Category Archives: Foreign Assistance

Snapshot: U.S.-Funded Democracy/Governance Activities Over Egyptian Govt Objections

– Domani Spero

 

Imagine if a country, say China, sends some of its foreign aid funds to foreign non-government groups in the United States to help us repair our roads and bridges or learn about their people’s congress. What if its National People’s Congress dictates that its embassy in Washington, D.C. does not have to take into account the wishes of the U.S. Government as to where or how that money is spent; that the specific nature of Beijing’s assistance need not be subject to the prior approval by the United States Government. What do you think will happen? If we were up in arms (looking at you Texas) over the UN election monitors, imagine what it would be like if a foreign government starts something crazy like this.

But apparently, that’s exactly what we did in Egypt, thanks to then Senator Sam Brownback’s amendment.

Via GAO:

In 2004, the U.S. government began discussions with the Egyptian government regarding a program to directly fund NGOs and other organizations to implement democracy and governance activities in Egypt outside of the framework of an implementing assistance agreement. From September to November 2004, the two governments worked to outline a process by which the United States would directly fund such activities. Further information on this process can be found in the sensitive version of our report.

Shortly thereafter, Congress approved an amendment to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 (the Brownback Amendment), which provided further direction regarding assistance for democracy and governance activities in Egypt. The Brownback Amendment stated, “That with respect to the provision of assistance for Egypt for democracy and governance activities, the organizations implementing such assistance and the specific nature of that assistance shall not be subject to the prior approval by the Government of Egypt.” 

In fiscal year 2005, USAID began using some democracy and governance assistance to directly fund NGOs and other types of organizations to implement democracy and governance activities, rather than working with the Egyptian government under the implementing assistance agreement. Soon after USAID started to directly fund NGOs and other types of organizations to implement democracy and governance activities in fiscal year 2005, the Egyptian government raised objections. Among other things, the Egyptian government stated that USAID was violating the terms of the process that the two governments had outlined in a 2004 exchange of letters. However, the U.S. government officials responded that they were interpreting their commitments based upon the conditions applied by the Brownback Amendment and agreement in diplomatic discussions on direct funding to NGOs.

 

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The Egyptian government strongly objected to some of the U.S. government’s planned assistance for democracy and governance after the January 2011 revolution, including the award of funding to unregistered NGOs.9 These concerns led to the Egyptian Ministry of Justice questioning officials from several NGOs about their activities in late 2011. Subsequently, in December 2011, the Egyptian police raided the offices of four U.S. NGOs that were implementing U.S.-funded democracy and governance activities—Freedom House, ICFJ, IRI, and NDI. In February 2012, the Egyptian government charged employees of these four organizations and a German organization, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, with establishing and operating unauthorized international organizations, according to government documents.10 At the time of the charges, all four U.S. organizations reported that they had submitted registration applications to the Egyptian government.11 In June 2013, an Egyptian court convicted a total of 43 employees from the four U.S. NGOs and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, of these charges and the NGOs had to close their operations in Egypt. Table 1 provides a summary of the grants the U.S. government awarded after the January 2011 revolution to the four U.S. NGOs that were prosecuted. All of the American staff from the NGOs were allowed to leave Egypt before the convictions.

And we end up with this: USAID Egypt: An Official Lie Comes Back to Bite, Ouchy!

An FSO offers some perspective:

You imply that the United States would never allow assistance of the kind we provide to Egypt in terms of democracy assistance.  This is not the case.  We do restrict the ability of foreign nations to influence our elections, but foreign nations have both the ability and the right to influence policy decisions in the United States.  Two days ago, I was reading a blog on foreignpolicy.com sponsored by the UAE Embassy.  But much more importantly many foreign governments hire lobbyists, engage in informational campaigns, or provide grants to NGOs in the United States and all of these activities are protected by U.S. law.  
 
To return to Egypt, I have worked on many authoritarian countries including Egypt where the government has done everything possible to squeeze organizations and individuals standing up for human rights and individual freedoms.  Just as we allow foreign countries to engage in policy advocacy in the United States, I see no reason why we should engage in unilateral human rights disarmament and allow the objections of the Syrians, Iranians, Egyptians, Russians, Chinese, and Burmese among others about their sovereignty prevent us from aiding individuals and organizations these governments are seeking to crush.  Having said this, I am also acutely aware of the need to ensure that our assistance does not endanger the individuals and organizations we are seeking to support and protect.  It’s a tough line to walk, but I have sought to walk it many times in my Foreign Service career. 

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Former Ambassador and Pakistan Expert Under Federal Investigation as Part of CounterIntel Probe

– Domani Spero

 

Late breaking news today concerns Robin Raphel, a retired Foreign Service officer, former ambassador, and most recently, a senior coordinator at the State Department’s  Af/Pak shop as being under federal investigation as part of a counterintelligence probe.

Via WaPo:

A veteran State Department diplomat and longtime Pakistan expert is under federal investigation as part of a counterintelligence probe and has had her security clearances withdrawn, according to U.S. officials.

The FBI searched the Northwest Washington home of Robin L. Raphel last month, and her State Department office was also examined and sealed, officials said. Raphel, a fixture in Washington’s diplomatic and think-tank circles, was placed on administrative leave last month, and her contract with the State Department was allowed to expire this week.
[…]
Details of federal counterintelligence investigations are typically closely held and the cases can span years. Although Raphel has spent much of her career on Pakistan issues, it was unknown whether the investigation, being run by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, was related to her work with that country.
[…]
“We are aware of this law enforcement matter,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “The State Department has been cooperating with our law enforcement colleagues.”
[…]
“She is no longer employed by the State Department,” Psaki said.

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Her appointment at the S/RAP office did not come without some controversy. Here is an article from 2009:

 

We were able to locate two previous posts here from 2009 (see A Strategy for that $7.5 billion Pakistan Aid) and 2010 (see BLT on Former Ambassador Robin Raphel). In 2010, the Blog of Legal Times was tracking the news on lobbying disclosures concerning Ambassador Raphel.  She was at the time, already a member of Richard Holbrooke‘s team as the Special Representative to the Af/Pak region.  Her formal title was Senior Coordinator for Economic and Development Assistance.  Ambassador Raphel is a career diplomat who served as Ambassador to Tunisia (1997-2000).  In August 1993, during the Clinton Administration she was named the first Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs (1993-1997). Her Wikipedia entry says she retired from the State Department in 2005 after 30 years of service. Below is her outdated bio from her tenure as A/S for South Asian Affairs from the 1990s:

Ms. Raphel was sworn in as the first Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs on August 6,1993.

Ms. Raphel was born in Vancouver, Washington, and spent all of her childhood on the West Coast. Graduating from high school in Longview, Washington in 1965, she went on to the University of Washington to study history and economics. She spent her junior year at the University of London studying history. She returned to England after graduating for a year at Cambridge University before taking a teaching job at a woman’s college in Tehran, Iran. After leaving Iran in 1972, Ms. Raphel returned to the U.S. to study economics at the University of Maryland. After finishing her Masters of Arts degree, she first went to work for the federal government as an economic analyst at the CIA. From there she went to Islamabad, Pakistan, where she joined the Foreign Service and worked on detail to USAID as an economic/financial analyst.

Upon returning to Washington in 1978, Ms. Raphel worked in the State Department in several capacities — Economist in the Office of Investment Affairs, Economic Officer on the Israel Desk, Staff Aide for the Assistant Secretary for the Near East and South Asian Affairs, and Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs. In 1984 she was posted to London where she served in the U.S. Embassy as a Political Officer covering Middle East, South Asia, African and East Asian issues. She moved to South Africa in 1988 as Counselor for Political-Affairs at the U.S. Embassy. From August 1991 until August 1993, Ms. Raphel was the Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India.

Ms. Raphel is married to Leonard Ashton. They have two young daughters.

 

The WaPo report cites the FBI’s Washington Field Office as the entity running the investigation. Makes one wonder what is Diplomatic Security’s Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence role in this investigation. It is the State Department office tasks with conducting “a robust counterintelligence program designed to deter, detect, and neutralize the efforts of foreign intelligence services targeting Department of State personnel, facilities, and diplomatic missions worldwide.”

We should also note that two U.S. officials described the federal investigation to WaPo as a counterintelligence matter, which typically involves allegations of spying on behalf of foreign governments. The report, however, also  says that “the exact nature of the investigation involving Raphel remains unclear” and that “she has not been charged.”

We’ll have to wait and see how this investigation ends.

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Filed under Af/Pak, Ambassadors, Appointments, Diplomatic Security, Federal Agencies, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Assistance, FSOs, Pakistan, Security, Special Envoys and Reps, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

Ex-USAID/OIG Pakistan: Finding fully developed for final report, whatchatalkinbout?

– Domani Spero

 

We previously blogged recent items about USAID (see below):

In response to WaPo’s Oct. 23 article “USAID watchdog said to alter reports,” USAID/OIG has released a two-page statement dated October 24 citing its “extensive track record of providing independent, robust oversight.” It has tweeted that October 24 statement multiple times since it was first linked to on Twitter on October 27.

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Yesterday, WaPo published a letter to the editor from Joseph Farinellaa senior FSO who was USAID/OIG director in Pakistan:

The Oct. 23 front-page article “USAID watchdog said to alter reports” cited a Sept. 30, 2012, inspector general’s report on an audit of a U.S. Agency for International Development assistance program in Pakistan. I was the inspector general director in Pakistan whose office conducted the audit. The article cited a draft audit finding placed in a confidential “management letter” rather than in the final published report. The inspector general’s chief of staff said that this was done because our work was not supported by evidence and more time was needed to develop information for a final report.

I recently retired as a senior Foreign Service officer with more than 40 years of worldwide audit experience in several organizations. Our finding on the program not operating efficiently and effectively was fully developed for inclusion in the final report. We provided examples of funds not used for main program goals, why this happened and the negative effect on the program.

Instead of a fully developed finding with recommendations in a published audit report, information was provided to the mission director in a letter. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said it all: “That’s ridiculous. The finding shouldn’t have been removed.”

Okay, maybe the USAID/OIG or his chief of staff would like to take a stab at this again?

Once more with feelings.

It seems to us that there is an easy remedy here for USAID/OIG if it really wishes to put these allegations to rest.

  • First, release all the draft audit reports as a companion to each of the final reports that are the subject of these allegations. It will give us, the paying public, a way to gauge just how much sanitation work were or were not done with these reports.
  • Second, USAID/OIG can release all the confidential “management letters” or “management alerts” it issued to USAID management, and all follow-up actions.  The October 24, 2014 USAID/OIG statement  says that “OIG’s current policy and practice is to post all management letters on its public Web site. This policy has been applied to management letters issued from April 2014 forward.” Okay, but that’s not any help with these allegations as there’s no way to tell how many “management letters” have actually been issued by USAID/OIG previous to April 2014. The allegation is that audit findings were placed on management letters that are not accessible to the public. So let’s see those management letters online and see which audit findings were not supported by evidence.

These allegations go to the heart of USAID/OIG’s mandate as an independent overseer of the people’s money.  Here now, we have an ex-auditor for a specific program publicly contradicting USAID/OIG’s official spin, not to mention the multiple whistleblowers who also came forward. Sorry, but a two-page statement touting the office’s “independent and robust oversight” will not be good enough to shut this down.

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Filed under Congress, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Assistance, Govt Reports/Documents, Leadership and Management, Leaks|Controversies, Pakistan, State Department, U.S. Missions, USAID

USAID “Poor” Morale Goes From 37% to 47%, Administrator Approval Rating Plummets From 78% to 58%

– Domani Spero

 

The June 2014 Foreign Service Journal includes an item on the AFSA USAID survey.  The 23-question, electronic survey focused on concerns, commendations and assessments related to the USAID FSO experience in calendar year 2013.

The USAID VP writes that the survey results will be discussed with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Special Representative for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review Tom Perriello to help in the formulation of USAID priorities.

Excerpt below:

Staff Morale 

The agency morale rating has dropped significantly. Thirty-seven percent of respondents rated agency morale “poor” in 2012; in 2013, 47 percent of respondents rated morale “poor.” The “good/fair” rating shows a corresponding drop, from 61 percent in 2012 to 51 percent for 2013.

A wide range of concerns were shared by respondents, such as: tension between more seasoned USAID employees and those who have entered within the last five years; an overburdened system with too many “initiatives;” lack of transparency and support from HR; and slow encroachment by State.

In a cross-comparison between questions on the new HR leadership and agency morale, a similarly high percentage of employees (61) rated the new HR leadership “poor” and also determined that morale had dropped.

USAID Administrator 

The “poor” rating for the Administrator (question 20) increased from 23 percent in 2012 to 41 percent in the 2013 survey. His overall approval rating (“fair, good, excellent”) for 2013 stands at 58 percent, also a significant drop from 2012 (78 percent). This decline is disturbing and will be pointed out to his office.

Many FSOs originally liked the new initiatives. However, the prevailing sentiment now is that they are too numerous to coordinate and accurately report on, and many do not come with funding. The comments also reflect a recurring theme that work outside of Africa appears to be a lower priority for the Administrator.

Working Conditions 

The survey indicates a significant perception that overall conditions at work are worsening (42 percent). This is not as bad as it was in 2011 (46 percent) or 2010 (55 percent); nevertheless, it is a setback since 2012, when only 36 percent thought conditions at work were deteriorating. Pay and bonus freezes, work space concerns due to consolidation and micromanagement of the field by Washington were some of the concerns highlighted this year, and are possible explanations for the increased rating.

AFSA reports that several important issues have been illuminated in this survey, including the following:

  • First is the tendency for more recent employees in the workforce to have different views than their colleagues from previous generations. The different characteristics of this new generation of workers are increasingly being discussed in the media. In terms of numbers, the millennials are the largest generation in American history and, with USAID’s recent mass hiring, the majority of our workforce now fall into this category.
  • A bonus of the Development Leadership Initiative program is that USAID has a unique opportunity to be a leader in this regard, simply by virtue of its large population of millennials. If we focus on their primary concerns—such as corporate culture, work-life balance, workplace flexibility, making a difference and being appreciated—we realize that they value the same things that are important to everyone!  The difference is that millennials are more likely to voice their thoughts and to change jobs if their needs are not fulfilled. How the agency handles this will determine whether USAID emerges as a government leader in such issues as work-life balance, as well as how it fares in employee retention.
  • After a brief upturn, morale has taken a slide back down. Comments suggest that this is related to various factors, including the sense of a disconnect with significant guidance related to HR processes, and a feeling that Washington does not understand the challenges that FSOs face daily.  Inequalities in benefits  between USAID and State further exacerbate the problem.

The AFSA USAID VP Sharon Wayne writes that “AFSA will continue to engage management on these issues. It is my hope that current leadership will choose to accept these results for what they are: valuable feedback on which to act to make this agency better.”

 

Related posts:

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USAID Egypt: An Official Lie Comes Back to Bite, Ouchy!

– Domani Spero

 

WaPo’s report on whistleblowers’ complaints that critical details had been sanitized from publicly released reports of USAID OIG includes an item on the NGO trial and bail money in Egypt:

[T]he Egyptian government charged 43 NGO workers with operating illegally. Sixteen of them were Americans, including the son of then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The Americans were freed in March 2012 after USAID secretly paid the Egyptian government $4.6 million in “bail” money.
[…]
On March 1, 2012, the Americans were permitted to leave the country after USAID transferred $4.6 million from a local currency trust fund to the Egyptian government as “bail.” USAID’s connection to the money was not disclosed at the time.

“This was paid by the NGOs,” a State Department spokeswoman said that day.
[…]

Several findings were condensed; entire sections disappeared. They included a section titled “USAID/Egypt Borrowed Local Currency From the Trust Fund for Bail Expenses.”

That section raised questions about the legality of using the $4.6 million to free the NGO workers. Also deleted were concerns that the use of trust fund money for “bail payments” could set a bad precedent for USAID.

 

A lie and a bribe:

A ransom:

 

The State Department spokeswoman not named in the report was the former spox, and now Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Victoria Nuland.  And because the lie was from the official podium of the State Department, this was an official USG lie. Let’s revisit the Daily Press Briefing from March 1, 2012:

QUESTION: Victoria, could you clarify for us the role of the U.S. Government in posting the bond? I understand that $300,000 per individual was posted and the promise that they will return to face trial. Could you explain to us if there was any role for the U.S. Government in that aspect?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me just clarify that none of these people who have now departed were in custody, none of them were subject to arrest warrants. They were under travel restrictions. So at the request of the attorneys for the employees, the Egyptian court ruled that the travel restrictions would be lifted if the employees posted bail. So through their lawyers, the NGOs made payments on behalf of their employees from available funds. So there were no bribes paid, and this was paid by the NGOs.

QUESTION: No, I did not suggest that there was any bribes. I just wanted to ask if there was any official role for the U.S. Government to post bail. Some people may not have had the money. I mean, did you try to help them post that money? It’s a huge sum of money for the bail.

MS. NULAND: The organizations paid the bail.

QUESTION: But these organizations get money from the U.S. Government. Was there any government money involved in this bail payment?

MS. NULAND: The checks for this bail, as I understand it, came from the organizations.

QUESTION: But as I say, these organizations are funded, some of them quite – to the tune of quite a lot of money. So was there any taxpayer money involved in paying this bail? And if there was, which I understand there was, what happens if they – if bail is forfeited, if these people decide not to go back and to face the charges? Does that leave the taxpayer on the hook for however much the percentage was that you guys kicked in?

MS. NULAND: Well, first, to be clear, the bail was posted by the organizations.

QUESTION: Yes, but if I –

MS. NULAND: That said –

QUESTION: But if I give you $300,000 and then you give it to the Egyptians, it’s technically correct that you paid the Egyptians, but it’s my money.

MS. NULAND: Again, the bail was paid by the organizations. You are not wrong that these organizations benefit from U.S. Government funding. They benefit from U.S. Government funding so that they can do the work that they do to support a democratic transition. With regard to the fungibility of money or anything with regard to that, I will have to take that question.

 

So the NGOs paid Egypt; maybe those NGO’s carried and handed $4.6 million to the money shakers, and we called it NGO money. But apparently, it’s USAID money, so really — U.S. taxpayers’ money.  And but for this WaPo report, the American public would not have known that we paid the bail money because the key finding about the $4.6 million payment to free the NGO workers in Egypt was removed from the performance audit and placed into financial documents.  Documents that are not made public. Also apparently deleted were concerns that the use of trust fund money for “bail payments” could set a bad precedent for USAID.

So in places where American NGOs and USAID operates, a not too friendly host government can grab any of the staffers for any purported local crime, and USAID will pay ransom bail money to get the staffers released and returned to the United States; and it can put the details about those payments in USAID financial documents that we never get to see?

And we wonder why people get jaded watching this show.

The world is changing. While this information might have been hidden in the past from public view for say 20 years or until the FRUS is released, things, at least some things increasingly don’t work like that anymore. The refresh cycle on sunshine in government is coming at shorter bursts.

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USAID OIG: “The office is a watchdog not doing its job” — IG Nominee Withdraws Name

– Domani Spero

 

According to WaPo, Michael G. Carroll, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s acting inspector general, withdrew his name from consideration to be President Obama’s permanent inspector general today after it has been pending for 16 months. This development came amidst WaPo’s report that negative findings in USAID OIG’s reports were being stricken from audits between 2011 and 2013.

In recent interviews, eight current auditors and employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution complained about negative findings being stricken from audits between 2011 and 2013. In some cases, the findings were put into confidential “management letters” and financial documents, which are sent to high-ranking USAID officials but are generally kept from public view.

The auditors said the office has increasingly become a defender of the agency under acting inspector general Michael G. Carroll. Some auditors said Carroll did not want to create controversy as he awaited Senate confirmation to become the permanent inspector general.

On Wednesday, Carroll withdrew his nomination, which had been pending for 16 months. Carroll declined to discuss his decision. A career government employee, he has been with the office since 2000 and took over as acting inspector general in 2011.
[…]

Carroll’s withdrawal comes at a time of growing criticism from whistleblowers who have been in contact with Senate investigators and Post reporters.

“The office is a watchdog not doing its job,” said Darren Roman, an audit supervisor at the inspector general’s office who retired in 2012 after a 23-year career. “It’s just easier for upper management to go along to get along. The message is: ‘Don’t make waves, don’t report any problems.’ ”
[…]

The Post tracked changes in the language that auditors used to describe USAID and its mission offices. The analysis found that more than 400 negative references were removed from the audits between the draft and final versions.

In one audit, the number of negative references fell from 113 to 61; in another, from 170 to 13.

As a rule, inspectors general try to ensure that their reports are accurate and reflect the perspectives of the agencies and private contractors they examine. It is not unusual for audits to change between the draft and final reports, but whistleblowers say the changes have gone too far.
[…]
At the USAID inspector general’s office, several auditors and employees told The Post that their authority has been undermined, and some have hired attorneys to file whistleblower and employment discrimination claims. Auditors stationed in different offices around the world have come forward with similar complaints.

Read the allegations of disturbing shenanigans reported by the Washington Post in Whistleblowers say USAID’s IG removed critical details from public reports. 

At the time of Mr. Carroll’s nomination in June 2013, he was the Deputy Inspector General at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a position he held since May 2012.  From October 2011 to May 2012, he was Acting Inspector General at USAID.  From 2006 to 2011, he was Deputy Inspector General, and from 2000 to 2004, he was the Assistant Inspector General for Management at USAID.

While Mr. Carroll has now withdrawn him name from consideration as permanent USAID IG, according to WaPo, he apparently told his staff that he plans to remain in the office as a deputy inspector general.

Huh?

As of this writing, the WH has yet to publish its withdrawal of the Carroll nomination.

Can we please have a congressional hearing on these allegations and make sure the witnesses include people who actually knew what was going on? And please, let’s not have an excuse that some folks were not interviewed because they had left government service and are no longer employees or contractors of USAID.

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Filed under Appointments, Congress, Follow the Money, Foreign Assistance, Leadership and Management, Nominations, Obama, State Department, USAID

Short and boring lives of the G222 Planes in Kabul — from $486M to scrap at 6 cents a pound!

– Domani Spero

 

We’re late on this, but last week, SIGAR released two letters to Secretary Hagel and to Air Force Secretary Deborah L. James concerning the  failed G222 aircraft program for the Afghan Air Force.

Starting in 2008, DOD apparently initiated a program to provide 20 of these Italian-made aircraft to the Afghan Air Force.   The Defense Department spent $486 million for these airplanes, which according to the SIGAR, “could not meet operational requirements in Afghanistan.” Sixteen of these aircraft were recently destroyed at Kabul International Airport,  scrapped by the Defense Logistics Agency, and the remains were sold to an Afghan construction company for about $32,000 total.  SIGAR calculates that the scrap was sold at roughly 6 cents a pound. The remaining four airplanes are reportedly stored at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, presumably to help fight the Taliban at some later date?

Here are the $486 million airplanes you paid for:

Photo via SIGAR

Photo via SIGAR

 Here are the scrapped beauties at 6 cents a pound:

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Photo via SIGAR

Screen Shot 2014-10-15

Here are the links to the letters:
http://www.sigar.mil/pdf/special%20projects/SIGAR-15-04-SP_IL_G222%20Disposition%20Notf%20Req_03Oct2014_Redacted.pdf

http://www.sigar.mil/pdf/special%20projects/SIGAR-15-02-SP_IL_Scrapping%20of%20G222%20Fleet_03Oct2014_amd_Redacted.pdf

According to Defense Industry Daily:

The G.222/C-27A was not known as an easy aircraft to maintain, but it does feature outstanding short runway performance, and offers proven performance in hot weather and high altitudes. That seemed to make it well-suited for work in Afghanistan. Was it well suited to the Afghans?

That would depend on whether the Afghans could keep them in the air. The USAF tried to address the spares and maintenance issue through the program’s structure, paying for extensive training through the US military, an initial spare parts inventory, ground support equipment, technical publications in English and Dari, and 3 years worth of contractor logistics support.

But it didn’t work.

These are not the only aircraft DOD purchased for the Afghan Air Force. Defense Industry Daily has a rundown of the timeline and the contracts here.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Congress, Defense Department, Follow the Money, Foreign Assistance, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, War

Media Operations Centers in Afghanistan: $7.2Million Build/Suspend and Demolish Projects

– Domani Spero

 

They’re called MOCs or Media Operations Centers (MOCs). We’re building them in Afghanistan.  One State Department grant was for the construction of one MOC at Balkh University for $3,782,980. A second grant was for the construction of another MOC at Nangarhar University for $3,482,348. The grant awards totaled $7,265,328, and the periods of performance for both grants were October 1, 2013, through December 31, 2014.   According to State/OIG, these grants were executed in Afghanistan by Omran Holding Group (OHG) with two subcontractors, Capitalize Omran—a company based in Washington, DC, responsible for managing the overall project—and TriVision Studios, the firm responsible for outfitting the MOCs with broadcasting equipment. Apparently, the contraction construction related to both grants was suspended in January 2014 and has not resumed. On September 18, State/OIG recommended the immediate termination of the two grant agreements. Why?

Based on preliminary results of the audited sample, OIG identified areas of concern related to two construction grants being executed in Afghanistan by Omran Holding Group (OHG) that require immediate attention. These areas of concern include misuse of Government funds, significant noncompliance with Federal regulations, and inaccurate financial reporting. Additionally, OHG failed to comply with the terms of one grant agreement by beginning construction without required design approval, and also began construction of the building in the wrong location. We therefore recommended, among other actions, that the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) immediately terminate grant agreements S-AF200-13-CA-012 and S-AF200-13-CA-014 with OHG, and that the Bureau of Administration’s Office of the Procurement Executive (A/OPE) develop Department guidance regarding the use of Federal assistance funds for overseas construction.

 

So one MOC was constructed without the required design approval:

“The grants required that the recipient develop building designs for the MOCs and that these designs be approved by the Department prior to the commencement of construction. However, OHG “jumped” the construction schedule and began to construct the Balkh University MOC in December 2013, without prior approval from the Department. As a result, certain aspects of the newly constructed structure were not in accordance with the Department’s requirements for the building design.”

The same MOC was constructed in the wrong location, and had to be demolished no later than October 31, 2014.

“OHG began the Balkh University MOC construction in the wrong location, based on the direction of a local Afghan government official who did not have the authority to direct the grantee, resulting in the need to demolish the new structure.” 

How did we end up from design/build to build/demolish?

State/OIG may have an answer:

“OIG also noted concerns related to the Department’s oversight of construction grants, in general. Specifically, the Department had no policies or procedures for awarding or overseeing construction grants, which resulted in ineffective construction grant agreements. For example, the OHG grant agreements lacked details that are normally included in construction contracts, and the terms and conditions were created by the GOR without documented input or approval from Department legal representatives or construction specialists.”

The Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) and the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) concurred with the recommendations with the later noting that the termination letters for each award are currently in the clearance process. A response from the SRAP also notes that the Public Affairs Section (PAS) at embassy Kabul has “obligated more than 975 awards totaling over  $270,000,000  under extraordinarily challenging circumstances.”

Think about that for a moment.

We don’t know how many MOCs have been constructed in Afghanistan, but in January 2013, the State Department announced a $325,000 award for “the completion of the PAS-funded Media Operations Center (MOC) at Herat University”and a maximum award for $200,00 for the  the operation and maintenance of this facility for a period of up to 24 months.  In spring 2013, the US Embassy in Kabul also announced the inauguration of a state-of-the-art Media Operations Center (MOC) at Kabul University.  The Embassy provided a $2.67 million grant to the HUDA Development Organization, to build and equip the Media Operations Center there.

So just to round-up, our precise and active verbs for these Afghanistan projects now include: design, build, suspend,complete, equip, maintain, and demolish. Also terminate.

Although, possibly, terminate is only good until a new grantee can be located to complete these grants.

Read the audit here (pdf) and weep.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Follow the Money, Foreign Assistance, Govt Reports/Documents, Media, Regional Bureaus, State Department, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Kabul

U.S. Embassy Bangui Resumes Operations With Chargé d’Affaires David Brown

– Domani Spero

 

On September 11, President Obama notifiesd Congress of the deployment of troops to the Central African Republic in preparation of the resumption of operations at the U.S. Embassy in Bangui (see U.S. Troops Deploy to C.A.R. For Resumption of Operations at U.S. Embassy Bangui).

On September 15, Secretary Kerry announced the resumption of embassy operations in the Central African Republic and the appointment of David Brown as Chargé d’Affaires. Below is an excerpt of the announcement:

I am pleased to announce that we are resuming operations at our embassy in Bangui. The people and leaders of the Central African Republic have made progress in ending the violence and putting their nation on a path toward peace and stability. But we all know that much work remains to be done.

That’s why I asked David Brown to serve as Chargé d’Affaires and to work closely with the transitional government, as well as our international friends and partners, to advance a peaceful, democratic and inclusive political transition. And that’s why, on his arrival in Bangui, we announced an additional $28 million in U.S. humanitarian funding, bringing the U.S. total to $145.7 million this year alone.

With the September 15 transition to the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, we extend our profound thanks to the African Union, its force-contributing countries, as well as the French and European forces, for their important contributions to peace and stability in the Central African Republic. We call on all parties to fully support the UN mission in its vital task ahead as it takes over from the African Union mission. And as we reopen our embassy, I want to thank our dedicated Central African colleagues for their service during these difficult 21 months.

Full statement here.

David Brown is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, and became Senior Advisor for the Central African Republic on August 1, 2013 succeeding Ambassador Lawrence Wohlers.   Mr. Brown was Diplomatic Advisor at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) in Washington, D.C. from August 2011 to July 2013. His prior Africa experience includes serving as the Senior Advisor to the J-5 (Strategy, Plans, and Programs) Director of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in Stuttgart (Germany); three times as Deputy Chief of Mission at U.S. Embassies in Cotonou (Benin), Nouakchott (Mauritania), and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso); and as Economic Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Lubumbashi (Democratic Republic of the Congo).

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Filed under Africa, Americans Abroad, Appointments, Diplomatic Security, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Assistance, Foreign Service, FSOs, Realities of the FS, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

Urgent Afghanistan Message: Need $537 Million, Send Money At Once … or This Week

– Domani Spero

 

WaPo’s Tim Craig reported today that Afghanistan has nearly run out of money:

Afghanistan’s central government is nearly broke and needs a $537 million bailout from the United States and other international donors within “five or six days” to continue paying its bills, a senior Afghan finance official said Tuesday.
[…]
Officials blame the financial woes on the ongoing stalemate over who won the election to replace outgoing President Hamid Karzai.

“We hope they will pay for us, and we are asking at once,” Aqa said of ongoing discussions with the U.S. government and other international donors. “They are asking me when I need it, and I told them this week or we will have a problem.”
[…]
Afghanistan has an annual operating budget of about $7.6 billion, about 65 percent of which comes from international assistance. The current fiscal crunch is a result of a 25 percent shortfall in Afghanistan’s domestic revenue collection from taxes and customs tariffs this year, Aqa said.
[…]
According to the World Bank, Afghanistan will need more than $7 billion annually for the next decade to sustain a functional government, maintain infrastructure and fund the Afghan army and police.

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the U.S. government has appropriated $104 billion rebuilding and supporting the Afghan government, military and public services, according to the Office of the Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.

Read the full story here.

SIGAR John F. Sopko is quoted in the report saying, “The bottom line: It appears we’ve created a government that the Afghans simply cannot afford.”

Zing! We hope they won’t let him go from that job because he said something real and true.

Now, our question is why is the finance minister doing the asking? Why is the Afghan leader, who called Americans “occupiers” is not the one doing the asking for pocket change here?

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Filed under Afghanistan, Follow the Money, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Assistance, Foreign Policy, State Department, U.S. Missions, War