Category Archives: Foreign Assistance

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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U.S. Embassy Liberia Now on Ordered Departure For Family Members, New Travel Warning Issued

– Domani Spero

 

On August 7, the State Department ordered the departure of all family members not employed at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia.  The new Travel Warning issued today says that the U.S. government employees in Liberia will remain on active duty at the Embassy and additional staff are being deployed to assist the Government of Liberia in addressing the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak.  This follows the departure of  the U.S. Peace Corps from Liberia on July 30 as a result of the current outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in the region. Yesterday, the CDC also issued a Level 3 warning urging all US residents to avoid nonessential travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.  

Full State Department statement below:

At the recommendation of the U.S. Embassy in Liberia, the State Department today ordered the departure from Monrovia of all eligible family members (EFMs) not employed by post in the coming days. The Embassy recommended this step out of an abundance of caution, following the determination by the Department’s Medical Office that there is a lack of options for routine health care services at major medical facilities due to the Ebola outbreak. We are reconfiguring the Embassy staff to be more responsive to the current situation. Our entire effort is currently focused on assisting U.S. citizens in the country, the Government of Liberia, international health organizations, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the Liberian people to deal with this unprecedented Ebola outbreak.

We remain deeply committed to supporting Liberia and regional and international efforts to strengthen the capacity of the Liberian health care infrastructure and system – specifically, their capacity to contain and control the transmission of the Ebola virus, and deliver health care. Additional staff from various government agencies including 12 disease prevention specialists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a 13-member Disaster Assistance Response Team from USAID are deploying to Liberia to assist the Liberian Government in addressing the Ebola outbreak.

A new Travel Warning for Liberia also came out today indicating that the ordered departure of USG family members will begin tomorrow, August 8. The new warning also advised travelers that some airlines have discontinued service and flights to Liberia and that air carriers chartered by medical evacuation insurance companies may not be able to provide timely services in Liberia or the region. Excerpt below:

In May 2014, a case of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) was confirmed in Liberia, marking the first case in a second wave of the EVD outbreak. Since then, EVD has continued to spread and intensify. The latest wave of the outbreak has overwhelmed Liberia’s health system and most health facilities lack sufficient staff or resources to address the continuing transmission of EVD.  Options for obtaining routine medical care are severely limited.  For more information concerning EVD, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.  Please direct inquiries regarding U.S. citizens in Liberia to EbolaEmergencyUSC@state.gov. Callers in the United States and Canada may dial the toll free number 1-888-407-4747.  Callers outside the United States and Canada may dial 1-202-501-4444.

If you arrive in Liberia and subsequently need routine or emergency medical care, you should expect limited, if any, options.  Travelers are advised that air carriers chartered by medical evacuation insurance companies may not be able to provide timely services in Liberia or the region.  Policyholders should confirm the availability of medical evacuation services prior to travel.  While commercial flights are still available from Monrovia, some airlines have discontinued service and flights may become more difficult to obtain.  If you plan to visit Liberia despite this warning, you should purchase travel insurance that includes medical evacuation, and confirm that the coverage applies to the circumstances in Liberia.

According to USAID , the deployed staff came from the Agency’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)  and will be overseeing critical areas of the response, such as planning, operations, logistics in coordination with other federal agencies, including the U.S. Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services. Members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are also on the DART to lead on public health and medical response activities.

USAID has already provided $2.1 million to the UN World Health Organization and UNICEF for the deployment of more than 30 technical experts and other Ebola response efforts.

Two days ago, USAID also announced an additional $5 million in assistance to help ramp up the international community’s Ebola response efforts. This new funding will support outreach campaigns via radio, text messages, and through local media as well as the expansion of Ebola outbreak programs the Agency is already supporting in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. These programs help trace people who may be infected with the disease, as well as provide health clinics and households with hygiene kits, soap, bleach, gloves, masks, and other supplies to help prevent the spread of disease.

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Congressional Research Service Reports (CRS) and Briefs – Published July 2014

– Domani Spero

 

In FY2012, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) had an appropriation of $106.79 million available for expenditure.  U.S. taxpayers fund the CRS, a “think tank” that provides reports and briefs to members of Congress on a variety of topics. However,there is no easily accessible depository for all these reports and U.S. citizens who want them have to request the reports from their member of congress.

On its annual report for FY2012, CRS indicated that it prepared 534 new reports, and 2,702 report updates.  Some CRS reports are available through the Federation of American Scientists, the University of North Texas, and Open CRS. Also check out CRS on Open Congress; it includes links on the discussion of direct public access of these CRS reports. The reports made publicly available through the State Department are available below. We will routinely republish them here. Note that some documents are web-accessible but most are in pdf formats.

 

Subject CRS Reports – July 2014
Afghanistan -07/28/14   Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance  [674 Kb]

-07/11/14   Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy  [1068 Kb]

Africa -07/24/14   African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA): Background and Reauthorization  [444 Kb]

-07/23/14   U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit: Frequently Asked Questions and Background  [571 Kb]

Arctic -07/02/14   Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress  [1469 Kb]
China -07/29/14   U.S. – China Military Contacts: Issues for Congress  [846 Kb]

-07/15/14   China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities – Background and Issues for Congress  [4546 Kb]

-07/10/14   China – U.S. Trade Issues  [581 Kb]

- 07/09/14   China’s Economic Rise: History, Trends, Challenges, and Implications for the United States  [644 Kb]

Gaza/Palestinians -07/03/14   U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians  [451 Kb]

-07/18/14   Israel and Hamas: Another Round of Conflict – CRS Insights  [288 Kb]

Israel -07/22/14   Israel: Background and U.S. Relations  [1264 Kb]

-07/18/14   Israel and Hamas: Another Round of Conflict – CRS Insights  [288 Kb]

Iran -07/25/14   Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses  [827 Kb]
Iraq -07/24/14   Conflict in Syria and Iraq: Implications for Religious Minorities – CRS Insights  [62 Kb]

-07/15/14   The Kurds and Possible Iraqi Kurdish Independence – CRS Insights  [170 Kb]

-07/15/14   Use of Force Considerations in Iraq – CRS Insights  [59 Kb]

-07/03/14   Iraq Crisis and U.S. Policy  [762 Kb] -07/02/14   Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights  [495 Kb]

Libya -07/28/14   Responding to Libya’s Political and Security Crises: Policy Choices for the United States – CRS Insights  [62 Kb]
Mexico -07/01/14   U.S.-Mexico Economic Relations: Trends, Issues, and Implications  [498 Kb]
Russia 07/29/14   U.S. – Russia Economic Relations – CRS Insights  [125 Kb]

-07/28/14   Russia Sanctions: Options – CRS Insights  [60 Kb]

-07/18/14   U.S. Sanctions on Russia in Response to Events in Ukraine – CRS Insights  [60 Kb]

Syria -07/24/14   Conflict in Syria and Iraq: Implications for Religious Minorities – CRS Insights  [62 Kb]
Ukraine -07/18/14   U.S. Sanctions on Russia in Response to Events in Ukraine – CRS Insights  [60 Kb]

-07/08/14   Ukraine: Current Issues and U.S. Policy  [367 Kb]

Arms Control -07/21/14   Arms Control and Nonproliferation: A Catalog of Treaties and Agreements  [661 Kb]
Economy -07/25/14   Stealing Trade Secrets and Economic Espionage: An Abridged Overview of 18 U.S.C. 1831 and 1832  [231 Kb]

-07/17/14   International Monetary Fund: Background and Issues for Congress  [523 Kb]

-07/01/14   Monetary Policy and the Federal Reserve: Current Policy and Conditions  [339 Kb]

Elections -07/24/14   The 2014 European Parliament Elections: Outcomes and Implications – CRS Insights  [62 Kb]

-07/14/14   Membership of the 113th Congress: A Profile  [286 Kb]

-07/01/14   The Voting Rights Act of 1965: Background and Overview  [398 Kb]

Immigration -07/28/14   Unaccompanied Alien Children: An Overview  [338 Kb]

-07/18/14   Unaccompanied Alien Children – Legal Issues: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions  [407 Kb]

-07/16/14   Unaccompanied Alien Children: A Processing Flow Chart – CRS Insights  [207 Kb]

-07/03/14   Unaccompanied Alien Children: Potential Factors Contributing to Recent Immigration  [501 Kb]

Missile Attack -07/28/14   Possible Missile Attack on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 – CRS Insights  [61 Kb]

-07/28/14   Protecting Civilian Flights from Missiles – CRS Insights  [61 Kb]

Technology -07/23/14   Deploying 5G (Fifth Generation) Wireless Technology: Is the United States on Track?  [58 Kb]

-07/02/14   Access to Broadband Networks: The Net Neutrality Debate  [332 Kb]

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USAID Afghanistan — SIGAR, OIG Investigates Second Largest Recipient of Reconstruction Funds

– Domani Spero  

Via SIGAR — Snapshot of Top Ten Recipients of USAID Funds in Afghanistan Reconstruction (2002-2013):

Our analysis of USAID data indicated that the top ten implementing partners in total awards accounted for about $7.7 billion, or 58 percent of total obligations. The remaining 42 percent of obligations were awarded to a total of 193 implementers who averaged $29 million in total awards. The World Bank was the top overall recipient of USAID funds in Afghanistan, with total awards equal to approximately $1.75 billion. USAID provided $1.74 billion to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), which is administered by the World Bank, and awarded the Bank a $2 million grant for a project supporting business environment reform in Afghanistan. International Relief and Development, Inc. (IRD) received the second highest amount of total rewards at approximately $1.1 billion. Table 2 shows the top ten recipients by total obligation as reported by USAID. Figure 3 demonstrates the percentage of total USAID reconstruction awards received by each of the top ten recipients.

via SIGAR

via SIGAR

Via SIGAR

Via SIGAR

 

International Relief and Development, Inc. (IRD), number #2 on the list above is the subject of a recent WaPo investigation on Big budgets, little oversight in war zones. Quick notes from the report:

  • International Relief and Development increased its annual revenue from $1.2 million to $706 million, most of it from the USAID.
  • The nonprofit rewarded its employees with generous salaries and millions in bonuses. 38 IRD employees received more than $3.4 million in bonuses during the same period, according to the company’s tax filings.
  • IRD’s impressive board of advisers included former House majority leader Richard A. Gephardt and John D. Negroponte, who served as ambassador to several countries, including Iraq, and was the nation’s first director of national intelligence.
  • The company hired an all-star cast of humanitarian officials, drafting them from the top levels of USAID. In addition to the former acting administrator, the officials have included the deputy assistant administrator, the director of contracts and a key operations officer. According to WaPo, it has hired at least 19 employees from USAID. “Several of them came directly from their desks at the agency to occupy important posts at the company.”
  • As acting director of USAID, Alonzo Fulgham made $199,418. As vice president of IRD, he received $330,000. Jeffrey Grieco made $185,000 as the top public affairs official at USAID. As chief of public affairs at IRD, he received $225,000.

According to WaPo, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko had opened an investigation into allegations of “significant waste and mismanagement” and “kickbacks and bribery by IRD senior employees over a road project, which wound up costing $317 million.

We understand that SIGAR is also investigating IRD for  attempting to “use confidentiality agreements as a way of prohibiting its employees from making critical statements about IRD to “funding agencies” or “officials of any
government.” 

Via WaPo:
Some of the people who might know the most about what has happened with IRD-run programs — former company employees — say they have been barred from speaking about their experiences. Before leaving IRD, they said, they were asked to sign confidentiality agreements.

The agreements warn employees that they could be sued for making any “derogatory, disparaging, negative, critical or defamatory statements” about IRD to anyone, including “funding agencies” or “officials of any government.” Lawyers who reviewed the agreements at the request of The Post said it appeared that they could violate federal protections afforded to whistleblowers under the False Claims Act.

[Read a copy of the confidentiality agreement.]

In a letter to IRD, SIGAR Sopko writes that “IRD’s policy of prohibiting employees fiom informing government officials of critical information appears to violate the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729-3733, federal whistleblower statutes, and the Federal Acquisition Regulation. … The threat of retaliation for reporting problems to oversight agencies is all too real. I am simply not willing to tolerate an attempt to institutionalize employee intimidation. Therefore, I am initiating an inquiry into these allegations.”

SIGAR had also asked USAID to consider inserting a provision in all future contracts, cooperative agreements, and grant agreements for Afghanistan reconstruction that forbids the recipients of federal funds from using confidentiality agreements that prohibit their employees from talking to U.S. government officials.

Meanwhile at USAID/OIG — a “well-placed government source” told devex.com that the agency’s watchdog has been conducting an investigation into IRD for “months.” Devex.com reports that Bill Pierce, who serves as a spokesperson for IRD, told Devex that he was not aware of an OIG investigation that had been going on for months. 

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

– Domani Spero

Via SIGAR:

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

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-22

Read more here (pdf).

 

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

–Domani Spero

Via SIGAR:

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-04-22

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

Read more here (pdf).

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Cuban Twitter: Short Message Service for Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan?

– Domani Spero

The month of April started off with a bang for USAID!  We saw the Twitter Cubano story first, and then there’s USAID’s reportedly $1billion a year “DARPA-like” innovation lab.  Also SIGAR John Sopko accused USAID of cover up in Afghanistan. And no, USAID Administrator is not going to New Delhi as the next US Ambassador to India. We were seriously intrigued by  the ZunZuneo story, the secret Cuban Twitter reported by the Associated Press. Can you blame us?

 

We thought the Associated Press did a great investigative piece. Sorry, we are not convinced that this was ‘breathlessly written.’

In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.

McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company’s ties to the U.S. government.

McSpedon didn’t work for the CIA. This was a program paid for and run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid.

For a look on how much the U.S. Government spent on Cuban Democracy between 1996-2011, see a snapshot of the funding here.

In an interview with Popular Science, USAID’s Administrator, Rajiv Shah, who led USAID through the program, defended it.

“One of the areas we work in is in the area of rights protection and accountability,” Shah said. The highest-level official named in the AP documents is a mid-level manager named Joe McSpedon.

But Shah—despite the fact that the program was unknown to the public—said the idea that ZunZuneo was a covert operation is “inaccurate,” and pointed out that there are other USAID programs that require secrecy, such as protecting the identities of humanitarian workers in Syria. “These projects are notified to Congress and the subject of a thorough accountability report,” he said.

 

The AP story mentions two USAID connected companies: Creative Associates International as contractor and Denver-based Mobile Accord Inc. as one of the subcontractors.

According to Denver Business Journal, Mobile Accord is the parent organization of the mGive business, which helps nonprofits raise donation via text message, and of the GeoPoll business handling opinion surveys in developing nations.

The Guardian reports that the money that Creative Associates spent on ZunZuneo was “publicly earmarked for an unspecified project in Pakistan, government data show. But there is no indication of where the funds were actually spent.”

So we went digging over at USASpending.gov. The first contract we located is a State Department contract with Mobile Accord in the amount of $969,000 and signed on September 18, 2009.  The contract description says: “Short Message Service Support to Be Provided to Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of PAKISTAN.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-04

 

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

Screen Shot 2014-04-04

So if Twitter Cubano was not a “covert”operation, what’s this over $1.6 million contract between the State Department and Mobile Accord for the Northwest Frontier Pakistan about?  The folks who prepared this data for USASpending.gov did not really intend to be inaccurate with this public information, right?  They just inadvetently spelled ‘Cuba’ as ‘Northwest Frontier Pakistan.’

And this is the official version of  ‘truth in reporting”as public service? What you don’t know can’t harm you?

If this money actually went to Twitter Cubano, and was hidden in plain sight, how are we to believe the accuracy of the data we see on the USASpending website?

Where else do we have similar projects for democracy promotion and/or regime change if possible, do you know?

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US Embassy Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia Airlines Flight #MH370, USS Pinckney to Join Search Efforts

- Domani Spero

On March 8, Malaysia Airlines released a statement that it is still unable to establish any contact or determine the whereabouts of flight MH370. Other details below:

  • Subang ATC had lost contact with the aircraft at 2.40am. The last known position of MH370 before it disappeared off the radar was 065515 North (longitude) and 1033443 East (latitude).
  • MH370 is a Boeing 777-200 aircraft on a code share with China Southern Airlines. It departed Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 am today for Beijing. The aircraft was scheduled to land at Beijing International Airport at 6.30am local Beijing time. The flight had a total number of 227 passengers and 12 crew members. The passengers were from 14 different countries, most of whom are from China.
  • An international search and rescue mission was mobilized this morning. At this stage, our search and rescue teams from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have failed to find evidence of any wreckage.
  • For the passenger manifest of MH370, click here.

The U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur released the following statement regarding the missing plane. (full statement here):

The U.S. Embassy is closely following the developments regarding Malaysia Airlines flight #MH370. We extend our thoughts and prayers to the loved ones of those on board the Malaysia Airlines flight.

At this time, we can confirm that three U.S. citizens were on board.  We are in contact with the individuals’ families.  Out of respect for them, we are not providing additional information at this time. We are working to assess whether additional U.S. citizens may have been on board the flight.
[...]
Malaysia Airlines has established dedicated phone numbers for family members and friends of passengers to contact the airline directly for information.  Family and friends should contact the airline at +603 8787 126 or +603 87871629.  The airline is also providing updates to the general public on its website, http://www.malaysiaairlines.com/hq/en.html.

US Embassy KL also announced that USS Pinckney has been sent to assist in the search efforts:

The United States Navy Seventh Fleets is sending the USS Pinckney, along with a P-3C aircraft to assist in search efforts. The USS Pinckney (DDG 91), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, is en route to the southern coast of Vietnam to aid in the search efforts.  The ship could be in vicinity of the missing jet within 24 hours and carries two MH-60R helicopters which can be equipped for search and rescue.  In addition, A P-3C Orion aircraft will also depart shortly from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan bringing long-range search, radar and communications capabilities to the efforts.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) transits San Diego Bay. Pinckney helps provide deterrence, promote peace and security, preserve freedom of the seas, and humanitarian/disaster response within U.S. 3rd Fleet's 50-million square mile area of responsibility in the eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Todd C. Behrman/Released)

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) transits San Diego Bay. Pinckney helps provide deterrence, promote peace and security, preserve freedom of the seas, and humanitarian/disaster response within U.S. 3rd Fleet’s 50-million square mile area of responsibility in the eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Todd C. Behrman/Released)

According to the U.S. Navy, USS Pinckney was conducting training and maritime security operations in international waters of the South China Sea.

Also, U.S. officials are reportedly investigating terrorism concerns after two people listed as passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines jet turned out not to be on the plane and had reported their passports stolen in Thailand.

The passports stolen were from nationals of Italy and Austria; both countries are in the U.S. visa waiver program.

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If True That Foreign Diplomats in the U.S. Are “Eligible” for Medicaid — That’s Absolutely Bonkers!

– Domani Spero

In early December, Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and George Venizelos, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced charges against 49 current or former Russian diplomats or spouses of diplomats employed at the Russian Mission in the United States for participating in a widespread fraud scheme from 2004 to August 2013 to illegally obtain nearly
$1.5 million dollars in Medicaid benefits. (See 49 Russian Diplomats/Spouses Charged With Picking Uncle Sam’s Pocket in Medicaid Scam).

On December 6, during the Daily Press Briefing, the State Department deputy spokesperson, Marie Harf said this:

“We routinely inform all foreign missions in the U.S. – most recently we did this in November – that we expect their personnel to maintain health insurance coverage. So under U.S. law, nonimmigrants, which diplomats fall under in this case, who meet certain eligibility criteria may apply for and receive federally funded medical care.”

Whaaat?!

Lest we get all excited, this is the same spokesperson, of course, who could not say what appropriate consular assistance is provided when an American citizen dies abroad.  Or who says from the podium that “It’s not for any State Department official to sign off on any arrests, right, even regarding a foreign diplomat.”  Whoops!  (We heard that the Special Agents of the Diplomatic Security Service toppled over in their swivel chairs when the clip aired on YouTube).

Then on December 14, UPI reported that “Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said “some of the diplomats accused of glomming on to the U.S. healthcare system were actually entitled to do so.”

Entitled to do so?  As in  a legal right or a just claim to receive it?

On December 16, Interfax also reported that Moscow is “already taking disciplinary measures in relation to the Russian diplomats accused in the U.S. of unlawfully receiving Medicaid benefits to cover the pregnancy and childbirth costs.”

The report quotes Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov saying, “This is a disciplinary offence, because, by being insincere in filing applications and citing inaccurate figures to receive some benefits, they violated the host country’s norms and rules, which a diplomat has no right to do. I’d like to stress once again: they are being subjected and will be subjected to disciplinary action.”  Now, the same report repeats this notion that some of the Russian diplomats were “entitled” to apply for such assistance due to their low income:

“We have looked into this. First, the allegation that none of them was entitled to this because they are foreigners is wrong. There are different laws in various states of the U.S. that allow for using Medicaid benefits by foreigners. Second, it is not quite true that the Russian diplomats’ incomes did not make them eligible for receiving such payments through Medicaid,” he said.

“We have studied the files of the said colleagues, and it turned out that at least some of them had salaries that entitled them to apply for such assistance from the U.S. fund at that moment. 

How bonkers is that?  That American taxpayers are subsidizing the health care cost of foreign diplomats in the United States.  Which part of this makes sense? Medicaid is a federally funded program designed to assist low-income families afford health care. And in this case, if the allegations are true, Russian diplomats took public assistance that would have been  helpful to low income Americans.

The big question now is — can we also call this foreign aid?

Screen Shot 2013-12-26

Extracted from Medicaid Renewal Form
(click image for larger view)

Now Congress wants to know Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is going on here. The SFRC is missing on this but U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, recently expressed “serious concern about foreign diplomats receiving, and reportedly defrauding, U.S. Government-funded benefits programs.” In his letter to Secretary Kerry, Chairman Royce requested a meeting plus written answers to the following questions:

1.      How will the Administration treat the 11 named defendants who, according to the U.S. Attorney, remain in the United States?  Will you ask the Russian government to waive their immunity so that they can be prosecuted?  If not, will the Department declare them persona non grata?

2.      How will the Administration treat the 38 named defendants who, according to the U.S. Attorney, no longer reside in the United States?  Will you request that they be extradited to stand trial?  If not, will the Department impose a U.S. visa ban on them?

3.      How will the Administration treat the unindicted co-conspirators at Russian diplomatic offices in the U.S. who allegedly advised and assisted the named defendants by supplying false documentation to New York officials in support of the fraudulent Medicaid claims?

4.      Will the Administration bill the Russian government for the Medicaid benefits its personnel fraudulently used?  If not, how will New York State’s Medicaid program be compensated for the loss?

5.      On December 5, 2013, Department of State Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf said, “We are still…reviewing the charges that were unsealed.”  How closely did the U.S. Attorney, Department of Justice, or Federal Bureau of Investigation cooperate with the Department of State during the investigation?  What steps did the U.S. Attorney take to coordinate with the Department of State before filing the complaint on November 18, 2013 or unsealing it on December 5, 2013?

This situation also raises a number of important questions about government programs that provide benefits to foreign diplomats.  I therefore would appreciate written answers to the following questions not later than January 13, 2014:

6.      On December 6, 2013, Department of State Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf stated that foreign diplomats in the United States “who meet certain eligibility criteria may apply for and receive federally funded medical care.”  What are the medical programs for which foreign diplomats may be eligible?  What are the eligibility criteria?  Over the last 10 years, how many foreign diplomats have used these programs?  What was the total cost of the benefits provided?  Please provide these data sorted by foreign diplomatic mission or international organization.

7.      Are foreign diplomats eligible for government-funded benefits other than Medicaid (e.g., Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)?  If so, which programs and what are the eligibility criteria?  Over the last 10 years, how many foreign diplomats have taken advantage of these programs?  What was the total cost of the benefits provided?  Please provide these data sorted by foreign diplomatic mission or international organization.

8.      Is the Administration aware of other cases where foreign diplomats fraudulently or inappropriately obtained Medicaid or other government-funded benefits?  Please provide the details of these cases, including the cost of any benefits that were inappropriately obtained.

9.      What is the Administration doing to ensure that foreign diplomats cannot inappropriately obtain government-funded benefits in the future?  Has the Administration asked relevant government benefit agencies to check their rolls for the names of foreign diplomats?  Does the Department regularly provide a list of foreign diplomats to relevant government benefit agencies?

And — if some foreign diplomats in the United States are “eligible” for Medicaid, how about some of their underpaid domestic workers, are they eligible, too?

Oh, for god’s sakes, maybe the State Department should just publish a handbook of freebies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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