NEA/SPP Language Divisions: From FSI to Wilson Blvd Rosslyn Until 2020

Posted: 3:01 am EDT


Last week we blogged about the rumored move of two language divisions from FSI (see NEA and SPP Language Divisions Moving Out of the Foreign Service Institute?).  We understand that Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, the director of the Foreign Service Institute has announced — through a reply to the post on the Sounding Board — that the contract has now been signed.  Starting in the fall of 2016, NEA and SPP languages will hold classes at the former Boeing building on Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn, Virginia.  This arrangement will reportedly last only until 2020, when these departments will move back to the FSI campus. New comments received:

Some of us took handshakes on jobs with language training expecting to drive from locations that aren’t metro accessible, and some parents will now have to drop kids off at FSI (or other) daycare; FSI’s solution is, right now, to “encourage students to consider the metro” and a promise to provide information on the Transit Subsidy.

This will be enormously convenient for people on TDY language orders who can live at one of the many direct bill properties in Rosslyn within a few blocks walk — but many of us are on DC assignments, not on per diem, and cannot rearrange our lives based on a change that wasn’t announced until we’d accepted handshakes.

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Building on Wilson Boulevard, Rosslyn (photo via the Arlington Economic Development)

One source told us that the building will also have a fitness center and that parents will still be permitted to use the FSI daycare center.  However, the lease apparently does not include a provision for parking for staff and students, although it looks like the newly leased building has 259 parking spaces.  Monthly parking in the area ranges from $135 to $150 a month.  The published solicitation only requires 24 parking spaces.

According to public records, the building has 12 stories. We were informed that the language school will occupy floors 1-8, but that other State entities are considering moving into the rest of the building. Which entities, we have no idea at this time.

FSI will now reportedly form “working groups” to address a number of the issues associated with the temporary facility, including transportation.  Most of the the anxieties we’ve heard related to this move could have been avoided if the “working groups” were created before the plans became final. But it looks like this is now a done deal.  If you’re one of the students who will be affected by this move, you may contact FSI and get yourself into one of these working groups. We hope that these groups will be able to come up with plans to help mitigate the disruptions to some FSI students and staff the next five years.

We were able to find the first notice of an FSI expansion space dated December 8, 2014.  The solicitation was posted on FedBiz this past July and modified on September 30, 2015.

Here are the requirement published via FedBiz (partial list from the announcement):

The Department has a requirement for a single building/facility to increase classroom space to support expanded training program requirements and increased enrollments in the coming years . The base requirement is approximately 75,000 usf; lobby space for security access control will be provided in addition if required by the specific building. Options for 20,000 usf are additionally included, exercisable within any contract period.

Time Frame: Fully finished training space, ready for occupancy, including services to support facility operations, must be delivered within six months of contract award and in no event later than six months after contract award. This contract will be for one five-year base period with five additional one-year options, and includes options for an additional 20,000 usf, exercisable within any contract year.

Training Facility Requirements: The facility must be housed in a single location, and may be comprised of one large area on a single floor, or be collocated on consecutive stacked floors in a single building. These floors must be kept secured and not accessible by occupants of other floors in the building. If warranted, additional building and /or lobby space may be required to screen and control access for the training facility. The Department may install perimeter security or intrusion detection systems as deemed necessary.

The training facility will have complete telecommunications, voice/data/video, with Wi-Fi and internet connectivity throughout the facility (see Requirements).

The training facility will have a minimum of 24 parking spaces on site or within immediate proximity to the site.  To accommodate staff/students who may use bicycles for transportation, the contractor should provide sixteen covered bicycle racks near or close to the 24 parking spaces.

Contractor will provide an additional requirement for 20,000 usf of classroom/training program space within six to twelve months of occupancy of this space if required by the Government pursuant to the option provisions of the contract. Anticipated hours of operation will be from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Facility and Services|  The contractor will provide the following:

158 Language Classrooms (180 usf each classroom) Each classroom shall have a smart board (TV), white board, bulletin/tack board and adequate lighting, modular tables with 5 chairs, 5 open cubbies for storage of student backpacks, purses, etc. and associated cabling for telecommunication capability. Must have adequate sound attenuation for classroom use. Paint, carpet, adequate HV/AC, and a locking door.

77 Language Instructor collaboration spaces. Each shared by 3 instructors (180 usf each space) Each instructor space shall have modular furniture with double  row overhead storage bins and task lighting, pull-out keyboard tray, rolling lockable under desk file cabinet, acceptable ceiling lighting, a locking door, and associated cabling for telecommunication capability. Paint, carpet, adequate HVAC.

Suite with 20 student consultation rooms at 50 usf each and 200 circulation space/hallway. Each consultation room shall have a small table and 2 chairs. Paint, carpet, adequate lighting, adequate HV/AC, and a locking suite door(s). Interior consultation room doors should not have locks, and should be windowed to permit visibility into room.

One (1) Distance Learning classroom/delivery classroom with DVC capability with associated cabling for telecommunication/video capability; modular tables and chairs. Paint, carpet, adequate HV/AC, and a locking door.

Four (4) gaming/simulation rooms at 350 usf each, with modular tables and chairs; with one (1) control room at 200 usf; both with associated cabling for telecommunication/video capability.

One (1) DVC classroom and control room with associated cabling for telecommunication/video capability; modular tables and chairs.

Two (2) Active Learning classrooms at 1,000 usf each. Shall have a smart board, computer projection with drop down screen, adequate lighting, modular tables with 40 chairs, podium, and associated cabling for telecommunication capability.

Two (2) Quiet Study Rooms for students each about 300 usf, with tables/chairs.Paint, carpet, good lighting, adequate HV/AC.

Lactation Room – Sink with running water, garbage disposal, refrigerator, modular furniture with partitions and shelving, electrical outlets for pumping equipment and ten chairs. Paint, carpet, acceptable lighting, adequate HV/AC, and a locking door.

Ten (10) pantries (about 230 usf each with refrigerators, Microwaves, sinks with garbage disposals, vending machines with hot/cold drinks and healthy snacks). Located in an open central place. Paint, carpet, good lighting, adequate HV/AC.

Note that USF refers to useable square footage. [When a tenant occupies a full-floor, the usable square feet amount extends to everything inside the boundaries of the building floor, minus stairwells and elevator shafts. This can include non-usable areas like janitorial closets, or mechanical and electrical rooms. It also encompasses private bathrooms and floor common areas, like kitchenettes, hallways, and reception areas that are specific to that floor’s use (via].

The requirements include a Language Program Management Suite, a Training Computer Server Area, a Registration/IT Support Area,  a DS Processing Area, and an SLS Senior Dean Consultation Suite, among those listed. We have not been able to locate a requirement for a language lab in the solicitation.

The contract requirement also includes a “Facility Manager, who shall have primary responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the facility on a day–to–day basis and who shall be the primary point of contact for the government on all matters relating to the use of the facility by the government during the period of performance of the contract, and eight full time administrative staff to support the daily classroom functions during operating hours.


Why Are Court Cases Related to US Passports and Immigrant Visas in Yemen and Pakistan Sealed?

Posted: 2:51 am EDT


This past October, we blogged that the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California ordered the State Department to return the U.S. passport of Yemeni-American Mosed Shaye Omar which was revoked “based on the involuntary statement he provided at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a on January 23, 2013” (see Court orders @StateDept to return Yemeni-American’s improperly revoked U.S.passport).

While researching another court case, we discovered the Hasan v. State Department case. This is a case where the petitioner asked for judicial review of a US Embassy Yemen consular official’s decision of ineligibility for an immigrant visa on behalf of a minor child. Following the filing of this case and the closure of the US Embassy in Sanaa, the US Embassy in Cairo apparently became the post designated to handle visa applications from Yemen. US Embassy Cairo reviewed the prior ineligibility, reversed US Embassy Sana’a’s decision and issued the immigrant visa. The parties subsequently agreed to dismissed this case with prejudice at no cost to Mr. Hasan or the State Department.  Except for the court ruling stipulating the dismissal of the case, all other files related to this case are sealed in court.

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1:15-cv-04312-GHW | Hasan v. U.S. Department of State et al.

A closer look at other cases filed in the New York District Court indicates several other court cases against the State Department, US Embassy Yemen, US Embassy Pakistan, Ambassador Matthew Tueller, Ambassador Richard Olson and related federal agencies have also been sealed.

We suspect that these are cases related either to U.S. passport revocations, non-issuance of U.S. passports or immigrant visas in Yemen and Pakistan.

Following the federal court decision ordering the State Department to return the passport improperly revoked by the State Department, we asked State/OIG about this trend and we’re told that the OIG does not have “anything on this issue on which it can comment.” It was suggested that we check with Consular Affairs. And of course, we have previously asked CA about this, but we do not really expect them to address this in terms of oversight.

The court documents in the Omar case suggest that Consular Affairs is revoking U.S. passports contrary to the rules in the Foreign Affairs Manual. But this is not the only case. If all similar cases have the same threshold as the Omar case, it is deeply troubling not only because the revocation appears not to follow State Department’s written guidance, State also never seek to denaturalized the plaintiff.  Which basically leaves the plaintiff still a citizen of this country  but unable to travel anywhere.

Which brings us to the question as to why these court files are sealed in court. It is possible that these cases all relate to minor children, could that be the reason for sealing the court records? Or is it something else?

Below are some of the cases we’ve located; all sealed unless noted otherwise:

1:15-cv-06425-NGG  | Abdu v. U.S. Department of State et al — filed on 11/10/2015. Defendants include Secretary Kerry  and US Ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller.

1:15-cv-05684-FB | Alzonkary et al v. Holder et al — filed on 10/02/2015. Defendants include Secretary Kerry, US Embassy Yemen’s Ambassador Tueller and CA’s Michelle Bond.

1:15-cv-05587-JG | Mansour Fadhil et al (on behalf of minor children). Defendants include Secretary Kerry.

1:15-cv-06436-FM | Al Zokary v. United States Department of State et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and US Embassy Yemen’s Ambassador Tueller

1:15-cv-04312-GHW  | Hasan v. U.S. Department of State et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and US Embassy Yemen’s Ambassador Tueller. The case was dismissed in August 2015 with a stipulation that it be dismissed with prejudice and without costs or attorney’s fees to either party. All files except the Stipulation are sealed.

1:15-cv-01767-ILG  | Hasan et al v. U.S. Department of State et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson.

1:14-cv-07093-PAC | Issa et al v. Holder et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and US Embassy Yemen’s Ambassador Tueller.

1:14-cv-02584-ER | Alsaidi v. U.S. Department of State et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and Karen H. Sasahara in her official capacity as charge d’affaires ad interime of the U.S. embassy in Sana’a, Yemen.  The case was dismissed in 2014 with a stipulation that it be dismissed with prejudice and without costs or attorney’s fees to either party. All files remained sealed.

1:13-cv-06872-PKC  | Mohammad et al v. Beers et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry. The case was voluntarily dismissed in July 2014, all files remained sealed.

2:13-cv-04178-ADS  | Arif et al v. Kerry et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and Embassy Islamabad’s Ambassador Olson. The case was dismissed with prejudice in September 2013, with each party bearing its own costs, fees, including attorney’s fees, and disbursements. The files remained sealed.

One passport case from November 2013, 1:13-cv-08299-AJP Kassim v. Kerry is not sealed.  The case was dismissed in March 2014 with a court order for issuance of U.S. passport to plaintiff. “Within 30 days of the entry of this order, Plaintiff will submit to the Department of State a new un-executed but signed passport application (Form DS-11) with passport photos and a copy of the front and back of a valid government identification card. The Department of State will issue Plaintiff a U.S. passport book and a U.S. passport card within 30 days of receipt of Plaintiffs passport application and supporting documentation (described above in subsection 2(a)). This action is hereby withdrawn and dismissed with prejudice and without costs or attorney’s fees.”

One immigrant visa case from 2014, 1:14-cv-03748-KAM | Chaudhry et al v. Holder et al. is also not sealed. The defendants include Secretary Kerry and Embassy Islamabad’s Ambassador Olson. The case was voluntarily dismissed with prejudice in light of the State Department granting of an immigrant visa to Plaintiff.


Related posts:

NEA and SPP Language Divisions Moving Out of the Foreign Service Institute?

Posted: 12:47 am EDT


The Foreign Service Institute is located at the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center (NFATC) in Arlington, Virginia.  An expansion of facilities on FSI’s 72-acre campus in 2010 added 100 classrooms. About 2,000 students are on campus daily.


It looks like that expansion is not enough.  There is apparently a lot of rumors circulating that the SPP and NEA language divisions will be moving out of SA-42 (FSI) to “a new space somewhere along the Orange line.”  We understand that this topic has lighted up the Secretary’s Sounding Board, never mind that JK is traveling.

This rumored move, if true, would reportedly affect 1) the Division of Near East Central, and South Asian Languages (FSI/SLS/NEA) which directs, designs and conducts proficiency-based language training for Arabic, Near Eastern, Turkic, Central and South Asian languages; and 2) the Division of Slavic, Pashto, and Persian Languages (FSI/SLS/SPP) which directs, designs, and conducts proficiency-based language training for all Slavic languages including Bosnian, Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian, Czech, Macedonian, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, and Ukrainian, Pashto and Persian languages including Dari, Tajiki, and Farsi.

People are apparently not happy about this rumored move. Some are posting questions on the Board, and hoping to find some clarity on what to expect next. Here are some of the employees’ concerns over the future of language training at FSI:

  • Looking for transparency:  “Given the massive number of employees this change will impact, both students and instructors, can we get a little transparency on what’s going on?”  One commenter writes that many find it “odd that language studies, arguably the priority purpose of FSI, would see such a huge change with little to no public discussion or outreach from FSI.”
  • Long-term vs. short-term: Why was the decision made to move long-term language studies (9-12 months in length in many cases) instead of short-term and intermittent courses (leadership, regional training, stability operations, area studies, world languages, etc.)?
  • Co-location: Will the new facilities be co-located with language division administration? This is a big deal in the event that a student has to make changes with class assignment).
  • Transportation/Commute/Parking : How will people commute to the new facilities? Is there a bus? Is there equally priced parking available nearby? Concerns that transportation issue affect not just students but also many of the language instructors and staff who live quite far from FSI and even further from Rosslyn, where there is a shuttle.
  • Language Lab/Tools: Are the language learning tools available at the new facilities? Language labs are a big part of reaching proficiency standards, will students have to go back to FSI in order to access labs?
  • Daycare: For personnel with kids, employees are interested whether they will have access to daycare. When transferring or rotating assignments, Foreign Service personnel with young kids rely heavily on the availability of reliable and accessible childcare at FSI. “The provision of childcare has always helped alleviate some of the stresses associated with the rigors of intensively learning a new language.” Depending on the new location, there is also the potential for disruption in the Oakwood housing program.
  • Town Hall: One requested a town hall meeting with the FSI administration for current and future students in the languages affected “so people can ask questions and get more information as they begin to plan for language training.”


We should note that both the NEA and SPP language divisions are part of FSI’s School of Language Studies (SLS). The School of Language Studies (SLS), with 684 staff members, 3 overseas schools, and 11 regional language programs, offers training and testing in more than 70 languages.   According to the OIG, SLS is the largest of FSI’s schools, with a base budget of $33.5 million in FY 2012 and a total budget of $46.7 million, which includes $5.5 million in reimbursements from other agencies.

In December 2012, SLS had 684 staff members: 374 direct-hire employees and 310 full-time equivalent contractors. SLS is managed by a dean and two associate deans and is composed of a testing division, five language divisions, a Curriculum and Staff Development division, and an administrative section. SLS trains employees of the Department, USAID, and other agencies in 70 languages ranging from Spanish to super hard languages such as Korean.

In any case, there is a slow train for consolidation humming in the State Department. One of Diplomatic Security’s arguments for building the FASTC in Virginia instead of Georgia is so all the training programs can be in one location.  Just recently, the IRM training located in Warrenton, VA had also been moved to the FSI campus. If the NEA/SPP move is true, is this SLS’ initial move at dispersing its divisions?

If true, the question then becomes “why”?

The most recent OIG inspection of FSI is dated March 2013. That report notes that “SLS needs organizational and programmatic changes to strengthen pedagogy, coordination, and strategic planning. Outside review of a portion of recorded language test samples and other steps are required to address the inherent conflict of interest of SLS instructors serving as testers.” The report made 79 recommendations and 23 informal recommendations, however, we could not locate one specifically related to NEA/SPP, or the school’s expansion or spin off location outside of FSI.



Matt Armstrong: No, we do not need to revive the U.S. Information Agency

Posted: 3:55 am EDT


Matt Armstrong (@mountainrunner) is a lecturer on public diplomacy and international media. He is writing a book on how the White House, State Department, Congress, and the media fought, struggled, and ultimately collaborated in 1917-1948 to establish U.S. “public diplomacy.” In 2011, he served as executive director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. He was nominated and confirmed as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) on August 1, 2013.  He blogs sometimes at He recently wrote, No, we do not need to revive the U.S. Information Agency for War on The Rocks.  Below is an excerpt. He says that the views expressed in this piece are his own, so don’t blame anyone else.



More than once in the past decade or more, I guarantee that you have heard — or read — someone declare the United States would be better off today if the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) were still around and how without it, the United States was robbed of the ability to properly engage in information warfare today. Some of these discussions have been in Congress and at least one bill was introduced in recent years to try to recreate a limited USIA. However, laments about USIA are really a coded way of saying that we lack a strategy, an organizing principle, and empowered individuals to execute information warfare today.
In 1999, the “peace dividend” needed more money, and either USAID or USIA was going to help fund it. While USAID’s chief fought for his agency, USIA’s did not. But why was USIA even on the chopping block? Partly because of the incomplete, or tainted, knowledge of its role (primary credit goes to Fulbright), but also partly because USIA’s narrative, its raison d’être, had failed to adapt to the new normal, which would have been a lot like its early years.

Abolishing USIA was messy. Parts went to State, mostly under the purpose-built office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, but not all. And the broadcasting portion was spun off into a separate federal agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors. A 2000 report on the status of the so-called merger captured part of the culture clash. While accounting at USIA served the mission and the field, at State, former USIA employees saw “accounting is an end itself.”
If we truly want to recreate USIA, the public affairs officers and their sections at our Embassies and Consulates would go to the new agency. The libraries and America’s Corners and all the similar programs would be moved, and likely moved out from behind fortress walls where some are invite-only, if they are accessible at all. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs would also leave State. The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs would be abolished, though the Bureau of Public Affairs would remain in the department. The Broadcasting Board of Governors would be merged with this new entity as well. Perhaps most important of all, the Defense Department would defer to this new agency in its public communications, as would USAID and other agencies. Obviously such a reorganization is not going to happen.

We must remember that USIA operated in a simpler time of limited information flows and limited government communications. It virtually owned access to many foreign media markets, markets where the only “competition” was local government propaganda or silence.

Perhaps State could revamp itself. It is worth noting here that the title “public affairs officer” used by State and the United States Information Service were created in 1917 by the foreign section of the Committee for Public Information because State refused to do “public diplomacy” abroad. Nelson Rockefeller’s Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs was established prior to Pearl Harbor as a USIA-like organization focused on Latin America because State refused to respond to FDR’s requests and engage the public. In 1953, State was all too eager to dump the responsibilities of engaging foreign publics directly in the interest of “streamlining.” And in 1999 through today, we see how poorly State integrates, funds, and prioritizes “public diplomacy” into its operations. Even the title of the public diplomacy chief is discordant: “Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.”

The lesson here is that each successful change followed a clearly defined and articulated requirement to fulfill a strategic purpose. Consolidation, or dis-aggregation, is not a strategy and it will not conjure up a strategy. In today’s noisy communications environment, we need coordination that comes not from a supremely empowered individual or central organization, but comes from a clear mission and purpose. USIA is held out as a symbol of our success to organize for information warfare, but it really was part of a larger effort. And ultimately, it came to reflect the segregation of “public diplomacy” from “diplomacy” that remains today. Today is not yesterday, so let’s stop looking at a mid-twentieth century solution for a 21st century problem.

Read in full here via War on The Rocks.

Click here for the end notes.


State/OIG Reviews IRM’s Vendor Management Office’s Role in Vanguard’s $3.5.B Contract

Posted: 12:11  am EDT

This is an excerpt from the State/OIG report on IRM’s new Vendor Management Office (VMO):

In a March 2013 action memorandum, the Chief Information Officer (CIO) established the Vendor Management Office (VMO) in the Bureau of Information Resource Management (IRM), Operations, to support the Vanguard Acquisition Strategy. The CIO created the VMO after determining that he needed dedicated staff to monitor the Vanguard contract and assist with the formulation of well-defined performance metrics. The Vanguard Acquisition Strategy, a Department initiative, consolidated existing IRM contracts under the umbrella of one performance-based contract with multiple firm fixed price1 task orders to provide better coordination and improve service delivery. The total Vanguard contract award was $3.5 billion over a period of 10 years and comprised 90 to 95 percent of IRM-wide contracting activity; IRM also has 50 contracts totaling $74 million that do not fall under the VMO or Vanguard.

Three functional support units comprise the VMO: Contract Management, Service Performance Management, and Enterprise Project Lifecycle Management. The VMO is separate from the Bureau of Administration, Office of Logistics Management, Office of Acquisitions Management (AQM), which is responsible for executing the Vanguard contract.
Since the VMO’s establishment, the CIO has tasked it with coordinating several priority projects that include Public Key Infrastructure deployment, the Virtual Desktop Initiative, the Foreign Affairs Network, and Cyber Security. These are listed objectives in the Department’s IT Strategic Plan. This has led to increased responsibilities for the VMO and the resources needed to support them.

Where is this on the FAM, again?

The language in 1 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), 270 Organizations and Functions for the VMO, drafted in August 2014, was still in the clearance process at the time of the inspection.

The VMO operates without authority to require compliance with its procedures. The Department has no guidelines on the operation of a vendor management office in the FAM, which defines authorities and responsibilities for each major component of the Department.

To date, the VMO has operated without a 1 FAM entry or IRM policy or guidance that specifies the office’s authority. On April 13, 2015, IRM circulated a draft 1 FAM, outlining the proposed role and responsibilities of the VMO. In the interim, the VMO has no mechanism beyond consensus building to enforce adherence to its policies, procedures, and processes.

More contractors than direct-hire employees?

At the start of the inspection, the VMO staff consisted of 9 full-time employees, 1 student- trainee, and 16 contract positions. During the inspection, the number of contract positions increased to 24. FY 2014 funding for VMO activities is $1.5 million from diplomatic and consular program funding. As of May 2015, the amount for FY 2015 had increased to $3.9 million because of resources needed to manage new projects.

$376K Performance Incentive Fees to Contractors

The VMO Service Performance Management unit has implemented performance metrics to review and analyze information generated through contractor performance assessments. The CORs and GTMs are required to review and validate performance metrics on a monthly basis. However, between April 2014 and March 2015, the OIG team found that Vanguard GTMs failed to validate, on average, 25 of the 268 performance metrics each month because of other priorities. Despite the lack of review and validation, the CORs and GTMs certify to the contracting officer that the contractor has provided all services as specified in the contract and met all the performance metrics and that the Department can pay contractors their incentive fees. For example, in January and February 2015, the Department paid $376,595 in incentive fees to contractors for superior performance without a review or verification of 20 performance metrics, which could lead to the Department paying for services that it did not receive.

The system the VMO uses to process performance metric data for contracts is inadequate for mission requirements. The unit currently uses Excel spreadsheets to track, monitor, and analyze contractor compliance with 475 active performance metrics.

What about iSchedule?

The Enterprise Lifecycle Project Management unit created the iSchedule Management System (iSchedule), which provides the framework for integrating information technology project schedules to enable IRM to assign and manage work, monitor and control progress toward milestones, and understand the relationships and dependencies among the information technology projects.
Despite the VMO’s deployment of the iSchedule application in September 2014, IRM directorates do not use iSchedule on a consistent basis because IRM has not yet made use of the system mandatory. This inconsistent use of iSchedule has resulted in inadequate bureau coordination and incomplete project data and limits visibility on projects, activities, and risk. According to 5 FAH-5 H212, projects may require the formal use of a project management tool.

Inadequate acquisition planning and sole source contracts

The OIG team found little evidence that the Messaging Systems Office and the VMO conducted acquisition planning within the timeframes suggested in the Federal Acquisition Regulation 7.104-General Procedures.

In order to award a new blanket purchase agreement, the Messaging Systems Office submitted a sole source justification based on an urgent and compelling need. The Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser denied the office’s request because of inadequate acquisition planning. Program offices issuing requirements without sufficient lead-time restricts competition and risks increased costs. It can also put a strain on the contracting and administrative staff.

Read the full report here:


@StateDept Talks Gender and Diversity, Yay! Promotion Stats By Gender/Race Still Behind Firewall, Not Yay!

Posted: 1:05 am EDT






Things are going great but … all these news and wonderful talks and the State Department’s promotion statistics by gender and race, as well as its breakdowns by grade level for FSOs and specialists by gender and race, are still behind the firewall.

Any good reason why the State Department continues to put its gender and ethnicity/race data beyond public reach? Is there a specter hiding under Foggy Bottom’s bed?

And now this:


Snapshot: Consular Staffing Levels in Brazil & China — FY 2011 to 2014

Posted: 12:41 pm EDT


According to State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, the past hiring of additional staff through various authorities and temporary assignments of consular officers during periods of high NIV demand contributed to meeting E.O. 13597’s goals of expanding NIV processing capacity and reducing worldwide wait times, particularly at U.S. posts in Brazil, China, India, and Mexico.16

• Increase in consular officers: According to State officials, from fiscal year 2012 through 2014, State “surged” the number of consular officers deployed worldwide from 1,636 to 1,883 to help address increasing demand for NIVs, an increase of 15 percent over 3 years. In response to E.O. 13597, State increased the number of deployed consular officers between January 19, 2012 (the date of E.O. 13597), and January 19, 2013, from 50 to 111 in Brazil, and 103 to 150 in China, a 122 and 46 percent increase, respectively (see fig. 2 for additional information on consular staffing increases in Brazil and China). As a result, State met its goal of increasing its NIV processing capacity in Brazil and China by 40 percent within a year of the issuance of E.O. 13597.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27

• Limited noncareer appointments: In fiscal year 2012, State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs launched the limited noncareer appointment (LNA) pilot program to quickly deploy language-qualified staff to posts facing an increase in NIV demand and workload. The first cohort of LNAs—who are hired on a temporary basis for up to 5 years for specific, time-bound purposes—included 19 Portuguese speakers for Brazil and 24 Mandarin speakers for China who were part of the increased number of consular officers deployed to posts noted above. In fiscal year 2013, State expanded the LNA program to include Spanish speakers. As of August 2015, State had hired 95 LNAs for Brazil, China, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Mexico.

• Temporary assignment of consular officers: State utilizes the temporary redeployment of Foreign Service officers and LNAs to address staffing gaps and increases in NIV demand. Between October 2011 and July 2012, State assigned, on temporary duty, 220 consular officers to Brazil and 48 consular officers to China as part of its effort to reallocate resources to posts experiencing high NIV demand. State continues to use this method to respond to increases in NIV demand. For example, during the first quarter of fiscal year 2015, India experienced a surge in NIV demand that pushed NIV interview wait times over 21 days at three posts. To alleviate the situation, consular managers in India sent officers to the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai, which was experiencing higher wait times, from other posts, allowing the U.S. Mission in India to reduce average wait times to approximately 10 days by the end of December 2014.


Snapshot: Nonimmigrant Visa (NIV) Forecast Through Fiscal Year 2019-18 Million

Posted: 12:56 am EDT

Via GAO:

Since 2012, the Department of State (State) has undertaken several efforts to increase nonimmigrant visa (NIV) processing capacity and decrease applicant interview wait times. Specifically, it has increased consular staffing levels and implemented policy and management changes, such as contracting out administrative support services. According to State officials, these efforts have allowed State to meet the goals of Executive Order (E.O.) 13597 of increasing its NIV processing capacity by 40 percent in Brazil and China within 1 year and ensuring that 80 percent of worldwide NIV applicants are able to schedule an interview within 3 weeks of State receiving their application. Specifically, State increased the number of consular officers in Brazil and China by 122 and 46 percent, respectively, within a year of the issuance of E.O. 13597. Additionally, according to State data, since July 2012, at least 80 percent of worldwide applicants seeking a tourist visa have been able to schedule an interview within 3 weeks.

Two key challenges—rising NIV demand and problems with NIV information technology (IT) systems—could affect State’s ability to sustain the lower NIV interview wait times. First, State projects the number of NIV applicants to rise worldwide from 12.4 million in fiscal year 2014 to 18.0 million in fiscal year 2019, an increase of 45 percent (see figure).

Screen Shot 2015-10-27

Given this projected NIV demand and budgetary limits on State’s ability to hire more consular officers at posts, State must find ways to achieve additional NIV processing efficiencies or risk being unable to meet the goals of E.O. 13597 in the future. Though State’s evaluation policy stresses that it is important for bureaus to evaluate management processes to improve their effectiveness and inform planning, State has not evaluated the relative effectiveness of its various efforts to improve NIV processing. Without conducting a systematic evaluation, State cannot determine which of its efforts have had the greatest impact on NIV processing efficiency. Second, consular officers in focus groups expressed concern about their ability to efficiently conduct adjudications given State’s current IT systems. While State is currently enhancing its IT systems, it does not systematically collect information on end user (i.e., consular officer) satisfaction to help plan and guide its improvements, as leading practices would recommend. Without this information, it is unclear if these enhancements will address consular officers’ concerns, such as having to enter the same data multiple times, and enable them to achieve increased NIV processing efficiency in the future.


Court orders @StateDept to return Yemeni-American’s improperly revoked U.S.passport

Posted: 2:21 am EDT


Back in April, a San Francisco man sued the State Department in federal court, claiming that American embassy officials in Yemen illegally revoked his passport and left him stranded in that country for more than a year. This passport revocation case was just one in a string of lawsuits alleging improper revocation of passports by the U.S. Embassy in Yemen.

On October 13, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California ordered the State Department to return the U.S. passport of Yemeni-American Mosed Shaye Omar which was revoked “based on the involuntary statement he provided at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a on January 23, 2013.”

We suspected that the State Department would use its ace in a hole, which is Haig v. Agee, a ruling that upheld the right of the executive branch to revoke a citizen’s passport for reasons of national security and the foreign policy interests of the U.S. under the Passport Act of 1926, and it did. But the court was not persuaded.

This is not the only passport revocation we’ve heard out of US Embassy Sana’a.  But this is one of the most troubling cases. What kind of rules book was used there? It does not appear to be the Foreign Affairs Manual. And what’s the purpose of the Office of Adjudication if there is no stated burden of proof, and there are no rules governing the hearing itself?  We understand that there are/were approximately a hundred cases of passport revocation done at the US Embassy in Yemen. We don’t know if the Yemeni-Americans with revoked U.S. passports were issued single return passports to the United States, or were left stranded in Yemen. A hundred cases are not isolated cases. Frankly, we hope to see the Office of Inspector General look into this.

  • Plaintiff contends that his due process rights were violated when the State Department revoked his passport based on the involuntary statement he provided at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a on January 23, 2013. […] The statement was made after he had been detained at the Embassy for more than nine hours without food, water, or medication that he needs for his serious medical conditions; no one advised him of his right to leave, to be silent, or his right to consult an attorney; he did not read the statement and no one read the statement to him, and, to the contrary, it was affirmatively misrepresented to him that by signing the document his passport would be returned—the passport he required to return to the United States to obtain his needed medical care. Even if he had been given the opportunity to read the document, he would not have understood it as his English is not very good and his eyes were blurry and he was not feeling well due the deprivation of food, water, and medicine. He signed the statement without knowing its contents because he believed that was the only way to get his passport back.[…] Plaintiff signed the statement as “Mosed Shaye Omar.” It is puzzling, to say the least, why someone who understood that he was signing a confession that his true name is something other than Omar would sign the so-called confession under the allegedly false name Omar. Thus, this signature is consistent with Plaintiff’s testimony and further supports a finding that the statement was unknowing and involuntary.
  • The Hearing Officer based his revocation decision exclusively on the January 23 statement.
  • The Hearing Officer did not apply any standard of proof.”  [T]he same burdens that you might face in a courtroom don’t necessarily apply in this hearing.”
  • In resting his decision solely on the sworn statement, the Hearing Officer faulted Plaintiff for failing to provide evidence from individuals within Yemen who could vouch for his identity prior to his immigration to the United States—over 40 years ago. […] The Hearing Officer thus improperly shifted the burden of proof and faulted Plaintiff for not obtaining documents that the government itself acknowledged were nearly impossible to obtain.
  • Nor does it appear that Defendant Sprague, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services, applied a particular standard of proof to her review as she merely signed her name in the approved line on the Hearing Officer’s recommendation.
  • The Secretary claims that once presented with the “confession” it had no choice but to revoke the passport; it could not release the passport when it believed it was obtained with a false name. At the same time, however, for the more than two and half years since his passport was revoked, the United States has not filed any action, administrative or otherwise, to challenge Plaintiff’s citizenship. Instead, it has made it repeatedly clear that it is not challenging his citizenship and, indeed, if Plaintiff filed an action to reaffirm his citizenship, the government candidly surmised that it might argue that such lawsuit does not present an actual case or controversy because the government does not contest Plaintiff’s citizenship. (Dkt. No. 32 at 21- 25.) In other words, the government apparently believes it is proper to revoke a United States citizen’s passport on the grounds that he is not the person that the United States agreed he was when he obtained his citizenship, but then take no steps to actually challenge the citizenship and to instead leave the citizen in a state of legal purgatory. Such tactics at the very least raise serious questions.
  • Defendants’ only asserted interest here is in protecting the public from having a United States citizen travel under his legal name because the government believes that 30 years ago he applied for citizenship under a false name. And the government has not sought to denaturalize the citizen despite having more than two years to do so. The government’s claim of hardship is further undercut by its Foreign Affairs Manual:

(d) Questionable Certificates of Naturalization and Citizenship.

(1) (SBU) By law, 8 U.S.C. 1443(e), Certificates of Naturalization or Citizenship are proof of United States citizenship. Accordingly, an individual remains eligible for a U.S. passport until his/her Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Citizenship is revoked by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or a U.S. District court, or unless he/she is ineligible for passport services for reasons other than non-citizenship.

7 FAM § 1381.2(d) 6 (Dkt. No. 14-20 at 2). Thus, the government’s own guidelines provide that the proper course under circumstances similar to those present here is to move to revoke the applicant’s Certificate of Naturalization, not to withhold the applicant’s passport as was done here.

The Court notes that the USG admitted that the above quoted provision was in effect between January 2013 and December 2013. (Dkt. No. 19 ¶ 31.) The government contends that “Plaintiff has selectively quoted from the Manual in a way that distorts its meaning,” but according to the Court’s footnotes, the USG  did not “submit any other Manual provisions or explain how the above quoted provision means anything other than what it says.”

For the record, the State Department considers the section on passport revocation in the Foreign Affairs Manual as Sensitive But Unclassified material and this section of the FAM including the part cited above in court documents are not available for the reading public (also see US Embassy Yemen: Revocation of U.S. Passports, a Growing Trend?).

The Court’s decision:

The government revoked Plaintiff’s passport based solely on a written statement that Plaintiff signed without reading or understanding, and only after he had been deprived of food, water, and medication for hours and was desperate for return of his passport so he could travel to the United States to obtain medical care. Plaintiff has therefore established a likelihood of success on his claim that the revocation violated his right to due process and was therefore arbitrary and capricious. See Choy, 279 F.2d at 647. He has also raised at least serious questions as to whether Defendants applied the appropriate standard of review to his passport revocation and whether the revocation is an improper and incomplete collateral challenge to his citizenship. As the balance of hardships and the public interest tip sharply in Plaintiff’s favor, his motion for a preliminary injunction is GRANTED. Defendants shall return Plaintiff’s passport to him within 10 days of this Order.

This case is ongoing with a hearing scheduled for December 10, 2015 at 9:00 a.m.

Read in full here (court doc via Politico): Mosed Shaye Omar v. John Kerry,


@StateDept’s Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs: Doug Frantz Out, John Kirby In

Posted: 12:28  pm PDT


In our Burn Bag mail today:

“Kirby in as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. Will that most bureaucratic of bureaus finally be fixed?”


State Department Spokesperson John Kirby watches as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses reporters on August 6, 2015, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, during a news conference following two days of meetings at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Douglas Frantz was a newspaper reporter and editor for more than 35 years before joining the State Department in September 2013 as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. He previously worked for then-Senator John Kerry as deputy staff director and chief investigator of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC).  We understand that Frantz is slated to move to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

John Kirby was appointed as the Spokesperson for the Department of State on May 12, 2015. Kirby previously served as Pentagon Press Secretary, serving for more than a year as the chief spokesman for the Department of Defense and for former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. He retired from the Navy in May 2015 with the rank of Rear Admiral.