Category Archives: Counting Beans

Congress Seeks Information on Obamacare Coverage of Foreign Diplomats

– Domani Spero

 

On October 29, 2014,  the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) wrote to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen seeking information after learning that foreign diplomats working in the United States are eligible for subsidized health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Excerpt from their letter:

The Committees on Foreign Affairs and Ways and Means are investigating the extent to which these diplomats receive taxpayer-subsidized premium tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.  We are seeking to determine how many such individuals participate in these programs and the total cost of such benefits.  As the agency principally responsible for administering health coverage tax credits, we request that you provide this information as soon as possible.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, foreign diplomats holding “A” or “G” visas are eligible to participate in an array of medical programs administered by the federal government, including participation in Health Insurance Marketplaces governed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Secretary of Health and Human Services has informed the Committee on Foreign Affairs that, if they meet basic ACA requirements, “a foreign diplomat could satisfy the statutory criteria to be eligible for a premium tax credit and cost-sharing reductions.”  The State Department has gone so far as to advertise to Foreign Missions, Permanent Missions to the United Nations, and the United Nations Secretariat that health care exchanges and “the benefits of the United States Affordable Care Act are available” to them.

The Foreign Affairs Committee has sought to determine the number of diplomats receiving coverage and subsides under the ACA.  Unfortunately, the State Department has informed the Foreign Affairs Committee that it “is not involved in the process through which foreign diplomats obtain government-funded benefits” and cannot provide that data.  The Department of Health and Human Services is likewise unable to provide this information.  Specifically, it noted that “[t]he Department does not collect data that identify whether individuals receiving services through our medical programs have diplomatic status.”  Similarly, “the Department does not collect data that identifies whether individuals receiving tax credits and/or cost sharing reductions have diplomatic status.”  Copies of these letters are attached for your reference.

We fully support the ability of foreign diplomats to purchase health care coverage in the United States.  We do not, however, believe that American taxpayers should subsidize these services.  To assist with our oversight of this matter, we ask that you please provide the following information as soon as possible, but not later than 5:00 p.m. on November 12, 2014.

  1. The total number, including from which country, of all non-immigrant, non-citizen “A” and “G” visa holders who are eligible for, and who have received, premium tax credits for qualified health plans under the Affordable Care Act;
  1. The total number, including from which country, of all non-immigrant, non-citizen “A” and “G” visa holders who are eligible for, and who have received, cost-sharing reductions for qualified health plans under the Affordable Care Act; and
  1. The total cost, and cost per individual, of all subsidies provided to the individuals above.

The signed letter and referenced attachments are available here.

Did you know about this? Do you know the rationale for this?  International relations is based on reciprocity, are our American diplomats eligible for healthcare subsidies in countries that avail of Obamacare subsidies here? Since the State Department is “is not involved in the process through which foreign diplomats obtain government-funded benefits,” in the United States, how is it supposed to press countries for reciprocal treatment on behalf of our diplomats?

According to a notice circulated (pdf) by the State Department in February 2014, individuals who are lawfully present in the United States, including U.S. citizens, permanent residents (green card holders), and “A” and “G” visa holders (principal or dependent), may purchase coverage through the health insurance marketplace/exchange. Additionally, the notice states that “Those Permanent Missions whose employees do not receive health and medical insurance benefits through the sending state, or Permanent Missions who have not entered into a health and medical insurance plan with a private insurance provider, may find the benefits provided by the ACA a cost effective way to insure their employees against high physician, hospital, and prescription drug costs.”

Note that A-1 – 2 visas are for foreign government diplomats and officials and their immediate family members while G-1 – 4 visas are for international organization officials and employees and their immediate family members.

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-02/20/14   OAS Note No. 07-B: OAS Affordable Care Act Guidance  [98 Kb]
-02/18/14   Notice: Town Hall Meeting – Health Insurance and the Affordable Care Act [280 Kb]
-11/26/13   USUN Diplomatic Note HC-115-(S)-13: UN Secretariat Affordable Care Act Guidance  [43 Kb]
-11/26/13   USUN Diplomatic Note HC-115-13: USUN Affordable Care Act Guidance  [42 Kb]
-11/21/13   Diplomatic Note 13-1117: Affordable Care Act Guidance  [33 Kb]

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Snapshot: Defense Spending in NATO Member States

– Domani Spero

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

via CRS

via CRS (click on image for larger view)

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

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Snapshot: Top Sectors for State Dept Reconstruction Awards in Afghanistan (2002-2013)

– Domani Spero

Via SIGAR:

We identified seven project sectors for Department of State reconstruction awards in Afghanistan. The project sectors include mine removal, governance and rule-of-law, support to cultural activities and civil society, education, humanitarian aid, human rights, and economic development. The governance and rule-of-law project sector had the highest amount of total awards with $3.5 billion, of the $4.0 billion in total awards. Governance and rule-of-law projects include rule-of-law activities such as counternarcotics programs and justice sector reform, peacekeeping initiatives, and government outreach programs. Land mine removal programs had the second-largest proportion of total awards with $150.7 million. Table 1 includes the total awards for each identified project sector as well as the percentage of total awards.

 

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Read more here (pdf).

 

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Snapshot: Top Recipients of State Dept Afghanistan Reconstruction Funds (2002-2013)

–Domani Spero

Via SIGAR:

State data indicated that the top-five recipients of State Afghanistan reconstruction awards by total obligations accounted for approximately $3.5 billion, or 87 percent, of total State reconstruction obligations. State awarded the remaining 13 percent of obligations to 766 recipients,who averaged about $676 thousand each in total obligations.

The top recipient of State reconstruction funding by total awards was Dyncorp International Limited Liability Corporation (Dyncorp). Dyncorp received approximately $2.8 billion in contracts, accounting for 69 percent of total State Department reconstruction awards. The majority of Dyncorp contracts were for governance and rule-of-law activities such training and equipping the Afghan National Police. Dyncorp contracts included police trainers, construction of police infrastructure, and fielding police equipment and vehicles. PAE Government Services Incorporated (PAE) received the second largest amount of total State reconstruction awards, receiving $598 million in contracts. PAE contracts supported development of the rule of law, including police training, counter narcotics advising, and justice sector development.

Of the total reported awards between the beginning of fiscal year 2002 and March 2013, 98 percent of awards by total value were scheduled to be complete by the end of calendar year 2013.

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According to SIGAR, the U.S. Congress appropriated $96.57 billion between fiscal year (FY) 2002 and FY 2013 for Afghanistan reconstruction, principally for the Departments of Defense (DOD) and State (State) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). SIGAR analysis of Department of State data indicates that State obligated nearly $4 billion for reconstruction in Afghanistan between the beginning of fiscal year 2002 and March 2013.

Read more here (pdf).

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Who killed King Joffrey? And what about the State Dept’s “missing” $6 billion?

– Domani Spero

We recently posted about that $6 Billion Alert. What Does The Spox Say? Goring-ding-ding-ding … “Grossly Inaccurate” But …. On April 3, WaPo went with State Department inspector general issues alert over $6 billion in contracting money.  On April 4, TheBlaze.com reported that The State Department Has Lost Track of More Than $6Billion. On April 4, Washington Free Beacon has State Department Misplaced $6B Under Hillary Clinton. On April 6, Fox News (blog) screamed $6 Billion Went Missing From Hillary Clinton’s State Department …. Also on April 6, the Examiner.com - ‎reported State Department $6 billion missing: ‘Creates conditions conducive to fraud’.  On April 8, ABC News (blog) added a twist with Blackwater Named in State Department Probe, Spent $$ on Pricey  On April 9, AllGov has State Dept. Can’t Locate Files for $6 Billion Worth of Contracts. Russia’s RIA Navosti found itself an expert and ran with $6 Bln Vanished from US State Department Due to Corruption – Expert.

Finally ….

 

 

On April 13, ten days after WaPo first reported the $6 billion contracts and just when we could not stop talking about ‘The Lion And The Rose’ episode of ‘Game Of Thrones‘, State/OIG’s Steve Linick wrote to the editors of WaPo “about the State Department’s “missing” $6 billion:

WaPo, Sunday, April 13

The April 3 news article “State Department’s IG issues rare alert” reported on the management alert issued recently by my office. In the alert, we identified State Department contracts with a total value of more than $6 billion in which contract files were incomplete or could not be located. The Post stated, “The State Department’s inspector general has warned the department that $6 billion in contracting money over the past six years cannot be properly accounted for . . . . ”

Some have concluded based on this that $6 billion is missing. The alert, however, did not draw that conclusion. Instead, it found that the failure to adequately maintain contract files — documents necessary to ensure the full accounting of U.S. tax dollars — “creates significant financial risk and demonstrates a lack of internal control over the Department’s contract actions.”

Steve Linick, Washington

The writer is inspector general for the U.S. Department of State and Broadcasting Board of Governors.

 

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$6 Billion Alert. What Does The Spox Say? Goring-ding-ding-ding … “Grossly Inaccurate” But ….

– Domani Spero

 

Last week, State/OIG issued a Management Alert on Contract File Management Deficiencies at the State Department. The Alert is reportedly intended to well, alert senior Department management to the serious nature of this issue and provides “recommendations to assist in eliminating or mitigating those vulnerabilities.” The main thing is this:

“In sum, over the past 6 years, our audit work has uncovered significant contract file management deficiencies in Department contracts/task orders with a total value of more than $6 billion.”

The alert dated March 20, 2014 was addressed to the Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy and the Assistant Secretary of Administration Joyce A. Barr. The signatory of this Management Alert is not State/OIG Steve Linick but three of the four Assistant Inspector Generals of State/OIG namely: Norman P. Brown, Assistant Inspector General for AuditsRobert B. Peterson, Assistant Inspector General for Inspections;  Anna S. Gershman, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations.  Mr. Brown has been AIG since July 2013, Mr. Peterson since 2003, and Ms. Gershman since 2011.  The official response to this alert is dated March 28, 2014 from Ms. Barr who as head of the Bureau of Administration reports to Mr. Kennedy at “M.” Ms. Barr has been “A” since 2011.  Mr. Kennedy has been “M” since 2007.

Do you know why it took six years for this alert to be issued? And how is it that this alert is not addressed to the State Department’s Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom?

Since $6 billion is a lot of resources spent, it made a huge splash – described as “lost,” “missing,” “misplaced,” “lacks files,” or “not totally sure” where the money went.

It made the Daily Press Briefing, of course:

QUESTION: Marie, do you have any comment on the OIG report that was made public today on the $6 billion?

MS. HARF: I do. Just give me one second. Well, reports that there is a $6 billion that can’t be accounted for are grossly inaccurate. The OIG’s report noted that there were a number of incomplete files for our contracts and that these contracts’ cumulative value was about 6 billion. As highlighted in our response to the OIG, this is an issue of which the Department is aware and is taking steps to remedy. It’s not an accounting issue. I think it’s more like a bureaucratic issue. But it’s not that we’ve lost $6 billion, basically.

On March 20th, our new Inspector General did issue a management alert on contract file management deficiencies. The Bureau of Administration responded with a plan to address their three recommendation. Those are all posted on the IG’s web page now.

QUESTION: So how much money can you not account for if it’s not 6 billion?

MS. HARF: I have no idea.
[…]
QUESTION: But it’s way less than 6 billion? I mean, you said it was grossly inflated.

MS. HARF: Grossly inaccurate. Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Okay. So do – you must have –

QUESTION: What’s a rounded-up figure –

MS. HARF: I’m not – no –

QUESTION: You must have an estimate of what it is if you have an understanding –

MS. HARF: It’s my understanding that it’s not an accounting issue. It’s not that we can’t account for money. So I don’t – I’m not sure that there’s any money that we can’t account for.

QUESTION: So how is it grossly inaccurate, then?

MS. HARF: Because it’s not that there’s $6 billion we can’t account for. They said there were incomplete files –

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: — and that the files were – their cumulative value for those contracts was about $6 billion. So it’s a filing issue. It’s not a “we lost money” issue.

QUESTION: So you’re sure that you know where all that money is even though you acknowledge that the files are not complete?

MS. HARF: I – that’s my understanding, yes. But again, all of this is posted on the IG’s website in much more detail.

QUESTION: But –

MS. HARF: I don’t have the $6 billion.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, I just – (laughter) – it sounds like it may be more of a distinction without a difference, saying it’s an accounting error, like maybe –

MS. HARF: No, because the notion that we can’t find $6 billion, right, would mean that it’s an accounting issue, that somehow we lost money that – you can understand why when people hear that they think that it means we’ve lost $6 billion. That’s my understanding that that’s not the case.

QUESTION: Yes, please. I mean, regarding this IG issue, it’s like every other day something is coming out of –

MS. HARF: IG’s been very busy, apparently.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, because there was no IG before, no five years.

MS. HARF: We have a new IG, yep.

QUESTION: Yeah, it came on September. Yeah. I mean, I’m trying to figure out – I mean, when he’s like – when you say grossly and inaccurate, does he presenting these things with information or just like a number?

MS. HARF: Yeah. So the way the IG works in general – and I don’t have the details about their methodology here – is they are independent and they undertake independent reviews, some I understand that are done just routinely, some I think are in response to people submitting things to them. And in general, after the IG does a draft report they submit it to either the post overseas or the office here or the bureau that deals with it so they can have a chance to review it and comment on it and to begin implementing recommendations, if there are any that they think are helpful. So there’s a process here. Then they eventually release the final report that sometimes takes into account comments, sometimes they disagree. We have a variety of ways to respond.

QUESTION: The reason I am asking because these things are related more about overseas activities and contracts. Does the State Department officially – when you say grossly inaccurate, are you going to say what is accurate?

MS. HARF: Yes. And as I said, our response and the entire report is up on the IG’s website. I’m happy to dig into it a little bit more. But yes, we do. I mean, that’s why we give responses and they’re published.

A good excuse to post this again:

Below are some of the cases specified in the $6 billion State/OIG alert:

  • A recent OIG audit of the closeout process for contracts supporting the U.S. Mission in Iraq revealed that contracting officials were unable to provide 33 of 115 contract files requested in accordance with the audit sampling plan.  The value of the contracts in the 33 missing files totaled $2.1 billion.
  • Forty-eight of the 82 contract files received did not contain all of the documentation required by FAR 4.8. The value of the contracts in the 48 incomplete files totaled an additional $2.1 billion.
  • An ongoing OIG audit of Bureau of African Affairs contracts revealed that CORs were unable to provide complete contract administration files for any of the eight contracts that were reviewed. The value of these contracts totaled $34.8 million.
  • In two joint audits conducted with DoD OIG,5 we found that, for two task orders valued in excess of $1 billion, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs had neither ensured that the COR for the Civilian Police contract in Afghanistan established or maintained contracting files that were complete and easily accessible, nor finalized and fully implemented standard operating procedures for maintaining COR files.
  • A joint audit with SIGIR,  we reviewed four task orders from the Worldwide Personal Protective Services II contract, with an estimated total cost of $1 billion as of May 29, 2008, and found that COR files maintained in both Washington, DC, and Baghdad, Iraq, were not accessible, complete, or maintained in accordance with Department policy.
  • One investigation revealed that a contract file did not contain documentation reflecting that modifications and task orders were awarded to the company owned by the spouse of a contractor employee performing as a Contract Specialist for the contract. This contract was valued at $52 million.  (Note: We think this is the relevant case - Former State Department Contract Employee And Husband Plead Guilty To $53 Million Fraud)
  • In another investigation, OIG found that a CO falsified Government technical review information and provided the contractor with contract pricing information. The related contract file was not properly maintained and for a period of time was hidden by the CO. This contract was valued at $100 million.
  • In a third investigation, OIG found that a COR allowed the payment of $792, 782 to a contractor even though the contract file did not contain documents to support the payment. Furthermore, an additional OIG investigation revealed that the contract file was missing a COR appointment letter required by FAR 1.602-2 (d).
  • COR files for a $2.5 million contract lacked status reports and a tally of the funds expended and remaining on the contract. OIG discovered other instances in which contract files lacked contract performance documentation and COR appointment and training certification; CORs failed to maintain technical information and performance records needed to monitor contractor performance; and COR filing systems were disorganized.

 

The Management Alert issued concludes that “The failure to enforce those requirements exposes the Department to significant financial risk and makes OIG oversight more difficult. It creates conditions conducive to fraud, as corrupt individuals may attempt to conceal evidence of illicit behavior by omitting key documents from the contract file. It impairs the ability of the Department to take effective and timely action to protect its interests, and, in turn, those of taxpayers. Finally, it limits the ability of the Government to punish and deter criminal behavior.”

If these contract documents were never completed, what is there to file? If these were filed but misplaced, how do you find files that date back to 2008 for instance on the Worldwide Personal Protective Services II contract in Iraq? Also, without accurate files how do we even know that “It’s not a “we lost money” issue?” 

This is the second Management Alert issued by State/OIG under Steve Linick this year. We have not been able to locate previous management alerts issued by any of his predecessors as Inspector Generals of the State Department.  Perhaps they’re available, not just to the public. But this scrub down is smart.  Every new sheriff should do it. We’re also looking forward to the next alert. It’ll tell us where the new IG is looking under the hood.

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Related items:

-03/31/14   Management Alert – Contract File Management Deficiencies (MA-A-0002)  [1768 Kb]  Posted online April 3, 2014

-01/13/14   Mgmt Alert on OIG Findings of Significant and Recurring Weaknesses in the Dept of State Info System Security Program (MA-A-0001)  [6298 Kb]  Posted online January 16, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.”

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

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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?

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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).

 

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Snapshot: Foreign Service Grievance Board Statistics — 2012

– Domani Spero

We last posted about this in Foreign Service Grievance Board: Out With The Old, In With The New — Website.  Below are the numbers for calendar year 2012. FSGB did not make this available until about September this year.

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In 2011, the average time for consideration of a grievance case was 41 weeks, so the Board had been able to shaved off 8 weeks from the process in 2012.

Below is the FSGB’s summary of its cases, extracted from the 2012 annual report posted at fsgb.gov:

EERs/IERs/OPFs 

The Board decided 16 cases in which the grievants contested some aspect of material in their Official Performance Files (OPF), which provide the basis for promotions and other career decisions. The cases included a variety of claims: late and missing awards; falsely prejudicial material; lack of prior counseling on perceived performance deficiencies; and procedural errors. The Board affirmed the agency’s decision in eight of the cases; reversed the agency in five cases; and partially affirmed/partially reversed in one case. One case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, and two were settled.

In one case, the Board rever reversed a decision by the agency that the grievant had not met the standards of her class. The Board found that the agency had violated several of its own regulations by not providing grievant written notice of performance deficiencies or adequate counseling. It also found that the record did not support the conclusion that the grievant had not met the standards of her class. The Board made the relatively unusual recommendation in this case that the agency grant the grievant a retroactive administrative promotion.

In another case, the Board found that the many procedural errors incurred in processing the grievant’s OPF for tenure review cast serious doubt on whether the grievant had received a fair review in a year in which he was denied tenure. As a remedy, it directed that the grievant’s OPF be placed before reconstituted tenure and selection boards.

Financial Cases 

The Board resolved 20 cases involving financial disputes this year, as compared to eight cases the previous year. It affirmed the agency decision in 13 of those cases, and partially affirmed and partially reversed in three cases. Three cases were settled and one was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

The three cases in which the agency was partially reversed involved reimbursement for the cost of vaccinations; credit for prior work experience in setting initial salary; and reimbursement for the shipment of HHE effects to grievant’s separation address upon his retirement. Six of the cases in which the agency decision was affirmed also involved challenges to the grievant’s starting salary.

One of the more complex financial cases involved the shipment of wood flooring, doors, and door frames by grievants in their household effects. The agency characterized the items as construction materials rather than household effects, and charged grievants for their shipment. The Board upheld the agency’s finding that the items could not properly be considered HHE. (In a separate action, USDA found the wood to be an endangered species that could not be imported legally unless it was part of HHE, and the items were eventually confiscated and destroyed.)

Disciplinary Cases 

The Board decided 12 disciplinary cases this year involving a range of issues: inappropriate behavior toward women; extramarital relationships; lack of candor; drinking while armed; failure to report contacts; unauthorized travel; violation of the agency’s Cyber Security Policy; violation of an embassy vehicle use policy; drunk and disorderly conduct; and misuse of USG equipment. The Board affirmed the agency decision in four cases; partially affirmed and partially reversed in two cases; and reversed in one case. Five of the cases were settled.

Separation Cases 

The Board addressed 12 cases involving the potential separation of the employee. Four of the cases involved separation for cause for misconduct. The other eight involved recommendations for separation by the Performance Standards Board for failure to meet the standards of the class; failure to become tenured; failure to meet an agency’s language requirements; and suspension of the employee’s security clearance. Eleven of these cases were settled and/or withdrawn. In the remaining case, the Board affirmed the agency’s decision to separate the employee for cause. No hearing was held, however, because the employee was living outside the country and failed to respond to repeated attempts by the Board and the agency to schedule a hearing.

Assignment 

Three grievants claimed that assignment actions violated agency regulations and policies. One grievant challenged the agency’s decision to direct a third assignment when his second assignment as a junior officer was curtailed for medical reasons. A second grievant objected to the agency breaking a linked assignment to a follow-on post when he curtailed from Afghanistan under conditions that were considered both medical and voluntary. The Board affirmed the agency decision in both cases. The Board dismissed the third grievance, in which the grievant claimed that the agency had violated merit system principles by not giving him an at-grade assignment, for lack of jurisdiction.

Other 

Five cases fell outside the above categories. These cases involved claims regarding non-selection for a position as an Eligible Family Member; an improperly delayed investigation by Diplomatic Security that resulted in a disrupted career and legal fees; statements made in a Report of Investigation that allegedly discriminated against grievant on the basis of disability and mental illness; improper calculation of grievant’s Time in Service date; and the agency’s improper failure to extend grievant’s retirement travel date. Three of the cases were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and/or timeliness. One was settled. The Board affirmed the agency decision in the final case.

We will post separately the judicial actions on the 2012 FSGB cases.

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Filed under 2012, Counting Beans, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Grievance, Snapshots, State Department

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.

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