Burn Bag: Fly the Friendly Skies Via Helo For 2.2 Miles Between Embassy Kabul and Kabul International Airport

Via Burn Bag:

“After nearly 14 years, $1 trillion, and more than 2,300 lives, the security situation in Kabul is such that the Embassy is using helicopters to transport its staff the 2.2 mile distance to the international airport.”

via giphy.com

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Gayle Smith For USAID Gets a Confirmation Hearing, a Protestor, an Open Letter to End Famine

Posted: 12:13 pm  PDT

 

On June 17, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a confirmation hearing on the nomination of Gayle Smith as the next USAID Administrator:

Ms. Gayle Smith Of Ohio,
To Be Administrator Of The United States Agency For International Development
Download Testimony (pdf)

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Then this happened:

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Burn Bag: NEA’s Assistance Coordination office is a complete disaster?

Via Burn Bag:

When will someone on the 7th floor realize that the emperor is naked and NEA’s Assistance Coordination office is a complete disaster? Money wasted, FTEs wasted, and  …  no one knows what they do.

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NEA/AC – Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs/Office of Assistance Coordination
FTE – Full-time employees
7th Floor – the location of the Secretary of State and his immediate and senior staff in the   HST building
Two grants online: Increasing Employment in the MENA Region (est. total funding $5M) and Entrepreneurship in the MENA Region (est.total funding $7M).
MENA – Middle East and North Africa region

USAID’s Arab Spring Challenges in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen: The State Department, It’s No.2 Challenge

Posted: 12:10 am EDT

 

USAID’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted a survey (pdf) to identify the challenges USAID faced during the early transition period (December 2010-June 2014) in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen. USAID/OIG identified and interviewed 31 key USAID officials from various parts of the organization who have worked on activities in these countries.It also administered a questionnaire to supplement the information gathered from the interviews. Together, 70 employees from USAID were either interviewed or responded to the questionnaire. It notes that the while the survey collected the perspectives of a number of USAID employees, it is not statistically representative of each office or USAID as a whole.

The highest addressee on this report is USAID/Middle East Bureau Assistant Administrator, Paige Alexander. It includes no State Department official nor congressional entities.

Below is an excerpt:

In 2013 OIG conducted a performance audit of USAID/Egypt’s economic growth project1 and found that the changes of the Arab Spring severely affected the project’s progress. Approximately midway through implementation, the project had not made significant progress in seven of the ten tasks in the original plan mainly because of changes in the Egyptian Government’s counterparts and priorities. To adapt to the environment, the project adjusted its plan and identified three new areas of work to focus on. In another audit that year,2 OIG found similar challenges at USAID/Yemen when one of that mission’s main projects had to adjust its approach after the Arab Spring started (page 16).

Beyond project delays, we found a host of other challenges common to all four countries that revolve around three broad categories:

  1. Security
  2. Increased influence from the State Department
  3. Host-countryreadiness

1. Security.

One of the most commonly cited challenges was the difficulty of operating in a volatile environment. Security dictated many aspects of USAID’s operations after the Arab Spring started, and it was not uncommon for activities to be delayed or cancelled because of security issues.
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In addition to access, security also disrupted operations because employees were evacuated from the different countries. U.S. direct-hire employees at USAID/Egypt were evacuated twice in 3 years. In USAID/Yemen, employees were evacuated twice in 3 years for periods of up to 6 months.3 In our survey, 76 percent of the respondents agreed that evacuations made managing projects more difficult.
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Because of the precarious security situations, strict limits were placed on the number of U.S. direct hires who were allowed to be in each country. Employees said the Agency did not have enough staff to support the number of activities. This problem was particularly pronounced in Tunisia and Libya, where for extended periods, USAID had only one permanent employee in each country

2. Increased Influence From State Department.

According to our survey results, the majority of respondents (87 percent) believed that since the Arab Spring the State Department has increased its influence over USAID programs (Figure 3). While USAID did not have activities in Libya and Tunisia before the Arab Spring, staff working in these countries afterward discussed situations in which the State Department had significant influence over USAID’s work. A respondent from Tunisia wrote, “Everything has been driven by an embassy that does not seem to feel USAID is anything other than an implementer of whatever they want to do.”

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While there is broad interagency guidance on State’s role in politically sensitive environments, the specifics of how USAID should adapt its operations were not entirely clear to Agency employees and presented a number of challenges to USAID’s operations. In Yemen, the department’s influence seemed to be less of an issue (page 17), but for the remaining countries, it was a major concern. As one survey respondent from Egypt wrote:

[State’s control] makes long-term planning incredibly difficult and severely constrains USAID’s ability to design and execute technically sound development projects. A path forward is agreed, steps taken to design activities and select implementation mechanisms, and then we are abruptly asked to change the approach.

State’s involvement introduced a new layer of review and slowed down operations. USAID employees needed to dedicate additional time to build consensus and gain approval from people outside the Agency.

USAID employees also described challenges occurring when State employees, unfamiliar with the Agency and its different types of procurement, made requests that were difficult to accommodate under USAID procedures. One respondent wrote that State “think[s] programs can be stopped and started at will and that we can intervene and direct partners in a manner that goes far beyond the substantial involvement we are allowed as project managers.”

Beyond operational challenges, many people we interviewed expressed frustration over the State Department’s increased role, particularly when State’s direction diverted USAID programming from planned development priorities and goals. This was an especially contentious issue at USAID/Egypt (page 7).

This difference in perspectives caused some to question State’s expertise in development assistance, particularly in transitional situations. A USAID official explained that countries in turmoil presented unique challenges and dynamics, and embassies may not have experts in this area. Others said USAID was taking direction from State advisers who were often political appointees without backgrounds in development.
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State was not the sole source of pressure; employees said other federal entities such as the National Security Council and even the White House had increased their scrutiny of USAID since the start of the Arab Spring. As a result, mission officials had to deal with new levels of bureaucracy and were responding constantly to different requests and demands from outside the Agency.

3. Host-Country Readiness.

In each of the four countries, employees reported problems stemming from award recipients’ ability to implement assistance programs. According to one employee, local capacity in Libya was a major problem because the country did not have a strong workforce. Moreover, local implementers had not developed the necessary technical capacity because development assistance was not a priority in Libya under Muammar Qadhafi’s closed, oil-rich regime. Activities in Tunisia and Yemen encountered similar issues because neither have had long histories of receiving foreign development assistance. In Egypt, employees reported that some of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working on the mission’s democracy and governance program also lacked sufficient capacity.

On Egypt:  More than 85 percent of the employees surveyed who worked on activities related to USAID/Egypt agreed that the State Department had increased its influence over USAID programs since the start of the Arab Spring (Figure 5). A number of respondents said State steered Agency programs to address political rather than development needs. This dynamic had a profound effect on the mission’s ability to follow USAID’s guidance on designing and implementing developmentally sound projects. […] Some mission officials questioned the value of adhering to USAID’s project design procedures when the State Department had already decided a project’s fate. […] In this example, State’s desire to award education scholarships to women in Egypt was difficult to justify because university enrollment data showed that higher education enrollment and graduation rates for women are slightly higher than for men.  […] With so many differing voices and perspectives, USAID employees said they were not getting clear, consistent guidance. They described the situation as having “too many cooks in the kitchen.” One survey respondent wrote:

State (or White House) has had a very difficult time making decisions on USAID programming for Egypt . . . so USAID has been paralyzed and sent through twists and turns. State/White House difficulties in decisions may be expected given the fluid situation, but there has been excessive indecision, and mixed signals to USAID.

On Tunisia: The State Department placed strict restrictions on the number of USAID employees allowed to be in-country. As a result, most Agency activities were managed from Washington, D.C. … [O]ne survey respondent wrote, “I have been working on Tunisia for nearly 3 years now, and have designed programs to be carried out there, but I’ve never been. I don’t feel like I have been able to do my job to the best of my ability without that understanding of the situation on the ground.”

On Libya: The attacks in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, had a profound impact on USAID operations in Libya. According to one interviewee, after the attacks USAID did not want to attract too much political attention and put a number of Agency activities in Libya on hold. The period of inactivity lasted from September 2012 to September 2013. It was not until October 2013, after Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted, that the U.S. Government refocused attention on Libya and funding for activities picked up again.

Before the attacks, USAID had five employees in the country; afterward, only one was allowed to remain. Although his main priority then was to manage USAID/OTI projects in Libya, he also was asked to oversee four to five additional activities managed out of Washington—a stretch for any employee. As one survey respondent wrote, “The lack of people in the field in Libya (small footprint) means that DC overwhelms the field. People in the field are worked ragged.”

On Yemen: USAID/Yemen did not suffer from the challenges of unclear strategy that other USAID missions did in the region; 70 percent of respondents who worked on activities in Yemen believed that the Agency had a clear strategy for its post-Arab Spring activities (Figure 12). This is a stark contrast to responses related to USAID/Egypt, where only 22 percent believed that USAID had a clear strategy. …[O]ur survey also found a strong working relationship between USAID/Yemen and the State Department; the two often agreed on what needed to be done. […] Some respondents said the collaborative atmosphere was due to individual personalities and strong working relationships between USAID and State officials. One employee said because employees of both organizations lived and worked together in the close quarters, communication flowed freely as perspectives could be exchanged easily. …[O]ne senior USAID/Yemen official said, some of what needed to be done was so obvious that it was difficult for the two agencies not to agree.

Lessons Learned

The report offers 15 lessons learned including the development of a USAID transition plan at the country level, even if it may change. USAID/OIG says that by having a short-term transition plan, the Agency “would have a better platform to articulate its strategy, particularly when it disagrees with the decisions of other federal entities.”It also lists the following:

  • Resist the urge to implement large development projects that require the support of host governments immediately after a transition.
  • Prepare mission-level plans with Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs)—locally hired USAID employees who are not U.S. citizens—in case U.S. direct hires are evacuated. Evacuation of U.S. staff can be abrupt with only a few hours’ notice. People we interviewed recommended that U.S. staff develop plans with the mission’s FSN staff ahead of time, outlining roles, responsibilities, and modes of operation to prevent a standstill in operations in the event of an evacuation.
  • Get things in writing. When working in environments where USAID is getting input and instructions from organizations that are not familiar with Agency procedures, decisions made outside of USAID may be documented poorly. In such circumstances, it is important to remember to get things in writing.
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Conspired to Defraud Uncle Sam? Be Very Afraid. We’re Gonna Put You in Home Confinement!

Posted: 9:40 am EDT

 

Remember the USAID nonprofit contractor IRD? (See Dear USAID OIG — That Nonprofit Contractor Mess Really Needs a Fact Sheet). Well, here’s another one.  This is a case where the CEO of a major USAID contractor gets feather-slapped by the court.

A 2011 ranking of private USAID partners by devex.com lists LBG as the third largest USAID private-sector partner that has contracted some of the government’s largest post-conflict redevelopment projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Bloomberg, Louis Berger International, a unit of Louis Berger Group, got about $736 million to modernize a power system and rehabilitate the Kajakai Dam in Afghanistan.  Whoa! We thought that dam only cost $305.5 million! Plus cost of fuel that  US taxpayers also had to shoulder.

What is missing from this announcement? How much was the total contracts that LBG received in the last 20 years? Who’s paying the independent monitor? And for heaven’s sake, what lessons are we sending to other reconstruction capitalists doing awesome work for love of god and country?

Via USDOJ:

The former president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of a New Jersey-based international engineering consulting company was sentenced today to 12 months of home confinement and fined $4.5 million for conspiring to defraud the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with respect to billions of dollars in contracts over a nearly 20-year period, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Derish Wolff, 79, of Bernardsville, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson to a superseding information charging conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims. Judge Thompson imposed the sentence today in Trenton federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Wolff, the former president and CEO of Morristown, New Jersey-based Louis Berger Group Inc. (LBG), and the former chairman of LBG’s parent company, Berger Group Holdings Inc. (BGH), led a conspiracy to defraud USAID by billing the agency on so-called “cost-reimbursable” contracts – including hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts for reconstructive work in Iraq and Afghanistan – for LBG’s overhead and other indirect costs at falsely inflated rates.

USAID, an independent federal government agency that advances U.S. foreign policy by supporting economic growth, agriculture, trade, global health, democracy, and humanitarian assistance in developing countries, including countries destabilized by violent conflict, awarded LBG hundreds of millions of dollars in reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in other nations. LBG calculated certain overhead rates and charged USAID and other federal agencies these rates on cost-reimbursable contracts, which enabled LBG to pass on their overhead costs to the agency in general proportion to how much labor LBG devoted to the government contracts.

From at least 1990 through July 2009, LBG, through Wolff and other former executives, intentionally overbilled USAID in connection with these cost-reimbursable contracts. The scheme to defraud the government was carried out by numerous LBG employees at the direction of Wolff.

Wolff targeted a particular overhead rate, irrespective of what the actual rate was, and ordered his subordinates to achieve that target rate through a variety of fraudulent means. From at least as early as 1990 through 2000, Wolff ordered LBG’s assistant controller to instruct the accounting department to pad its time sheets with hours ostensibly devoted to federal government projects when it had not actually worked on such projects.

At an LBG annual meeting in September 2001, Salvatore Pepe, who was then the controller and eventually became chief financial officer (CFO), presented a USAID overhead rate that was significantly below Wolff’s target. In response, Wolff denounced Pepe, called him an “assassin” of the overhead rate and ordered him to target a rate above 140 percent, meaning that for every dollar of labor devoted to a USAID contract, LBG would receive an additional $1.40 in overhead expenses supposedly incurred by LBG.

In response, Pepe and former controller Precy Pellettieri, with Wolff’s supervision, hatched a fraudulent scheme from 2003 through 2007 to systematically reclassify the work hours of LBG’s corporate employees, including high-ranking executives and employees in the general accounting division, to make it appear as if those employees worked on federal projects when they did not. At his plea hearing on Dec. 12, 2014, Wolff admitted that Pepe and Pellettieri, at Wolff’s direction, reclassified these hours without the employees’ knowledge and without investigating whether the employees had correctly accounted for their time, and at times did so over an employee’s objection.

In addition to padding employees’ work hours with fake hours supposedly devoted to USAID work, Wolff instructed his subordinates to charge all commonly shared overhead expenses, such as rent, at LBG’s Washington, D.C., office to an account created to capture USAID-related expenses, even though the D.C. office supported many projects unrelated to USAID or other federal government agencies.

On Nov. 5, 2010, Pepe and Pellettieri both pleaded guilty before then-U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz to separate informations charging them with conspiring to defraud the government with respect to claims. Also on that date, LBG resolved criminal and civil fraud charges related to Wolff’s and others’ conduct. The components of the settlement included:

  • a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), pursuant to which the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey suspended prosecution of a criminal complaint charging LBG with a violation of the Major Fraud Statute; in exchange, LBG agreed, among other things, to pay $18.7 million in related criminal penalties; make full restitution to USAID; adopt effective standards of conduct, internal controls systems, and ethics training programs for employees; and employ an independent monitor who would evaluate and oversee the company’s compliance with the DPA for a two-year period;
  • a civil settlement that required the company to pay the government $50.6 million to resolve allegations that LBG violated the False Claims Act by charging inflated overhead rates that were used for invoicing on government contracts; and an administrative agreement between LBG and USAID, which was the primary victim of the fraudulent scheme.

In the settlement, the government took into consideration LBG’s cooperation with the investigation and the fact that those responsible for the wrongdoing were no longer associated with the company.

Click here for the original announcement (pdf).

 

Related posts:

Related items:

Tweet of the Day: The Truth Behind The Afghanistan ‘Success Story’

Posted: 1:32 am EDT

 

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Looking at an American intervention that’s going to end, not with a bang, but on a deadline, it can be tough to find the silver lining.

This week Forbes contributor Loren Thompson tried to do that in a piece called “Five Signs Afghanistan Is Becoming An American Success Story,” making the case that staying the course in Afghanistan is “paying off.” His premise that Americans can hold their head high on Afghanistan is based on five points: the solid performance of Afghan forces, the country’s improved political climate, Islamabad’s renewed interest in cooperating with Kabul, a booming Afghan economy, and popular support for Afghanistan’s national institutions. It’s a concise, readable assessment, with one problem: The country Thompson describes doesn’t exist.

Gary Owen is a veteran, development worker, and blogger at “Sunny in Kabul.” He is also a regular contributor to the Afghan Analysts Network and Vice News. Gary Owen is a pseudonym. Follow Gary Owen on Twitter @elsnarkistani.

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Burn Bag: Why is INL so enamored with aerial fumigation?

Posted: 1:18 am EDT

 

Via Burn Bag:

The U.S. Government never discusses the fact that flows of cocaine to the U.S. and the coca crop in Colombia do not correlate. Since there is no science behind this, why is INL [Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs] so enamored with spray? What interests are driving this program? 

via tumblr.com

via tumblr.com

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Colombia Health Ministry Calls For Suspension of Aerial Herbicide Fumigation, Defense Ministry Pushes Back

Posted: 12:40 pm PDT

 

We did a few posts on the aerial fumigation in Colombia last month.  See: State/INL: Anti-Drug Aerial Eradication in Colombia and the Cancer-Linked Herbicide, What Now?;  So, who wants to drink up or be in target area for next aerial fumigation in Colombia?Colombia Counternarcotics Program Costs Over $8 Billion the Last 11 Years, Where’s the Audit Trail?

Last week, the Colombia Health Ministry recommended that the aerial fumigation in the country be suspended. The Colombian Defense Ministry was quick to pushed back.

This is the same week when Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Colombia for the U.S.-Colombia High-Level Partnership Dialogue and the Steering Committee for the U.S.-Colombia Action Plan on Racial and Ethnic Equality, and joined the High-Level Strategic Security Dialogue.

 

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Below is an excerpt from WOLA’s Adam IsacsonSenior Associate for Regional Security Policy:  Even if Glyphosate Were Safe, Fumigation in Colombia Would Be a Bad Policy. Here’s Why.

Colombia is the only coca-growing country that allows aerial herbicide fumigation. Faced with the possibility that it may be aerially spraying carcinogens over its own citizens, Colombia’s Health Ministry issued a statement late Monday recommending that the aerial fumigation program be suspended.

Whether to suspend the program is up to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has yet to make or schedule an announcement. Meanwhile, Colombian government agencies that carry out the fumigation program have been quick to push back. “We cannot permit losing the benefits [of spraying] on delinquency, crime and terrorism,” said Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón, who oversees Colombia’s National Police and its counternarcotics division, which performs the spraying. “We will continue using all our tools that help maintain security for Colombians.”

U.S. government officials say that while they will respect Colombia’s sovereign decision, they insist that glyphosate is safe and that they’d rather not see the spray program end. The State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement bureau has spent somewhere between US$1 billion and US$2 billion on herbicides, contractor pilots and mechanics, police escort helicopters, fuel, search-and-rescue teams, and related fumigation costs since the program began in 1994.
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The lesson of Colombia’s fumigation program is that there is no substitute for economic development and government presence in national territory. The opposite—flying anonymously above without any presence on the ground—causes the coca trade to migrate and alienates populations whose support is necessary amid an armed conflict. When not coordinated with food security and alternative livelihoods, fumigation also gives guerrillas a powerful propaganda tool: the FARC and ELN have heavily employed the argument that the spraying is proof that Colombia’s “oligarchy” either doesn’t care about peasants, or wants to use the spraying to dispossess them of their lands.

Read in full here.

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US Embassy Nepal: DART and Search and Rescue Teams Are On the Ground

Posted: 12:15 am EDT

 

At the DPB on April 27, the State Department said that Embassy Kathmandu remains open and the U.S. Embassy and the American Club continue to shelter U.S. citizens and their family members as well as dozens of non-Americans. There are reportedly about 85 U.S. citizens at the chancery and about 220 U.S. citizens at the American Club.  The spokesman said he is “not aware of any significant damage, at least not that is impeding their [embassy’s] operations.”  

Embassy Kathmandu staff is reportedly being supplemented with resources in the region “to better enable us to respond to – not only to the things concerning U.S. citizens, but also liaison coordination with the U.S. Government and such.” All of the American personnel at the embassy are accounted for. The embassy is continuing its efforts to account for all its local employees. Meanwhile, the DART and the search and rescue teams have arrived in country.

 

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Nepal Earthquake: USAID/OFDA activates Disaster Assistance Response Team; how you can help in relief efforts

Posted: 12:30 am EDT

 

On April 25, the U.S. Government (USG) issued a disaster declaration for Nepal due to the effects of the earthquake. In response, USAID/OFDA immediately activated a Response Management Team (RMT) in Washington, D.C., and a DART—including urban search-and-rescue (USAR) specialists from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department—to support emergency response efforts in cooperation with the GoN. USAID/OFDA has also authorized an initial $1 million to address urgent needs.

According to media reports, the earthquake has resulted in widespread damage and destruction of buildings as well as damaged roads and other public infrastructure. According to USAID, USG staff in Kathmandu reported that electrical and telecommunications networks are intermittently operational, although landlines appear to function. The airports in Kathmandu and Pokhara reportedly remained open, with some commercial flight activity already resumed.  Nepal earthquake death toll is now reported to be over 3,200, including 3 Americans.  More than 6,000 have been injured in the earthquake.

The U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu has drilled about the big one for years now. Our post there has an American staff of less than a hundred. Post is a typical accompanied post so there will be family members there.  If public infrastructure and food supply becomes problematic, we anticipate that family members will be evacuated to a safehaven area or back home like what happened in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. It is also worth noting that in a crisis like this, the local employees who are expected to assist the mission may also be facing their own challenges with the need and safety of their own families. Let’s keep them all in our thoughts.

In response to the Government of Nepal requests for assistance, USAID/OFDA deployed a DART to Nepal. The team includes USAID/OFDA humanitarian specialists and 54 USAR personnel from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. USAID/OFDA has also allocated an initial $1 million for relief organizations in Nepal to address urgent humanitarian needs. Also this:

For nearly two decades, USAID/OFDA has supported disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts in Nepal, including throughout Kathmandu Valley. USAID/OFDA funding has enabled the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to identify, prepare, and preserve more than 80 open spaces in Kathmandu Valley to ensure the sites are available for humanitarian purposes—such as distribution centers or warehouses—in the event of large-scale disasters. USAID/OFDA has also supported Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) to pre-position critical emergency relief supplies in order to address the immediate needs of affected communities following a disaster.

Here are a few more updates via Twitter:

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We understand that due to the weather, tents are an urgent need right now. USAID/OFDA director Jeremy Konyndyk says, “We’re mobilizing emergency shelter supplies from our global stocks. Clear need.”

How You Can Help

USAID says that the most effective way people can assist relief efforts is by making cash contributions to humanitarian organizations that are conducting relief operations. A list of humanitarian organizations that are accepting cash donations for disaster responses around the world can be found at www.interaction.org.

USAID encourages cash donations because they allow aid professionals to procure the exact items needed (often in the affected region); reduce the burden on scarce resources (such as transportation routes, staff time, and warehouse space); can be transferred very quickly and without transportation costs; support the economy of the disaster-stricken region; and ensure culturally, dietary, and environmentally appropriate assistance.

More information can be found at:

  • The Center for International Disaster Information: www.cidi.org or +1.202.821.1999.
  • Information on relief activities of the humanitarian community can be found at www.reliefweb.int

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