State/OIG Reviews Former FSO’s Allegation of Improper Denial of Promotion

Posted: 3:48  am EDT

 

On July 31st, State/OIG posted online its review on an FSO’s allegation of improper denial of promotion:

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted this review to assess a former Department of State (Department) employee’s (complainant) allegations of an improper denial of promotion. Specifically, in September 2013, the complainant alleged that (1) the Department’s Bureau of Human Resources (HR) fraudulently tampered with or manipulated six reconstituted promotion boards conducted in 2010 and 2011 and (2) HR fraudulently altered documents generated by these six boards to prevent the complainant from being ranked for promotion. OIG interviewed former board members and consulted with a forensics expert, and found that the evidence does not support the complainant’s allegations.

According to the footnote in this report, on August 18, 2011, the FSGB issued its final decision, concluding that the Department fulfilled its responsibility of proving that the complainant would not have been promoted during the years at issue even if the alleged procedural errors had not occurred. The complainant appealed to the Federal District Court and challenged both the FSGB interim decision (which resulted from its order to conduct the six final boards), and the FSGB final decision. The complainant filed a Federal appeal in U.S. District Court on January 7, 2011, which has now been temporarily suspended at the complainant’s request.

This case does not include the name of the foreign service officer but we think this is the Joan Wadelton’s case that has been through the Foreign Service Grievance Board and is the subject of a litigation in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia.

Reading through this report, we are struck by OIG being “unable to review any notes or score sheets generated by the 2006 boards because Department policy required treating them as working files; as such, they were destroyed once the rankings were finalized.” Although it appears State/OIG reviewed other scoresheets and consulted with a DHS expert to conduct forensic analysis. The report says that the review could not substantiate the complainant’s allegation that HR fraudulently altered documents associated with her 2010 to 2011 reconstituted promotion boards.

We don’t understand this policy of destroying working files, particularly on cases such as promotions. What’s the rationale for doing so? Anyone want to school me on this?

Read it here: ESP-15-06_Improper Denial of Promotion Allegation.

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Related posts:

US Embassy El Salvador Warns of Increased Frequency and Intensity of Security Incidents

Posted: 1:45 am EDT

The 2015 Crime and Safety Report from the Regional Security Office released in May this year, notes that crime in El Salvador can run the gamut from credit card skimming to homicide and is unpredictable, gang-centric, and characterized by violence directed against both known victims and targets of opportunity. The effect and threat of violent crime in the capital city of San Salvador, including the neighborhoods in which many U.S. citizens live and work, leads to greater isolation and the curtailment of recreational opportunities. Crimes of every type routinely occur. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid travel into the downtown area of San Salvador “unless absolutely necessary” and travel outside the cities and to Guatemala or Honduras should only be done during daylight hours and with multiple vehicle convoys for safety. Excerpt:

The threat from transnational criminal organizations is prevalent throughout Central America. There is some evidence that the Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas may have infiltrated El Salvador, although only in extremely low numbers. El Salvador has hundreds of gang “cliques,” with more than 20,000 members. Violent, well-armed, U.S.-style street gang growth continues, with the 18th Street (Barrio 18) and MS-13 (“Mara Salvatrucha”) gangs being the largest. Gangs concentrate on narcotics and arms trafficking, murder for hire, carjacking, extortion, and violent street crime. The gangs have collaborated with Mexican drug cartels to carry out murders and have sold the cartels weapons and explosives left over from the war and/or from the military. Recognizing the threat posed by MS-13, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated the MS-13 a Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) in their list of Specially Designated Nationals. Gangs and other criminal elements roam freely, targeting affluent areas for burglaries, and gang members are quick to engage in violence when resisted. Many of the gangs are comprised of unemployed youth who do not hesitate to use deadly force when perpetrating crimes.

A contributing factor to crime is the presence of impoverished shanty communities in the midst of high-income residential and higher-end commercial areas in the capital. There are few if any areas immune from violent crime. However, the presence of armed security and the use of security features at homes have proven to be successful in combating home invasions. In 2014, armed robberies continued to be the greatest security threat facing diplomats, tourists, and business persons. Home invasions/burglaries during daylight continue to be prevalent in residential neighborhoods in San Salvador. Some home invasions occur when individuals posing as delivery men or police officers gain access to a home.

Extortion persists as a very common, effective criminal enterprise. Hitting a peak in 2009, the number of extortions has dropped from 4,528 reported cases of extortion in 2006 to 2,480 reported cases in 2014. Many of the extortion calls originate from prisons.

There were 2,480 car thefts and 1,331 carjackings reported in 2014. Not tracked however, are the significant numbers of smash-and-grab-type of auto burglaries pervasive throughout the urban areas of El Salvador.

El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, and the Department of State updated the Travel Warning for El Salvador in November 2014 to notify U.S. citizens about travel safety concerns and challenges. Police statistics show an increase in annual homicides during 2014, attributed primarily to the cessation of a controversial 2012 truce between local gangs. Crime statistics showed that the 2014 annual homicide rate — 68.6 per 100,000 inhabitants — was significantly higher than the previous year’s 43.7 per 100,000 rate. In 2014, authorities recorded 3,912 homicides, a 55.7 percent increase from the 2,513 in 2013.

Rape remains a serious concern; in 2013 and 2014, an average of 376 rapes per year were reported. Services for victims of rape are very limited, and many victims choose not to participate in the investigation and prosecution of the crime for fear of not being treated respectfully by the authorities. Many murder victims show signs of rape, and survivors of rape may not report the crime for fear of retaliation.

El Salvador is not a danger post for allowances purposes. It is a 15% COLA and 15% hardship differential  post according to the latest bi-weekly update from state.gov.

The Crime and Safety Report is an annual product of the Regional Security Office (RSO) of every U.S. embassy. Read the full report here.

elsalvador_map_2010worldfactbook_300_1

Image from CIA World Factbook 2010

 

On July 29, the US Embassy in El Salvador issued a security message to American citizens residing in El Salvador on the increased risk of crime and violence in the country:

In recent weeks, there has been an increase in the frequency and intensity of security incidents in El Salvador, including multiple attacks on transportation workers and security forces.  The U.S. Embassy is aware that criminal elements in El Salvador have threatened to escalate the level of violence by attacking hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and other public venues.  The grenade attack at a major hotel on July 25 demonstrates both a will and a capability to carry out such plans.

The Embassy is not aware of any threat specifically directed against U.S. citizens in El Salvador.  However, the violence of recent weeks, coupled with this new information, demonstrates the need for sustained caution and high security awareness at all times. Review your personal security plans, avoid outdoor seating (as at restaurants and bars), and monitor local news stations for updates.  Take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security. Please see the below excerpt from the Travel Warning for El Salvador:

U.S. citizens should remain alert to their surroundings, especially when entering or exiting their homes or hotels, cars, garages, schools, and workplaces.  Whenever possible, travel in groups.  U.S. Embassy security officials advise all U.S. government personnel not to walk, run, or cycle in unguarded streets and parks, even in groups, and recommend exercising only in gyms and fitness centers.  Avoid wearing expensive jewelry, and do not carry large sums of money or display cash, ATM/credit cards, or other valuables.  Avoid walking at night in most areas of El Salvador. Incidents of crime along roads, including carjacking, are common in El Salvador.  Motorists should avoid traveling at night and always drive with their doors locked to deter potential robberies at traffic lights and on congested downtown streets.  Travel on public transportation, especially buses, both within and outside the capital, is risky and not recommended.  The Embassy advises official visitors and personnel to avoid using mini-buses and regular buses and to use only radio-dispatched taxis or those stationed in front of major hotels.

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State Dept to Release 5,000 Pages to Benghazi Panel, No Hearing With Kerry Top Aide For Now

Posted: 12:40  am EDT

 

On July 22, The Hill reported that the Gowdy committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks announced it has called on one of Secretary of State John Kerry’s top aides to appear this week. The panel apparently wanted Jon Finer, Kerry’s chief of staff, to appear on July 29th to discuss the State Department’s compliance with the panel’s investigation.

Late on July 27, The Hill reported that the State Department has agreed to release 5,000 pages of documents to the House Select Committee on Benghazi tomorrow, July 28. This document release temporarily cancels Mr. Finer’s appearance before the panel but chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) has not ruled out any future appearance.

The new document dump comes after a standoff between the State Department and the House panel, which had previously ordered a top aide to Secretary of State John Kerry to testify on Wednesday.

After the department committed to releasing the 5,000 new pages to the committee, the hearing with that aide — Kerry’s chief of staff, Jon Finer — will be postponed until after Kerry has completed a marathon string of briefings and hearings to sell the international nuclear deal with Iran.
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“If the State Department does not fulfill this production, or if production continues to be anemic and underwhelming, we will move forward with scheduling a compliance hearing before the committee,” he added.

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What if Congress grants the State Dept the Suspension Without Pay (SWOP) hammer?

Posted: 1:44  pm EDT

 

According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, the Act of August 26, 1950 (64 Stat. 476), codified at 5 U.S.C. 7532, “confers upon the Secretary of State the authority, in the Secretary’s absolute discretion, to suspend without pay any civilian officer or employee of the Department (including the Foreign Service of the United States) when deemed necessary in the interest of the national security (see 12 FAM 235.2).”

So when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Fiscal Year 2016 Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act which contains a similar language on security clearance suspension without work and no pay for Foreign Service employees, we were wondering what’s up with that (see S.1635: DOS Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, Fiscal Year 2016 – Security Clearance).

Section 610 (2)(c)(1) of S.1635 says that in order to promote the efficiency of the Service, the Secretary may suspend a member of the Service without pay when—

(A) the member’s security clearance is suspended; or

(B) there is reasonable cause to believe that the member has committed a crime for which a sentence of imprisonment may be imposed.

The new language indicates suspension without pay (SWOP) whenever the security clearance is suspended for whatever reason. Not just for national security reasons anymore, folks.

The most widely reported FSO with a suspended clearance in recent memory is Peter Van Buren whose TS clearance was suspended for about a year. Under this proposed bill, PVB would not have been assigned to a telework position or paid for the duration of his fight with the State Department. Which means he and others like him would have to quit and find a paying job or starve unless he/she has a savings account that can sustain the investigation for a year or years.

Any FS employee who might dissent or engage in whistleblowing activity, any perceived troublemaker for that matter, can be put on SWOP, and that would be it.  An FSO who experienced first hand the suspension of a security clearance put this in very stark terms:

In practical terms they can remove the employee instantly, without telling anyone why until much later, by which time the employee will have resigned unless they can afford to go for months or years without a salary. And once the employee has resigned, the case is closed, the former employee loses their clearance because they resigned, and with it any right to know the reasons for the suspension. If the employee quits, the Department does not have to justify itself to anyone, and if the Department doesn’t have to pay them, 99.9 percent will quit.

We want to look at the numbers of suspension and revocation, unfortunately, this is something that is not publicly available from Diplomatic Security.  A source speaking on background put the numbers very low at less than 30 suspensions a year and of those probably less than 5 are revocations. Another source long familiar with this issue guesstimate the number as closer to 70-80 suspension per year, and the number of revocations probably at15-20 per year. We are unable to verify these numbers independently.  The higher numbers may be due to greater hiring, as well as to the use of “Scattered Castles,” a computer database that lists all prior security clearance determinations by other agencies which may prompt a suspension and re-investigation of the clearance.  But even if we take the higher numbers of 80 suspensions, that is still a small number compared to the total FS workforce.

A source not authorized to speak on this subject told us that the bulk of security clearance suspensions and revocations involve personal behavior issues ranging from alleged sexual misconduct to alcohol abuse, to failure to report on time a relationship that should be reported. Very few security clearance cases involve a matter that is criminal, so very few result in prosecution.

The question then becomes why? Why would Congress want this? And just as important, why does the State Department support this?

The long history of this section of the bill reportedly dates back to Condoleezza Rice’s term at the State Department. It was allegedly intended to create parity between Foreign Service (FS) and Civil Service (CS) employees.

State can indeed put CS employees on SWOP as soon as clearance is suspended, but the rules also gives CS employees appeal rights to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). We understand that MSPB records and procedures are public and that it is specifically granted authority to review security clearance cases. The FS employees do not have the same protection with the Foreign Service Grievance Board. The final review adjudicative body, the Security Appeals Panel, not part of FSGB, allegedly does not even keep records of its deliberative process or set precedent for future cases. Currently, the rules on the FAM says: “If the individual is represented by counsel or other representative, the representative does not have a right to have access to or to review any material. However, to the extent authorized by the individual and the Department, the representative may review material that the individual has access to pursuant to subsection (b) above if he or she is properly cleared.”

The numbers of suspension/revocation are low but Congress doesn’t have to talk about the numbers. The members can talk about getting rid of bad apples in the government, which is always popular. In doing so, Congress can look tough on security, tough on the State Department and tough on keeping tabs on government money.

This is not a good idea. If only a quarter of all suspensions end in revocation, isn’t the USG throwing money and lives away? In addition to our concern that this could be use by the State Department to shut-up dissenters or potential whistleblowers, we also have the following concerns:

  • Costs in hiring/training

The USG has a lengthy hiring process for FS employees and typically trains them before sending them to posts overseas. The cost of that investment does not come cheap. Members of the FS also go through language training and spends most of their careers in overseas assignments.The length of time to replace/train/deploy an FS employee is significantly longer than the time to replace a CS employee.

  • FS family logistics

FS members overseas with suspended clearance are normally sent home to a desk job that does not require a clearance or their expertise. Not all FS members have houses to come home to in the WashDC area. They’ll have to pull kids out of schools, and move their entire household. What happens to them in DC if the employee is without work and without pay under this proposal? A suspension in this case would technically be a firing as the FS employee will be forced to find an alternate job that pays. So what happens when the case is resolved without a revocation, will the employee be able to come back? Since the investigation ends when the employee leaves, there is no win here for the employee.

  • Prime targets of hostile intel service

FS employees spends most of their career overseas. By virtue of their positions, they are prime targets of any hostile intel service. They can be subject of a security investigation though no fault of their own.  This is even more concerning with the OPM hack purportedly conducted by a foreign government.  If true that a foreign government now has the personal details of over 20 million security clearance holders, including those in the State Department who used OPM’s e-Qip system, how does one even protect oneself from the potential misuse of that information that can lead to a clearance suspension?

What can you do?

As we have posted earlier, the State Authorization bill was offered as an amendment when the NDAA was debated in the Senate in June but it was not voted on when the NDAA passed on June 18 (That would be H.R. 1735 which passed 215 (71-25)  We understand that both chambers are now starting the process to bring the bill to conference in order to resolve differences.  The State Authorization bill, we are told, will not be part of those discussions.  In order for this to move forward, it will either need to be brought to the floor as a stand alone vote or Corker/Cardin could try again to attach it to another piece of legislation. Given that this is the first authorization bill passed by the SFRC in 5 years, and made it through the committee with bi-partisan support, we suspect that this might not be the end of this bill.

We’re hoping that employees’ fundamental rights and due process do not become casualties particularly in gaining concessions from Congress on the overseas comparability pay (CP) fight. That would be a terrible bargain.  Educate your elected representative on the consequences of this section of the bill. See that AFSA is tracking this matter and talking to Congress.

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Clinton Email Challenge Now a Sharknado, and Secretary Kerry Is Right to be “Concerned”

Posted: 2:13  pm PDT

 

This happened Thursday night. We drafted this post early morning but waited for a piece of information we wanted to see. So yup, overtaken by events.  In any case, you may now read the inspector generals memos referenced to in the NYT report here. See NYT: Criminal Inquiry Sought Over Clinton Emails? Read the Inspector Generals Memos.  We’re also waiting for the OIG to issue a clarification on the DOJ referral the NYT reported.

The memos went possibly from two IG offices — State Department Steve Linick and Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough, III — to the Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. The IGs memos are also cc’ed to one of the State Department’s deputy secretaries. It looks like, the memos or contents/snippets of it were shared with DOJ, as a DOJ official appears to be the NYT’s source for this story (see tweets below).

Here are the tweets from July 24:

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The report from the NYT includes the following:

— 1.  The memos were provided to The New York Times by a senior government official.

— 2.  The inspectors general also criticized the State Department for its handling of sensitive information, particularly its reliance on retired senior Foreign Service officers to decide if information should be classified, and for not consulting with the intelligence agencies about its determinations.

— 3.  The revelations about how Mrs. Clinton handled her email have been an embarrassment for the State Department, which has been repeatedly criticized over its handling of documents related to Mrs. Clinton and her advisers.

— 4.  Some State Department officials said they believe many senior officials did not initially take the House committee seriously, which slowed document production and created an appearance of stonewalling.

— 5.  State Department officials also said that Mr. Kerry is concerned about the toll the criticism has had on the department and has urged his deputies to comply with the requests quickly.

Today:

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On this whole email debacle at the State Department, it must be said that this might not have happened if not enabled by senior bureaucrats in the agency. We do not believe for a moment that senior officials were not aware about the email practices of then Secretary Clinton or the record retention requirement. But hey, if the practice was done for four years over the protests and dissent of officials at “M”, “A”, the Legal Adviser or the CIO, we’d like to see that email trail.

By the way, this NYT report follows a July 20 Politico report about a contentious hearing where U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon demanded explanations for why some of the Associated Press’ FOIA requests received no reply for four years or more before the wire service filed suit in March.

“The State Department’s not going to have the luxury of saying, because we’re focusing on Hillary’s emails, we’re doing so at the cost and expense of four-year-old requests. So, that’s not going to be an excuse,” the judge said. “In my judgment, a four-year-old request gets a priority over a recent request.”

On Mr. Kerry’s concern about the toll the criticism has had on the department … the secretary is right to be concerned. Senior officials did not take Congress seriously?  Even if senior bureaucrats do not agree or approve of the conduct of the Select Committee, even if they think this is a sideshow seeking to derail a presidential campaign, the required document production is still part of their jobs. In my view, the most serious consequence on the appearance of stonewalling is it also gives the appearance that bureaucrats are picking sides in this political shitstorm.

This can potentially undermine the expectation of the State Department as an impartial and non-political entity. The perception, right or wrong, that this impartiality is compromised, will not serve it or its employees well in the long run.

You might like to read a couple previous posts on FOIA personnel, costs and the “persistent neglect of fundamental leadership responsibilities” that made this the Clinton email debacle a challenge of Sharknado proportion for the agency. (see Snapshot: State Dept FY2014 FOIA Personnel and Costs and State Dept FOIA Requests: Agency Ranks Second in Highest Backlog and Here’s Why).

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Bureau Tasks With Countering Violent Extremism: 96 Authorized Employees, Running on 17-23% Vacancies

Posted: 12:28  am EDT

Via GAO:

Terrorism and violent extremism continue to pose a global threat, and combating them remains a top priority for the U.S. government. State leads and coordinates U.S. efforts to counter terrorism abroad. State’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism was elevated to bureau status in 2012 with the aim of enhancing State’s ability to counter violent extremism, build partner counterterrorism capacity, and improve coordination. GAO was asked to review the effects of this change and the new bureau’s efforts.

While the bureau has undertaken efforts to assess its progress, it has not yet evaluated its priority Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program and has not established time frames for addressing recommendations from program evaluations. Specifically, the bureau established indicators and targets for its foreign assistance–related goals and reported results achieved toward each indicator. The bureau has also completed four evaluations covering three of its six programs that resulted in 60 recommendations. The bureau reported having implemented about half of the recommendations (28 of 60) as of June 2015 but has not established time frames for addressing the remaining recommendations. Without specific time frames, it will be difficult for the bureau to ensure timely implementation of programmatic improvements. In addition, despite identifying its CVE program as a priority and acknowledging the benefit of evaluating it, the bureau has postponed evaluating it each fiscal year since 2012.

image from gao.gov

image from gao.gov

The bureau’s number of authorized FTEs grew from 66 in fiscal year 2011 to 96 in fiscal year 2015, which is an increase of more than 45 percent. Figure 6 shows the number of authorized FTEs within the bureau for fiscal years 2011 to 2015, along with the number of FTE positions that were filled. While the bureau’s current authorized level of FTEs for fiscal year 2015 is 96 positions, it had 22 vacancies as of October 31, 2014. The percentage of vacancies in the bureau has ranged from 17 percent to 23 percent in fiscal years 2011 to 2015. According to the CT Bureau, these vacancies have included both staff-level and management positions.

In addition to the authorized FTEs, the CT Bureau also has non-FTE positions, which include contractors; interns; fellows; detailees; and “When Actually Employed,” the designation applied to retired State employees rehired under temporary part-time appointments. For fiscal years 2013, 2014, and 2015, respectively, the CT Bureau had 92, 78, and 69 such positions, in addition to its authorized FTEs, according to the CT Bureau.

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Related item:

State Should Evaluate Its Countering Violent Extremism Program and Set Time Frames for Addressing Evaluation Recommendations | GAO-15-684 | pdf

 

State Dept Authorization Bill Mandates Security Breach Reporting, NSA Consultations –Can PenTest Be Far Behind?

Posted: 12:27 am EDT
Updated: 11:23 am PDT

 

Update: A source on the Hill alerted us that the State Authorization bill was offered as an amendment when the NDAA was debated in the Senate last month but it was not voted on and the NDAA passed on June 18 (That would be H.R. 1735 which passed 215 (71-25)  We understand that both chambers are now starting the process to bring the bill to conference in order to resolve differences.  The State Authorization bill, we are told, will not be part of those discussions.  In order for this to move forward, it will either need to be brought to the floor as a stand alone vote or Corker/Cardin could try again to attach it to another piece of legislation. Given that this is the first authorization bill passed by the SFRC in 5 years, and made it through the committee with bi-partisan support, we suspect that the senators will not just easily forget about this. — DS

On June 9, 2015, U.S. Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, applauded the unanimous committee passage of the Fiscal Year 2016 Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act. The SFRC statement says that it has been five years since the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a State Department Authorization bill and 13 years since one was enacted into law.  This State Department Authorization bill has been offered as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which currently is on the Senate floor. It is quite lengthy so we’re doing this in installments.

Below is the section on information technology system security that mandates security breach reporting, as well as making State Dept systems and networks available to the Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and any other such departments or agencies to carry out necessary tests and procedures.

The State Department’s Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) as of 2011 contains over 137 million American and foreign case records and over 130 million photographs and is growing at approximately 40,000 visa and passport cases every day. If the CCD is compromised, it would be a jackpot for hackers that would make the OPM hack severely pales in comparison.

If this bill passes, will the penetration test by NSA on one of the world’s largest data warehouses finally happen?

Via govtrack:

Section 206.Information technology system security

(a)In general

The Secretary shall regularly consult with the Director of the National Security Agency and any other departments or agencies the Secretary determines to be appropriate regarding the security of United States Government and nongovernment information technology systems and networks owned, operated, managed, or utilized by the Department, including any such systems or networks facilitating the use of sensitive or classified information.

(b)Consultation

In performing the consultations required under subsection (a), the Secretary shall make all such systems and networks available to the Director of the National Security Agency and any other such departments or agencies to carry out such tests and procedures as are necessary to ensure adequate policies and protections are in place to prevent penetrations or compromises of such systems and networks, including by malicious intrusions by any unauthorized individual or state actor or other entity.

(c)Security breach reporting

Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, and every 180 days thereafter, the Secretary, in consultation with the Director of the National Security Agency and any other departments or agencies the Secretary determines to be appropriate, shall submit a report to the appropriate congressional committees that describes in detail—

(1)all known or suspected penetrations or compromises of the systems or networks described in subsection (a) facilitating the use of classified information; and

(2)all known or suspected significant penetrations or compromises of any other such systems and networks that occurred since the submission of the prior report.

(d)Content

Each report submitted under subsection (c) shall include—

(1)a description of the relevant information technology system or network penetrated or compromised;

(2)an assessment of the date and time such penetration or compromise occurred;

(3)an assessment of the duration for which such system or network was penetrated or compromised, including whether such penetration or compromise is ongoing;

(4)an assessment of the amount and sensitivity of information accessed and available to have been accessed by such penetration or compromise, including any such information contained on systems and networks owned, operated, managed, or utilized by any other department or agency of the United States Government;

(5)an assessment of whether such system or network was penetrated by a malicious intrusion, including an assessment of—

(A)the known or suspected perpetrators, including state actors; and

(B)the methods used to conduct such penetration or compromise; and

(6)a description of the actions the Department has taken, or plans to take, to prevent future, similar penetrations or compromises of such systems and networks.

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Related Post:
S.1635: DOS Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, Fiscal Year 2016 – Security Clearance

Snapshot: US Embassy Kabul Capital Investments, FY2002-March 2015 Now at $2.17Billion

Posted: 2:45 am EDT

Via GAO-15-410 (pdf):

State’s past and planned capital construction investments in Kabul from 2002 through March 2015 total $2.17 billion in project funding, which includes awarded construction contracts and other costs State incurs that are not part of those contracts. Examples of other State project costs include federal project supervision, construction security, security equipment, and project contingencies.12 Figure 3 shows these investments.

US Embassy Kabul Capital Projects FY2002-2015

US Embassy Kabul Capital Projects FY2002-2015 Past and Planned Capital Investments (via GAO) | click image for larger view

 

In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, State awarded two contracts originally worth $625.4 million in total to meet growing facility requirements at the U.S. embassy in Kabul. The first contract, awarded to Contractor 1 in September 2009 for $209.4 million, was for the design and construction of temporary and permanent structures to include

  • temporary offices and housing,
  • office annex A,
  • apartment building 1,
  • cafeteria and recreation center,
  • perimeter security and compound access facilities,
  • warehouse addition, and
  • utility building.The second contract, awarded to Contractor 2 in September 2010 for $416 million, was for the design and construction of:
  • office annex B,
  • apartment buildings 2 and 3,
  • expansion of existing apartment building 4,
  • compound access and perimeter security facilities, and parking facilities—to include a vehicle maintenance facility.

    State’s plans called for sequencing construction under the two contracts and demolishing older temporary facilities to make space available for new facilities. State’s plans also entailed acquiring the Afghan Ministry of Public Health site adjacent to the compound to build parking facilities for approximately 400 embassy vehicles. In September 2011, after the U.S. and Afghan governments did not reach agreement to transfer that site, State had to remove the parking and vehicle maintenance facilities from the project.

    In September 2011, State partially terminated elements of the first contract—specifically the permanent facilities, including office annex A and apartment building 1—for the convenience of the U.S. government, in part, due to concerns about contractor performance and schedule delays. Contractor 1 completed the temporary offices and housing units, but in September 2011, State transferred contract requirements for the permanent facilities not begun by Contractor 1 to Contractor 2’s contract.

    The estimated completion of project has now been moved from summer 2014 to fall 2017.

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State Dept Suspends All Tarrant County (Texas) Passport Processing Authority

Posted: 12:50 am  PDT

 

 

The Star Telegram reports that the State Department has suspended all Tarrant County (Texas – Ft Worth’s county) acceptance agents’ authority to accept passport applications.

The Tarrant County district clerk’s office cannot process passport applications until an investigation into a “possible infraction” is completed by the U.S. State Department, County Administrator G.K. Maenius said Tuesday.

The district clerk’s office has not been able to accept applications since it was notified by the State Department of the investigation on June 25, Maenius said.

The clerk’s office has processed about 33,000 applications so far this year. As a registered agent of the State Department, the office has been handling passport applications since 1999, currently at six locations around the county.

One prospective passport applicant told the Star that she could not even pick up the paperwork for the passport application nor get any information about passports from one of the processing sites in the county.
Read more here.

The Tarrant County website posted the following information:

Screen Shot 2015-07-08

via Tarrant County, TX

NBCDFW.com says that the order comes amid a federal investigation into the use of fraudulent documents to obtain passports in Tarrant County and whether clerks followed proper procedures, according to a person familiar with the case.

Later on July 8, NBC5 reports that the Department of State confirmed it is investigating Tarrant County’s passport office and had ordered the county to stop taking passport applications but would say little else.

“We can confirm that all passport acceptance facilities in Tarrant County, Texas, have temporarily suspended accepting U.S. passport applications,” a State Department spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “As a review is ongoing, we cannot comment on further details.”

Last May, a Grand Jury in the Southern District of Texas indicted three women charged with nine counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with the alleged use of U.S. passport information from the Houston Passport Office. (See U.S. Passport Agency Contractor, Two Others Indicted for Alleged Use of Stolen Passport Information). That case is currently pending in the Southern District of Texas in Houston. Jury selection and trial in that case is set for October 13, 2015.

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No Comparator Case For DS Agent With PTSD — Failure to Follow Regs, Lack of Candor Charges Came 2 1⁄2 Years Late

Posted: 3:12 am  EDT

 

This is a case of a DS Agent charged with lack of candor and failure to follow regulations for incidents that took place in 2010 related to his PTSD.   The State Department issued a final decision to  suspend the agent for 12 days.  According to the ROI, the deciding official at the agency level grievance “also considered the mitigating factors and gave grievant credit for having no past formal disciplinary record and a satisfactory work history. The deciding official also noted grievant’s potential for rehabilitation, while recognizing that grievant clearly was embarrassed by his diagnosis of PTSD, and feared that he might be stigmatized by the label, or that he might even lose his job with the Department.”

A couple things striking about this case.  Following grievant’s military service in Iraq in 2006, he started having panic attacks and severe anxiety, for which he was prescribed several medications – none of which he says worked very well. His symptoms became worse over time. In 2009 he was diagnosed as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  The incidents that ultimately led to the two charges occurred in November 2010; yet the Department did not propose disciplinary action until April 24, 2013 – a span of 29 months. The ROI does not explain the delay.

Grievant reportedly denied during the interviews with that he had been diagnosed with PTSD, saying instead that he had been treated for anxiety and panic attacks. And yet, according to the ROI, grievant avers that “he discussed his PTSD diagnosis in considerable detail with the DS investigators, and authorized release of his medical records.”

Grievant admits he did not comply with Department regulations requiring him to report that he had been prescribed psychiatric medications, but claims he was unaware of the policy requiring him to do so. He claims that he was not alone in being unaware of this requirement, as many other DS officers to his knowledge were also unaware of the regulation.

Since grievant is a DS agent, the Department has also cited 12 FAM Exhibit 023 2.5, its Deadly Force and Firearms Policy (which we can no longer read online, as it’s now behind the firewall). 12 FAM Exhibit 023 section 2.5 12 FAH-9 H-030 appears specific to prescription medication.  The State Department showed, and the FSGB agreed that there are no similar cases that presented the same set of circumstances as in this grievant’s case.

The Board held that grievance be granted in part and denied in part. The Board remanded the case to the Department to consider an appropriate penalty in view of their decision not to sustain two specifications of one of the two charges.

Summary:

Grievant faces two charges – Lack of Candor and Failure to Follow Regulations – that were leveled against him because of statements he made during a Department investigation about incidents that took place while he was in the U.S. on leave in 2010. He is a Diplomatic Security Special Agent who was admitted to the hospital on two occasions (on consecutive days) after he drank alcohol heavily and took an unknown quantity of prescription medications after he became upset about the breakup of his engagement to be married. The investigation revealed discrepancies between the information grievant gave to investigators and that found in his medical records. Records show that grievant suffers from PTSD and that he had not reported this fact to the Department. The investigation report claims that grievant denied during interviews that he had ever been diagnosed with PTSD or that he was ever in a treatment program to address the condition. His records also show that he had been prescribed several psychiatric medications, and contained no evidence that grievant had reported to the Department either the PTSD diagnosis, or the prescription medicines which are required to be reported under the agency’s Deadly Force and Firearms policy. The Department’s final decision provided for a 12-day suspension without pay.

Grievant denies the majority of the specifications cited in the charges. He claims to have discussed his PTSD diagnosis in detail with the investigators and avers that he responded candidly to all of the questions posed to him during two DS interviews. He admits that he did not report the prescription medicines, but argues that he was unaware he needed to do so. Grievant also claims that the charges are untimely, having been brought after a very long delay – nearly 2 1⁄2 years after the incidents, and that the delay has prejudiced his ability to present his case. He claims to have been particularly disadvantaged in that he is unable to find witnesses who could corroborate his positions or shed light on the quantity of medications he took prior to the 2010 incidents. He also argues that the proposed penalty, in any case, is overly harsh in light of penalties the Department has imposed for like offenses. He requests that those charges/specifications the Department is unable to establish should be overturned, and the 12-day suspension should be mitigated.

Click on the image or the link below to read ROI in pdf file. The file is redacted and originally published online by the Foreign Service Grievance Board.

2014-020 - 04-29-2015 - B - Interim Decision_Redacted-2-02

FSGB Case 2014-020 – 04-29-2015 – B |DS Agent – PTSD Case                         (click image to read in pdf)

2014-020 – 04-29-2015 – B – Interim Decision_Redacted-2

The regs apparently say that “a DSS Special Agent who is taking prescription medication to notify his supervisor and submit a medical certificate or other administratively acceptable documentation of the prescription … to the Domestic Programs Division of the Office of Medical Services immediately after beginning the medication.” We don’t know what happens to DS agents who self report as required by regulations.  Are their USG-issued weapons removed? Are they subject to reassignment? Is there a perception that this is an embarrassment?

Given that many Diplomatic Security personnel have now done multiple tours to war zones and high threat posts, is this really an isolated case of not self-reporting both the PTSD diagnosis and the use of prescription medication?

We sent this individual to Iraq in 2006. He came back with unseen wounds. And here he is in 2015, still fighting his battle.   What can the State Department do to make employees with potential PTSD less fearful of being stigmatized in coming forward and acknowledging they need help? What can the Bureau of Diplomatic Security do more for its agents? How can this be made into a less lonely fight?

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