Category Archives: Congress

Headline Triggered-Senate Confirmations: Michael Lawson (Plane Down), Eunice Reddick (Drones)

– Domani Spero

 

On July 21, the Senate confirmed the following nominations by voice votes:

 

Maybe there’s a bored Hollywood film producer willing to construct multiple fake events and get this Senate moving?

It seems like this is the trend in the Senate these days.  The chance for confirmation in the “world’s greatest deliberative body” seems to jump by quite a bit, and speeds up in a hurry  when a particular country hits breaking news.   The nominations for Iraq, Egypt, Honduras, Kuwait, Qatar … were all walked relatively quickly.  Those going to the islands may have a longer wait.

Last week, a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane was shot down over Ukraine.  This week, we finally have our ambassador to Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), freshly confirmed after a 10-month wait.

Ambassador Reddick was confirmed for the US Embassy in Niger after almost a year of wait. Excuse me, Niger, what the heck is going on there?  What –  drones in Niger?

Don’t worry if we’re now going on five months with no ambassador to Moscow.  That Russian bear has been growling rather badly, so by next week, it looks like we’ll finally get a newly confirmed ambassador for Moscow.  That is, if the Senate has been reading the news with eyes wide open.  

We expect all these officials will have chips implanted in their brains and will have no need for time to transition to their new responsibilities. They’ll just know it and do it. They may not even need to do pack out or make travel arrangements for family and pets either.   A heck of a time to move house when things are falling apart almost everywhere.  No matter.  We’ll just beam them all up to their next posts. And just like that, with a push of a button, we’ll erase all those wasted months of waiting.

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Tick Tock: Multiple State Dept Nominees Still Pending in Foreign Relations Committee

– Domani Spero

 

The Senate’s tentative schedule (pdf) has August 1st as its last day in session, with a return to work scheduled on September 8, 2014.  With the August recess only a few days away, we should note that multiple State Department nominees are still pending in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC). As of this writing, only Ambassador John Tefft’s nomination as ambassador to the Russian Federation has been scheduled for a confirmation hearing on July 29. That leaves the Tefft nomination barely 36 hours to get confirmation from  the full Senate before Congress runs out into the sun for its obviously well-deserved summer break.

Dear SFRC — wouldn’t it be embarrassing to go off for some fun and sun when so many people are stuck in town and cannot do the jobs they’re supposed to do because you did not do yours?

By the way, Ambassador Carlos Pascual (listed below) was appointed the State Department’s Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs in May 2011 and announced as the first Assistant Secretary for Energy Resources in 2012. His nomination remains pending in the SFRC.  Last month, the WSJ reported that Ambassador Pascual will leave his position in July and will join the Center on Global Energy Policy, a research organization at Columbia University founded last year by Jason Bordoff, a former top adviser to President Obama.

Besides the pending ambassadorial nominees, the pending names in the Committee also include regular Foreign Service officers awaiting the Senate’s confirmation for their promotions to the next class.

 

Jul 21, 14     PN1920    Bahrain

William V. Roebuck, of North Carolina, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of  Bahrain.

Jul 21, 14     PN1919    Malawi

Virginia E. Palmer, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Malawi.

Jul 21, 14     PN1918    United Arab Emirates

Barbara A. Leaf, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the United Arab Emirates.

Jul 17, 14     PN1869    Finland

Charles C. Adams, Jr., of Maryland, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Finland.

Jul 14, 14     PN1853    Russian Federation

John Francis Tefft, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Russian Federation.

Jul 14, 14     PN1852    Armenia

Richard M. Mills, Jr., of Texas, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and  Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Armenia.

Jul 14, 14     PN1851    Monaco

Jane D. Hartley, of New York, to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Principality of Monaco.

Jul 14, 14     PN1850    Brunei Darussalam

Craig B. Allen, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Brunei Darussalam.

Jul 09, 14     PN1848    Senegal and Guinea-Bissau

James Peter Zumwalt, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Senegal and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Guinea-Bissau.

Jul 09, 14     PN1847    Montenegro

Margaret Ann Uyehara, of Ohio, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Montenegro.

Jul 09, 14     PN1846    UNGA/UN

Michele Jeanne Sison, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be Representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations, during her tenure of service as Deputy Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations.

Jul 09, 14     PN1845    UNSC/UN

Michele Jeanne Sison, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be the Deputy Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, and the Deputy Representative of the United States of America in the Security Council of the United Nations.

Jul 09, 14     PN1843    Costa Rica

Stafford Fitzgerald Haney, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador Extraordinary  the Republic of Costa Rica.

Jul 09, 14     PN1842    Azerbaijan

Robert Francis Cekuta, of New York, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Jul 09, 14     PN1841    Fiji/Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, and Tuvalu

Judith Beth Cefkin, of Colorado, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Fiji, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Kiribati, the Republic of Nauru, the Kingdom of Tonga, and Tuvalu.

Jul 09, 14     PN1840    Macedonia

Jess Lippincott Baily, of Ohio, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Macedonia.

Jun 16, 14     PN1773    UNGA/UN

David Pressman, of New York, to be an Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations, during his tenure of service as Alternate Representative of the United States of America for Special Political Affairs in the United Nations.

Jun 16, 14     PN1772    USUN

David Pressman, of New York, to be Alternate Representative of the United States of America for Special Political Affairs in the United Nations, with the rank of Ambassador.

Jun 16, 14     PN1771    Botswana

Earl Robert Miller, of Michigan, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Botswana.

Jun 16, 14     PN1770    Cabo Verde

Donald L. Heflin, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Cabo Verde.

Jun 16, 14     PN1769    Slovenia

Brent Robert Hartley, of Oregon, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Slovenia.

Jun 16, 14     PN1768    Rwanda

Erica J. Barks Ruggles, of Minnesota, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Rwanda.

Jun 09, 14     PN1762    France

Jane D. Hartley, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the French Republic.

Jun 05, 14     PN1754    Ireland

Kevin F. O’Malley, of Missouri, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Ireland.

Jun 04, 14     PN1741    Guatemala

Todd D. Robinson, of New Jersey, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Guatemala.

Jun 04, 14     PN1740    Turkmenistan

Allan P. Mustard, of Washington, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Turkmenistan.

Jun 04, 14     PN1738    Turkey

John R. Bass, of New York, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Turkey.

May 22, 14     PN1734    Moldova

James D. Pettit, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Moldova.

May 22, 14     PN1733    Bangladesh

Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, of New Jersey, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to  the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

May 05, 14     PN1644    Kazakhstan

George Albert Krol, of New Jersey, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Apr 10, 14     PN1569    Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Melinda Masonis, and ending Jeffrey R. Zihlman, Congressional Record on April 10, 2014.

Apr 10, 14     PN1568    Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Andrew J. Billard, and ending Brenda Vanhorn, which 11 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 10, 2014.

Apr 10, 14     PN1567    Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Michael A. Lally, and ending John E. Simmons, which 4 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 10, 2014.

Jan 30, 14     PN1384-2  Foreign Service

The following named Career Member of the Foreign Service of the Department of State for promotion into the Senior Foreign Service to the class indicated, effective January 1, 2012: Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service of the United States of America, Class of Counselor: Daniel Menco Hirsch

Jan 30, 14     PN1381-2  Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Douglas A. Koneff, and ending Lon C. Fairchild, which 3 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.

Jan 30, 14     PN1378-2  Foreign Service

For appointment as Foreign Service Officer of Class Three, Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America: Aaron Schubert

Jan 30, 14     PN1377-2  Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Susan K. Brems, and ending R. Douglass Arbuckle, which 3 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.

Jan 06, 14     PN1101    State/ENR

Carlos Pascual, of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Energy Resources).

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Congress to State Dept: We Want All Your Stuff on New London Embassy Except Paperclips

– Domani Spero

 

We recently blogged about the congressional hearing on the new embassy construction (see New Embassy Construction Hearing: Witnesses Not Invited, and What About the Blast-Proof Glass?).  Well, a couple of weeks ago, the  House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent a letter to Secretary Kerry asking for documents and information on the new embassy construction.  Presumably in preparation for the hearing.  Almost half of the docs requested were related to the New London Embassy.  Did not look like the Committee got the docs that they wanted in time for the hearing.  In any case, below is a partial list; it looks like they wanted everything including drafts and all, except paperclips.

Giant paper clip at BI Commercial College near...

Giant paper clip at BI Commercial College near Oslo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We must say that the HOGR has not been short on its version of HPD … way too much emotion and drama that draws attention to themselves and the nearest camera for our taste.  Really, if they just do their jobs without too much theatrics, our institutions would be a lot better for it.  Having said that, it’s the only Congress we’ve got and they have an oversight role to play even if more than one in five Americans (22%) are ready to start over entirely after all members are fired.  For now, we’re stuck with these folks.  Luckily for us, not all of them will stay in Congress for life. So – please give these angry folks the documents they need even if they occasionally drive you nuts; they may not be there next year. They want a cost/benefit analysis, give it to them, too. We suspect the analysis would be useful anyways, and these folks would have to write their own scripts on what to say on teevee.

Oh hey, they want to know about the blast testing of the curtain wall, so do we!

 

20.   All Action Memoranda and Information Memoranda, including drafts, referring or relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

21.   All documents referring or relating to Value Engineering Studies relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including all versions of any Value Engineering Studies.

22.   All documents and communications relating to changes and notices to proceed relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all such communications with: a) KieranTimberlake Architects; b) B.L. Harbert International;  and, c) Weidlinger and Associates.

23.   All documents referring or relating to congressional Construction Security Certification for the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all communications with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

24.   All documents and communications referring or relating to Value Added Tax (VAT) relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

25.   All documents and communications referring or relating to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all such communications with: a) the Bureau of Diplomatic Security; b) KieranTimberlake Architects; c) B.L. Harbert International; d) Weidlinger and Associates.

26.   All documents and communications referring or relating to the application of General Services Administration (GSA) Performance Conditions to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, communications between OBO and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

27.   All documents and communications relating to the engineering and legal justifications for applying standards other than those of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

28.   A document identifying all State Department overseas properties, the physical security of which were designed, tested or certified to GSA standards.

29.   All documents and communications relating to the decision to conduct blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, in both Ft. Polk, Louisiana and Socorro, New Mexico.

30.   The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center report relating to blast testing of the curtain wall or curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom which occurred in Fort Polk, Louisiana.

31.   All reports prepared for the Committees on Appropriations on the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom which, pursuant to P.L. 112-74, Section 7004 (f)(2), were to be delivered every six months from 60 days after enactment, and which were to include revenue and cost projections, cost containment efforts, project schedule and actual project status, the impact of currency exchange rate fluctuations on project revenue and costs, and options for modifying the scope of the project in the event that proceeds of real property sales in London fall below the total cost of the project.

32.   The estimated cost per square meter to rent office space in the vicinity of the current U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom.

33.   All documents related to any lease-back of current U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom if the New Embassy Compound in London is not completed on schedule.

 

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Confirmations: Wood (USCD), Nealon (Honduras), Shear (DOD/APSA)

– Domani Spero

 

On July 15, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following executive nominations for the State Department:

 

On July 17, the U.S. Senate also confirmed the nomination of Ambassador David Shear as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs in the Department of Defense. Ambassador Shear was most recently the chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam.

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State/OIG Files Report to Congress, Wassup With the In-Depth Review Over CBS News Allegations?

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General submitted its first semi-annual report to Congress under Steve Linick last March. The report which summarizes OIG’s work during the period October 1, 2013, through March 31, 2014 was not published online until June 2014. Looking at the investigative data from the previous report ending on September 30, 2013, you will note that the OIG registered 182 less complaints this reporting cycle. Employee misconduct is steady at 4% while conflict of interest cases were down from 17% to 4%.  Embezzlement and theft cases went from 8% to 15% and contracts and procurement fraud went from 63% to 70%.

Extracted from Semi-Annual Report, March 2014

Extracted from Semi-Annual Report, State/OIG, March 2014

 

Below is the investigative data from the previous report ending on September 30, 2013:

OIG_SA_report Sept 2013

In the report ending September 30, 2013, State/OIG told Congress it was conducting an in-depth review of Diplomatic Security’s investigative process.  This was in connection with last year’s allegations that several recent investigations were influenced, manipulated, or simply called off by senior State Department officials. (See CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal).

The Office of Investigations (INV) is conducting an independent oversight review of certain investigations conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Special Investigations Division (DS/ICI/SID). This is an in-depth review of the DS/ICI/SID investigations to assess the adequacy of the investigative process.

The current OIG report ending on March 31, 2014 makes no mention of the status or disposition of this investigation. That CBS News story broke in June 2013, so we’re now a year into this and still counting.

Oops, wait! A statement provided to CBS News by the Inspector General’s office on June 2013 said:

OIG does not comment on drafts of reports.

On its own initiative, OIG Office of Investigations has been conducting its own independent review of the allegations made. This is our standard procedure.

We staffed it independently and appropriately and they were people hired specific for this review at the end of 2012. They are on staff. We staffed it with the best people we can find at hand to do the job.

DS does not speak for us.

End of 2012 and isn’t it now July 2014?  So — wassup with that?

Mr. Linick’s report to Congress also notes that he has initiated the practice of sending out management alerts to senior Department of State and Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) officials in order to identify high-risk systemic issues requiring prompt attention and risk mitigation. He told Congress that to-date, OIG has issued two management alerts: one addressing significant vulnerabilities in the management of contract files with a combined value of $6 billion and the other addressing recurring weaknesses in the Department’s information-security program.  That’s a great initiative; that means the senior officials will not have an excuse to say later on that they were not alerted to issues that need their attention.

He also writes that the OIG goal is clear — “to act as a catalyst for effective management, accountability, and positive change for the Department, BBG, and the foreign affairs community.”

And that’s a lovely goal and all,really, except that Mr. Linick’s OIG — all together now — no longer issue the Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) for senior officials during the IG inspections at overseas missions!

No more IERs included in the official performance files (OPF), no more IERs for review by promotion boards, thus, no more IERs to potentially derail promotions.

Ambassador Franklin “Pancho” Huddle who previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan and spent five years as a senior OIG inspector at the State Department told us:

“When OIG dumped their IERs, they dumped their ability to make a real difference.” 

Boom!

When asked if we can quote him, he said, “I didn’t survive one of history’s deadliest skyjackings not to go on record.”

Ambassador Huddle and his wife survived the hijacking and the crash of  Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961, considered the deadliest hijacking involving a single aircraft before the 9/11 attacks.  He  said that he earned three promotions directly related to favorable IERs done by the OIG. He now trains special forces which “put a premium on honest appraisals.”

What he said about making a real difference — anyone want to top that?

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-03/31/14   Semiannual Report to the Congress October 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014  [11136 Kb] Posted on June 23, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Confirmations: Douglas Silliman (Kuwait), Dana Shell Smith (Qatar), Darci Vetter (USTR)

– Domani Spero

 

Today, the U.S. Senate confirmed by voice vote President Obama’s nominees for Kuwait and Qatar:

  • Douglas Alan Silliman, Texas, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the State of Kuwait
  • Dana Shell Smith, Texas, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the State of Qatar

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate also confirmed the nomination of  Darci L. Vetter, of Nebraska, to be Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Office of the United States Trade Representative, with the rank of Ambassador.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Confirmations: Stuart Jones (Iraq), Robert Beecroft (Egypt), Thomas P. Kelly III (Djibouti

– Domani Spero

 

 

That did not take long.  On June 25, the SFRC cleared President Obama’s nominees for Iraq and Egypt.  Today, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nominees for those two posts:

Stuart E. Jones, of Virginia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Iraq; Confirmed: 93-0

Robert Stephen Beecroft, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Arab Republic of Egypt (voice vote)

Yesterday, the Senate also confirmed the nomination of our next ambassador to Djibouti:

Thomas P. Kelly III, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Djibouti.

 

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Former AFSA Presidents to SFRC: Delay Approval for FSO Dana Smith as Qatar Ambassador

– Domani Spero

 

Eleven former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional association of the United States Foreign Service have written to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) requesting that the Committee postpone consideration of FSO Dana Shell Smith’s nomination as ambassador to Qatar until the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) has made a decision in the case related to Ms. Smith and another senior FSO, Susan Johnson.  Ms. Johnson, the immediate former president of AFSA served two terms from 2009-2013.

The letter says that the former AFSA presidents, which includes seven former ambassadors, “firmly believe that Ms. Smith  has not demonstrated the judgment or temperament to shoulder the responsibilities of Chief of Mission.” 

Ouchy!

It adds that “Ms. Smith’s actions are central to a formal Grievance brought against the Department of State by Ms. Susan R. Johnson, also a Senior Foreign Service Officer and President of AFSA at the time she co-authored an op-ed that stimulated negative Department reaction.

image via cspan

Excerpt from the letter:

 Ms. Smith and Ms. Valerie C. Fowler, then Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary respectively, misusing their official positions and authority over senior assignments and career advancement in order to convey personal views, authored a factually incorrect letter-petition sent through State Department e mail to other FSOs in senior positions, publicly attacking Ms. Johnson on an ad hominem basis for the op-ed she co-authored about the declining role of the Foreign Service.

Senior levels of the Department declined to acknowledge the behavior of Ms. Smith and Ms. Fowler as improper, unprofessional and unprecedented.    Instead the Department condoned the impropriety and compounded the Grievance by nominating one of authors of the ad hominem letter to the senior Foreign Service promotion board which reviewed and did not recommend Ms. Johnson for promotion.   This nomination, the letter-petition and the Department’s inaction may have tainted the board and denied Ms. Johnson a fair promotion review.  Individually and collectively, these actions send a chilling message that speaking out about or questioning personnel policies that lead to the weakening of the Foreign Service as a professional cadre may put careers at risk.

Valerie C. Fowler named above is now the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the R Bureau. PDASes do not need Senate confirmations. As an aside, have you noticed that the R Bureau now has 15 senior officials, all non-career appointees except for five FSOs?

According to her LinkedIn profile, Ms. Johnson is currently a senior fellow at the Academy of American Diplomacy where she is working on the latest AAD study-report on strengthening Foreign Service professionalism. The April 2013 op-ed referred to in the letter to the Senate is online at WaPo (see “Presidents are breaking the U.S. Foreign Service).” That op-ed piece was authored by Ms. Johnson who was then AFSA president, Ronald E. Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, and  Thomas R. Pickering, a former undersecretary of state, and chairman of the AAD board.

The Senate letter was from the following former AFSA presidents: Ambassador Thomas Boyatt, Ambassador William Harrop, Ambassador Alphonse La Porta, Ambassador Theodore Eliot, Ambassador Dennis Hays,  Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes, Ambassador John Limbert, and senior  FSOs F. Allen “Tex” Harris, Theodore Wilkinson, Marshall Adair, and Kenneth Bleakley. Their letter specifically requests that consideration be postponed “until the Foreign Service Grievance Board has made a decision in the case and forwarded the file to the Committee.”

WaPo’s Federal Eye has additional details of this “family” feud:

State did not permit interviews with Smith and Fowler. Doug Frantz,  an assistant secretary of state, said the letter asking the committee to delay action on Smith “contained errors.”  He noted that Johnson’s grievance “was filed subsequent to Ms. Smith’s nomination.” He added that Johnson could have requested Fowler’s recusal from the board, but did not.

Though the letter from Smith, Fowler and the others to Johnson was sent by government e-mail, Frantz said it “was intended to be a private communication from AFSA members to the head of their association.” It’s not private now.

We should note that Douglas Frantz was appointed Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Public Affairs in 2013. Prior to Ms. Smith’s nomination as ambassador to Qatar, she was Mr. Frantz’s top deputy as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Public Affairs (2011-2014).

Also, the average time for consideration of a Foreign Service grievance from time of  filing to a Board decision was 41 weeks in 2011 and 33 weeks in 2012.

This could take a whole tour …

Or … maybe not.

Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) cleared Ms. Smith’s nomination for the Senate’s full vote.  Unless a Senate hold suddenly materialize, we anticipate that this nominee and a whole slew of ambassadorial nominees will be confirmed as Congress runs off to its summer vacation in August.

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Filed under Ambassadorships, Career Employees, Congress, Foreign Service, FSOs, Grievance, Nominations, Realities of the FS, SFRC, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

New Embassy Mexico City Estimated to Cost $350-$450M Now More Pricey At $763 Million

– Domani Spero

 

On June 20, 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City announced the 50thanniversary of the building of the chancery in Mexico
City´s  Reforma Avenue. According to Embassy Mexico City, the building began in 1960 during the Kennedy Administration and under then Ambassador Thomas Mann. The building reportedly cost 5 million dollars and in 1964 became the second largest U.S. embassy in the world.

In 2011, the State Department solicitation on fedbiz announced that the New Embassy Compound (NEC) in Mexico City, Mexico will be a design-bid-build project estimated to cost between $350 million and $450 million.

The new Embassy compound will be constructed on U.S. Government-owned property located in the Nuevo Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City. It will be in the range of 40,000-45,000 gross square meters in area and will include a new Chancery, General Services Office/support buildings, parking structures, Marine Security Guard Quarters, and vehicular/pedestrian screening facilities.

In 2012, the estimated construction cost was $450 – $500 million.

In November 2013, FP’s The Cable reported that the State Department has quietly reversed course, saying its initial solicitation to industry is “cancelled in its entirety” because plans have been altered. The State Department did not explain why in its announcement, but said a new, future solicitation to industry for the project “is under acquisition review.” (See State Department Quietly Reverses Course On Its $500 Million Mexican Embassy).

Yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee’s draft report on the fiscal 2015 State and foreign aid spending bill notes that the new construction cost estimate of NEC Mexico City is now at $763,500,000.  The following is the section of the Committee draft report on the new embassy that will soon join our list of most expensive embassies in the world:

Enhanced notification requirements.—The  Congressional Budget Justification for Department of State Operations, Fiscal Year 2015 estimates the cost for construction of the New Embassy Compound in Mexico City, Mexico at $763,500,000. The Committee is troubled that this is an escalation in cost of more than 38 percent in the two years since the initial estimate was provided. Cost increases of this magnitude, as well as reports of other new embassy project cost escalations, are of great concern to the Committee. Accordingly, in order to enhance the oversight of new construction projects, the Committee recommendation modifies and expands section 7004(d) of the bill to require that all notifications for the purchase of land and for the award of construction contracts be subject to the regular notification procedures of, and prior approval by, the Committees on Appropriations.

Notifications made pursuant to section 7004(d) shall include the following information, at a minimum: (1) the location and size of the property to be acquired, including the proximity to existing United States diplomatic facilities and host government ministries; (2) the justification of need for acquiring the property and construction of new facilities; (3) the total projected cost of the project delineated by site acquisition, project development, design/construction, and any other relevant costs; (4) any unique requirements of the project which may drive up the cost of the project, such as consular workload, legal environment, physical and/or security requirements, and seismic capabilities; (5) any religious, cultural, or political factors which may affect the cost, location, or construction timeline; (6) the current and projected number of desks, agency presence, and the projected number of United States direct hire staff, Locally Engaged Staff, and Third Country Nationals; (7) the current and projected number of beds, if applicable; (8) the most recent rightsizing analysis; and (9) a justification for exceeding the staffing projections of such rightsizing analysis, if applicable.

Additionally, the Committee directs the Department of State to carefully review the design and cost of the Mexico City new embassy compound and to provide updated design plans and options for reducing the cost of the facility to the Committees on Appropriations prior to the obligation of additional funds for this project from funds made available in this Act or prior Acts.

 

In 2013, State/OBO awarded the New U.S. Embassy Mexico City project to Tod Williams Billie Tsien/ Davis Brody Bond Architects and Planners Joint Venture. It is listed as a capital program project for FY2015 (pdf).

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Filed under Budget, Congress, Construction, Contractors, New Embassy Compound, State Department, U.S. Missions