has been declared “excepted.” We will update the numbers if we get further clarification, officially or unofficially.  The blogpost title has been corrected.  

By contrast, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), also in the national security cone, has all its staff in Washington, DC and Afghanistan working normal.  That’s a staff of about 190 including 50 deployed to the war zone considered “”emergency essential” (EE) personnel.”

In any case, everything else is reportedly open and operational in the State Department including the Foreign Service Institute. It looks like State/OIG was the only exception, so the spokesperson’s “specific list” should be very short. Most other offices are apparently on two-year funding which we are told should last (unconfirmed officially) “until next week.”

AFSA’s update to members cited an unnamed Department management official conveying to HR employees that “there appeared to be enough funds to continue operations for approximately one pay period.”  Furthermore, the Department will reportedly try to provide ample notice (e.g. approximately 5 business days) to non-excepted employees before any emergency furlough. Also, bureaus (with exception of OIG) have not scrubbed their excepted/non-excepted lists nor notified any employees of their individual status.

(*O*)

Leave a comment

Filed under AFSA, Budget, Congress, Federal Agencies, Follow the Money, Foreign Affairs, Huh? News, State Department

Shutdown News: State Department Stays Open and Operational. For Now.

– By Domani Spero

Shortly before midnight, OPM released a statement ordering federal agencies to execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations. During the DPB the day before the shutdown, the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki stated that State/USAID operation can be “sustained” for a limited duration in the event of a shutdown:

[R]egardless of the challenges a shutdown would create, we will continue to operate to advance national interests and to protect health and safety of American citizens and those living abroad. 

If appropriations are not continued, so if the government shuts down, initially Department of State and USAID activities can be sustained on a limited basis for a short period of time. I don’t have the specific number of days because it’s dependent on our programs and spending, so I can’t give you the prediction of the number of days.

Ms. Psaki asked specifically about “any immediate kind of furloughs” said: “I will have to double-check and make sure that the answer is zero. But I can convey definitively that the vast, vast majority of staff will not be…”

So it looks like, at least, for now, the State Department will remain open and operational and no employees will be put on furloughs. (If you are with State/USAID and have received a furlough letter, give us a shout here).

How is this possible?

If there is no continuing resolution or new FY 2014 appropriations bill by October 1, 2013, certain Department of State and USAID operations can continue on a limited basis for a short period of time.  At least, that’s what will happen initially.  According to State, its FY 2013 appropriations were not enacted by Congress until late March causing uncertainty about the agency’s funding levels. The result was a reduction of agency spending for the first part of FY 2013.  So certain multi-year State Department and USAID accounts have residual funds that will be available after September 30, 2013.  These funds will allow the Department and USAID to continue to meet most payroll obligations for a short period of time.

How short a period of time, the spokesperson is unable to say.

In the 1995 shutdown, non-essential government workers were put on furlough and the government suspended non-essential services from November 14 through November 19, 1995 and from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 1996, for a total of 28 days. During that shutdown, 20,000-30,000 visa applications went unprocessed each day, as did 200,000 U.S. passport applications for the period.  There were no numbers but this reportedly deeply impacted the tourism and travel sectors of the economy.”

That’s not happening this time around.

The State Department spokesman said yesterday that “activities carry out by our – by the Bureau of Consular Affairs will continue domestically and abroad. So that means they will continue visa issuance as well as our passport operations.”

There’s another reason why State may be able to sustain its operation even in a shutdown, at least for a limited time. Its public services like visa and passport issuances are now fee-based.  When you apply for a passport or a visa, or obtain other consular services overseas, you pay a fee and that helps fund the programs. Processing fee for regular tourist and student visa is currently $160.00. Passport books and cards range in fee from $30 – $165.

In FY 2012, the State Department processed 10.3 million non-immigrant visa applications and issued 8.9 million visas, including 497,044 student and 313,424 exchange visitor visas.  These international students reportedly contributed over $22.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2011. In FY 2012, the State Department also issued 13.1 million passports and passport cards.

The State Department’s passport and visa operations generated approximately $3.14 billion in consular fee revenue in FY2012.  It retained 78% or $2.45 billion of the total revenue.  The retained fees were shared among its regional and functional bureaus. See breakdown below.

Screen Shot 2013-08-12

Prior to 1994, the Department did not retain any of the consular fees collected. Subsequently, Congress authorized the Department to retain Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fees to help fund consular operations related to border security (I think the roll out of machine readable visas was not completed until the summer of 1996).

The Department is also authorized to collect and retain other fees to fund consular-related activities. It now retains a portion of the consular fees that it collects and remits the remaining portion to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.  In FY 2010, the Department collected approximately $2.62 billion in fee revenue and was allowed to retain about 70 percent of the fees (or approximately $1.8 billion).

Various embassies and consulates have been tweeting that they are open for business and that applicants should keep their interview appointments.

The State Department’s guidance on operations during a lapse in appropriation is available here.

(O_O)

Leave a comment

Filed under Americans Abroad, Budget, Congress, Construction, Consular Work, Federal Agencies, Foreign Service, Functional Bureaus, Huh? News, Regional Bureaus, Shutdown, Staffing the FS, Video of the Week

FY1929: Wife Gets One Year Salary of Deceased Husband, the Late U.S. Consul in Panama – $4,500

— By Domani Spero

The following is an extract from the Congressional Serial Set via Google Books.  In fiscal year 1929, the US Government paid $4,500 to the spouse of the U.S. Consul in Panama who died while in the Service.  This is about $61,000 in 2013.  By far, the most expensive allocation was for the transportation and travel expenses of FS members at $80,000.  Printing and binding was barely $12,000 but still a lot more than a death gratuity at the time.  Indemnity for the death of a Chinese citizen in Peking killed by a car driven by a mission guard was $875.

The total Diplomatic and Consular funds appropriated by Congress in 1929 was $88,375.  That’s $1,201,750.12 in today’s money.  Not even enough to run the current US Mission in Baghdad for a month.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Budget, Congress, Counting Beans, Diplomatic History, Foreign Service, FSOs, Govt Reports/Documents, State Department

Snapshot: Top 10 Recipients of US Foreign Assistance in FY2012 Actual and FY2014 Request

Extracted from the CRS: The FY2014 State and Foreign Operations Budget Request, April 18, 2013 via Secrecy News:

The list is dominated by strategic allies in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, as well as top global health program recipients in Africa. Israel would continue to be the top U.S. aid recipient, at $3.1 billion, a $25 million increase over FY2012 funding. Afghanistan would again rank second among recipients, though with a slightly smaller allocation compared to FY2012. Iraq would drop out of the top five, with elimination of the Police Development Program driving a 55% funding cut, while Nigeria would move up to number five with a proposed allocation of $693 million, or 7% more than actual FY2012 funding. Together, the top 10 recipients would account for about 37% of total bilateral economic and security assistance funds in the FY2014 budget proposal.

Screen Shot 2013-05-22

 

 

–DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Afghanistan, Africa, Budget, Counting Beans, Follow the Money, Foreign Assistance, Govt Reports/Documents, Pakistan, Snapshots, State Department