Category Archives: Functional Bureaus

FSO-Author Writes About Publishing in the Foreign Service; Update to 3 FAM 4170 Coming Soon?

– Domani Spero

 

The June 2014 issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes an article, Publishing in the Foreign Service by FSO Yaniv Barzilai, who is serving in Baku on his first overseas posting. He is the author of 102 Days of War—How Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda & the Taliban Survived 2001 (Potomac Books, 2013).  Below is an excerpt from that article with a prescription for the improvement of the pre-publication clearance process in the State Department.

There is plenty of room for improvement in the pre-publication clearance process. First and foremost, State must do a better job of adhering to the regulations it has set forth in the Foreign Affairs Manual. Anything short of that standard is unfair to everyone involved. 

Second, the department should establish clear guidelines on how it distributes material internally and across the interagency community. That threshold should have nothing to do with terms as vague as “equities.” Instead, offices and agencies should have the opportunity to clear on material only if that material is the result of “privileged information”: information that employees acquire during the discharge of their duties that is not otherwise available.

Third, State needs to ensure that former employees receive treatment comparable to current employees. A significant gap exists between the attention given to current employees by PA and that former employees receive from A/GIS/IPS/PP/LA. 

As that lengthy acronym suggests, former employees are relegated to an obscure office in the Bureau of Administration when they seek pre-publication clearance. In contrast, the PA leadership is often engaged and provides consistent oversight of the review process for current employees. This bifurcation not only creates unnecessary bureaucratic layers and redundancies, but places additional burdens on former employees trying to do the right thing by clearing their manuscripts. This discrepancy should be rectified.

These short-term fixes would go a long way toward improving the pre-publication clearance process for employees. In the long term, however, the State Department should consider establishing a publication review board modeled on the CIA’s Publication Review Board. 

A State Department PRB would codify a transparent, objective and fair process that minimizes the need for interagency clearance, ensures proper and consistent determinations on what material should be classified, and reduces the strain on the State Department at large, and its employees in particular.

Ultimately, State needs to strike a better balance between protecting information and encouraging activities in the public domain. The pre-publication review process remains too arbitrary, lengthy and disjointed for most government professionals to share their unique experiences and expertise with the American public.

Read in full here.

We totally agree that a publication review board is needed for State. Instead of parcelling out the work to different parts of the bureaucracy, a review board would best serve the agency.  We have some related posts on this topic on the Peter Van Buren case as well as the following items:

The rules and regulations for publishing in the Foreign Service can be found in the infamous Foreign Affairs Manual 3 FAM 4170 (pdf).  Last June, AFSA told its members that for more than a year it has been negotiating a revision to the current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations governing public speaking and writing (3 FAM 4170).

“As mentioned in our 2013 Annual Report, our focus has been to accommodate the rise of social media and protect the employee’s ability to publish. We have emphasized the importance of a State Department response to clearance requests within a defined period of time (30 days or less). For those items requiring interagency review, our goal is to increase transparency, communication and oversight.  We look forward to finalizing the negotiations on the FAM chapter soon—stay tuned for its release.”

This long awaited update to 3 FAM 4170 has been in draft mode since 2012 (see State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair. We’ll have to wait and see if 3 FAM 4172.1-7  also known as the Peter Van Buren clause survives the new version.

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Filed under AFSA, Book Notes, Foreign Service, FSOs, Functional Bureaus, Interagency Cooperation, Learning, Lessons, Peter Van Buren, Public Service, Realities of the FS, State Department

Churn News — Conflict & Stabilization Bureau’s Top Official to Step Down

– Domani Spero

 

Secretary Kerry was still on his around the world trip when his office released the following August 13 statement on Rick Barton’s resignation as Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO).

After five years in the Administration, the last three as Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO), Ambassador Rick Barton has announced his resignation, effective September 30.

Assistant Secretary Barton has provided bold leadership in establishing a new bureau to prevent and respond to conflict and crises worldwide, laying the groundwork for civilian-led efforts to break cycles of violence. Under Rick’s stewardship, CSO took on some of the toughest cases from Syria and Somalia to Honduras, Burma, Kenya and Nigeria. CSO delivered practical solutions through sound management that used the taxpayers’ money efficiently.

Rick will leave behind a legacy of impact and innovation, harnessing data-driven analysis and leveraging partnerships with local groups to tackle the root causes of destabilizing violence. His focus, creativity and optimism have made him a most welcome presence on my team as we work with our allies to resolve seemingly intractable conflicts.

I thank Rick for his vision and leadership, and I look forward to continued partnership with the stabilization team he has built at State.

More information on the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations is available on Twitter and Facebook. For more background on the State Department’s work on civilian security, democracy, and human rights, follow @civsecatstate or visit www.state.gov/j.

 

Wow, who writes this stuff?

Mr. Barton was actually confirmed on March 29, 2012 as Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations. He assumed office on April 3, 2012. Previous to assuming his CSO position, he was with ECOSOC (See Officially In: Frederick Barton to UN ECOSOC).

His official bio says that in 2013, he received a Distinguished Honor Award from the Department “in recognition of your groundbreaking work to create the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, promote peacebuilding and empower women, youth and other change agents seeking peaceful change in their communities and societies.”

In March 2014, the Office of Inspector General released its blistering inspection report (pdf) of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. The report gave us a sad and we blogged about it here. (See QDDR II Walks Into a Bar and Asks, What Happened to the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations?).  The 2014 OIG report famously noted CSO’s top management philosophy of “churn” to prevent people from staying in CSO for more than 3 years.

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Filed under Assistant Secretary, Functional Bureaus, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, John F. Kerry, Leadership and Management, Reorganization, Resignations, State Department

Burn Bag: CA Bureau’s Biggest Problems — Washington Post and Diplopundit, Really?

Via Burn Bag:

“CA management feels the biggest problem facing CA are leaks to the Washington Post (old news) and comments on Diplopundit (new excuse).  So much for actually addressing real problems.”

No Way. Really?

Via reactiongifs.com

Via reactiongifs.com

 

 

 

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Filed under Consular Work, Functional Bureaus, Leadership and Management, Realities of the FS, State Department

State Dept/CBP Reportedly Announced Fix for Certain Applicants Ensnared By Visa Glitch

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department’s Consular Consolidated Database has been having performance issues since July 19th. We have written about it in this blog (see State Dept Answers FAQ on Ongoing Visa and Passport Database Performance Issues and  State Dept’s Critical National Security Database Crashes, Melts Global Travelers’ Patience).

Last week, Greenberg Traurig posted on The National Law Review that the State Department and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have reportedly announced a fix for certain visa applicants affected by the technical glitch.

“DOS and CBP will, on a case-by-case basis, waive nonimmigrant visa (H-1B, L-1, O-1, etc.) requirements for admission into the United States. In particular, applicants whose U.S. travel involves an “emergency” (i.e., humanitarian travel and life-and-death situations) or impacts U.S. national interests may request consideration for special travel permission.”

The post further states that if “emergency” travel is approved, the embassy or consulate will issue a transportation letter for presentation to common carriers to allow boarding of international U.S.-bound flights. (See DOS and CBP Announce Fix for Certain Visa Applicants Who Are Experiencing Consular Delays Due to Recent Technical Challenges).

This information is nowhere to be found on the State Department’s website or on the Visa Section of travel.state.gov nor the FB page of the Bureau of Consular Affairs. No such announcement is made available from the CBP website.

An  August 10 update from U.S.-China Visa Law Blog includes the following details:

A nonimmigrant visa applicant whose U.S. travel is urgent because it either involves an “emergency” or impacts U.S. national interests, may request consideration for special travel permission to the United States if their visa issuance is delayed as a result CCD systems problems. “Emergencies” in this instance include urgent humanitarian travel and life-and-death situations. Upcoming business engagements and U.S. employment needs are “not typically considered humanitarian emergencies and likely will not be considered as such in most cases.”

If approved jointly by the State Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the consular post that accepted the visa application will release the traveler’s passport and will issue a transportation letter, which can be presented to the airlines to allow boarding of international U.S.-bound flights. Upon arrival to a U.S. port of entry and presentation of the transportation letter, CBP will waive the nonimmigrant visa requirement for admission.

Read more:  An Computer Crash Hobbles U.S. Visa, Passport Operations in China (Aug. 10 Update).

It is, of course, just a coincidence that the two sources noting the transportation letter fix are both law firms working on immigration, right? 😉  CA bureau’s FB page does not have an August 8 or August 10 update that includes this information. If there was an announcement, are we to understand that it was done on limited distribution with the State/CBP telling lawyers about this but not releasing this guidance to the general public?

We must confess that we’ve made a mistake of asking for clarification about this from the press office of the Bureau of Consular Affairs.  It turns out that some  folks there are unable to answer “yes” or “no” questions and are only able to provide cut and paste “on background” information for recycled details already publicly available.

Don’t get us wrong. It certainly is impressive cut and paste skills, but we won’t help them recycle the canned info and add to the glut.

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Filed under Consular Work, Federal Agencies, Functional Bureaus, State Department, Technology and Work, Visas

State Department’s Embassy “Design Excellence” Initiative: Year in Review (Video)

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations has just released a ‘Year in Review 2013-2014′ video, primarily highlighting the new embassies built under its “design excellence”initiative. You will note that some of the projects in this video have been completed while others like the New London Embassy, and those buildings in artist’s renderings are still undergoing construction or in the early phases of the projects  and won’t be completed for a few more years.

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) “sets worldwide priorities for the design, construction, acquisition, maintenance, use, and sale of real properties and the use of sales proceeds” for the State Department. The bureau has recently caught congressional attention with its New London Embassy project and its “design excellence” initiative. See Congress to State Dept: We Want All Your Stuff on New London Embassy Except Paperclips and New Embassy Construction Hearing: Witnesses Not Invited, and What About the Blast-Proof Glass?

We understand that the bureau is still working on providing Congress with the documents requested during the latest congressional hearing. Congress won’t be back in session until September 8, and then, it will only conduct business for a couple of weeks before it runs out again.  Nonetheless, we are hearing that there may be personnel shuffles at the bureau in the offing.  We’ll update when we know more.

 

Related items:

-05/31/11   Compliance Follow-up Review of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (ISP-C-11-26)  [2452 Kb]  Posted June 8, 2011

-08/30/08   Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (ISP-I-08-34) Aug 2008  [1846 Kb]

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Filed under Congress, Construction, Contractors, Foreign Service, Functional Bureaus, New Embassy Compound, Social Media, State Department, U.S. Missions, Video of the Week

State Dept Answers FAQ on Ongoing Visa and Passport Database Performance Issues

– Domani Spero

 

Yesterday, we posted about the troubled Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) (see State Dept’s Critical National Security Database Crashes, Melts Global Travelers’ Patience).  During the Daily Press Briefing, yesterday, the State Department officially stated that it believed the root cause of the problem was “a combination of software optimization and hardware compatibility issues.” According to the deputy spokesperson, the servers are getting back online but that they are coming back in a queue and that fixes are not being done on a country-by-country basis. And by the way, it’s not just the peak summer travel season, there’s also the Africa Summit in D.C. next week.

“Obviously, there’s actually a huge crush right now because of the Africa Leaders Summit, so obviously that’s a huge priority for us to make sure everybody gets their visas for the Africa Leaders Summit. We do believe that a vast majority of the travelers who have applied for visas for the summit have been issued.”

CA’s FB folks have been regularly answering questions from angry complaints posted on its Facebook page and have announced that they will continue to monitor and respond to consular clients at 9:00 EDT tomorrow, Thursday, July 31.

Late yesterday, the Bureau of Consular Affairs also posted a new Frequently Asked Questions on Facebook and on its website (not easily accessible from the main visa page) concerning the CCD performance issues and the steps taken to address those issues. Perhaps the most surprising is that its back-up capability and redundancy built into the CCD were both affected killed by the upgrade that hobbled the system.  Something to look forward to by end of calendar year — CA is upgrading the CCD to a newer version of the Oracle commercial database software and that plan includes establishing two fully redundant systems. We are republishing the FAQ in full below.

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 12.07.05 AM

Information Regarding Ongoing Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) Performance Issues and Steps Taken| JULY 30, 2014

The Department of State continues to work to restore our visa system to full functionality.

We anticipate it will take weeks to resume full visa processing capacity.

We continue to prioritize immigrant visas, including adoption cases.  So far, we have been able to issue most cases with few delays.

Nearly all passports are currently being issued within our customer service standards, despite the system problems.

We are able to issue passports for emergency travel.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  What caused the system performance issues?  Hardware, software, or both?  Details?

On July 20, to improve overall system performance and address previous intermittent performance issues, we updated software as recommended. Our database began experiencing significant performance issues shortly after this maintenance was performed.

A root cause has not been identified at this time.  Current efforts are focused on bringing the system back to normal operations.  Once that has been accomplished, resources will be applied to determine the root cause.

Q:  What steps did we take to mitigate the performance issues?

Since July 20, our team has worked to restore operations to full capacity.  On July 23, the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) was brought back online with limited capacity.

The Department of State is working with Oracle and Microsoft to implement system changes aimed at optimizing performance and addressing ongoing performance issues.

We are incrementally increasing the number of processed cases as our systems will allow.

Q:  Has the Bureau of Consular Affairs experienced these types of outages in the past?

CA has experienced minor outages in the past, but never of this magnitude.  We have a plan in place to mitigate these occurrences in the future.

Q:  Is the software to blame?  Are contractors at fault?  Why was this allowed to happen?

We have been working to improve our services through upgrades while maintaining existing operations worldwide.  However, we are limited by outdated software and hardware.

Q:  Why did those steps not work?  What’s the next step?

We have not determined why the problems occurred.  We are working with our contractor and the software vendor to address the problems.

We are bringing additional servers online to increase capacity and response time.

Q: Why wasn’t there a back-up server?

There was back-up capability and redundancy built into the system.  However, the upgrade affected not only our current processing capability, but also our ability to use our redundant system.

Q: What steps are being taken prevent this from happening again?

CA has a plan in place to upgrade the CCD to a newer version of the Oracle commercial database software by the end of the calendar year.  We are working to ensure the existing system will remain fully functional until the new database is up and running and thoroughly tested.  The plan includes establishing two fully redundant systems.

Q:  If CA is fee funded, why can’t it build a robust database that doesn’t fail?

The database has grown dramatically, in both quantity of data and functionality, and vastly improved border security.  In addition to checking names against databases, we review fingerprints and perform facial recognition.

We are working towards modernization of our software, hardware, and infrastructure.  Demand for our services outpaced our modernization efforts.

Consular Affairs has, and has had, a redundant system.  However, the upgrade affected not only our current processing capability, but also our ability to use our redundant system.  This is one of the issues we are urgently addressing now.

Q:  What do I need to know if I’m a passport applicant?

Almost all passports are currently being issued within our customer service standards, despite the system problems.

We are able to issue passports for emergency travel.

Q:  What do I need to know if I’m a visa applicant?

Visa applicants they can expect delays as we process pending cases.  We remain able to quickly process emergency cases to completion.

We are working urgently to correct the problem to avoid further inconveniencing travelers.

We are posting updates to the visa page of travel.state.gov, and our embassies and consulates overseas are communicating with visa applicants.

In addition to communicating through our websites, e-mail, and letters, we are also reaching out to applicants via Facebook and other social media sites, such as Weibo, to relay the latest information.

Q:  Why hasn’t the Department been more forthcoming until now?

We have experienced CCD outages in the past, but they have never disrupted our ability to perform consular tasks at this magnitude.

We informed the public as soon as it was apparent there was not a quick fix to bring the CCD back to normal operating capacity, and are briefing Congressional staffers regularly.

Q:  What is the outlook for Non-immigrant visas?  When do we estimate the backlog will be processed?

That will depend on a number of factors.  Current efforts are focused on bringing the system back to normal operations.

We must also continue processing new requests.  We are committed to reducing the number of pending visa cases as quickly as possible, but we want applicants to know that we will continue to be operating at less than optimal efficiency until the system is restored to full functionality.

Q:  Is the Department going to reimburse applicants who missed flights/canceled weddings/missed funerals?

We sincerely regret any delays, inconvenience, or expense that applicants have may have incurred due to the CCD performance issues.

While it might be of little solace to those who have experienced hardship, we are always very careful to tell travelers NOT to make travel plans until they have a visa in hand.  Even when the CCD is operating normally, there may be delays in printing visas.

The Department does not have the authority to reimburse applicants for personal travel, nor do we include these costs when calculating our fees.  The Department cannot refund visa fees except in the specific circumstances set out in our regulations.

Q:  What impact will this have on SIVs?

We have the highest respect for the men and women who take enormous risks in supporting our military and civilian personnel.  We are committed to helping those who have helped us.  While issuances of Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to Afghans and Iraqis have been impacted, as have visa issuances around the world, SIV processing continues and remains a high priority.

Q: How is this impacting student visas?  They are scheduled to start the fall semester soon.

We are committed to issuing visas to all qualified students and exchange visitors.  Issuance of student and exchange visitor visas has been impacted in the past few days, but visa processing continues.

We understand the importance to international students and exchange visitors, their families, and their U.S. host institutions of timely visa issuance in order to facilitate travel and to ensure all students and exchange visitors may begin their programs on time.

Q: What about situations where the student won’t arrive to school on time?

Students should contact their educational institution’s Designated School Official (F and M visas) or designated U.S. sponsor’s Responsible Officer (J visas) and discuss with them what arrangements they can provide for you to begin your program after the start date on your Form I-20 (F and M visas) or Form DS 2019 (J visas), should such a circumstance become necessary.

Q:  Will this have any impact on the Diversity Visa program in September?

While issuances of all immigrant visas, including diversity visas, have been impacted in the past few days, IV processing continues and remains a high priority.  The Department expects to have used all numbers for DV-2014 when the program year ends on September 30, 2014.

Q:  What impact do we anticipate this will have on the U.S. economy?

Tourism and students have a major impact on our economy.  Last year, it was estimated that international visitors spent $180.7 billion and supported 1.3 million American jobs.  International students contribute $24.7 billion to the U.S. economy through their expenditures on tuition and living expenses, according to the Department of Commerce.

We recognize the significant impact that international travel and tourism has on the U.S. economy, and are taking all possible steps to ensure that the economic impact is minimal.

People traveling under the Visa Waiver Program are not affected at all; nor are those whose previously-issued visas remain valid.

We routinely advise applicants needing new visas to make appointments well in advance of their planned travel, and not to book their travel until they have their printed visas in hand.

The original post is available here.  If CA is reading this, it would be helpful if a link to the FAQ is posted on the main visa page of travel.state.gov and in the News section.  We were only able to find the FAQ from a link provided in Facebook and not from browsing around the travel.state.gov website.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Consular Work, Contractors, Facebook, Foreign Service, Functional Bureaus, Social Media, Spectacular, State Department, Technology and Work, U.S. Missions, Visas

New Travel Warning for Yemen — Don’t Come; If In Country, Leave! But Some Can’t Leave

– Domani Spero

 

On July 21, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Yemen urging Americans to defer travel to Yemen and for those living there to depart the country:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.  The Department urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Yemen and those U.S. citizens currently living in Yemen to depart. This supersedes the Travel Warning for Yemen issued on January 29, 2014.

The U.S. Embassy in Sana’a remains a restricted staffing post.  This limits the Embassy’s ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency and provide routine consular services. Embassy Officers are restricted in their movements and cannot travel outside of Sana’a. In addition, movements within Sana’a are severely constrained and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation.

The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high. The Embassy is subject to frequent unannounced closures.  In May 2014, the Embassy was closed for almost five weeks because of heightened security threats.

Demonstrations continue to take place in various parts of the country and may quickly escalate and turn violent. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid areas of demonstrations, and to exercise extreme caution if within the vicinity of a demonstration.

Terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), continue to be active throughout Yemen. The U.S. government remains highly concerned about possible attacks on U.S. citizens (whether visiting or residing in Yemen), and U.S. facilities, businesses, and perceived U.S. and Western interests.

Read the full release here.

The very next day, Yemeni Americans were on the news.  US citizens in Yemen accused the  American embassy of confiscating their passports.  The State Department reportedly is withholding fraudulent passports, but rights groups say Yemeni Americans are being unfairly targeted.

 

Leaving the country without a regular passport would be difficult but perhaps not impossible.

Back in January, we blogged about this. (See US Embassy Yemen: Revocation of U.S. Passports, a Growing Trend?  At that time,a State Department official who spoke on background told us that citizens with revoked passports “may be provided with a limited validity passport for a direct return to the United States.” That is, based on the circumstances of the case. Earlier, we’ve prodded that CA/Embassy Sana’a provide guidance on how to file an appeal in revocation cases on its website.  To-date, there is nothing online in terms of guidance on appealing these cases.

Passport revocations are not the only thing that seem to be surging in Yemen.

Last month, Embassy Sana’a announced that U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller, along with Embassy Sana’a Consular staff, hosted a “Super Saturday” event to register the births of children born in Yemen who are eligible for American citizenship.  Consular staff volunteers reportedly assisted more than 120 Americans and Yemeni-American dual nationals residing in Yemen complete Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) forms to document the U.S. citizenship of their children.

U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller, along with Embassy Sana’a Consular staff, hosted a special weekend event to register the births of children born in Yemen who are eligible for American citizenship

U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller, along with Embassy Sana’a Consular staff, hosted a special weekend event to register the births of children born in Yemen who are eligible for American citizenship. (photo via US Embassy Sana’a/FB)

In 2010, the State Department estimated the number of U.S. citizens in Yemen at  over 55,000. This past June, the US Embassy in Sana’a says that it serves more than 73,000 American citizens residing in Yemen. The embassy also expects to process  7,000 Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) for this year alone.  This at a high fraud post with limited staffing.

This is not the first time that the U.S. has told its nationals to leave Yemen.  And so far, there has been no talk of an evacuation.  The embassy is already on restricted staffing but should the embassy shutdown, the evacuation of Yemen’s American citizen population would be a logistical nightmare and could potentially dwarf the evacuation of nearly 15,000 American citizens from Lebanon in 2006.

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Filed under Americans Abroad, Consular Work, Evacuations, Foreign Service, Functional Bureaus, Govt Reports/Documents, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, Trends, U.S. Missions

New Embassy Construction Hearing: Witnesses Not Invited, and What About the Blast-Proof Glass?

– Domani Spero

 

Last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on Examining New Embassy Construction: Are New Administration Policies Putting Americans Overseas in Danger? The congressional witnesses to the full committee hearing included Lydia Muniz, the Director, Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations at the State Department (prepared statement here pdf), Casey Jones, the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) who oversees the Program Development, Coordination and Support and Construction, Facilities and Security Management Directorates. Previously, he was the Director of Excellence in Diplomatic Facilities, assisting the Department in launching its Excellence initiative (see prepared statement here pdf), and Grant S. Green, Jr., the State Department Under Secretary for Management from 2001 to 2005 and  panel chairperson of the State Department Report on Diplomatic Security Organization and Management.  The report which remains under SBU cloak was leaked to Al Jazeera in May 2014 but is available online here. Congress is apparently not happy that the report was not made available to them and that they had to print it out from the AJAM website.

The accompanying Al Jazeera report says:

A confidential government report obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit sharply criticizes the U.S. Department of State’s diplomatic security operations and raises serious concerns about an elaborate embassy construction program overseas.
[...]
The panel also delivered a stiff jab to another State Department entity, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), which supervises the design and construction of U.S. facilities abroad. The bureau is pushing a new design and building program that, department officials said, enhances the appearance of overseas facilities but also provides essential security for the safety of U.S. personnel.

But here is the part of that AJAM report that should have perked many ears in Foggy Bottom:

William Miner, the former director of the OBO’s design and engineering office, said the department began using Standard Embassy Design a few years after the East African bombings at two U.S. embassies in 1998. The buildings were constructed quickly and were “very secure, very safe.” He explained, “You needed to get people under cover and use a standardized approach to do that. OBO actually designed and built over 100 embassies using that strategy.”

On the other hand, Miner said, “we went overboard from a safety and security standpoint.” Now, with the transition to Design Excellence, he said he worries that “the pendulum will swing in the other direction with the design issues.” The challenge, he said, is to find “the right balance.”

Miner said he retired from the State Department in January, as did others who worked for him. He said the changes in the design program and a desire to pursue other professional interests were factors in his decision to leave after 28 years.

Miner said he registered his concerns over the design approach with senior OBO officials. “I was not alone in shouting in the wind,” he said. “The office of diplomatic security shouted even more forcefully,” expressing the view that the Design Excellence program was “a bad way to go.”

Discussing the development of the new London embassy, now under construction, Miner said that the planned curtain wall façade is “fragile,” adding, “You don’t want to beg for problems but this façade could be asking for trouble.”

Last month, CBS News reported on the Design Excellence with specific focus on the New London Embassy’s (NLE) blast proof glass:

The State Department has made design a priority for U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. New buildings must be better looking and more energy efficient. But CBS News has learned this is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars — while potentially keeping American officials in harm’s way.

A striking glass structure, set to open in 2017, will be the new U.S. embassy in London. But six months into construction, CBS News has learned, the project is already at least $100 million over the initial cost estimate, partly due to manufacturing challenges with the design’s six-inch-thick blast-proof glass.

When HOGR had its hearing last week, the Committee did not invite Mr. Miner who left the State Department after 28 years of service. The Committee also did not invite anyone from Diplomatic Security. Instead the Committee invited Mr. Green who left the State Department in 2005, and Mr. Casey who was recruited by the State Department in 2012. Sometime after 2009, Ms. Muniz served as Principal Deputy Director at OBO prior to her appointment as OBO director in 2012.  Of course, Congress wanted hear from these witnesses; Mr. Green chaired the panel that did the report that was leaked to AJAM but did we really need the top two officials from OBO there? What’s with a hearing on “putting Americans overseas in danger” without Diplomatic Security (DS), the bureau “responsible for providing a safe and secure environment for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy” as a witness? And no one wants to hear first-hand from Mr. Miner why he and some of his staff quit OBO?

Our State Department source familiar with OBO work told us that this glass facade issue has been “an enormous point of contention between DS and OBO for a year or more,” but it hadn’t gotten into the press before the AJAM story in May.  Our source speaking on background as he/she is not authorized to speak for the State Department says that Mr. Miner headed all of OBO’s design and engineering work, and if he doesn’t think the London design will work for blast protection, then “I assume Congress may want to call him for a hearing.” So far, it doesn’t look like Congress is anxious to talk to him.

But here’s the kicker:

Our source said that the New London Embassy (NLE) “went into construction before its glass facade design was tested to confirm it will meet blast standards.”

This wouldn’t have the potential of leaving  OBO with a billion-dollar fiasco, would it?  Also — is this the kind of thing that would make a veteran official like Miner and some of his staff quit their jobs?

Our source explained that  the testing was needed only because the New London Embassy does not use known, familiar, window systems. The curtain wall apparently has no frames to ‘bite’ the glass and retain it under blast. That is a new technique for OBO we’re told, so the bureau reportedly had no basis to analyze the design.

Here is what Ms. Muniz said in May when the AJAM story broke:

Lydia Muniz, director of the OBO, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that the London design meets DS safety and security standards. If there are any problems in testing for blast vulnerability, she said, steps will be taken to rectify the situation. Asked if an earlier test failed, she said, “We are still testing. We don’t make any final determinations until the completion of testing, including the full-scale mock-up, which has not taken place yet. I would not say that it failed.”
[...]
“Safety and security are not taking a back seat under this program,” she said. “There is no diminishing in any way the security standards that diplomatic security puts forward.”

Forgive us for not understanding this — how can anyone say that the design meets DS safety and security standards if  testing has not yet been completed?  Isn’t that a tad premature?  And, should we expect some quibbling about the meaning of these test results in the future?

Dear Diplomatic Security, we hope you have nordstromed yourselves!

It’s been a couple of months since that AJAM interview.  So, did the curtain wall/windows withstand the blast test yet?  Yes? No? Maybe? Are we all confident about the results? Might we learn more about this test results from the Congress, or State/OIG or GAO anytime soon?

New Embassy London

New Embassy London via Google Images

Now, the good news apparently is that the lower-level construction that’s going on now at the New London Embassy is separate from the curtain wall and windows.  We understand that is fine and chugging along to 2017. But allow us to be the curmudgeon in the room and say, what if …

…what if when completed, the tests indicates a blast vulnerability?

The New London Embassy cost approximately a billion dollars.

How much would it cost to “rectify the situation” for the curtain walls/windows for a building like this, if needed?

 

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A State Department Under Secretary for Security? Our Readers Wade In

– Domani Spero

 

Last week we blogged about AFSA’s opposition to the creation of an Under Secretary for Security position, a position that had been recommended and approved but never implemented following the East Africa Embassy Bombings in 1998.  (See Eek! Diplomats Union Opposes Creation of Under Secretary for Security — Badda bing badda boom?!).

The Independent Panel (Sullivan Panel, 2013) tasked with looking into the Best Practices on security after ARB Benghazi (2012) has again recommended the creation of an Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security.

Related item: The Independent Panel on Best Practices | August 2013(pdf) via Al Jazeera

The previous recommendation in 2000 was for the creation of a new position for Under Secretary for Security, Law Enforcement & Counter Terrorism. This to us, appears to make the most sense, instead of having just one for security as the Sullivan Panel recommended.  That said, we are not optimistic this would happen anytime soon.  An expanded bureaucracy is, of course, a legitimate concern.  But to a certain extent, that has already happened with the creation of the DAS for High Threat Posts, except that the internal shuffles only happened within Diplomatic Security, and had not remedied the U/S for Management’s span of control over thirteen bureaus.

About HTP, we understand that it now stands for ‘High Threat Programs’?  Here’s an explanation from a blog pal in the know (Thanks T!) on HTP and danger posts:

“That term “High Threat Posts” was a very poor choice for the name of the new DS office, since it seems to say that high threat levels alone are enough to qualify a post for special security interest. They’ve now changed the name to “High Threat Programs,” but that’s just as bad. It’s actually a combination of high threat levels,  low host government willingness and/or capability to provide security support,  and a really bad mission physical security platform that puts a post on the list. That’s why the HTP list doesn’t correlate with the danger pay list, and why it doesn’t include even some posts that have a history of attacks. “

Diplomatic Security Great Seal

Diplomatic Security Great Seal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In any case, we’ve invited readers to send us their thoughts for or against the creation of an Under Secretary for Security. Below is a selection of the feedback we received:

  • ▶︎ As an active DS Agent, I fully support the creation of the U/S position. DS should have a preeminent role in the security decisions facing our diplomats. It is a complete travesty that this recommendation was made 14 years ago and still hasn’t been implemented.
  • ▶︎ I support an U/S for Security position.  It signals that the Department actually takes the safety and security of our foreign service personnel seriously. An organization chart reflects the priorities of the organization. The senior security professional should be place as high as possible within the organization and should report directly to the senior executive in the organization. The DoS currently shows they don’t take security seriously when the head of security for the organization reports to the U/S for Management instead of reporting directly to the Secretary.
  • ▶︎ A DS U/S would be a dedicated security and law enforcement  professional with the ability to ensure that security considerations are given fair discussion.
  • ▶︎ AFSA and the Department hold FSOs up as the main decision makers on everything even though they usually aren’t the best qualified. Could you imagine the uproar if we created a working group of DS Agents to decide our political or economic policies? Yet, they convene a panel of FSOs to decide security policy and no one bats an eyelash.
  • ▶︎ I’m worried that if the U/S for Security becomes a reality the Department would fill it with a political appointee or someone outside of DS which I think would be completely unfair. Could you imagine the FBI or Secret Service filling their top position with someone outside their respective agency?
  • ▶︎ While I can think of several good reasons to have, I think all will be outweighed by the fact that this will end up being a political appointee position that would have no insight into State Department operations, no knowledge or understanding of DS operations and no true experience in security operations on the global scale within which DS operates.
  • ▶︎ Our FSO colleagues can write and they can  move US policy forward. But most are completely clueless when it  comes to security and law enforcement. I see it every day. ‘Nobody  would hurt me. I’m here to help. ‘ A DS U/S would mirror the  overseas environment where other sections partner with RSOs to get  things done.  I always tell my colleagues that you tell me what you want/need to do and I’ll figure out a way to do it. It may not be exactly as they were thinking (sometimes the ideas are simply wacky), but we’ll get the work done.
  • ▶︎ Why shouldn’t there be an U/S for DS?  Start with the Finding on page 17 of the “Green Report.”  (Like the Sullivan Report, not distributed within or outside the Department, but — also like the Sullivan Report — available on Al-Jazeera’s website.)  Then read the rest of the report.
  • ▶︎ In support of a U/S for DS, INR and CT, the Secretary would be in a position to nominate an experienced, credible and respected leader such as retired Generals John R. Allen or Stan McCrystal.  This type of person would be influential and provide advise on how to best mesh security with diplomatic engagement, along with oversight for DS, INR and CT = a true model for how to break the shackles of DS under the M paradigm.

 

And then here’s this one from an FSO:

  • ▶︎ As someone who has recently served in one of the most dangerous posts in the world, I fully support the Foreign Service union’s message.  I, along with many of my colleagues, often felt extremely frustrated by the security restrictions that the Regional Security Office imposed on us diplomats.  We only rarely left our compound.  And after the fallout from Banghazi, we often couldn’t even go to other Embassies for social functions.  However – other embassy personnel – the ones who carried guns – didn’t have to follow the same rules.  As a result, they became the faces of the embassy to both the public and to the rest of the international community while we – the diplomats – stayed cloistered in our compound.  Often we felt like mere fig leaves or window dressing, present in a country only for cover to the military and security types, even though many of us would have willingly accepted the same risks that they did for the sake of our mission.  I strongly believe that the work we diplomats do abroad is equally important to the national interest as the work done by the military and other agencies.  Why then, should we not take the same risks as they do?

We’ve done away with the comments section in this blog for a while now, but it’s open today if you have additional thoughts to share.

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Eek! Diplomats Union Opposes Creation of Under Secretary for Security — Badda bing badda boom?!

– Domani Spero

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the Foreign Service union recently released its Security Recommendations from its QDDR Security Working Group.

The recommendations available here includes the following number one item:

“We are opposed to the creation of a new Under Secretary for Security. Cross cutting decisions involving security and achieving other national priorities need to be consolidated, not further divided.”

Whaaaaat?  Here is how the AFSA Security Working Group explains it:

Non-concurrence with Decision to Create new Under Secretary for Security 

The Benghazi ARB, the Report of the Independent Panel on Best Practices, and the OIG Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process all focus on the need to tighten and better focus responsibility for security at senior levels. The independent panel report recommends the creation of a new undersecretary level position for security. We disagree.

The problem is not just security but finding the balance between risk, resources, and the accomplishment of national foreign policy objectives. The result, as the OIG report notes (pg. 4), is that contrary positions tend to be “represented respectively by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and the Under Secretary of State for Management.” Creating a new undersecretary for security will do nothing to resolve this problem and, in fact, is likely to prioritize security over our reason for being in risky locations in the first place. The need is for a single location to reconcile the two perspectives and take responsibility for the resulting decisions. This could either be in the U/S for political affairs or, as the IG recommends, at the level of the Deputy Secretary level but it should not be in a new U/S devoted exclusively to security.

All three reports note the 14-year failure at consistent implementation of similar recommendations made previously. A significant challenge for Department leadership will be to put in place and maintain effective implementation mechanisms. Almost as important will be to convince its personnel that it continues to pay attention once the political heat dies down.

Can we just say that we disagree with AFSA’s disagreement? You really want the policy folks to have the last say on security?  Really?

We have reached out to AFSA to determine who were the members of this Working Group but have not heard anything back. (Have not heard back because no one wants to hear more questions about The Odd Story of “Vetting/Scrubbing” the Tenure/Promotion of 1,800 Foreign Service Employees in the U.S. Senate?)  We understand from interested readers that AFSA is reportedly saying these are not “policy prescriptions” and that “The papers were reviewed and approved by the AFSA Governing Board before they were submitted to the QDDR office at State.”

What is clear as day is that the diplomats union is now on record not just in non-concurrence but in opposing the creation of a new Under Secretary for Security.

Assistant Secretary of Diplomatic Security Gregory B. Starr was asked about this new position during his confirmation hearing, and here is what he said:

Prior to Mr. Starr’s nomination and subsequent confirmation as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, he was appointed to a non-renewable term of five years as the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security in 2009. As head of the UN’s Department of Safety and Security (DSS), he reported directly to the UN Secretary-General.

Mr. Starr’s response to the question on elevating Diplomatic Security to an under secretary position is perhaps not totally surprising.  In the org structure DS reports to M; M being one of the six under secretaries in the State Department.  Can you imagine how it would have been received in Foggy Bottom had he publicly supported the creation of the U/S for Diplomatic Security at the start of his tenure?

Meanwhile, Congress which is now on its 4,487th hearing on Benghazi and counting, has also not been a fan of elevating DS to the under secretary level.  Last year, this is what the HFAC chairman said:

“I won’t endorse a new undersecretary position until the State Department provides the committee with a compelling rationale,” Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said. “More bureaucracy is not synonymous with effective security.”

Mr. Starr talks about access to the Secretary and his deputies, Congressman Royce talks about an expanding bureaucracy, and AFSA talks about “consolidation” at “P” or the Deputy Secretary level. The Dems think Pfftt and the GOP is basically still talking about those darn “talking points.”

No one is talking about fixing the “span of control” or the “organizational structure” that needs work.

We’re afraid that we’ll be back talking about this again, unfortunately, at some future heartbreak.

Diplomatic Security: Things were a changin’ in the 1980s

According to history.state.gov, the Department of State, by administrative action, established a Bureau of Diplomatic Security headed by a Director holding a rank equivalent to an Assistant Secretary of State on Nov 4, 1985. The creation of the new Bureau followed recommendations of the Advisory Panel on Overseas Security (the Inman Panel), which studied means of protecting Department personnel and facilities from terrorist attacks. Congress authorized the Bureau, to be headed by an Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, in the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Anti-terrorism Act of Aug 27, 1986 (P.L. 99-399; 100 Stat. 856).

What state.gov does not specifically say on its history page is that the creation of the DS bureau was a direct result of the bombing of the Embassy and Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983.

This.

President Ronald Reagan (far left) and First Lady Nancy Reagan pay their respects to the caskets of the 17 US victims of the 18 April 1983 attack on the United States Embassy in Beirut. (Photo via Wikipedia from the Reagan Library)

President Ronald Reagan (far left) and First Lady Nancy Reagan pay their respects to the caskets of the 17 US victims of the 18 April 1983 attack on the United States Embassy in Beirut.
(Photo via Wikipedia from the Reagan Library)

In the short history of the bureau, there had been four FSOs appointed as assistant secretary and three non-career appointees.  The current assistant secretary, Mr. Starr is the first career security official to lead the DS bureau. Since its inception, the bureau has been relegated to the administrative and management bureaus.  FSO Robert Lamb who was Administration A/S in 1985 assumed duties as Coordinator of the Office of Security. He was designated Director of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security Nov 4, 1985 and appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security on March 12, 1987.

According to this, Diplomatic Security is responsible for this:

Diplomatic Security  protects the lives of approximately 35,000 U.S. employees under Secretary of State and Chief of Mission authority worldwide, as well as the lives of approximately 70,000 family members of these employees. An additional 40-45,000 locally engaged staff (LES) are also protected during working hours. In sum, with 2,000 special agents, and its network of engineers, couriers, civil service personnel and other critical staff, DS successfully protects almost 150,000 employees and family members during business hours, and about 100,000 U.S. employees and family members around the clock. Approximately 275 foreign service posts abroad, comprising thousands of buildings and residences, also fall under the Department’s responsibility and the DS protective security purview.

Currently, the DS bureau is one of thirteen bureaus including Budget and Planning, Human Resources, Overseas Buildings Operations under the “M” family of offices in the Under Secretary for Management. In essence, the top security official at State is not a security official but a management official.

Badda bing badda boom – Reorganization Sorta Done

The State Department has now created a DAS for High Threat Posts.  The State Department could argue that it has done “DS reorganization” with the creation of a new DAS for High Threat Posts.

The new DAS position for High Threat Posts was announced in November 2012, even before ARB Benghazi issued its report. Did it show the State Department’s quick response  ahead of the curve? Absolutely. The ARB report would later call the creation of the DAS HTP as a “positive first step.” 

Congress was partially mollified, something was being done.  

Just because something is being done doesn’t mean what is being done is what is needed or necessary.

We’ve learned in the Nairobi and Tanzania bombings that those missions were not even high threat posts when they were attacked. Also, in the August 2013 closure of posts in the Middle East and North Africa due to the potential for terrorist attacks, only four of 19 were designated as high threat posts.  And when we last blogged about this, six of the 17 reported new high threat posts  have zero danger pay.  

So why an office and a new DAS for HTP?

We think that the creation of a new DAS for HTP was a band-aid solution that everyone could get behind.  It did not encroach on anyone’s turf, no one had to give up anyone or anything, it did not require new money from Congress, it’s a new desk in the same shop, under the same old structure. It could be done cheaply and fast. Add a well-respected DS agent as A/S and tadaaaa — badda bing badda boom – reorganization sort of done!

 

Elevating Diplomatic Security — A 14-Year Old Idea Comes Back

Elevating Diplomatic Security in placement and reporting  within the State Department is not a new idea. The Accountability Review Board following the twin bombings of the the US Embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania recommended  in January 1999 that “a single high-ranking officer [be] accountable for all protective security matters.”

13. First and foremost, the Secretary of State should take a personal and active role in carrying out the responsibility of ensuring the security of US diplomatic personnel abroad. It is essential to convey to the entire Department that security is one of the highest priorities. In the process, the Secretary should reexamine the present organizational structure with the objective of clarifying responsibilities, encouraging better coordination, and assuring that a single high-ranking officer is accountable for all protective security matters and has the authority necessary to coordinate on the Secretary’s behalf such activities within the Department of State and with all foreign affairs USG agencies.

The ARB Nairobi/Tanzania was not talking about an assistant secretary, since that position was already in existence since 1985. It clearly was talking about a higher ranking official accountable for security.

August 1998:  The U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the aftermath of the August 7, 1998, al-Qaida suicide bombing. Eleven Tanzanians, including 7 Foreign Service Nationals, died in the blast, and 72 others were wounded. The same day, al-Qaida suicide bombers launched another near-simultaneous attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 218 and wounded nearly 5,000 others. (Source: DS Records)

August 1998: The U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the aftermath of the August 7, 1998, al-Qaida suicide bombing. Eleven Tanzanians, including 7 Foreign Service Nationals, died in the blast, and 72 others were wounded. The same day, al-Qaida suicide bombers launched another near-simultaneous attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 218 and wounded nearly 5,000 others. (Source: DS Records)

In fact, in the aftermath of the East Africa twin bombings, there was a move to consolidate security and threat intelligence functions under one entity, the Under Secretary for Security, Law Enforcement & Counter Terrorism and having Diplomatic Security report directly to the Secretary of State.

The Cohen-Albright memo proposed combining pertinent security and threat intelligence units into one single unit within the new DS (operational threat intelligence functions of Intelligence & Research (INR), DS Intelligence and Threat Analysis (DS/ITA), and the threat analysis unit of Counter—Terrorism (S/CT). The rationale for this?  That “this will ensure that we have one single entity within the Department responsible for all operational security and threat intelligence, and it also establishes clear, formalized lines of communication and accountability on threat matters with the IC and the Department.”Currently, INR continues to reports directly to the Secretary, CT reports to (J) and ITA remains at DS.

One change that did happen as a result of the twin bombings  was the relocation of RSOs reporting authority from Management Counselors to the Principal Officers at overseas posts.  The (M) at that time, Bonnie Cohen instructed posts that RSOs must now report to, and be evaluated by, DCMS or Principal Officers, rather than their current reporting relationship to administrative counselors. In her memo to Secretary Albright, she wrote: “This will elevate the role of security at posts, ensure that senior post management are engaged in the decision making process of security/threat issues, and establish clear lines of accountability, responsibility and communication. This will correct a number of problems that have arisen by having DS personnel part of the administrative section at post.” See the Cohen to Albright memo here (pdf).

The May 5, 2000 action memo from DS which was approved by Secretary Albright called for placement of  the Bureaus of Diplomatic Security (DS) , International Narcotics and Law Enforcement(INL) and the then Office of the Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism (CT) under this newly created Under Secretary. INL and CT currently reports to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J). The new under secretary position proposed and approved in 2000, an election year, never materialized. Secretary Albright was in office until January 19, 2001.  A new administration came into office and in January 20, 2001, Colin L. Powell was appointed Secretary of State by George W. Bush.  See the Carpenter to Albright memo here (pdf).

Similarly, following the Benghazi attacks, the Accountability Review Board Benghazi made the following recommendation in December 2012:

2. The Board recommends that the Department re-examine DS organization and management, with a particular emphasis on span of control for security policy planning for all overseas U.S. diplomatic facilities. In this context, the recent creation of a new Diplomatic Security Deputy Assistant Secretary for High Threat Posts could be a positive first step if integrated into a sound strategy for DS reorganization.

At the Transfer of Remains Ceremony to Honor Those Lost in Attacks in Benghazi, Libya. September 14, 2012. State Department photo by Michael Gross

At the Transfer of Remains Ceremony to Honor Those Lost in Attacks in Benghazi, Libya. September 14, 2012. State Department photo by Michael Gross

 

The Independent Panel on Best Practices was the result of the ARB Benghazi recommendation that the State Department established a Panel of outside independent experts with experience in high threat, high risk areas to support the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, identify best practices from other agencies and countries and regularly evaluate security platforms in high risk, high threat posts.  The panel headed by former USSS Director Mark Sullivan made one thing clear:

“One clear and overarching recommendation, crucial to the successful and sustainable implementation of all of the recommendations in this report, is the creation of an Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security.”

Aaand, we’re back exactly where we were in the late 1990s when  Booz Allen was asked to look under the rocks on all security concerns about the Department cited in the Inman Panel Report and Admiral Crowe’s Accountability Review Boards and tasked with providing recommendations and best practices to the State Department.

Do you get a feeling that we’ve been going round and round in circle here?

 

Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security – Signed, Sealed, Delivered – and Ignored?

We should note here that the  Independent Panel on Best Practices (IPoBP) report is not locatable at the State Department’s website.  The August 2013 report is available here via Al Jazeera. U.S. taxpayers paid for the Panel members to  go look under the rocks, interview hundreds of people, write up their report, and the report is only retrievable from AJAM? Seven months after the report was issued, the State Department’s Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom met with members of the Best Practices Panel on March 26, 2014.

These two items tell us the clear importance placed by the bureaucracy on the recommendations of outside independent experts. It’s like — it’s done, now go away.

We suspect that had the Independent Panel on Best Practices report did not make it to AJAM, we may not have been able to read it. A copy was also given to The New York Times by someone who felt it was important to publicize the panel’s findings on diplomatic security.

The Best Practices report says that “crucial to the successful and sustainable implementation of all of the recommendations in this report, is the creation of an Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security.”

If this position is created, it would be the seventh under secretary position at the State Department. It would join two other “Security” bureaus: Arms Control and International Security (T) and Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J). It would be at par with its previous home, Management (M). It would be on equal footing with Political Affairs (P). It would control a significant security budget and about 2,000 special agents, and its network of engineers, couriers, civil service personnel , other critical staff and contractors. It could draw bureaus from other under secretaries, similar to the ones approved in 1999 and never implemented, into the DS orbit.  Most importantly, it would report directly to the Secretary of State:  one accountable security official with the authority necessary to manage on the Secretary’s behalf security matters  within the Department of State and with all foreign affairs USG agencies.

That’s a lot of change. There will be tooth and nail fights on lots of corridors.  The new Deputy Secretary Higginbottom will have lots of friends who will borrow her ears. And the bureaucracy will go on self-preservation mode.

One good news if this happens?  There will be no pointing fingers at each other when something horrible happens.  We’ll have one accountable official to drag before Congress.

Speaking of “T” and “J”, a diplomatic security agent asked, “Does that mean we give more importance to ‘international security’ and ‘civilian security’ than we give to our own personnel?”

Does it?

 

DS Doesn’t Need to be in the Room?

At posts overseas, the Regional Security Officer reports to the Ambassador not the Management Counselor (see the Cohen  to Albright memo here).  The Best Practices report notes that this  “direct line of authority from the Ambassador to the RSO, utilizing the Country Team and Emergency Action Committee when necessary, was seen as critical to effective post security management and responding to dynamic threats.”In part, the report says:

[A]t the headquarters level, the same clear lines of authority and understanding of responsibilities are not as well defined or understood. This has led to stove-piped support to posts and lack of understanding of security related coordination requirements among DS, the Under Secretary for Management, and the Regional Bureaus, as noted by the Benghazi ARB. In fact, some senior Foreign Service officers and DS Agents who met with the Panel identified the Under Secretary for Management (M) as the senior security official in the Department responsible for final decision making regarding critical security requirements.
[...]
Among various Department bureaus and personnel in the field, there appeared to be very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based both on policy and security considerations. “
[...]
Diplomatic Security is only one of eleven diverse support and administrative functions reporting to the Under Secretary for Management. This is a significant span of control issue and, if unaddressed, could contribute to future security management failures, such as those that occurred in Benghazi.

 

So moving DS into an under secretary position under S simply mirrors what is already happening at posts overseas. Except that like everything else in a bureaucracy, it’s complicated.

AFSA says that creating a new under secretary for security will not resolve the contrary positions that typically resides between Management (M) and Political Affairs (P) and would “likely result in prioritizing security” over the reason for being in risky locations in the first place.

A DS agent who supports the creation of a U/S for DS explained it to us this way:

“What they really mean is that security considerations raised by a DS U/S would have to be given equal  weight to the other reasons for being in a risky location.”

What we’re told is that all the other under secretaries and assistant secretaries have to do right now is convinced “M” that they need to be at location X.  They do not need to work with DS at all. “When  D is getting briefed, DS doesn’t even have to be in the room.” 

Now, that might explain why DS professionals have very strong feelings about this.

So what if it’s going to be a three-way bureaucratic shootout?

You might have heard that Benghazi has flared up once more.  Take a look at this screen grab from one of the emails recently released via FOIA by the State Department to Judicial Watch.  Who’s missing from this email?

Screen Shot 2014 email fogarty

A Staff Assistant to the Secretary, received an update from the A/S NEA about Benghazi and passed on the update to the senior officials in Foggy Bottom. You’d expect an update from a diplomatic security official, but as you can see in the email header, neither the sender nor the source of this email is even Diplomatic Security.

One more thing –we have occasionally heard what goes on at posts before it goes on evacuation. At one post, the Front Office did not want to go on evac because it was concerned it would become an “unaccompanied post” and thereafter limit the quality of bidders it would get during the assignment season. The decision whether post should go on authorized or ordered departure does not reside with the security professionals but with management and geographic officials.

So basically, if this  U/S for Security position becomes a reality, instead of a bureaucratic shootout between P and M, there would be a three-way shootout between P, M and DS.  In addition to policy  and resource consideration, the bureaucracy will be expected to give security considerations equal  weight when standing up a presence in a risky location or on any matter with a security component.  If the three could not sort it out, the Deputy Secretary or the Secretary would have the last say.

The Best Practices Panel says that “An effective security function must be co-equal to the other organizational
components and have a “seat at the table” to ensure strategic accountability, common understanding of risk, and corresponding mitigation options and costs.

Frankly, we cannot find a reason to argue with that, can you?

Are we doing this again in 2025?

Here is a blast from the past:

The Under Secretary would coordinate on your behalf all operational threat intelligence and security issues with other USG agencies.[...] This reorganization offers better command, control and accountability of Departmental security functions and responsibilities; streamlines the flow of security and threat intelligence information with DS as the focal point for the intelligence agencies; sends a strong signal to the Hill and others that we are taking security seriously by this reorganization; addresses the ARBs‘ findings; and institutionalizes the security apparatus at State to reflect a robust, progressive and disciplined approach to security, which is unaffected by political or personal preferences.

 That reorganization was never implemented. And here we are back to where we were some 14 years ago.

Are we going to do this again in 2025?

* * *

P.S. We’d be happy to put together the top ten reasons for and against the creation of an Under Secretary of  for Security. Send your contributions here by this Friday. The names of contributors, for obvious reasons, will not be published. If we get enough submissions, we’ll blogit.

 

Related items:

Report of the Accountability Review Boards on the Embassy Bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam on August 7, 1998 | January 1999: http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/arb/accountability_report.html

Accountability Review Board (ARB) Report on Benghazi Attack of September 11, 2012 (pdf) (Unclassified) December 2012 | More documents here: http://www.state.gov/arbreport/

The Independent Panel on Best Practices | August 2013 (pdf) via Al Jazeera

 

 

 

 

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