Senate Confirms Gayle Smith to be USAID Administrator

Posted: 6:41 pm EDT


On November 30, the U.S. Senate confirmed Gayle Smith as Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development by a vote of 79-7.

The National Security Advisor was quick to issue a statement. The State Department’s number 2 was quick to issue a tweet.




USAID Finally Gets an Inspector General 1,496 Days After Job Went Vacant

Posted: 12:17 am EDT


The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been without a Senate-confirmed inspector general for four years.  The position became vacant in October 2011 following Donald Gambatesa’s resignation (he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in December 2005).

On June 20, 2013, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Michael G. Carroll as the next Inspector General.  According to WaPo, Michael G. Carroll, who was USAID’s acting inspector general, withdrew his name from consideration to be President Obama’s permanent inspector general after it has been pending for 16 months. This came amidst WaPo’s report that negative findings in USAID OIG’s reports were allegedly being stricken from audits between 2011 and 2013.   On November 12, 2014, the White House officially withdrew the Carroll nomination.  WaPo reported Mr. Carroll’s retirement on December 8, 2014 (see USAID watchdog Michael Carroll retires in wake of whistleblower claims).

In May this year, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ann Calvaresi Barr, as the next Inspector General for USAID.

On May 11, the Senate received and referred Ms. Barr’s nomination  to the Committee on Foreign Relations; it was  also sequentially referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs for 20 calendar days.

Ms. Barr did not get her confirmation hearing until August 4. Two months later, the Barr nomination was cleared by the SFCR on October 1, and by the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on October 22.  On November 19, the full Senate confirmed Ms. Barr by voice vote, 1,496 days after the job went vacant and 192 days after President Obama announced her nomination.

Ms. Barr should have a lengthy junkyard dog list. Just look at this:

Stricter definition?  Help, where’s my smelling salt …



Related posts:

DOD Builds the World’s Most Expensive Gas Station in Afghanistan For $43M, Oh, Joy!

Posted: 1:01 am EDT


Apparently, we’ve built a compressed natural gas (CNG) automobile filling station in the city of Sheberghan, Afghanistan. The project cost almost $43 million, and the average Afghans can’t even afford to use it.

The Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO or Task Force) was originally created by the Department of Defense (DOD) to help revive the post-invasion economy of Iraq. In 2009, TFBSO was redirected to Afghanistan, where its mission was to carry out projects to support economic development. From 2010 through 2014, Congress appropriated approximately $822 million to TFBSO for Afghanistan, of which the task force obligated approximately $766 million.

The contract awarded to Central Asian Engineering to construct the station was for just under $3 million. Yet according to an economic impact assessment performed at the request of TFBSO:

The Task Force spent $42,718,739 between 2011 and 2014 to fund the construction and to supervise the initial operation of the CNG station (approximately $12.3 [million] in direct costs and $30.0 [million] in overhead costs).

SIGAR says that the $43 million total cost of the TFBSO-funded CNG filling station far exceeds the estimated cost of CNG stations elsewhere. According to a 2010 publication of the International Energy Association, “the range of investment for a public [CNG] station serving an economically feasible amount of vehicles varies from $200,000 to $500,000. Costs in non-OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries are likely to be in the lower end of this range.”

The SIGAR report notes that the total cost of building a CNG station in Pakistan would be approximately $306,000 at current exchange rates.  In short, at $43 million, the TFBSO filling station cost 140 times as much as a CNG station in Pakistan.

$43 million from the American taxpayers.

The SIGAR report also says that its ’s review of this project was hindered by DOD’s lack of cooperation, and when it comes to TFBSO activities, DOD appears determined to restrict or hinder SIGAR access.

It is both surprising and troubling that only a few months following the closure of TFBSO, DOD has not been able to find anyone who knows anything about TFBSO activities, despite the fact that TFBSO reported directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, operated in Afghanistan for over five years, and was only shut down in March 2015.

Further, SIGAR says that “If TFBSO had conducted a feasibility study of the project, they might have noted that Afghanistan lacks the natural gas transmission and local distribution infrastructure necessary to support a viable market for CNG vehicles.  Additionally, it appears that the cost of converting a car to run on CNG may be prohibitive for the average Afghan. TFBSO’s contractor, stated that conversion to CNG costs $700 per car in Afghanistan, where the average annual income is $690.”

We meant well in Afghanistan, too. Oh, joy!  What edition are we on?

But serious question. How can we have something happen like this, with DOD hindering/restricting SIGAR’s access and no one is in jail?

The read and weep report is available online here: 



State Dept to Renovate Kabul’s Pol-i-Charkhi (PIC) Prison. Again.

Posted: 2:52 am EDT


The State Department has issued a Pre-Solicitation Notice of the Government’s intent to issue a solicitation for the renovation of Pol-i-Charkhi (PIC) Prison in Kabul, Afghanistan.  The project includes renovations in Blocks 1, 2 & 3 and extensive infrastructure and satellite structure improvements to the facility.  Actual solicitation documents are only accessible using the restricted portion of, so we have not been able to read the details of this renovation.

This is, however, the same prison which is the subject of an October 2014 SIGAR report, Pol-i-Charkhi Prison: After 5 Years and $18.5 Million, Renovation Project Remains Incomplete (pdf) This is Afghanistan’s largest correctional facility, funded in its initial construction by the Soviet Union in 1973.  It is designed for approximately 5,000 prisoners but housed nearly 7,400 during SIGAR’s inspection last year. Extract below from the SIGAR report:

Screen Shot 2015-09-29

  • In June 2009, in response to damage caused by 35 years of neglect, Soviet occupation, and warfare, the Department of State’s Regional Procurement Support Office (RPSO) awarded an INL-funded renovation contract to W (AWCC)—an Afghan firm—for $16.1 million. Following two modifications, the contract’s overall value increased to $20.2 million.
  • In November 2010, the RPSO terminated AWCC’s INL-funded renovation contract at the government’s convenience based on unsatisfactory performance.4 Following contract termination, INL awarded Batoor Construction Company—an Afghan company—a $250,000 contract to document AWCC’s work completed under the renovation contract.
  • More than 5 years after work began, renovation of Pol-i-Charkhi prison has not been completed, and the contract has been terminated for convenience. Following the RPSO’s termination of the INL-funded contract in November 2010, Batoor Construction Company reviewed and documented AWCC’s work completed under the renovation contract. In March 2011, Batoor reported that AWCC completed approximately 50 percent of the required renovation work. Batoor’s report also noted multiple instances of defective workmanship including the lack of backfilling of trenches, not repairing/replacing broken fixtures, lack of proper roof flashing and gutters, and soil settlement issues. For example, the report noted that there were no metal flashing or gutters installed on one of the prison blocks resulting in damage to surface paint and moisture penetration in supporting walls.
  • We conducted our prison inspection on April 19, 2014, but were limited by the fact that the renovation work had been completed more than 3 years prior to our site visit. We found that the prison holding areas had been reconfigured into maximum, medium, and minimum security cells, and the cells contained the required sinks and toilets. Our inspection of the renovated industries building and kitchen facilities did not disclose any major deficiencies. We also found that AWCC procured and installed the six back-up power diesel generators, as required by the contract. However, the generators cannot be used because they were not hooked-up to the prison’s electric power grid before the renovation contract was terminated. INL officials told us that the work necessary to make the generators operational—primarily installing paired transformers—will be done under the planned follow-on renovation contract, which they hope to begin in late 2014 or early 2015.
  • INL officials told us they anticipated an award of a follow-on contract by the spring of 2015 to complete the renovation work initiated in 2009 and a separate contract to construct a wastewater treatment plant. They estimated the renovation work would cost $11 million; the wastewater treatment plant, $5 million.
  • On November 5, 2010, the contracting officer issued a Stop Work Order which noted that AWCC’s performance was deemed unsatisfactory due to its lack of progress on the project, labor unrest at the work site, and a lack of supplies to maintain efficient progress. Then, on November 26, 2012, the RPSO contracting officer issued AWCC a termination for convenience letter.
  • After a 2-year negotiation that concluded in December 2012, RPSO agreed to an $18.5 million settlement with AWCC—92 percent of the $20.2 million contract value. RPSO agreed to the settlement despite INL and Batoor reports showing that AWCC only completed about 50 percent of the work required under the contract. The contracting officer who negotiated the settlement for the U.S. government told us that the final award amount reflected actual incurred costs and not any specific completion rate. The contracting officer noted that an RPSO contract specialist and an Afghan COR10 assisted her in lengthy negotiations with AWCC and joined her for the final round of discussions in Istanbul, Turkey, which concluded with the signed settlement agreement.
  • Although the contracting officer was able to execute some oversight and issue clear warnings to AWCC regarding its performance, INL’s oversight efforts were compromised by a U.S. employee who served as the COR for the AWCC renovation contract as well as the Basirat design and project monitoring contract. The COR served in this capacity until May 2010, when he was suspended after INL and State’s Office of Inspector General found that he had accepted money from Basirat to promote the company’s interests. The COR was convicted and sentenced by a U.S. District Court for accepting illegal gratuities from Basirat.9 As a result, in August 2010, State suspended Basirat from receiving any government contracts. In August 2010, State also suspended AWCC from receiving government contracts based on receiving confidential proposal information from Basirat concerning State solicitations.
  • The contracting officer added that during these final negotiations the COR [contracting officer’s representative] concurred with many of the contractor’s assertions. In June 2013, just 6 months later, the COR’s designation was suspended amid concerns that he may have colluded with another INL contractor, an issue discussed in our May 2014 inspection report on Baghlan prison.11 As noted in that report, INL suspected this COR of enabling a contractor to substitute inferior products and materials, failing to discover substandard construction, approving questionable invoices, and certifying that all contract terms had been met at the time of project turnover to INL even though construction deficiencies remained. The COR resigned in August 2013. SIGAR investigators are currently conducting an inquiry to determine whether the contractor or other U.S. government officials were complicit in these alleged activities.

So  —  the previous contractor collected an $18.5 million settlement,  92 percent of the $20.2 million contract? But it only did 50 percent of the work required under the contract? Maybe we should all move to Kabul and be contractors?

And now, there will be a new $16M contract?  Which will have modifications, of course, and will not really top off at $16M.


Related items:

Here’s what it looks like in Afghanistan’s largest — and still incomplete — prison (WaPo)

America’s Unfinished Prison in Afghanistan Is a Filthy Nightmare (Medium)



Be On The Lookout Alert: State/OIG’s Inspection Reports FY2015 (Corrected)

Posted: 12:43  am EDT
Corrected: 1:19 pm EDT


The Office of Evaluations and Special Projects (ESP) in the Office of Inspector General (OIG) was established in 2014 “to strengthen OIG’s oversight of the Department and BBG, and to improve OIG’s capabilities to meet statutory requirements of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012.”  ESP is also responsible for special evaluations and reviews, including responses to congressional inquiries. The work of this new office reportedly complements the work of OIG’s audits, investigations, and inspections by developing a capacity to focus on broader, systemic issues.

Note: We are correcting this post to indicate that the following reports are done by OIG’s Office of Inspection (ISP). That directorate is focused on three broad areas set forth in the Foreign Service Act of 1980: policy implementation, resource management and management controls. The following reports fall under OIG/ISP’s Special Projects and Areas of Emphasis. 

With the end of the fiscal year just two weeks away, here is a recap of the scheduled evaluations by OIG’s Office of Inspection for FY2015 (pdf). The start date of these evaluations was this fiscal year but the final reports may not necessarily be released this month.   We don’t know when these reports will be available and if all will be available publicly, but we’re on the lookout for them. State/OIG says that “our folks are committed to posting them and making them public as soon as we can.”

Cross-Functional: Program Evaluation | Inspectors will determine whether Department bureaus and missions have conducted program evaluations of foreign assistance programs, consistent with OMB Memorandum M-11-29 and the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), 18 FAM 300.

Executive: Annual Statement of Assurance on Management Controls | Inspectors will determine whether Chiefs of Mission and Assistant Secretaries understand statement-of-assurance guidance; conduct reviews consistent with guidance; and demonstrate their support for controls verbally and through other means, communicating the importance of ethical behavior and management controls.

Political/Economic: Foreign Assistance Oversight  | Inspectors will determine whether oversight responsibilities are clearly reflected in the position descriptions, work requirement statements, and evaluations of grant officer representatives or contracting officer representatives that spend more than 25 percent of their time overseeing foreign assistance programs.

Public Diplomacy: Social Media Guidance and Clearances | Inspectors will determine whether missions have a strategic plan to guide missions’ use of various types of social media and the level of policy content in that media with respect to target audiences.

Consular: Eligible Family Member Employment in Consular Sections  | Inspectors will examine the effectiveness of eligible family member employment in consular sections and its impact on mission morale.

Information Technology: Key-Loggers  | Inspectors will determine if missions and bureaus have controls in place to detect the existence of key-loggers on mobile computing devices used with the fob.

Security: Regional Security Officer Access to Threat Information  | Inspectors will determine whether Regional Security Officers have access to all required sources of threat information, as recommended in the classified Benghazi Accountability Review Board report.

Security: Department of Defense Support for Embassy Personnel Emergencies  | Inspectors will determine whether DoD is complying with Benghazi Accountability Review Board recommendations related to supporting mission personnel in emergencies.


560 Ex-Peace Corps Volunteers Write to Secretary Kerry Urging Suspension of Aid to Dominican Republic

Posted: 3:08 am EDT


Nearly 600 former Peace Corps volunteers and three PC country directors who served in the Dominican Republic wrote an open letter to Secretary Kerry urging the suspension of aid to the Dominican Republic due to its treatment of Dominicans of Haitian descent:

It is due to our deep and abiding concern for the most vulnerable members of Dominican society that we are writing to you about the crisis of statelessness among Dominicans of Haitian descent. We urge you to end U.S. involvement in the violation of their human rights: enforce the Leahy Amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act and annual Department of Defense appropriations.

The Leahy laws state that no U.S. assistance shall be furnished to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if there is credible information that such a unit has committed a gross violation of human rights. Given the Dominican government’s disregard for international law with respect to the status of its citizens of Haitian descent; the violent track record of Dominican security forces receiving funding and training from the United States; and the Dominican Armed Forces’ readiness to execute a potentially massive campaign of rights-violating expulsions, we ask that the United States suspend its military aid to the Dominican government.

In 2013, the Dominican Constitutional Court i​ssued a ruling (168-13) that effectively stripped hundreds of thousands of people, primarily those of Haitian descent, of their Dominican citizenship. This ruling stands in direct contravention of international human rights law—specifically the A​merican Convention on Human Rights,​which the Dominican government r​atified in 1978. This convention enshrines the right to a nationality and prohibits its arbitrary deprivation. Many Dominicans of Haitian ancestry, including those whose families have resided in the

Dominican Republic for generations, were rendered stateless and face forcible deportation to a country where many have no ties whatsoever. A subsequent Dominican law (1​69-14)​, which addressed the court’s ruling, further entrenched the negation of the right to citizenship on the basis of one’s place of birth, and retroactively conferred citizenship on the basis of the immigration status of one’s parents.

The volunteers’ letter specifically cites the security forces that “appear poised to carry out mass deportations within the country, including the U​.S.-trained border patrol agency, CESFRONT, which has r​eceived more than $17.5 million in assistance from the United States since 2013.”

“If the United States is serious about protecting universally recognized human rights, we must no longer abet such actions in the Dominican Republic, much less be complicit in an impending intensification of human rights abuses. In our view, it appears impossible for the Dominican government to move forward with the implementation of its human rights-violating, internationally condemned citizenship laws without involving its security forces in yet more widespread and severe abuses.”

A small group representing the volunteers has requested a meeting with Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson.







We Meant Well, Afghanistan Edition: Ghost Students, Ghost Teachers, Ghost Schools, Ugh!

Posted: 1:16 am  PDT




Over and over, the United States has touted education — for which it has spent more than $1 billion — as one of its premier successes in Afghanistan, a signature achievement that helped win over ordinary Afghans and dissuade a future generation of Taliban recruits. As the American mission faltered, U.S. officials repeatedly trumpeted impressive statistics — the number of schools built, girls enrolled, textbooks distributed, teachers trained, and dollars spent — to help justify the 13 years and more than 2,000 Americans killed since the United States invaded.

But a BuzzFeed News investigation — the first comprehensive journalistic reckoning, based on visits to schools across the country, internal U.S. and Afghan databases and documents, and more than 150 interviews — has found those claims to be massively exaggerated, riddled with ghost schools, teachers, and students that exist only on paper. The American effort to educate Afghanistan’s children was hollowed out by corruption and by short-term political and military goals that, time and again, took precedence over building a viable school system. And the U.S. government has known for years that it has been peddling hype.
USAID program reports obtained by BuzzFeed News indicate the agency knew as far back as 2006 that enrollment figures were inflated, but American officials continued to cite them to Congress and the American public.

As for schools it actually constructed, USAID claimed for years that it had built or refurbished more than 680, a figure Hillary Clinton cited to Congress in 2010 when she was secretary of state. By 2014, that number had dropped to “more than 605.” After months of pressing for an exact figure, the agency told BuzzFeed News the number was 563, a drop of at least 117 schools from what it had long claimed.

Last week, we were looking for clinics.

What’s next … ghost soldiers? Oops, that’s already an old story?


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.”




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)


Then this happened:






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.


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 ( funding $7M).
MENA – Middle East and North Africa region