When the Boss Is Last to Know: Chaffetz Snoops at the Secret Service

Posted: 1:06 pm EDT


The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General has completed its independent investigation into allegations that one or more Secret Service agents improperly accessed internal databases to look up the 2003 employment application of Congressman Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The Inspector General has confirmed that between March 24 and April 2, 2015, on approximately 60 different occasions, 45 Secret Service employees accessed Chaffetz’ sensitive personal information. The OIG concluded that only 4 of the 45 employees had an arguable legitimate need to access the information.

Here is the IG’s conclusion:

This episode reflects an obvious lack of care on the part of Secret Service personnel as to the sensitivity of the information entrusted to them. It also reflects a failure by the Secret Service management and leadership to understand the potential risk to the agency as events unfolded and react to and prevent or mitigate the damage caused by their workforce’s actions.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30

via dhs/oig

All personnel involved – the agents who inappropriately accessed the information, the mid-level supervisors who understood what was occurring, and the senior leadership of the Service – bear responsibility for what occurred. Better and more frequent training is only part of the solution. Ultimately, while the responsibility for this activity can be fairly placed on the shoulders of the agents who casually disregarded important privacy rules, the Secret Service leadership must do a better job of controlling the actions of its personnel. The Secret Service leadership must demonstrate a commitment to integrity. This includes setting an appropriate tone at the top, but more importantly requires a commitment to establishing and adhering to standards of conduct and ethical and reasonable behavior. Standards of conduct and ethics are meaningful only if they are enforced and if deviations from such standards are dealt with appropriately.

It doesn’t take a lawyer explaining the nuances of the Privacy Act to know that the conduct that occurred here – by dozens of agents in every part of the agency – was simply wrong. The agents should have known better. Those who engaged in this behavior should be made to understand how destructive and corrosive to the agency their actions were. These agents work for an agency whose motto – “worthy of trust and confidence” – is engraved in marble in the lobby of their headquarters building. Few could credibly argue that the agents involved in this episode lived up to that motto. Given the sensitivity of the information with which these agents are entrusted, particularly with regard to their protective function, this episode is deeply disturbing.

Additionally, it is especially ironic, and troubling, that the Director of the Secret Service was apparently the only one in the Secret Service who was unaware of the issue until it reached the media. At the March 24th hearing, he testified that he was “infuriated” that he was not made aware of the March 4th drinking incident. He testified that he was “working furiously to try to break down these barriers where people feel that they can’t talk up the chain.” In the days after this testimony, 18 supervisors, including his Chief of Staff and the Deputy Director, were aware of what was occurring. Yet, the Director himself did not know. When he became aware, he took swift and decisive action, but too late to prevent his agency from again being subject to justified criticism.

Read the full report here. Check out Appendix 1 for the chronological access to the Chaffetz record which includes multiple field offices, including the London office. Appendix 2 is the timeline of record access.

We can’t remember anything like this happening in the recent past.  There was the 1992 passportgate, of course, which involves a presidential candidate, but that’s not quite the same. In 2009, the DOJ said that a ninth individual pleaded guilty for illegally accessing numerous confidential passport application files, although it was for what’s considered “idle curiosity.”

Whether the intent of the Chaffetz record breach was to embarrass a sitting congressman or curiosity (not everyone who looked at the files leak it to the media), the files are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, and access by employees is strictly limited to official government duties. Only 4 of the 45 employees who did access the Chaffetz records had a legitimate reason to access the protected information. If the DOJ pursued 9 State Department employees for peeking at the passport records of politicians and celebrities, we can’t imagine that it could simply look away in this case. Particularly in this case.  Winter is definitely coming to the Secret Service.



Congress Eyes @StateDept’s Special Envoys, Representatives, Advisors, and Coordinators

Posted: 2:27 am EDT


In June this year, Senator Bob Corker [R-TN] introduced Senate bill S. 1635: Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, Fiscal Year 2016.  On June 18, the SFRC issued a report to the full chamber and the bill was placed on Senate Legislative Calendar (Calendar No. 123). Only about 1 in 4 bills are reported out of committee. Govtrack also notes that only about 21% of bills that made it past committee in 2013–2015 were enacted. It gave this bill a 44% chance of being enacted.

While S.1635 may not be going anywhere right now, we know that Congress, at least, is eyeing with interest the mushrooming population of Foggy Bottom’s special reps, special envoy, advisors and coordinators. If this bill passes, the secretary of state will be asked to account for these 7th Floor denizens. Here is the relevant section of the bill:

204. Special envoys, representatives, advisors, and coordinators

Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit a report to the appropriate congressional committees on special envoys, representatives, advisors, and coordinators of the Department, which shall include—

(1) a tabulation of the current names, ranks, positions, and responsibilities of all special envoy, representative, advisor, and coordinator positions at the Department, with a separate accounting of all such positions at the level of Assistant Secretary (or equivalent) or above; and

(2) for each position identified pursuant to paragraph (1)—

(A) the date on which the position was created;

(B) the mechanism by which the position was created, including the authority under which the position was created;

(C) the positions authorized under section 1(d) of the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956 (22 U.S.C. 2651a(d));

(D) a description of whether, and the extent to which, the responsibilities assigned to the position duplicate the responsibilities of other current officials within the Department, including other special envoys, representatives, and advisors;

(E) which current official within the Department would be assigned the responsibilities of the position in the absence of the position;

(F) to which current official within the Department the position directly reports;

(G) the total number of staff assigned to support the position; and

(H) with the exception of those created by statute, a detailed explanation of the necessity of the position to the effective conduct of the foreign affairs of the United States.


As of September 18, the State Department has officially listed 59 special advisors, envoys, and representatives. The list below is extracted from the state.gov list here but it’s not a complete list.  We’ve counted at least 69 appointees in this category.  We’ve added and highlighted in blue the appointments that had been announced but not added to the official list.  Entries without hyperlinks are copied as-is from the State Department list.  Hey, we’re still missing entries under FJ, K, U, V, W, X, Y, Z!


State Department’s Special Envoys, Representatives, Advisors, and Coordinators


Afghanistan and Pakistan, Special Representative
Arctic, Special Representive
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), U.S. Senior Official


Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) Issues, Special Representative
Burma, Special Representative and Policy Coordinator


Center for Strategic Counterterrorism, Special Envoy and Coordinator
Central African Republic, Special Representative
Civil Society and Emerging Democracies, Senior Advisor
Climate Change, Special Envoy
Closure of the Guantanamo Detention Facility, Special Envoy
[Colombia Peace Process, Special Envoy]
Conference on Disarmament, Permanent Representative
Commercial and Business Affairs, Special Representative
[Counterterrorism, Coordinator]
Cyber Issues, Coordinator


Department Spokesperson


[Ebola Response, Special Coordinator]



Global Coalition against ISIL, Special Presidential Envoy
Global Food Security, Special Representative
Global Health Diplomacy, Special Representative
Global Intergovernmental Affairs, Special Representative
Global Partnerships, Special Representative
Global Women’s Issues, Ambassador-at-Large
Global Youth Issues, Special Advisor
Great Lakes Region and the D.R.C., Special Envoy


Haiti, Special Coordinator
Holocaust Issues, Special Adviser
Holocaust Issues, Special Envoy
[Hostage Affairs, Special Presidential Envoy]
[Human Rights of LGBT Persons, Special Envoy]


[International Civil Aviation Organization, U.S. Representative]
International Communications and Information Policy, Coordinator

International Disability Rights, Special Advisor
International Energy Affairs, Special Envoy and Coordinator
International Information Programs, Coordinator
International Information Technology Diplomacy, Senior Coordinator
International Labor Affairs, Special Representative
International Religious Freedom, Ambassador-at-Large
[Iran Nuclear Implementation, Lead Coordinator]
Israel and the Palestinian Authority, U.S. Security Coordinator
Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, Special Envoy


[Libya, Special Envoy]


Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, Special Envoy
Mujahideen el Khalq Resettlement, Special Advisor
Muslim Communities, Special Representative
[Middle East Transitions, Special Coordinator]


Nonproliferation and Arms Control, Special Advisor 
Northern Ireland Issues, Personal Representative
North Korean Human Rights Issues, Special Envoy
North Korea Policy, Special Representative
Nuclear Nonproliferation, Special Representative of the President


Office of the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palistinian Negotiations
Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, Special Representative
Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Special Envoy


Partner Engagement on Syria Foreign Fighters, Senior Advisor
Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia, Special Envoy

Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, Special Representative


Religion and Global Affairs, Special Representative


Sanctions Policy, Coordinator
Science and Technology, Special Advisor

Secretary Initiatives, Special Advisor
[Security Negotiations and Agreements, Senior Advisor
Senior Advisor to the Secretary
Six-Party Talks, Special Envoy
Somalia, Special Representative
Sudan and South Sudan, Special Envoy
Syria, Special Envoy


Threat Reduction Programs, Coordinator 
Tibetan Issues, Special Coordinator
Transparency Coordinator








Special suggestions to complete this list:

F – FOIA, Special Expert Advisor
J – Japan-U.S. Cyber Dialogue, Special Advisor
K –  Kenya and Djibouti Refugee Situation, Special Advisor
U –  University Youth Events (Domestic), Senior Advisor
V-  Venezuela-Colombia Border Dispute, Special Representative
W – Weapons, Autonomous, Presidential Special Envoy
X-  Xenon Gas Release, Special Advisor
Y – Yemen Stabilization After Saudi Coalition Bombings, Special Envoy 
Z – Zamunda, Special Envoy to the Royal Kingdom

Related post:
While You Were Sleeping, the State Dept’s Specials in This “Bureau” Proliferated Like Mushroom

Reading Tips: Recent Reports From State/OIG, USAID/OIG, SIGAR, GAO, CRS

Posted: 12:40 pm EDT



Management Assistance Report: Action Still Needed to Update the Department’s Standards of Conduct as They Relate to Trafficking in Persons and to Comply with a Related Recommendation Posted On: September 17, 2015

Audit of Selected Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund Management Control Posted On: September 14, 2015

Audit of Department of State Management and Oversight of Non-Lethal Assistance Provided for the Syrian Crisis Posted On: September 14, 2015



09/16/2015Management Letter Regarding Environmental Concerns Identified During the Survey of Selected USAID/Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance Programs in Iraq

09/15/20158-OPC-15-002-P Audit of Overseas Private Investment Corporation Projects in Jordan and Turkey

09/11/2015A-IAF-15-008-P Audit of the Inter-American Foundation’s Fiscal Year 2015 Compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002, as Amended

09/10/20159-000-15-004-P Audit of USAID’s Evaluation Policy Implementation

09/03/20155-482-15-007-P | Audit of USAID/Burma’s Shae THOT (The Way Forward) Program

09/01/2015 4-000-15-001-S | Survey of USAID’s Development Leadership Initiative in Southern and Eastern Africa



Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Special Inspector General John F. Sopko at Georgetown University, Washington, DC Thursday, September 10, 2015

Afghan Refugees and Returnees: Corruption and Lack of Afghan Ministerial Capacity Have Prevented Implementation of a Long-term Refugee Strategy Thursday, August 27, 2015

Power Grid Project at the Counter Narcotics Strip Mall in Kabul: Construction Met Contract Requirements but Electrical System Was Not Deemed Operable Until More Than 18 Months After Project Completion Monday, August 3, 2015



Diplomatic Security: Options for Locating a Consolidated Training Facility  GAO-15-808R: Published: Sep 9, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 2015.

Regionally Aligned Forces: DOD Could Enhance Army Brigades’ Efforts in Africa by Improving Activity Coordination and Mission-Specific Preparation  GAO-15-568: Published: Aug 26, 2015. Publicly Released: Aug 26, 2015.

SEC Conflict Minerals Rule: Initial Disclosures Indicate Most Companies Were Unable to Determine the Source of Their Conflict Minerals  GAO-15-561: Published: Aug 18, 2015. Publicly Released: Aug 18, 2015.

International Food Assistance: USAID Should Systematically Assess the Effectiveness of Key Conditional Food Aid Activities  GAO-15-732: Published: Sep 10, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2015.


CRS Reports via Steven Aftergood/Secrecy News

The FY2014 Government Shutdown: Economic Effects, updated September 11, 2015

Procedures for Congressional Action in Relation to a Nuclear Agreement with Iran: In Brief, Updated September 11, 2015

The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy, Updated September 14, 2015

Syrian Refugee Admissions to the United StatesCRS Insight, September 10, 2015

Cyprus: Reunification Proving Elusive, Updated September 10, 2015

Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations, Updated September 8, 2015

Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations, Updated September 10, 2015

Iran Nuclear Agreement, Updated September 9, 2015

Statutory Qualifications for Executive Branch Positions, Updated September 9, 2015


GAO: FASTC Fort Pickett Fully Meets Requirements, FLETC Glynco, Not Really

Posted: 3:25 am EDT

We have previously written about the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) project that has been snared in a tug of war in Congress.

On September 9, the Government Accountability Office finally released its review of the project. Concerned by the considerable variation in the cost estimates for FASTC and FLETC, members of Congress requested that GAO provide further information on both the requirements and costs of DS training. GAO examined (1) key site requirements critical to the provision of DS training and the extent to which the FASTC and FLETC proposals meet these requirements and (2) the estimated capital and recurring costs of these proposals and the extent to which the capital cost estimates conform to leading practices for reliable cost estimates. The GAO report was publicly released on September 16.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16

via GAO

See Figure 3: Key Events in Plans to Consolidate Bureau of Diplomatic Security Training (pdf)

Excerpt below:

State has been in the process of looking for a site suitable for its DS training facility for more than a decade. In 2011, State and the General Services Administration (GSA) identified Fort Pickett near Blackstone, Virginia, as the preferred site for the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC). The initial 2012 master plan for FASTC would have consolidated hard- and soft-skills training at Fort Pickett for an estimated cost of $925 million. In March 2013, State reduced the scope of FASTC to exclude facilities for soft-skills training and life support functions, such as dormitories and a cafeteria, ultimately decreasing the estimated cost of the current proposal to $413 million. Also in 2013, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directed State to work with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to assess the viability of using the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia, to accommodate DS’s training. In November 2013, FLETC submitted a business case to OMB indicating that it could meet DS’s requirements, including soft-skills training, for an estimated cost of $272 million. Following this assessment, DS, FLETC, and OMB could not agree on a path forward.

In April 2014, the administration reaffirmed the selection of Fort Pickett for FASTC, and State and GSA began implementing their plan to construct FASTC. State and GSA have obligated about $71 million to date toward FASTC at Fort Pickett.2 In May 2015, GSA purchased land and, in June 2015, awarded a contract for the initial phase of construction of FASTC.
[W]e analyzed four of DS’s requirements that we determined were critical in the selection of a site for DS’s training facility and found that Fort Pickett fully met all four while FLETC did not fully meet any.7 First, building FASTC at Fort Pickett would enable DS to consolidate at one location 10 of the 12 widely scattered hard-skills training venues it is currently using.8 FLETC can accommodate many of these venues on its Glynco campus but would have to conduct some exercises at a Marine Corps training facility about 30 miles away. Second, we found that Fort Pickett is available for nighttime training, which DS conducts on about 190 days per year, while at FLETC there may be some limitations on nighttime training. We also determined that the Fort Pickett site held advantages in terms of proximity to Washington, D.C., and exclusivity of use, both of which were requirements highlighted in reports stemming from the Benghazi ARB.

We found that neither the FASTC nor the FLETC estimate for capital costs fully meets best practices. The FASTC estimate fully or substantially meets three of the four characteristics—comprehensive, well documented, and accurate—and partially meets one characteristic of reliable cost estimates— credible; the FLETC estimate partially or minimally meets all four characteristics.10 FLETC officials noted that their estimate was prepared in a short period of time based on incomplete information regarding State’s requirements; more complete information would have enabled them to develop a more comprehensive estimate. See enclosure V for more detail on our assessment. Our assessment of the reliability of these cost estimates focused on the processes used to develop the estimates rather than estimates themselves, enabling us to make a more direct comparison of their reliability.

In addition to capital costs for acquisition and construction of a DS training center, the government will incur costs of sending students to training. These recurring student costs include travel, lodging, meals and incidental expenses, and compensation for time spent traveling. We projected these costs over 10, 25, and 50 years in three different scenarios for both the FASTC and FLETC proposals. We estimate that the costs of sending students to FASTC over 10 years will be $43 million to $121 million less, in net present value, than sending students to FLETC.11 The difference in student costs between FASTC and FLETC increases over time, from between $122 million and $323 million less for FASTC after 25 years, to between $309 and $736 million after 50 years. See enclosure III for further details on the assumptions used in each of these scenarios.

Click on 672362 to read the full report (38 pages – pdf).

Maybe this is the end of it and the project at Fort Pickett can finally go forward?  It is likely that there will be at least one more hearing on this, one congressional committee (was that HOGR?) promised a hearings once the GAO report is completed.


Senators Seek to INTVW @StateDept CIO Taylor; Wait, Wasn’t He Overseas When Pagliano Was Hired?

Posted: 3:05 am EDT



Two Senate chairmen are pressing the State Department for more information about the staffer who maintained Hillary Clinton’s controversial email server, including requesting an audience with his former supervisor.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked that Steven Taylor, State’s chief information officer, sit for a closed-door interview about the duties of his former subordinate Bryan Pagliano, according to a letter the senators sent to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Mr. Taylor is a member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor. He has been the Chief Information Officer of the State Department since April 3, 2013. He was previously appointed as Acting CIO on August 1, 2012. Preceding his assignment as CIO, he was the Department’s Deputy Chief Information Officer (DCIO) and Chief Technology Officer of Operations from June, 2011.

We should note that Secretary Clinton left the State Department on February 1, 2013, two months before Mr. Taylor was appointed CIO. In fact, according to this official biography, prior to his DCIO assignment in 2011, he served as Management Counselor in Cairo and Athens. So we’re guessing that between 2005 to 2011, this poor man was posted overseas and nowhere near the hiring desk when Mr. Pagliano was brought into the IT bureau of the State Department in 2009.

Not that it’s going to matter. The senators will probably drag Mr. Taylor before a closed-door interview still the same. Pagliano joined the State Department in May 2009. Maybe the senators should try the Bureau of Human Resources for their hiring and work duties questions?

Foggy Bottom’s Email Debacle Spreads Beyond Clinton Inner Circle

We don’t think this is going to stop at Mr. Taylor.  On September 14, conservative group Judicial Watch has also released a heavily redacted email, obtained through its FOIA lawsuit, between State Department official Eric F. Stein and Margaret P. Grafeld, dated April 21, 2015, with the subject “HRC Emails.”  Stein is deputy director of Global Information Systems (GIS) at the State Department and Grafeld is deputy assistant secretary of Global Information Systems (GIS). Stein reports to Grafeld that the “gaps” in Clinton’s emails include:

  • Jan. 21 – March 17, 2009 (Received Messages)
  • Jan. 21 – April 12, 2009 (Sent Messages)
  • Dec. 30, 2012 – Feb. 1, 2013 (Sent Messages)

Screen Shot 2015-09-15

On September 14, the State Department spox was asked about these gaps during the DPB and he maintained that there is no gap. Here is the exchange:

QUESTION: There was a release today by Judicial Watch from its lawsuit, and it cited several email gaps it claims existed in the former secretary’s list of ledger – full ledger of work-related correspondence.

MR KIRBY: Yep, seen the press report, Brad. We’re not aware of any gaps in the Clinton emails set with the exception of the first few months of her tenure when Secretary Clinton used a different email account that she has already advised she no longer has access to. And as I understand it, Secretary Clinton’s representatives have publicly stated that she used a separate email account in those first few months of her tenure. But beyond that, there’s no gap that we have seen or are aware of in Secretary Clinton’s email messages.

QUESTION: In that early part, you mentioned there was a gap of, I think, one month before – from the first received email to the first sent email. Now, I realize it’s fully possible she didn’t send an email that was work-related in that first month – that first month when she had that account, but is that your understanding or is that still an incomplete – you’re still fully researching all of those emails or unearthing them?

MR KIRBY: I know of no research attempt to deal with those first few months, Brad, because, as I said, former Secretary Clinton’s representatives already indicated that they were aware this gap existed and that she had – no longer had access to them. So it’s difficult if not impossible to do any particular research or forensics to get at those first few months. And as for how many were sent and received in that timeframe, I just don’t know. But this is not something that hasn’t been addressed before by her representatives. And beyond that first couple of months, those first four months, we have seen no gaps.

QUESTION: And in the last part of – in the last part of her tenure, there was what they cited was another gap in January 2013, which I’m guessing you’re saying is not a gap, in fact.

MR KIRBY: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Can you – they produced an email which showed an official saying there’s a gap or listing it as a gap. Do you understand what happened? Were those emails then later recovered or found?

MR KIRBY: Right. So we continue to maintain there’s no gap. I think you’re talking about this period of December 2012 through the end of January 2013.


MR KIRBY: And upon further review – so originally when they all came in, a cursory sort of preliminary look, a very quick look at the documents by an official here at the State Department revealed a potential gap of about a month or so in emails. But in going through them in a more fulsome manner after that, we’ve determined that in fact, there was no gap – that that time period is covered quite well by the emails that have been provided.

QUESTION: So you have emails from that period and —

MR KIRBY: We do.

QUESTION: — when you get to that point, they’ll be public.

MR KIRBY: We do, and I think you will continue to see – and we’ve been roughly rolling these out – roughly temporally and you will see – as we get to the remainder of the tranches, that you will see emails that were sent and received during that December ’12 to January ’13 timeframe.

That’s not going to end there.  The “gaps” will be too tantalizing to ignore.

This email released by Judicial Watch also includes a few more names, including Richard C. Visek, the State Department’s Deputy Legal Adviser and also the Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO). We suspect that it’s only be a matter of time before the somebodies in Congress would request the official apperance and interview with Margaret P. Grafeld, Eric F. Stein, and heaven knows, who else.

Related item:

Republicans got mad, mad, mad about danger pay, local guards, violence; calls for closures of consulates in Mexico

Posted: 3:37 am EDT



Gregory Starr, State’s assistant secretary at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, said in towns like Nuevo Laredo, Mexico — which borders Laredo, Texas — danger pay is not warranted. While U.S. federal employees are prohibited from leaving consulate grounds in the town that recently did away with its local police force, Starr said the workers can easily “walk across the border and be in a Walmart or a Dairy Queen.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the committee’s chairman, said that convenience would do little to appease family members of Foreign Service officers stationed in the town.

“Shame on you for saying that,” Chaffetz said. “It’s so dangerous they can’t even go outside.” He added employees facing decreased pay should not blame Republicans or funding shortfalls: “You can look at the Obama administration.”

Chaffetz said the cuts were “not useful” and would damage morale, noting the problem fell with State’s management. Starr maintained the department was “not having trouble staffing” the positions in the Mexican towns, and noted employees in some areas of the country would receive a pay bump.

Danger pay is generally used for areas with “civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of an employee,” according to federal statute.

There are about 2,800 State employees in Mexico, but the number involved in areas with crime is “minimal,” according to the department’s Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Sue Saarino. She said in some areas employees are told to stay off the street at night, but “we think it’s manageable.”

The HOGR Hearing: Violence on the Border, Keeping U.S. Personnel Safe was held on September 9.

The video is here, if you have the interest to watch it:

Back in February, we blogged about the expected changes in danger pay (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay). We were under the impression that congressional interest was driving these changes.

Danger Pay

During the hearing, we learned that the State Department has indeed changed its danger and hardship pay incentives. The example cited during the hearing is Matamoros which reportedly gets a 5% bump in danger pay, with Tijuana and Nueno Laredo seeing a reduction of 5% respectively.  DS Starr said that Nuevo Laredo is more safe now than it has been and that the violence in the Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo are not directed at our people. Also those assigned in Mexico can cross into the United States, whereas those assigned in Mali or Chad, for instance, do not have that option.

In fact, according to the State Department’s Allowances Office, only Ciudad Juarez has been able to keep its danger pay differential, currently at 15% as of the September 6 update.  When we last posted about this in February, Nogales was at 10%, Matamoros and Tijuana were at 15% and Nuevo Laredo and Monterrey were at 20%.  With the exception of Ciudad Juaraez, all have lost their danger pay differential.  The representative from WHA says that the staff knew what they were getting into, knew the dangers, and that the allowances can change anytime.

Staffing MX posts

DS says that the incentives are generally reviewed once a year, and that State has had no problem staffing the Mexican posts.  Is that true? Of course, he did not say that part of the reason there is no problem with staffing the Mexican posts is that most jobs there are filled by entry level officers whose assignments are “directed” by State. They do not have the option to decline those assignments. How about the mid-level and senior staffing, any gaps there? How many excursion tours  are offered to Civil Servants to fill those gaps?

Security and Local Guards

DS A/S Starr in response to a query also admitted that there were six times more security incidents in Matamoros in February than the previous month.

Mr. Chaffetz railed that State is talking about training the police force but that there is no police force in Nuevo Laredo.  DS acknowledged that the local police is not functioning but that it cooperates with federal and state authorities in Mexico.

The same congressman was not happy that the local guards are only paid $316/month. DS explained that this is the prevailing wage. The congressman still wasn’t happy. We get the sense that if those local guards were paid 3x the Mexican prevailing wage, the congressman would be railing that the guards are overpaid. This has an easy fix, of course. One, Congress could allow the State Department to issue the local guard contracts base on best value instead of lowest price. That means the guards protecting our U.S. mission overseas are paid good wages not based on the lowest price the contractors can get away with.  Or, if that’s not acceptable, Congress could fund U.S. citizen private security guards to protect all our 275 missions overseas. But that won’t come cheap and we suspect Congress would  not be up for that.

Close the Consulates

Another congressman, Mr. Mica, called for closing all our consulates in Mexico.  We laughed out loud watching the video. No one else laughed.

“There has to be consequences. How many consulates do we have? I count about nine in Mexico. Is that right? I think we should close every one of those consulates immediately. Put the properties up for sale,” Mica said. “I think you have to have consequences for actions. The place is out of control.”

Mr. Cartwright picked-up Mr. Mica’s idea and asked the DHS/CBP and AFGE representatives how would closure of these consulates cut down the violence.  The witnesses were restrained in their response.

Travel Warnings

Mr. Hurd, the former undercover CIA officer who is now representing Texas’s 23rd congressional district complained that Mexico is treated like one place and it’s not. He said that 80% of violence occurs in 20% of the country and wanted to see the Travel Warning reflective of that. Mr. Hurd did talk a lot but he is probably the only one in that panel who previously served with members of the Foreign Service overseas.

I got as far as Mr. Hurd, then I finally had to give up. Did I miss a lot?

Our congressional representatives appeared to be easily distracted and jumped from one topic to the next. In most cases, they seemed to enjoy hearing themselves talk rather than listen to their witnesses. Which makes me wonder if they were really interested in the answers … why bother with hearings if minds are already made up?


FASTC Hard Skills Training Center: “Who owes who favors?”

Posted: 12:19 am EDT


On September 9, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (HOGR) held a hearing to examine the efforts to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel and assets in northern Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexican border (see HOGR Hearing: Violence on the Border, Keeping U.S. Personnel Safe).  There were questions about danger pay, security, local guard pay, planned facilities, hardship posts, staffing and yes, a congressman did suggest that we close our consulates in Mexico.

During the hearing, one congressman also showed up to beat up DS A/S Gregory Starr about the FASTC hard skills training center set to be built at Fort Pickett. The congressman from Georgia, Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (GA-1)wanted to know why the OMB has not released its report on this politically contentious project that has been going on for years.  Um… probably because it’s not Diplomatic Security’s report to release? What the congressman from Georgia probably really want to ask is why the heck is the State Department building a training facility  in Fort Pickett, VA, didn’t everybody know that FLETC in Glynco, GA is the best facility there is?  We did not see the representatives from the VA delegation, probably because this was a hearing related to border posts.  Not sure, the congressman was really interested in the answers to the questions he asked. He told Mr. Starr to “go back and compare the two sites.” We wonder how many times Diplomatic Security has to go back and compare these two sites. Until all the congressional delegates are happy with it?  Did he ask other questions about the border posts? Must have missed that.

The Skeptical Bureaucrat recently did a piece on the FASTC:

To review the situation, the administration wishes to construct a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) that would consolidate ‘hard skills’ training by the State Department and its partners at Fort Pickett in southside Virginia. Some members of Congress are trying to stop the project, ostensibly on grounds of economic efficiency, and would require the State Department to use the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Georgia for hard skills training. Both sides are currently awaiting the public release of a General Accountability Organization (GAO) report that evaluates the business case for building FASTC at Fort Pickett.

This week the Progress-Index, a local newspaper in the Fort Pickett area, interviewed and quoted a senior Diplomatic Security Service official for an article about the political impasse over FASTC. Well, hum, that’s interesting. I presume the senior official had gotten official clearance to make those remarks. I further presume that State gets to review the expected GAO report before it goes public. Putting 2 + 2 together, I wonder whether DS is signalling with the interview that it knows the GAO will support building FASTC at Fort Pickett?

Here’s the article, Report could speed up diplomatic training center at Fort Pickett:

State Department officials are hoping a soon-to-be released report will help end wrangling in Congress that has delayed construction on a diplomatic security training center at a National Guard base in Virginia.

Construction on the first phase of the facility at Fort Pickett, just over the Dinwiddie County border, was set to begin Aug. 1 with a completion date set for 2019. State Department officials have put that work on hold while they respond to Congressional requests for information.

The State Department stands by its selection of Fort Pickett, saying its proximity to Washington, D.C., and rural location would allow it to conduct around-the-clock military-style training. The site is also within driving distance of Marine bases in Virginia and North Carolina that State Department personnel train with, as well as Navy special warfare forces that are stationed in Virginia Beach.

Stephen Dietz, executive director of the State Department’s bureau of diplomatic security, said the Marines have told him that they can’t afford to travel to Georgia for State Department training. He said the cost estimates for the southeastern Georgia site [FLETC} only have to do with construction, and don’t include operation, maintenance or travel costs for State Department, military or intelligence agency personnel. 

Read TSB’s  Possible Tip-Off About FASTC Hard Skills Training Center at Fort Pickett?

The report cited by TSB also has a quotable quote from Mayor Billy Coleburn of Blackstone, Virginia who has been looking forward to as many as 10,000 people coming through for State Department training each year:

“If you’re banking your hopes on common sense and consensus in Washington, D.C., you stay up late at night worrying,” said Mayor Billy Coleburn. “Who owes who favors? Who gets browbeaten behind the scenes. Those are things we can only imagine — what happens in smoke-filled rooms in Washington, D.C?”

We can’t imagine those things. Nope.

What we’ve learned from this hearing is that Congress is really worried about the security of U.S. diplomatic personnel overseas. Until it’s not.

So far, it has not been able to get its act together on a project that’s the center of a long standing tug-of-war between politicians. For sure, there will be another hearing. And another. And another.

It certainly is interesting to watch these congressional hearings where our elected reps demonstrate their deep understanding of the issues bubbling with barely hidden agendas. Can we please start sending these folks to Crash and Bang training?  Also, Channel 9 has Survivor Matamoros Nuevo Laredo, all 9 square miles of the city you’re allowed to go  is also accessible on Channel 9, any volunteers?

Anybody out there know what’s happening to the GAO report?


Congressional Drama Features Ex-Clinton IT Staffer Bryan Pagliano, Good Excuse to Check Your PLI Coverage

Posted: 5:27 am EDT
Updated: 3:03 pm EDT


Bryan Pagliano worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and reportedly helped manage her server at that time. When Clinton became secretary of state in 2009, Pagliano got a job at the State Department.  This report citing public federal records says that he was classified as a GS-15 in his job as a special advisor and deputy chief information officer at the State Department. He earned around $140,000 per year from 2010-2012.  He was also reportedly paid personally by the Clintons to continue managing the private server from 2009 to 2013.

The State Department confirmed on September 3, that Mr. Pagliano was employed by the State Department from May 2009 through February 2013 as an IT specialist, and that he currently serves as a contractor working in the Bureau of Information Resource Management (State/IRM). The State Department also said that it was not consulted on Mr. Pagliano’s decision to take the 5th.   “He has pleaded the Fifth, so to speak. It’s certainly not an admission of guilt, as we all know, but it’s his constitutional right, so we respect that,” the official spokesperson said.

That’s not the end of it, of course. The House Select Committee on Benghazi is reportedly requiring Mr. Pagliano’s presence, which prompted a stern letter Wednesday from Pagliano’s lawyer, who accused the panel and its chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), of engaging in political theater and abusing its subpoena power, according to the Washington Post. Politico also has a report today noting that Pagliano’s lawyer, Mark MacDougall has said in a letter to two congressional panels that he did not ask any Congressional committees for immunity, but “in the event that any committee of the Congress” does authorize such a judicial order, “Mr. Pagliano will, of course, comply with such an order.”

Even if you’re in no danger of getting snared in the Clinton controversies, isn’t this case a good reminder to review one’s Professional Liability Insurance coverage? PLI covers not just admin and disciplinary matters, but also congressional and OIG investigations. For eligible employees, the State Department regulations allow the reimbursement of up to 50% of PLI cost (see 3 FAM 3840 – pdf).













HOGR Hearing: Violence on the Border, Keeping U.S. Personnel Safe

Posted: 2:47 pm EDT


The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on September 9, to examine the efforts to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel and assets in northern Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexican border. The Committee notes on its introduction the risks posed to U.S. personnel and the public by the criminal violence in northern Mexico are numerous including:

  • February 2015the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros reported 227 separate security incidents in the U.S. border region.
  • May 2015two government buildings in Matamoros were struck by bomb attacks. 
  • June 2015a gunman on the Mexican side of the border fired multiple shots at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter. 
  • June 2015a U.S.-contracted vehicle was hijacked by armed criminals which resulted in the theft of over 11,500 Border Crossing Cards.

The video is available here. The witnesses include three officials from the State Department (DS, OBO, WHA), an official from DHS/CBP, and a representative from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).  There is no representative from the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) in this hearing.

Screen Shot 2015-09-09

U.S. Mission Mexico | Border Posts

William H. Moser Deputy Director, Bureau of Overseas Building Operations U.S. Department of State Document
Gregory B. Starr Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Diplomatic Security U.S. Department of State Document
Sue Saarnio Deputy Assistant Secretary, Western Hemisphere Affairs U.S. Department of State Document
Robert L. Harris Director, Joint Task Force – West U.S. Customs and Border Protection Document
Brandon Judd President, National Border Patrol Council American Federation of Government Employees Document

The hearing is also available here via C-SPAN.


@StateDept hasn’t been authorized in 13 years, DOD has been authorized 53 years in a row

Posted: 5:53 pm EDT



“For State-watchers, it’s just another example of a long and humbling truth: Washington cares more about the military than statecraft. While State hasn’t been reauthorized in 13 years, the Department of Defense has been authorized every year for 53 years in a row.

“I chalk it up number one to the American public and Congress cares, as a whole, less about funding the State Department and more about the Pentagon,” said Goldenberg.”

We understand from an excellent source that this year’s authorization act is reportedly not going anywhere. Nope. Not going anywhere at all, so we’re told not to worry about its contents.  Remains to be seen if Senator Corker can pull a rabbit out this hat. There’s a small window left in the congressional term.