Citizens United Files Lawsuit Against State Dept For Harold Geisel’s Records and OIG Report on Diplomatic Security

Posted: 11:16 am PDT
Updated: 8:37 om PDT

 

Via Bloomberg:

Citizens United filed its fourth lawsuit against the State Department on Thursday, this time seeking documents related to the agency’s Office of Inspector General during former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tenure. In the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the conservative advocacy group complains that the State Department has not responded to two of its Freedom of Information Act requests in more than six months, beyond acknowledging receiving them. The statutory requirement is 20 business days.

In its court filing, Citizens United argues that “when left to their own devices State Department bureaucrats have taken over three years to respond to Citizens United’s FOIA requests” and that “Such extensive delays are in clear violation of both the letter and the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.”

This latest lawsuit, asked for two specific records related the Office of the Inspector General of the State Department: the first one related to former acting IG Harold Geisel, and the second one related to inspection report ISP-I-13-18 released in March 2013. This is the inspection report (pdf) on Diplomatic Security where the inspectors concluded that Diplomatic Security’s Special Investigations Division (SID) lack independence. The OIG recommended that “The Office of the Deputy Secretary should restructure the investigative responsibilities currently assigned to the Special Investigations Division. The outcome should include safeguards to prevent any Department of State or Diplomatic Security official from improperly influencing the commencement, course, or outcome of any investigation.” We don’t know if anything happened in that front but in any case, Citizens United wanted to see all the details, potentially messy, generated by that report. We should also note that this specific report previously made a cameo appearance in another lawsuit in Texas and attracted congressional interest.

Below excerpted from court records:

CITIZENS UNITED’S SEPTEMBER 16, 2014 FOIA REQUEST (GEISEL RECORDS), F-2014-16237

11. On September 16, 2014 Citizens United submitted a FOIA request, online, to Defendant. See Exhibit B (FOIA Request Letter). The request sought:

On April 25, 2011, The Washington Post reported on the vacant State Department’s Inspector General position. The Washington Post reported that: “One high-ranking official familiar with the selection process said the State Department’s current leadership had opposed filling the top slot because it prefers the office to remain under Geisel’s supervision.” On April 5, 2011 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report titled State Department Inspector General, Actions To Address Independence And Effectiveness Concerns Are Under Way, (GAO-11-382T). The records I request can be described as follows: Any and all records, correspondence, and memos, in any and all formats, that mention, discuss, or reference the performance of Harold W. Geisel as acting State Department inspector general, the nomination of an inspector general, potential candidates for inspector general, a preference or desire to retain Harold W. Geisel as acting State Department inspector general, the aforementioned GAO report, and/or the vacant inspector general position in any context that were sent to and/or sent from any of the following individuals: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Office Manager Claire Coleman, Counselor and Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, Deputy Chief Of Staff for Operations Huma Abedin, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Jacob Sullivan, Executive Assistant Alice Wells, Senior Advisor Jeannemarie E. Smith, Special Assistant Lona Valmoro, Special Assistant Nima Abbaszadeh, Special Assistant Bernadette Meehan, Deputy Secretary Thomas Nides, Deputy Secretary William J. Burns, Under Secretary Patrick F. Kennedy, Under Secretary Wendy R. Sherman, and Acting Deputy Department Spokesman Mark C. Toner.

B. CITIZENS UNITED’S SEPTEMBER 16, 2014 FOIA REQUEST (INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT), F-2014-16250

16. On September 16, 2014 Citizens United submitted a FOIA request, online, to Defendant. See Exhibit D (FOIA Request Letter). The request sought:

Any and all correspondence, memos, or records, in any format, that mention, reference, or discuss the State Department Office of Inspector General report The Bureau Of Diplomatic Security, Office Of Investigations And Counterintelligence, Divisions Of Special Investigations, Criminal Investigations, And Computer Investigations And Forensics (ISP-I-13-18), and/or any previous drafts of the report, and that were sent to, or sent from, the following individuals: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Cheryl D. Mills, Huma Mahmood Abedin, Jennemaire E. Smith, Lona Valmoro, Joanne Laszczych, Monica Hanley, Robert V. Russo, and Nora F. Toiv.

This should be interesting unless everything get Sharpied out.  The case is  Citizens United v. United States Department of State, Civil Action No. 15-cv-441 (pdf).

Also this:

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Snapshot: State/INL’s Counternarcotics Program Afghanistan — $220 Million With Unclear Results

Posted: 1:04  am EDT

 

Via State/OIG:

Afghanistan produces three-quarters of the world’s illicit opium, with cultivation reaching a record high in 2013. To reduce, among other things, illicit opium revenue for the insurgency in Afghanistan, the Department of State (Department), Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), assists the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) with initiatives aimed at reducing opium’s supply and demand. Since 2006, INL has expended $220 million on seven Counternarcotics (CN) initiatives in Afghanistan according to its Financial Management Activity Report (FMAR).
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The degree to which INL’s CN program for Afghanistan has achieved desired results is unclear because INL has not fully developed or implemented Performance Measurement Plans (PMPs)2 to track progress for its CN initiatives and to allow for appropriate budgeting. As a result, INL cannot determine whether its Afghan CN initiatives are successful or should be revised, reduced, or canceled. Additionally, the long-term viability of CN initiatives is unclear because INL had not worked with the GIRoA to develop required sustainment plans that detail how CN initiatives will continue without U.S. assistance.

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Click on image for larger view. (Click here for OIG report in pdf)

Above graphic extracted from State/OIG Audit of Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Counternarcotics Assistance to Afghanistan, November 2014 (pdf).

Related to our blog post on Colombia, note that INL’s program in Afghanistan does not seem to include aerial eradication ( see State/INL: Anti-Drug Aerial Eradication in Colombia and the Cancer-Linked Herbicide, What Now?).

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Former FSO Joan Wadelton With Truthout Goes to Court Over FOIA Case

Posted: 1:0808 am EDT

 

We didn’t know this but former FSO Joan Wadelton was joined by non-profit organization, Truthout in her FOIA lawsuit (pdf) against the State Department. Her formal complaint includes the following:

Over the past decade, Wadelton has collected evidence demonstrating that the type of treatment she received from HR was not unique to her, but instead was the product of a systematic manipulation of the selection board promotion process by a circle of current and former high-level HR managers to advantage themselves and their allies and to disadvantage those they did not favor.

See more here.

Since this is a FOIA case, the Clinton emails made their first walk-in part. We expect that these emails will be cited in many more cases in the court system before too long.

Via Politico:

The saga stemming from revelations about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account as secretary of state made its way into a federal courtroom in Washington Wednesday afternoon in an ex-foreign service officer’s lawsuit for records related to her dismissal.

The discussion of the State Department’s email issues—including a disclosure last week that the agency did not automatically archive the email of many top officials until February of this year—came at a hearing on a Freedom of Information Act suit filed by former State employee Joan Wadelton.
[…]

“The State Department has proposed filing a motion for summary judgment in August 2015, stating it requires nearly six months to compile a Vaughn index for approximately 450 documents. The Court is not convinced, without a further and clearer showing of necessity, that six months is needed to complete this task,” wrote Chutkan, an Obama appointee. She ordered the government to offer a written explanation by March 30 of why that many months are needed.

Wadelton’s complaints about favoritism and irregular employment practices at State have been covered by various diplomacy-related blogs and news outlets, including here at the Atlantic.

The Vaughn Index is an itemized index, correlating each withholding with a specific FOIA exemption and a justification for that justification. This document is prepared by the agency, in this case, the State Department, to justify any FOIA withholdings made.

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Related posts:

Joan Wadelton: Time To Fix The State Department (via WhirledView)

Joan Wadelton’s Appeal Makes it to FSGB 2011 Annual Report to Congress (diplopundit.net)

Joan Wadelton’s Case: That’s One Messy Promotion Scorecard, Next Up – It’s GAO Time! (diplopundit.net)

GAO Examines Foreign Service Promotion Process — Strengthened But Documentation Gaps Remain) (diplopundit.net)

U.S. District Court for the Court of the District of Columbia | Wadelton v. State Department, 4/25/13 (pdf)

Wadelton Case | The FOIA Project

WADELTON et al v. DEPARTMENT OF STATE | Complaint 4/1/2013 (pdf)

 

State/INL: Anti-Drug Aerial Eradication in Colombia and the Cancer-Linked Herbicide, What Now?

Posted: 3:35  am EDT

 

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Somebody just wrote us a note saying “It’s not clear why the Department has such a hard time with the facts … Colombian academics and others have offered convincing evidence that spraying roundup in their country is a major health issue and yet the Department resorts to ad hominem attacks rather than dealing with the facts.”  

Two academics were allegedly “treated poorly” when they tried to discuss their findings with the INL staff at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá in 2013. We have no way of confirming this either way but given the recent news from the World Health Organization, we wanted to know what happens now.   The embassy’s aerial eradication page appears to be outdated by several years.  Its Public Affairs Office does not have a publicly listed contact email. We have reached out to a couple of offices in Foggy Bottom but have not heard anything back.

In 2012, Jenny O’Connor wrote a piece in CounterPunch about Colombia’s Agent Orange. She noted that a core element of U.S. anti-drugs policy in Colombia has been the destruction of coca fields by aerial chemical fumigation thus impacting the cocaine trade at its source.  She cited the Chaco Government investigation in 2010 where its report found that “since the use of glyphosate based herbicides began in 2002 the communities most exposed had experienced an alarming increase in birth defects, spontaneous abortion and leukaemia, brain tumours and lymphomas in children under the age of 15.”

In 2013, WOLA described the coca fumigation in Colombia:

Aircraft, mostly piloted by contractor personnel, fly over coca-growing zones spraying “Round-Up Ultra,” an herbicide including the active ingredient glyphosate, over about 100,000 hectares per year of Colombian territory. Between 1996 and 2012, aircraft have sprayed herbicides over 1.6 million hectares of Colombia—an area equivalent to a square 80 miles on each side. The corners of such a square would stretch from the Washington suburbs to the Philadelphia suburbs. That’s the equivalent of one hectare sprayed every 5 minutes and 29 seconds since January 1, 1996.
[…]
While fumigation has contributed modestly to reduced coca growing, it has done so at a steep cost, both in dollars and in goodwill toward Colombia’s government in conflictive territories where it is most needed.
[…]
Testimonies of health and environmental damage from fumigation have proliferated, but are hard to verify. Still, the damage to the government’s credibility is already done when the local population believes them to be true. And nearly everyone in affected zones can cite a case of legal food crops destroyed by spraying, forcing families to confront hunger.

 

It looks like the last certification posted online on the Secretary of State’s certification on the aerial eradication is dated August 10, 2007.

Memorandum of Justification Concerning the Secretary of State’s 2007 Certification of Conditions Related to the Aerial Eradication of Illicit Coca in Colombia

The Secretary of State determined and certified in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 that the herbicide mixture, in the manner it is being used, does not pose unreasonable risks or adverse effects to humans or the environment. After previous consultations with EPA, the Department of State and the Government of Colombia have incorporated all EPA recommendations to strengthen spray program controls and ensure increased protection against adverse effects to humans and the environment. The Department of State is not aware of any published scientific evidence of risks or adverse effects to humans or the environment that have surfaced since the 2006 certification. Included below is a brief review of the conditions that allow the Secretary to recertify to Congress in 2007 that the herbicide mixture, in the manner it is being used, does not pose unreasonable risks or adverse effects to humans or the environment.

In the 2004 EPA report, EPA offered the following assessment of human health concerns related to the spraying of coca in Colombia: “Despite an aggressive search for cases, there does not appear to be any evidence that glyphosate aerial spraying has resulted in any adverse health effects among the population where this spraying takes place.” EPA also concluded “that an aggressive program to identify glyphosate poisoning has been implemented in the areas of Colombia where illicit crop eradication spraying programs are prevalent.” A significant number of health care providers have received training and additional training is under way or planned.

We have been unable to locate a more recent justification for the use of glyphosate in aerial spraying.  If there is a more recent one, please send us a link.

 

State/INL’s 2015 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) includes the following details:

Colombian Ministry of Defense authorities reported seizing over 207.4 MT of cocaine and cocaine base in 2014, and eliminated tons of additional potential cocaine through the combined aerial and manual eradication of 67,234 ha of coca over the year.
[…]
In areas where Colombia allows aerial eradication, coca fields are less productive than they were when eradication operations began in the late 1990s. Nevertheless, illicit cultivation continues and is increasing in Colombia’s national parks, indigenous reserves, the department of Norte de Santander, and within a 10-kilometer zone along the border with Ecuador, where Colombian law or international and regional agreements prohibit aerial eradication.

In late 2014, the governments of Colombia and Ecuador implemented an agreement to reduce the border exclusion zone to 5 kilometers which permits expanded aerial eradication along the Colombian-Ecuadorian border. Colombia aerially eradicated 55,532 ha of coca in 2014, surpassing its goal of 55,000 ha. Colombia manually eradicated 11,702 ha of coca in 2014, falling short of its goal of 14,000 ha. Numerous local level protests blocking access roads to coca fields were a major obstacle to manual eradication’s ability to operate in major coca growing regions.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the EPA concluded in a 2012 study that glyphosate meets safety standards for human health when used in keeping with its label. The agency is reportedly conducting a scheduled review of glyphosate in conjunction with Canadian regulators.

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OIG: Only 41,749 State Dept Record Emails Preserved Out Of Over a Billion Emails Sent

Posted: 4:29 pm EDT
Updated: March 12, 9:29 pm PST

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told CNN that since the inspector general is independent from the department “they will have to speak to the timing and details of releasing this report, which they control.”

So we asked the IG and we’re told that “the timing of the release of this report (ISP-I-15-15) was purely coincidental to the recent email issue.”

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State/OIG did a review (pdf) of the Department’s State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset (SMART) and Record Email in Washington, DC, between January 24 and March 15, 2014. According to the OIG, in 2013, Department employees created 41,749 record emails. These statistics are similar to numbers from 2011, when Department employees created 61,156 record emails out of more than a billion emails sent. Department officials have noted that many emails that qualify as records are not being saved as record emails.

Below are the highlights of the OIG review:

  • A 2009 upgrade in the Department of State’s system facilitated the preservation of emails as official records. However, Department of State employees have not received adequate training or guidance on their responsibilities for using those systems to preserve “record emails.” In 2011, employees created 61,156 record emails out of more than a billion emails sent. Employees created 41,749 record emails in 2013.
  • Record email usage varies widely across bureaus and missions. The Bureau of Administration needs to exercise central oversight of the use of the record email function.
  • Some employees do not create record emails because they do not want to make the email available in searches or fear that this availability would inhibit debate about pending decisions.
  • System designers in the Bureau of Information Resource Management need more understanding and knowledge of the needs of their customers to make the system more useful. A new procedure for monitoring the needs of customers would facilitate making those adjustments.

Additional details from the OIG report:

The need for official records

The Department of State (Department) and its employees need official records for many purposes: reference in conducting ongoing operations; orientation of successors; defending the U.S. Government’s position in disputes or misunderstandings; holding individuals accountable; recording policies, practices, and accomplishments; responding to congressional and other enquiries; and documenting U.S. diplomatic history. Record preservation is particularly important in the Department because Foreign Service officers rotate into new positions every 2 or 3 years. Federal law requires departments, agencies, and their employees to create records of their more significant actions and to preserve records according to Governmentwide standards.

Who has responsibility for the preservation of official records?

Every employee in the Department has the responsibility of preserving emails that should be retained as official records.3 The Office of Information Programs and Services in the Bureau of Administration’s Office of Global Information Services (A/GIS/IPS) is responsible for the Department’s records management program, including providing guidance on the preservation of records for the Department and ensuring compliance. IRM administers the enterprise email system, including SMART, and therefore provides the technical infrastructure for sending and receiving emails and preserving some as record email.

What constitute official records? 

If an employee puts down on paper or in electronic form information about “the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the Government,” the information may be appropriate for preservation and therefore a record according to law, whether or not the author recognizes this fact. Whether the written information creates a record is a matter of content, not form. Federal statutes, regulations, presidential executive orders, the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), Department notices, cables, and the SMART Messaging Guidebook contain the criteria for creating and maintaining official records and associated employee responsibilities.

Which email messages should be saved as records?

According to Department guidance referenced above, email messages should be saved as records if they document the formulation and execution of basic policies and actions or important meetings; if they facilitate action by agency officials and their successors in office; if they help Department officials answer congressional questions; or if they protect the financial, legal, and other rights of the government or persons the government’s actions directly affect. Guidance also provides a series of questions prompting employees to consider whether the information should be shared, whether the successor would find the email helpful, whether it is an email that would ordinarily be saved in the employee’s own records, whether it contains historically important information, whether it preserves the employee’s position on an issue, or whether it documents important actions that affect financial or legal rights of the government or the public.

 

The OIG report notes that it has previously examined the Department’s records management, including electronic records management, in its 2012 inspection of A/GIS/IPS. OIG found that A/GIS/IPS was not meeting statutory and regulatory records management requirements because, although the office developed policy and issued guidance on records management, it did not ensure proper implementation, monitor performance, or enforce compliance. OIG also noted that, although SMART users can save emails as records using the record email function, they save only a fraction of the numbers sent. OIG recommended that the Bureau of Administration implement a plan to increase the number of record emails saved in SMART.

That was in 2012.

The OIG team also found that “several major conditions impede the use of record emails: an absence of centralized oversight; a lack of understanding and knowledge of record-keeping requirements; a reluctance to use record email because of possible consequences; a lack of understanding of SMART features; and impediments in the software that prevent easy use.”

To show how misunderstood is the requirement to save record emails, see the following chart. The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi had 993 record emails compared to US Embassy Islamabad that only had 121 record emails preserved. The US Consulate General in Guangzhou had 2 record emails while  USCG Ho Chi Minh City had 539. It looks like the US Embassy in Singapore with 1,047 record emails had the highest record emails preserved in 2013. The frontline posts like Baghdad had 303, Kabul had 61, Sana’a had 142 and Tripoli had 10 record emails in 2013. The only explanation here is that the folks in Singapore had a better understanding of record email requirements than the folks in our frontline posts. Given that the turn-over of personnel at these frontline posts is more frequent, this can have consequential outcome not just in the public’s right to know but in continuity of operations.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11

Again, via the OIG:

Many inspections of embassies and bureaus have found that the use of SMART and the record email function are poorly understood. This lack of understanding is one of the principal causes of the failure of U.S. embassies to use record email more often. The inspections show that many employees do not know what types of emails should be saved as record emails. The employees typically need more and clearer guidance and more training. OIG has made formal and informal recommendations to increase the use of record email, to write and distribute formal embassy or bureau guidance on record email, and to arrange for training.

The A/GIS/IPS office is under the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Administration, an office that reports to the Under Secretary for Management (M). The Bureau of Information Resource Management (IRM) also reports to M.

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Photo of the Day: Arnold Chacon, First Hispanic Director General of the Foreign Service

Posted: 12:27 am EDT

 

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The Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources Ambassador Arnold Chacon oversees the Bureau of Human Resources (M/DGHR). The Bureau handles recruitment, assignment evaluation, promotion, discipline, career development, and retirement policies and programs for the Department’s Foreign and Civil Service employees.

DGHR Chacon was sworn-in by Secretary Kerry as the new Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources (DGHR), at the Department of State on January 8, 2014.  Excerpt below, see the full remarks here:

The Department’s diversity, like our country’s, makes us stronger, not weaker. I will be the director general for all of the State Department family – Civil Service, Foreign Service, locally employed staff, family members, contractors, interns, detailees, and yes, Mr. Secretary, even Ben the diplo-pup. (Laughter.)

I will also ensure that our family reflects America in all its magnificent variety and represents every corner and every face of our great nation. Our mission is to recruit, retain, and sustain exemplary employees who advance our values, interests, and goals. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s also the essential thing to do if we’re going to navigate the complex challenges of the 21st century and make the most of new opportunities.
[…]
I’m also pleased and humbled by the presence today of so many friends and colleagues who share my desire to make a difference in people’s lives. I think of myself as a protege of a unique generation of accomplished and trailblazing diplomats – in particular, Ambassadors Cresencio Arcos, John Negroponte, Alan Solomont, Kristie Kenney, Harry Thomas, Ruth Davis, Skip Gnehm, Ambassador Perkins, and Sally Cowal. It has been my good fortune to have been mentored by such exceptional individuals who gave me career-enhancing opportunities and helped me become the best that I could be.

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Snapshot: State Dept FY2014 FOIA Personnel and Costs

Posted: 9:46 am EST

 

Via FY 2014 FOIA Annual Report:

During this fiscal year the Department experienced a 60 percent increase in FOIA lawsuits over fiscal year 2013. The majority of new lawsuits involved voluminous sensitive records that required careful coordination with other federal agencies. To meet the demands of this upswing in FOIA lawsuits, the Department reallocated resources from FOIA processing to FOIA litigation, which directly impacted efforts to manage and reduce the backlog of pending FOIA requests that are not in litigation.

Despite all efforts, including employing best practices established during the successful backlog reduction project in fiscal year 2013 as well as processing over 88 percent of the thousands of referrals that were pending from last fiscal year and received by the Department this fiscal year, the FOIA request backlog rose by 15.8 percent this fiscal year. However, the Department achieved a significant reduction in the FOIA appeal backlog lowering the backlog by 13.7 percent. The Department also closed its ten oldest requests and consultations. These accomplishments are especially noteworthy in light of the fact that the Department reallocated FOIA processing resources to address large, complex FOIA litigation cases and to provide assistance to the Department on significant special document productions throughout the fiscal year.

Note that the number of FOIA requests and administrative appeals backlogs at the end of FY2014 (September 30,2014) is 10,045 or 1,376 cases more than FY2013. Processing of simple FOIA cases can take anywhere between 3 days to 1,576 days or 4.3 years. Processing complex cases can take anywhere between 11 days to 2,237 days or 6.1 years. The average number of days for processing expedited FOIA cases is 385.6 days. (see pdf)

In the table below, the “Equivalent Full-Time FOIA Employees” include When Actually Employed (WAE) former Foreign Service Officers who perform document review and students who work part-time throughout the year to process FOIA requests. Note that the breakdown of personnel does not identify exactly how many WAE and how many students are working FOIA cases, only that they are equivalent to “full-time employees.”  WAE employees have no regularly scheduled tour of duty and the hours worked cannot exceed 1,040 in a calendar year. As for the students, we don’t know how many students rotate through the FOIA office requiring training every year.   Also useful to know that each bureau has its own WAE application and appointment procedures and the ability to hire is limited by the bureau’s budgets.

Screen Shot 2015-03-08

According to the annual report, the processing costs below include “a percentage of the costs incurred by IT staff who were employed to support the FOIA program as one of their major duties”  The IT staffing numbers are not reflected in personnel data column so we also have no idea how many IT staff supports the FOIA office.

Screen Shot 2015-03-08

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In related news:

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State/OIG Challenges: Access and OIG Network Vulnerabilities

Posted: 01:42 EST
Updated: 3/3/2015 @1051 PST

Update: In response to our inquiry, State/OIG informed us that the 128 debarment and suspension referrals it made to the State Department “were accepted by the Department and action was taken.” However, we were also informed that the OIG actually “made more referrals, but no action has been taken by the Department to date.”*

As to the issue of OIG’s IT independence and integrity, “a memorandums of understanding have been executed in which the Department has agreed to obtain prior approval from OIG before accessing its network. In addition, we are engaging a third party to explore options to enhance the independence of our network system.”**

 

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Last week, the State Department Inspector General Steve Linick appeared before the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs on the Senate panel’s hearing on improving the efficiency, effectiveness and independence of inspector generals.  State/OIG has oversight of an agency with more than 72,000 employees (includes locally employed staff) in over 280 overseas missions and domestic entities, the BBG and the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission. These agencies’ total annual appropriated funding includes approximately $15 billion, nearly $7 billion in consular fees and other earned income, and full or partial oversight of an additional $17 billion in Department-managed foreign assistance.

Some highlights:

  • Although the Department has made improvements on overseas security, challenges remain. Through our inspection and audit work, OIG continues to find security deficiencies that put our people at risk. Those deficiencies include failing to observe set-back and perimeter requirements and to identify and neutralize weapons of opportunity. Our teams also uncover posts that use warehouse space and other sub-standard facilities for offices, another security deficiency. Our audit of the Local Guard Program found that firms providing security services for embassy compounds were not fully vetting local guards they hired abroad, placing at risk our posts and their personnel. In other audits, we found that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (responsible for setting standards) and the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (responsible for constructing facilities to meet those standards) often do not coordinate adequately to timely address important security needs.
  • We found that follow-through on long-term security program improvements involving physical security, training, and intelligence-sharing lacked sustained oversight by Department principals. Over time, the implementation of recommended improvements slows. The lack of follow-through explains, in part, why a number of Benghazi ARB recommendations mirror previous ARB recommendations.
  • The Department’s obligations in FY 2014 equaled approximately $9 billion in contractual services and $1.5 billion in grants, totaling approximately $10.5 billion. However, the Department faces challenges managing its contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements. These challenges have come to light repeatedly in OIG audits, inspections, and investigations over the years. […]In FY 2014, more than 50 percent of post or bureau inspections contained formal recommendations to strengthen controls and improve administration of grants.
  • OIG’s assessments of the Department’s cybersecurity programs have found recurring weaknesses and noncompliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) with respect to its unclassified systems.[…] Our work in the information security area is ongoing. Since my arrival, OIG has arranged for penetration testing of the Department’s unclassified networks in order to better assess their vulnerability to attack.

What’s happening in FY2015? The following were specifically identified in IG Linick’s testimony (pdf):

  • Planned FY 2015 security audits include an audit of the approval and certification process used to determine employment suitability for locally employed staff and contracted employees, an audit of emergency action plans for U.S. Missions in the Sahel region of Africa, and an audit of the Vital Presence Validation Process (VP2) implementation. VP2 is the Department’s formal process for assessing the costs and benefits of maintaining its presence in dangerous locations around the world. Note: The VP2 is a result of the tragedy in Benghazi.
  • The DS/International Programs Directorate of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security is up for inspection. Note: This is  one of the main bureaus in aftermath of the Benghazi attack that came under congressional scrutiny. Charlene Lamb has now been succeeded by Christian J. Schurman who was named Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Assistant Director for International Programs on September 15, 2014. DAS Schurman is a Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent with 27 years of service who was recently promoted to the rank of Minister Counselor in April 2014.
  • In FY 2015, OIG plans on issuing, among others, audits involving non-lethal aid and humanitarian assistance in response to the Syrian crisis, the Iraq Medical Services Contract, and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement’s Embassy Air Wing Contract in Iraq.
  • ESP is conducting a joint review with the Department of Justice’s OIG of the handling of the use of lethal force during a counternarcotics operation in Honduras in 2012.

 

IG Linick also highlighted new OIG initiatives to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of OIG’s independent oversight of the Department’s programs and operations including:

  • the issuance of issue Management Alerts and Management Assistance Reports
  • the creation of the Office of Evaluations and Special Projects (ESP), and using ESP to improve OIG’s capabilities to meet statutory requirements of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012
  • new oversight of overseas contingency operations specifically for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR)—the U.S.-led overseas contingency operation directed against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),
  • data and technology enhancements
  • suspension and debarment:  between 2011 and 2014, OIG referred 128 cases to the Department for action *
  • new offices in Charleston, South Carolina, where one of the Department’s Global Financial Services Center resides, and in Frankfurt, Germany, the site of one of the Department’s Regional Procurement Support Office.
  • co-locating an OIG attorney-investigator as a full-time Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys (SAUSAs) in the U.S. Attorney Office for the Eastern District of Virginia in order to prosecute more quickly and effectively cases involving fraud against the Department of State

 

This hearing followed a well -publicized accessibility issues the Peace Corps and EPA OIG had with their own agencies. In his prepared testimony, IG Linick stated that “unfettered and complete access to information is the linchpin that ensures independence and objectivity for the entire OIG community.

He was careful to note “the importance of forging productive relationships with Department leadership and decision-makers” and cited the Department notice issued by Secretary Kerry at the start of his tenure over a year ago “outlining OIG authorities and obligations under the IG Act and advising staff of our need for prompt access to all records and employees.”  He then shared with Congress the OIG’s two main challenges:

  • Access: Generally, most of our work is conducted with the Department’s full cooperation and with timely production of material. However, there have been occasions when the Department has imposed burdensome administrative conditions on our ability to access documents and employees. At other times, Department officials have initially denied access on the mistaken assumption that OIG was not entitled to confidential agency documents. In these instances, OIG ultimately was able to secure compliance but only after delays and sometimes with appeals to senior leadership. These impediments have at times adversely affected the timeliness of our oversight work, resulting in increased costs for taxpayers.Delays in responding to document requests also occur because the requested information has not been maintained at all or in a manner to allow timely retrieval. Such disorganization of information may negatively impact not only OIG audits, inspections, evaluations, and investigations but also the integrity of Department programs and operations. For example, an OIG Management Alert identified missing or incomplete files for contracts and grants with a combined value of $6 billion.
  • OIG Network Vulnerabilities:  Vulnerabilities in the Department’s unclassified network also affect OIG’s IT infrastructure, which is part of the same network. We noted in our November 2013 information security Management Alert that there are literally thousands of administrators who have access to Department databases. That access runs freely to OIG’s IT infrastructure and creates risk to OIG operations. Indeed, a large number of Department administrators have the ability to read, modify, or delete any information on OIG’s network including sensitive investigative information and email traffic, without OIG’s knowledge. OIG has no evidence that administrators have actually compromised OIG’s network. However, the fact that the contents of our unclassified network may easily be accessed and potentially compromised unnecessarily places our independence at risk. We have begun assessing the best course of action to address these vulnerabilities. **

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Welcome Reception for Randy Berry, Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons

Posted: 18:05 EST

 

On February 23, 2015, the State Department  announced the appointment of FSO Randy Berry as the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons. Today, Secretary Kerry hosted a welcome reception at the State Department to commemorate the announcement. Click on the image below to view the video of the welcome remarks by Secretary Kerry, Assistant Secretary Tom Malinowski of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (State/DRL) and Special Envoy Randy Berry:

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Randy Berry, LGBT Special Envoy at Welcome Reception on February 27, 2015 (click image to view video)

I am well aware how lucky I am to be standing here before you today with such amazing and comprehensive support networks, not only professionally but also personally. I’m joined here today not only by my sisters, Rita and Rhonda from Colorado, but also by my husband and my fellow global traveler, Pravesh Singh. Pravesh left his native South Africa nearly a decade ago not only to join me, but I think he really didn’t realize he was also joining a larger family, and that is the Foreign Service, a family bound together in service to the United States. He’s as much a member of the United States Foreign Service as I am, and I am very pleased to say that post-DOMA, when we move here from Amsterdam in early April, he will move home as an American citizen. (Applause.)

Pravesh and I do not share a common culture, nor do we share a common religion, nor do we share a common race. As much as it pains me to say this, we don’t even share a common decade – (laughter) – really. What we do share, however, is love, and that love has built a good and happy life and a family that now includes our exceptional – (laughter) – our exceptional young children who are normally so well behaved – (laughter) – Arya and Xander. Yet as I say that, I think all of us in this room recognize just how unbelievably fortunate we are, for in far too many places around the world not only is this type of story impossible, but additionally, great and terrible injustices are visited on people like us.

This love still stands ground for imprisonment, harassment, torture, and far worse in too many places around the world. That is a violation of human rights. It is a violation of human rights by the standards set forth by many of our allies and partners around the world, and it is a violation of human rights by the standard of the universal declaration. We can and we must do better. Lives, futures, hopes and dreams depend on that, and that is why we’re here today. That’s also why this type of role is needed.

Read the full remarks here.

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