Category Archives: Govt Reports/Documents

State Dept’s Critical National Security Database Crashes, Melts Global Travelers’ Patience

– Domani Spero

 

The first announcement about the troubled Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) went out on Wednesday, July 23:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs is currently experiencing technical problems with our passport/visa system.  This issue is worldwide and is not specific to any particular country, citizenship document, or visa category.  We apologize to applicants who are experiencing delays or are unable to obtain a passport, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or visa at this time. We are working urgently to correct the problem and expect our system to be fully operational again soon.

The AP reported on July 23 that unspecified glitches have resulted in performance issues since Saturday, which would be July 19.

On July 25, CA announced:” Our visa and passport processing systems are now operational, however they are working at limited capacity. We are still working to correct the problem and expect to be fully operational soon.”

A State Department official speaking on background told us the same day that this issue was not/not caused by  hackers. We were told that the CCD crashed shortly after maintenance was performed and that the root cause of the problem is not yet known.

On July 27, CA released an update:

As of July 27, the Department of State has made continued progress on restoring our system to full functionality. As we restore our ability to print visas, we are prioritizing immigrant cases, including adoptions visas. System engineers are performing maintenance to address the problems we encountered. As system performance improves, we will continue to process visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. We are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

On July 29, CA posted this on FB:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs continues to make progress restoring our nonimmigrant visa system to full functionality. Over the weekend, the Department of State implemented system changes aimed at optimizing performance and addressing the challenges we have faced. We are now testing our system capacity to ensure stability. Processing of immigrant visas cases, including adoptions, remains a high priority. Some Embassies and Consulates may temporarily limit or reschedule nonimmigrant visa interview appointments until more system resources become available to process these new applications. We sincerely regret the inconvenience to travelers, and are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

 

The CA Bureau’s Facebook page has been inundated with comments. There were complaints that at one post the visas were printing fine and then they were not. There were complains from people waiting for visas for adopted kids, for fiancees, for family members, for family waiting at the border, for students anxious to get to their schools, people worried about time running out for diversity visas, applicants with flights already booked, and many more.  One FB commenter writes, “I feel that the problem most people have is not that the system broke, but the lack of clear, meaningful information so people can make appropriate plans.

Other than what the CA Bureau chose to tell us, we cannot pry any substantial detail from official sources.  We, however, understand from sources familiar with the system but not authorized to speak for the bureau that the CCD has been having problems for sometime but it got worse in the last couple weeks.   If you’re familiar with the highs and lows of visa operation, this will not be altogether surprising.  Whatever problems already existed in the system prior to this “glitch” could have easily been exacerbated in July, which is the middle of the peak travel season worldwide. A source working in one of our consular posts confirmed to us that the system is back running, but not at the normal level and that the backlogs are building up. Another source told us that Beijing already had a 15k NIV backlog over the weekend.  We haven’t yet heard what are the backlogs like in mega visa-issuing posts like Brazil, Mexico and India.

We understand that everyone is currently doing all they can to get the process moving, but that some cases are getting through the system, while some are not. No one seems to know why this is happening. These machine readable visas are tied to the system and there are no manual back-ups for processing these cases (more of that below).

 

So who owns CCD?

The Consular Systems and Technology (CA/CST) manages the CCD.  We have previously blogged about its troubled past:

CST is currently headed by a new Director, Greg D Ambrose who reports to the CA Bureau’s Assistant Secretary.  It looks like despite the 2011 OIG recommendation, the CST deputy position remains vacant. We should also note that the  Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs retired this past April.  No replacement has been nominated to-date and Michele T. Bond has been Acting Assistant Secretary since Ms. Jacobs’ departure.

Last September, Mr. Ambrose was with FedScoopTV and talked about Consular One, the future of consular IT.

 

CST Just Got a New Data Engineering Contract

In Many 2014, ActioNet, Inc., headquartered in Vienna, Virginia,announced a 5-year task order for data engineering, supporting CST.

ActioNet, Inc. announced today the award of a five (5)-year task order entitled Data Engineering (DE) in support of Department of State (DOS). This task order will provide data engineering and database infrastructure support services necessary for planning, analysis, design, and implementation services for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.  These service also include contract and program management support to ensure that innovation, efficiency, and cost control practices are built into the program. [...] The Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) within the Bureau develops, deploys and maintains the unclassified and classified IT infrastructures that help execute these missions. The Bureau currently manages over 800 servers worldwide, in order to comply with the fast paced changes inherent to data processing and telecommunications, CST requires that contractor services provide for rapid provisioning of highly experienced and trained individuals with the IT (information technology) backgrounds and the security clearances required of CA’s environment of workstation-based local and wide-area network infrastructures.

Due to limited information available, we don’t know if the new Consular One and/or the new DE contract are related to ongoing issues or if there are hardware issues, given the multiple legacy systems, but we do know that CST has both an impressive and troubled history. Let’s take a look.


Records Growing by the Day

The 2010 Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) describes (pdf) the CCD as “one of the largest Oracle based data warehouses in the world that holds current and archived data from the Consular Affairs (CA) domestic and post databases around the world.”  According to the PIA, in December 2009, the CCD contained over 100 million visa cases and 75 million photographs, utilizing billions of rows of data, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35 thousand visa cases every day. The 2011 OIG report says that in 2010, the CCD contained over 137 million American and foreign case records and over 130 million photographs and is growing at approximately 40,000 visa and passport cases every day.

That was almost four years ago.


A Critical Operational and National Security Database with No Back-Up System?

According to publicly available information, the CCD’s chief functions are 1) to support data delivery to approved applications via industry-standard Web Service queries, 2) provide users with easy-to-use data entry interfaces to CCD, and 3) allow emergency recovery of post databases.  The CCD also serves as a gateway to IDENT and IAFIS fingerprint checking databases, the Department of State Facial Recognition system, and the NameCheck system. It  provides access to passport data in Travel Document Issuance System (TDIS), Passport Lookout Tracking System (PLOTS), and Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS).  The OIG says that the CCD serves 11,000 users in the Department and more than 19,000 users in other agencies, primarily the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and various law enforcement elements, and is accessed more than 120 million times every month.

Given that the CCD is considered “a critical operational and national security database,” there is surprisingly no redundancies or any back-up system.


Resurrect the Standard Register protectograph aka: `Burroughs visas’?

No one is actually suggesting that but when the CCD system is down, there is no manual way to issue a visa. No post can  handprint visas  because security measures prevent consular officers from printing a visa unless it is approved through the database system. Here is a quick history of the handprinted ‘Burroughs visas’ and the machine readable visas via the GPO:

November 18, 1988, mandated the development of a machine-readable travel and identity document to improve border entry and departure control using an automated data-capture system. As a result, the Department developed the Machine Readable Visa, a durable, long-lasting adhesive foil made out of Teslin.

Before MRVs, nonimmigrant visas were issued using a device called a Standard Register protectograph, otherwise known as a Burroughs certifier machine. It produced what was colloquially known as a “Burroughs visa,” an indelible ink impression mechanically stamped directly onto a page in the alien’s passport. Over time, Burroughs machines were gradually replaced by MRV technology, which is now used exclusively by all nonimmigrant visa issuing posts throughout the world.

Burroughs visas contained a space in which a consular employee was required to write the name of the alien to whom the visa was being issued. An alien’s passport might also include family members, such as a spouse, or children, who also had to be listed on the visa. In March 1983, in order to expedite the issuance of nonimmigrant visas and to improve operational efficiency, the Department authorized the use of a “bearer(s)” stamp for certain countries so that consular officers would not have to spend time writing in the applicant’s name (and those of accompanying family members). MRVs, however, must be issued individually to qualified aliens. Consequently, the “bearer”annotation has become obsolete.

The problem with the old Burroughs machine, besides the obvious, was maybe — you run out of ink, the plates are ruined/broken or you need it oiled. We could not remember those breaking down. With the MRV technology, all posts are connected to a central database, and the new machines by themselves cannot issue visas.  Which brings us to the security of that system.

 

Management Alert on Information System Security Program

The State Department PIA says that “To appropriately safeguard the information, numerous management, operational, and technical security controls are in place in accordance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) of 2002 and information assurance standards published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).” Must be why in November 2013, the Office of the Inspector General issued a Management Alert  for significant and recurring weaknesses found in the State Department’s Information System Security Program over the past three fiscal years (FY 2011-2013).

In 2011, State/OIG also issued a report on CA’s CST division and has, what appears to be a lengthy discussion of the CCD, but almost all of it but a paragraph had been redacted:

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 8.40.37 AM

That OIG report also includes a discussion of the Systems Development Life Cycle Process and notes that decision control gates within CST’s SDLC process are weak. It cites a couple of examples where this manifested: 1) the development of the Consular report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) system. “The ownership of development and deployment shifted throughout the process, and the business unit’s requirements were not clearly communicated to the development team. As a result, CST designed and tested the CRBA for a printer that did not match the printer model identified and procured by the business unit;” 2)  the Crisis Task Force application, for which CST was tasked to enhance its Web-facing interaction. “The deployment of this application has been challenged by the lack of project ownership and decision controls, as well as by the incomplete requirements definition. The use of incorrect scripts that were provided by the CM group has further delayed the Crisis Task Force application’s deployment.”

 

If there’s somethin’ strange in your CCD, who ya gonna call? (Glitchbusters!)

The Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) is central to all consular operations. It is run by CST where according to the OIG, “the smooth functioning of every part of the office depends on its contractors.” And because it runs such an important element of U.S. national security systems, if all CST’s contractors, all 850 of them quit, this critical consular data delivery to the State Department and other Federal agencies would screech to a a halt.

To carry out its mandate, CST must provide uninterrupted support to 233 overseas posts, 21 passport agencies, 2 passport processing centers, and other domestic facilities, for a total of 30,000 end users across 16 Federal agencies and in nearly every country. CST faces 24/7/365 service requirements, as any disruption in automated support brings operations to an immediate halt, with very serious implications for travelers and the U.S. image.
[...]
CST is led by a director and is staffed by 68 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees (62 Civil Service and 6 Foreign Service). There are 12 positions (3 Foreign Service and 9 Civil Service) currently vacant. CA recently authorized CST 19 additional FTE positions. There are also more than 850 contractors operating under nearly 30 different contracts. In FY 2010, CST’s annual operating budget was approximately $266 million.

If CCD is compromised for a lengthy period such as the last couple of weeks, what is the back up plan to keep the operation going?  Obviously, none. It’s either down or running under limited or full capacity.  No one we know remember CCD problems persist this long.  Right now, we know from a reliable source that the system is not down, and some cases and going through but — what if the CCD is completely down for two weeks … four weeks … wouldn’t international travel come to a slow stop?

What if CCD goes down indefinitely whether by hardware or software glitch or through malicious penetration by foreign hackers, what happens then?

Currently, it appears nothing can be done but for folks to be patient and wait until the fixes are in.  We know they’re working hard at it but there’s got to be a better way.   Perhaps we can also agree that this has very serious national security implications on top of disgruntled travelers and a grave impact on the U.S. image overseas.

 

 Related items:

May 2011 |  Inspection of The Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) Report Number ISP-I-11-51

-11/30/13   Audit of Department of State Information Security Program (FISMA) (AUD-IT-14-03)  [3610 Kb]  Posted January 29th, 2014

-01/13/14   Management Alert on OIG Findings of Significant, Recurring Weaknesses in Dept of State Info System Security Program (MA-A-0001)  [6298 Kb]  Posted on January 16, 2014

 

 Related articles

 

 

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Filed under Bugs, Consular Work, Contractors, Federal Agencies, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Legacy, Security, Spectacular, Staffing the FS, State Department, Technology, Technology and Work, Visas

State Dept Offers $3 Million Reward For 2013 Kevin Scott Sutay Abduction in Colombia

– Domani Spero

 

The Department of State’s Rewards for Justice program is offering a reward for information on those responsible for the kidnapping of a U.S. citizen by the terrorist organization Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The Secretary of State has authorized a reward of up to $3 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of any individual involved in the abduction of Kevin Scott Sutay in central Colombia.

Mr. Sutay was abducted on June 20, 2013, in the municipality of El Retorno in Guaviare Department, southeast of Bogota. Sutay, a former American military service member, had been trekking as a tourist through Central and South America. On July 19, 2013, the FARC issued a statement claiming responsibility for the abduction. The group released Sutay on October 27, 2013.

The FARC has long targeted foreigners and government officials. In 2003, FARC members executed U.S. citizen Thomas Janis and took three other U.S. citizens hostage after their U.S. Government plane crashed in the jungle in Caquetá, Colombia.

The Department of State designated the FARC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on October 8, 1997.

More information about this reward offer is located on the Rewards for Justice website at www.rewardsforjustice.net. We encourage anyone with information on these individuals to contact Rewards for Justice via the website, e-mail (info@RewardsforJustice.net), phone (1-800-877-3927), or mail (Rewards for Justice, Washington, DC, 20520-0303, USA). All information will be kept strictly confidential.

The Rewards for Justice program is administered by the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Since its inception in 1984, the program has paid in excess of $125 million to more than 80 people who provided actionable information that put terrorists behind bars or prevented acts of international terrorism worldwide. Follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Rewards4Justice.

Click here for the announcement in Spanish. The FAQ for the Rewards for Justice program is available here.

According to the State Department, since its inception, RFJ has paid more than $125 million to more than 80 individuals for information that prevented international terrorist attacks or helped bring to justice those involved in prior acts.  The Secretary of State has complete discretion over whether or not to authorize a given reward, and can change the amount of the reward, within the terms of the law. Among those considered “success stories” are the following cited by Rewards For Justice:

  • During the Persian Gulf War, a brave informant in an East Asian country came forward with alarming information about a series of planned terrorist attacks. The terrorists had already surveyed their intended targets and had assembled automatic weapons, grenades, and explosives. Just 48 hours before the first of these planned attacks, this informant provided information that was essential in thwarting the terrorists’ plan. The attack was stopped, the young man received a significant reward, and his family was relocated to a safe place. By providing this information, the individual saved hundreds of lives.
  • In another case, a young woman came forward with information regarding individuals who hijacked an airliner and brutally beat the passengers on board. She stated that she “felt strongly about justice being done.” The leader of the hijackers was returned to the U.S. and is imprisoned on air piracy charges. The young woman received a reward for her efforts to fight terrorism.
  • Another young woman, a student at a foreign university, witnessed the brutal assassination of a U.S. diplomat. As a result of the information she provided, two attackers were sentenced to life imprisonment. The student and her family were relocated to a safe place and received a significant reward.

* * *

 

 

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Filed under Americans Abroad, Awards, Govt Reports/Documents, John F. Kerry, Latin America, State Department, Terrorism

The Fault in Our Skies: Senator to Deploy Blanket Senate Hold Over DOS Nominees Cuz FAA

– Domani Spero

 

On July 22, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) responsible for civil aviation safety issued the following notice:

At 12:15 EDT on July 22, 2014, the FAA issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) informing U.S. airlines that they are prohibited from flying to or from Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport for a period of up to 24 hours.  The notice was issued in response to a rocket strike which landed approximately one mile from Ben Gurion International Airport on the morning of July 22, 2014.  The NOTAM applies only to U.S. operators, and has no authority over foreign airlines operating to or from the airport.

On July 23, the notice was extended for another 24 hours:

Today the FAA issued another Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) informing U.S. airlines that yesterday’s NOTAM flight remains in effect for Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport for up-to-an-additional-24-hours while the FAA continues to monitor and evaluate the situation.

The agency is working closely with the Government of Israel to review the significant new information they have provided and determine whether potential risks to U.S. civil aviation are mitigated so the agency can resolve concerns as quickly as possible.

 

Also on July 23, Senator Cruz tweeted this:

 

The FAA is under the Department of Transportation and is headed by Anthony Foxx who is the  Secretary of Transportation, and not/not by John Kerry, the Secretary of State. That hardly matter these days.  Now, it looks like the Senate confirmation of several dozen nominees just got a tad more complicated.

Later in the evening of July 23,the FAA lifted the flight restriction:

The FAA has lifted its restrictions on U.S. airline flights into and out of Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport by cancelling a Notice to Airmen it renewed earlier today. The cancellation is effective at approximately 11:45 p.m. EDT.

Before making this decision, the FAA worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation.

Whew! But not so fast.

Did you see what the senator was upset about?  From Sen. Cruz’s statement:

“Tourism is an $11 billion industry for Israel, which is in the middle of a summer high season already seriously diminished by the conflict initiated by Hamas.  Group tours have been cancelling at a 30% rate.  This FAA flight ban may well represent a crippling blow to a key economic sector through both security concerns and worries that additional bans will down more flights and strand more passengers.  It hardly matters if or when the ban is lifted. At this point, the damage may already be done.

He’s alleging economic boycott and mighty mad about it.  On June 24, Politico reported that the senator, who GQ calls the “Distinguished Wacko Bird from Texas” has vowed to block all State Department nominees until he gets answers. But it hardly matters what answers he get, he won’t like them when he gets them.

After such lengthy waits, with some nominees waiting for over a year, we thought that these State Department nominees will eventually get confirmed by August 1. Last year, some 30 nominees were confirmed by the Senate during its last day in session (see Here Comes the Sun: U.S. Senate Confirms A Slew of New Ambassadors as It Runs Out the Door). But that was before the “nuclear option changed  the Senate rules.  In November 2013, the Democrats changed the rules so executive-office appointments can advance to confirmation votes by a simple majority of senators, instead of the 60-vote majority that was previously needed. Read more of that here and here.

Senator Cruz is , of course, not the first one to deploy a blanket hold to extract something from the executive branch.  We can’t remember all of them but you might recall that in 2010, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) also adopted the blanket hold in an attempt to compel the Administration to award certain defense contracts to his home state of Alabama. Not endorsing it but can understand why he would do that for Alabama.  In the current case, one is left wondering why is the $11 billion tourism industry in a foreign country more important to a sitting senator than having our top people on the ground to protect and promote American interests.

 of Bloomberg Views recently wrote that it seems unlikely that any new executive branch holds by Senator Cruz would make much difference. “Without majority support, a hold is merely a senator’s threat to use every stalling tactic available.” Don’t tear out your hair or scream yet, we’ll have until August 1st to wait and see.

Below are the State Department and USAID nominees who were cleared through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and are just waiting for the full Senate vote. We have included the dates these nominations were officially announced and the dates they were reported out of the Foreign Relations Committee.

 

Nuclear Non-proliferation Nominated: July 18, 2013
Adam M. Scheinman, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Executive Service, to be Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation, with the rank of Ambassador.
Jan 15, 2014 Reported by Mr. Menendez, Committee on Foreign Relations, without printed report.
Mauritania Nominated: September 10, 2013
Larry Edward Andre, Jr., of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.
Jan 15, 2014
Timor-Leste Nominated: July 31, 2013
Karen Clark Stanton, of Michigan, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.
Jan 15, 2014
Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe. Nominated: September 12, 2013
Cynthia H. Akuetteh, of the District of Columbia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Gabonese Republic, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe.
Jan 15, 2014
Zambia Nominated: September 12, 2013
Eric T. Schultz, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Zambia
Jan 15, 2014
Albania Nominated: July 25, 2013
Donald Lu, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Albania.
Jan 15, 2014
Palau Nominated: July 31, 2013
Amy Jane Hyatt, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Palau.
Jan 15, 2014
Cameroon Nominated: July 30, 2013
Michael Stephen Hoza, of Washington, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Cameroon.
Jan 15, 2014
Sierra Leone Nominated: July 09, 2013
John Hoover, of Massachusetts, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Sierra Leone.
Jan 15, 2014
Lesotho Nominated: August 01, 2013
Matthew T. Harrington, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Lesotho.
Jan 15, 2014
Namibia Nominated: July 30, 2013
Thomas Frederick Daughton, of Arizona, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Namibia.
Jan 15, 2014
Norway Nominated: September 10, 2013
George James Tsunis, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Norway.
Feb 04, 2014 Reported by Mr. Menendez, Committee on Foreign Relations, without printed report.
Hungary Nomination: November 06, 2013
Colleen Bradley Bell, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Hungary.
Feb 04, 2014
Iceland Nomination: October 30, 2013
Robert C. Barber, of Massachusetts, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Iceland.
Feb 04, 2014
State/VC Nominated: July 18, 2013
Frank A. Rose, of Massachusetts, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Verification and Compliance), vice Rose Eilene Gottemoeller.
Feb 04, 2014
State/DGHR Nominated: October 04, 2013
Arnold A. Chacon, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Director General of the Foreign Service, vice Linda Thomas-Greenfield, resigned.
Feb 04, 2014
USAID/OIG Nominated: June 10, 2013
Michael G. Carroll, of New York, to be Inspector General, United States Agency for International Development, vice Donald A. Gambatesa, resigned.
Feb 04, 2014
Jamaica Nominated: September 10, 2013
Luis G. Moreno, of Texas, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Jamaica.
Mar 11, 2014 Reported by Mr. Menendez, Committee on Foreign Relations, without printed report.
New Zealand and Samoa Nomination: October 30, 2013
Mark Gilbert, of Florida, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to New Zealand, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Independent State of Samoa.
Mar 11, 2014
Trinidad and Tobago Nominated: July 30, 2013
John L. Estrada, of Florida, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Mar 11, 2014
Bosnia and Herzegovina Nominated: November 21, 2013
Maureen Elizabeth Cormack, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Mar 11, 2014
State/IO Nominated: October 30, 2013
Bathsheba Nell Crocker, of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (International Organization Affairs), vice Esther Brimmer, resigned.
Mar 11, 2014
State/ASEAN Nominated: January 16, 2014
Nina Hachigian, of California, to be Representative of the United States of America to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.
May 20, 2014 Reported by Mr. Menendez, Committee on Foreign Relations, without printed report.
Bahamas Nominated: February 07, 2014
Cassandra Q. Butts, of the District of Columbia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
May 20, 2014
Czech Republic. Nominated:  March 6, 2014
Confirmed: July 23, 2014
Andrew H. Schapiro, of Illinois, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Czech Republic.
May 20, 2014
USAID Nominated: December 19, 2013
Paige Eve Alexander, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, vice Mara E. Rudman.
May 20, 2014
Argentina Nominated: July 30, 2013
Noah Bryson Mamet, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Argentine Republic.
Jun 24, 2014 Reported by Mr. Menendez, Committee on Foreign Relations, without printed report.
South Korea Nominated:  May 01, 2014
Mark William Lippert, of Ohio, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Korea.
Jun 24, 2014
Vietnam Nominated: May 14, 2014
Theodore G. Osius III, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Jun 24, 2014
Algeria Nominated: May 14, 2014
Joan A. Polaschik, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria.
Jun 24, 2014
USAID Nominated: April 10, 2014
Jonathan Nicholas Stivers, of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, vice Nisha Desai Biswal, resigned.
Jun 24, 2014
State/OFM Nominated:  May 01, 2014
Gentry O. Smith, of North Carolina, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, and to have the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service, vice Eric J. Boswell, resigned.
Jun 24, 2014
USAID Nominated: March 31, 2014
Alfonso E. Lenhardt, of New York, to be Deputy Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, vice Donald Kenneth Steinberg.
Jul 16, 2014 Reported by Mr. Menendez, Committee on Foreign Relations, without printed report.
Paraguay Nominated: June 03, 2014
Leslie Ann Bassett, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Paraguay.
Jul 16, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Americans Abroad, Congress, Federal Agencies, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Nominations, Politics, Security, Senate Hold, State Department

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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Congress to State Dept: We Want All Your Stuff on New London Embassy Except Paperclips

– Domani Spero

 

We recently blogged about the congressional hearing on the new embassy construction (see New Embassy Construction Hearing: Witnesses Not Invited, and What About the Blast-Proof Glass?).  Well, a couple of weeks ago, the  House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent a letter to Secretary Kerry asking for documents and information on the new embassy construction.  Presumably in preparation for the hearing.  Almost half of the docs requested were related to the New London Embassy.  Did not look like the Committee got the docs that they wanted in time for the hearing.  In any case, below is a partial list; it looks like they wanted everything including drafts and all, except paperclips.

Giant paper clip at BI Commercial College near...

Giant paper clip at BI Commercial College near Oslo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We must say that the HOGR has not been short on its version of HPD … way too much emotion and drama that draws attention to themselves and the nearest camera for our taste.  Really, if they just do their jobs without too much theatrics, our institutions would be a lot better for it.  Having said that, it’s the only Congress we’ve got and they have an oversight role to play even if more than one in five Americans (22%) are ready to start over entirely after all members are fired.  For now, we’re stuck with these folks.  Luckily for us, not all of them will stay in Congress for life. So — please give these angry folks the documents they need even if they occasionally drive you nuts; they may not be there next year. They want a cost/benefit analysis, give it to them, too. We suspect the analysis would be useful anyways, and these folks would have to write their own scripts on what to say on teevee.

Oh hey, they want to know about the blast testing of the curtain wall, so do we!

 

20.   All Action Memoranda and Information Memoranda, including drafts, referring or relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

21.   All documents referring or relating to Value Engineering Studies relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including all versions of any Value Engineering Studies.

22.   All documents and communications relating to changes and notices to proceed relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all such communications with: a) KieranTimberlake Architects; b) B.L. Harbert International;  and, c) Weidlinger and Associates.

23.   All documents referring or relating to congressional Construction Security Certification for the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all communications with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

24.   All documents and communications referring or relating to Value Added Tax (VAT) relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

25.   All documents and communications referring or relating to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all such communications with: a) the Bureau of Diplomatic Security; b) KieranTimberlake Architects; c) B.L. Harbert International; d) Weidlinger and Associates.

26.   All documents and communications referring or relating to the application of General Services Administration (GSA) Performance Conditions to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, communications between OBO and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

27.   All documents and communications relating to the engineering and legal justifications for applying standards other than those of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

28.   A document identifying all State Department overseas properties, the physical security of which were designed, tested or certified to GSA standards.

29.   All documents and communications relating to the decision to conduct blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, in both Ft. Polk, Louisiana and Socorro, New Mexico.

30.   The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center report relating to blast testing of the curtain wall or curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom which occurred in Fort Polk, Louisiana.

31.   All reports prepared for the Committees on Appropriations on the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom which, pursuant to P.L. 112-74, Section 7004 (f)(2), were to be delivered every six months from 60 days after enactment, and which were to include revenue and cost projections, cost containment efforts, project schedule and actual project status, the impact of currency exchange rate fluctuations on project revenue and costs, and options for modifying the scope of the project in the event that proceeds of real property sales in London fall below the total cost of the project.

32.   The estimated cost per square meter to rent office space in the vicinity of the current U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom.

33.   All documents related to any lease-back of current U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom if the New Embassy Compound in London is not completed on schedule.

 

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U.S. Embassy Bolivia: A Post Far From Heaven, Read the Fine Details in the Classified OIG Annex!

– Domani Spero

 

Which regional bureau recalled one post’s top two officials prior to the arrival of the OIG inspectors?
Burn Bag, March 23, 2014

 

According to the OIG report on the US Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia released on July 17, just before the OIG inspection conducted in February and March 2014, the State Department “recalled the chargé and the political/economic section chief who served as acting DCM from August 2012 to September 2013 and took steps to mitigate some of the embassy’s leadership problems.”

How do you recall the embassy’s top two officials? Very quietly, presumably.  There were no public announcements or statements.  There have been some pretty awful embassies with leadership problems but we have seldom heard the recall of both the number #1 and #2 at the same time. So, what happened?

This OIG report has a classified annex which includes supplemental narrative and recommendations.  This is not the first time that a report has a classified annex but this is one of the few we can recall since the OIG stopped issuing the Inspector’s Evaluation Reports for senior embassy officials.  So now, all the bad stuff is just dumped in the classified annex of the report where the OIG says that “Portions of context, leadership, resource management, Equal Employment Opportunity, and quality of life in the annex should be read in conjunction with this report.” We have no access to the annex and of course, only State Department insiders who theoretically, have a “need to know” can access the classified material.

via US Embassy La Paz/FB

via US Embassy La Paz/FB

Here is what the publicly available, sanitized report on US Embassy Bolivia says on Leadership:

The former chargé interacted with senior government officials more often and more effectively than the hostile environment might have suggested. He expanded his personal engagement with the local media. He negotiated an unexpected $2.4-million reimbursement of value-added taxes. Also, he initiated development of an updated mission vision that called for expanded outreach to the Bolivian people and greater focus on cultural programs and English-language training.

Despite these and other successes, nearly all American staff members told the OIG team that they did not understand mission priorities or their part in achieving goals. The OIG team frequently heard staff tell of instructions given one day only to have the former front office forget or reverse them the next. Skepticism about public diplomacy programming one month could be replaced by front office enthusiasm for a cultural project the next. Reporting officers, already in a difficult environment for contact development and reporting, stated that the front office did little to direct reporting or provide training and mentoring. Embassy staff members told the OIG team they wanted clear and steady guidance from the front office but did not receive it.

Is that not enough to get two senior officials recalled?

On Resource Management:

Although the 2013 annual chief of mission statement of assurances identified no significant management control deficiencies, many of the vulnerabilities discussed in this report would have been apparent if embassy leadership had conducted a thorough review of management controls prior to submitting the chief of mission statement.

On Equal Employment Opportunity:

Within the past year, the EEO counselors handled more than 10 inquiries, many involving gender bias or sexual harassment.

On Quality of Life:

The Health Unit  ” handled eight medical evacuations of U.S. personnel within the past year and provides ongoing support to mission personnel for altitude-related ailments.”

 

Well, what do you think?  The report’s key judgments, are pretty well, bland; no one ran off to a new job in Tripoli or Sana’a. And man, whose fault was it that La Paz was assigned a cadre of inexperienced officers?

  • Embassy La Paz lacked the strong, consistent leadership and the sustained attention from Washington that it needed to manage a complicated bilateral relationship and had a relatively inexperienced officer cadre and a locally employed staff emerging from a reduction in force.
  • The embassy registered several impressive successes despite a drastic reduction in programs and work force in response to the Bolivian Government’s expulsion of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of State’s decision to end all U.S. counternarcotics programs.
  • The embassy needs a clearly defined mission strategy.
  • The management section has a number of potential management control vulnerabilities related to record keeping and funds control. It is still coping with 2013’s major reduction in force of locally employed staff and an almost 50-percent reduction in the embassy’s services budget.

According to the OIG report, as of January 2014, the embassy had a total staff of 310, slightly more than one-third of 2008 numbers. The U.S. Embassy in La Paz has not been a typical embassy operation since 2008. In September that year, Bolivia expelled Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg (now ambassador to the Philippines). Shortly thereafter, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Peace Corps suspended their operations in the country. In May 2013, Bolivia expelled USAID and the USG subsequently also shut down all International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) programs in the country.   The OIG inspectors conclude that the US-Bolivia relationship is “unlikely to normalize soon.” Below are some additional details extracted from the publicly available report:

La Paz, A Post Far From Heaven

  • The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) paid sporadic attention to embassy operations.
  • Since 2008, WHA used a series of deputy chiefs of mission (DCM) as chargé d’affaires and after July 2012 detailed section heads (first from the political/economic section, then from public affairs, and just before the inspection from the management section) to serve as acting DCM for extended periods. The Department also decided not to assign a permanent office management specialist for the chief of mission, and the front office relied on office management specialists from other sections for months at a time. [...] The effects of these stopgap measures were threefold. First, they required officers to serve as acting DCM for extended periods without appropriate training. Second, they took seasoned leaders out of embassy sections, leaving those sections in the hands of usually capable—but inexperienced—deputies. The deputies rose to the challenge, but they did not receive adequate guidance or leadership from their former supervisors. Productivity and morale suffered.

Love Letters Written, Never Sent

  • The political/economic section staff is frustrated and discouraged, primarily because of lack of front office policy direction, as well as poor communication, organization, and training within the section. Given the deteriorating political environment and unclear policy guidance from both the front office and the Department, the section had an opportunity to devise and drive a revised policy and action agenda, but did not do so. [...] The OIG team reviewed a number of substantive and useful report drafts prepared by officers and local employees that were never sent, usually because the former section chief dismissed them without working with the drafter to improve the texts. This wasted effort caused significant staff frustration.

Tearing Your Hair, Learning on the Job

  • The public affairs section does not have enough experienced grants officers. Only one person in the section, a FAST officer, had a grants warrant as of February 2014. From June through August 2013, in the absence of any public affairs section grants officer, two political/economic FAST officers signed about 100 public diplomacy grants, about which they knew little.

Not Leading By Example – Managing From Desk Via Email

  • The consular section is a small operation, processing fewer than 20,000 nonimmigrant visas, approximately 800 immigrant visas, and about 1,600 passport applications in 2013. The section chief manages from her desk and via email. This remote management style is not appropriate for the size of the operation and has a negative impact on section morale and operations.
  • The consular section chief only adjudicates high-profile or referral visa cases. Recent guidance in 13 STATE 153746 reminded consular managers that they are expected to do some interviewing themselves. The section chief’s lack of hands-on participation contributes to longer hours that the more junior employees have to spend interviewing, and remoteness from actual processing undermines her credibility as an expert. It also reduces the opportunities for management to train new personnel and to identify potential interview technique and workflow efficiencies.
  • Neither the former chargé d’affaires nor the former acting DCM reviewed the 65 cases that the consular chief handled in the past year. Failure to review the required 10 percent of visa approvals and 20 percent of refusals, per 9 FAM 41.113 PN 17 and 9 FAM 41.121 N2.3-7, leads to lack of consistency in visa issuance and refusal. Adjudication reviews are also a vital management control to prevent malfeasance.

FSN Evaluations and Health Plans

  • The human resources office memo also listed 11 locally employed staff whose performance evaluations were between 21 and 242 days late. Locally employed staff members cannot qualify for in-grade salary increases if their performance reviews are not current.
  • Although the embassy participates in the local social security retirement plan, it does not participate in the local social security health program. Instead, the embassy provides a private health plan for locally employed staff. When locally employed staff members retire, most of the social security health plans are unwilling to accept them because they have not been longstanding contributors. The retirees are left with diminished health insurance coverage for their retirement years.

Allowances Paid on Outdated Info

  • The Department of State Standardized Regulation 072.12 requires that the hardship differential report, consumables allowance report, and cost-of-living survey be submitted every 2 years. All these reports are late. The embassy is paying allowances based on outdated information.

Power Outages with No Fully Functional UPS. For 3 Years!

  • The embassy’s centralized uninterruptible power system is in disrepair and has not been fully functional for the past 3 years. As a result, the chancery building experiences frequent power outages caused by the instability of the local power infrastructure. The power outages have caused permanent damage to the server room and disrupted the network infrastructure.

 

Just before the inspection, the WHA bureau and the Bureau of Human Resources apparently agreed that, because a permanent ambassador is not likely in the foreseeable future, the Department would assign a permanent chargé d’affaires and a permanent DCM in La Paz. It only took them about five years to make up their minds.

Peter Brennan was appointed chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in La Paz in June 2014. Prior to his appointment in Bolivia, he was Minister-Counselor for Communications and Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.  It does not look like post now has a permanent DCM as Public Affairs Officer, Aruna Amirthanayagam, who was acting chargé is now Acting DCM.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between January 6 and February 4, 2014, and in La Paz, Bolivia, between March 5 and 20, 2014. Ambassador Gene Christy (team leader), Thomas Allsbury, Laurent Charbonnet, Eric Chavera, Leo Hession, Tracey Keiter, Keith Powell, Ashea Riley, Richard Sypher, Alexandra Vega, Roman Zawada, and Barbara Zigli conducted the inspection.

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Related item:

-07/31/14   Inspection of Embassy La Paz, Bolivia (ISP-I-14-16A)  [595 Kb]  Posted on July 17, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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State/OIG Files Report to Congress, Wassup With the In-Depth Review Over CBS News Allegations?

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General submitted its first semi-annual report to Congress under Steve Linick last March. The report which summarizes OIG’s work during the period October 1, 2013, through March 31, 2014 was not published online until June 2014. Looking at the investigative data from the previous report ending on September 30, 2013, you will note that the OIG registered 182 less complaints this reporting cycle. Employee misconduct is steady at 4% while conflict of interest cases were down from 17% to 4%.  Embezzlement and theft cases went from 8% to 15% and contracts and procurement fraud went from 63% to 70%.

Extracted from Semi-Annual Report, March 2014

Extracted from Semi-Annual Report, State/OIG, March 2014

 

Below is the investigative data from the previous report ending on September 30, 2013:

OIG_SA_report Sept 2013

In the report ending September 30, 2013, State/OIG told Congress it was conducting an in-depth review of Diplomatic Security’s investigative process.  This was in connection with last year’s allegations that several recent investigations were influenced, manipulated, or simply called off by senior State Department officials. (See CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal).

The Office of Investigations (INV) is conducting an independent oversight review of certain investigations conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Special Investigations Division (DS/ICI/SID). This is an in-depth review of the DS/ICI/SID investigations to assess the adequacy of the investigative process.

The current OIG report ending on March 31, 2014 makes no mention of the status or disposition of this investigation. That CBS News story broke in June 2013, so we’re now a year into this and still counting.

Oops, wait! A statement provided to CBS News by the Inspector General’s office on June 2013 said:

OIG does not comment on drafts of reports.

On its own initiative, OIG Office of Investigations has been conducting its own independent review of the allegations made. This is our standard procedure.

We staffed it independently and appropriately and they were people hired specific for this review at the end of 2012. They are on staff. We staffed it with the best people we can find at hand to do the job.

DS does not speak for us.

End of 2012 and isn’t it now July 2014?  So — wassup with that?

Mr. Linick’s report to Congress also notes that he has initiated the practice of sending out management alerts to senior Department of State and Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) officials in order to identify high-risk systemic issues requiring prompt attention and risk mitigation. He told Congress that to-date, OIG has issued two management alerts: one addressing significant vulnerabilities in the management of contract files with a combined value of $6 billion and the other addressing recurring weaknesses in the Department’s information-security program.  That’s a great initiative; that means the senior officials will not have an excuse to say later on that they were not alerted to issues that need their attention.

He also writes that the OIG goal is clear — “to act as a catalyst for effective management, accountability, and positive change for the Department, BBG, and the foreign affairs community.”

And that’s a lovely goal and all,really, except that Mr. Linick’s OIG — all together now — no longer issue the Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) for senior officials during the IG inspections at overseas missions!

No more IERs included in the official performance files (OPF), no more IERs for review by promotion boards, thus, no more IERs to potentially derail promotions.

Ambassador Franklin “Pancho” Huddle who previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan and spent five years as a senior OIG inspector at the State Department told us:

“When OIG dumped their IERs, they dumped their ability to make a real difference.” 

Boom!

When asked if we can quote him, he said, “I didn’t survive one of history’s deadliest skyjackings not to go on record.”

Ambassador Huddle and his wife survived the hijacking and the crash of  Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961, considered the deadliest hijacking involving a single aircraft before the 9/11 attacks.  He  said that he earned three promotions directly related to favorable IERs done by the OIG. He now trains special forces which “put a premium on honest appraisals.”

What he said about making a real difference — anyone want to top that?

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-03/31/14   Semiannual Report to the Congress October 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014  [11136 Kb] Posted on June 23, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Filed under Construction, Diplomatic Security, Functional Bureaus, Govt Reports/Documents, New Embassy Compound, Security, State Department, U.S. Missions, Under Secretary

U.S. Embassy Kabul Construction Bulge: From $625M to $773M, Est. Completion Now Moved to 2016

– Domani Spero

 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently evaluated the construction of U.S. Embassy Kabul due to “broad congressional interest” in the oversight and accountability of U.S. funds used in Afghanistan. The GAO wanted to see what contracts State put in place to construct new U.S. embassy facilities in Kabul starting in 2009; the extent to which construction requirements, cost, or schedule have changed, and the reasons for the changes; and the extent to which the present expansion matches projected needs.

The GAO reports that contract costs for construction have increased by nearly 24 percent, from $625.4 million to $773.9 million as of May 2014.  The original construction completion was to be the end of  summer 2014; the contractual delivery date for all permanent facilities is now anticipated for July 2016.

With the withdrawal of U.S. troops in the horizon, SIGAR recently said that “constraint on oversight of US-funded Afghan reconstruction will only worsen as more US coalition bases close” and that the “ability to monitor, manage & oversee reconstruction programs in Afghanistan will only become more difficult.”

And yet, Embassy Kabul’s permanent facilities—both older and newly-constructed office and apartment buildings—will eventually contain 1,487 desks and 819 beds.  The projected embassy staffing for 2015 is approximately 600 U.S. direct hires and 1,100 locally employed staff.  Without the military support, State would once more end up with potentially contracting its own security and life-support contractors as it did in Iraq.

Excerpt from the GAO report:

From 2002 through 2009, State took several actions to expand the U.S. embassy compound in Kabul. Initially, OBO refurbished the existing office building, built in the 1960s. Additionally, OBO completed the construction of a new chancery office building, staff apartments, and support facilities. As staffing increases continued, the embassy acquired hundreds of shipping containers for temporary offices and housing. The embassy also compressed office space by putting more desks in the new chancery and old existing office building. Today the Kabul embassy compound consists of the original compound on the west side of Great Massoud Road, referred to as the West Compound, and an expansion compound on the east side of Great Massoud Road, referred to as the East Compound.
[...]

Since the two contracts were awarded in 2009 and 2010, construction requirements have changed, costs have increased, and schedules have been extended. OBO’s original construction requirements have changed. In December 2009, OBO added two stories to planned office annex A. In September 2011, after the U.S. and Afghan governments did not reach agreement to transfer the Afghan Ministry of Public Health site to the U.S. government, OBO removed the parking facilities from Contractor 2’s contract. The embassy also requested that OBO reconfigure the existing office building’s second floor. In March 2012 and September 2013, new security upgrades to perimeter walls and guard towers were added. Because of the building alterations, OBO is building space for more desks and beds than originally planned. The new office annexes under construction are to contain 1,237 desks, a nearly 60 percent increase over the 778 desks originally planned. OBO is also building space for 661 beds, about 50 more than originally planned. 

Contract costs for construction have increased by nearly 24 percent, from $625.4 million to $773.9 million as of May 2014. (See table 1 on page 20 of the enclosure.) This $148.5 million cost increase is the result of multiple contract modifications to change construction requirements, including the transfer of construction requirements from the 1st contract to the 2nd contract.1 

The overall project schedule has also been extended. OBO had originally planned to complete all construction on the compound by the end of summer 2014; the contractual delivery date for all permanent facilities is currently July 2016. 
[...]

Factors affecting the project include: 

    • Increases in numbers and changes in composition of embassy staffing requirements. 
    • Risks introduced by State during planning, such as awarding contracts before the Afghan Ministry of Public Health site was fully acquired and tightly sequencing the work of two contractors on one construction site. 
    • Constructing new facilities on an occupied compound in a conflict environment. 
    • Contractor performance delays and transfer of construction requirements from one contract to another. 
    • Delays and changes to shipping routes of building materials due to difficulties with shipments transiting through Pakistan. 
Via GAO

Via GAO

We’ve seen this before, haven’t we?

It is difficult to determine whether current projects and existing facilities will meet future embassy needs. Long-term construction has been occurring in an unpredictable political and security environment characterized by dramatic changes in U.S. staff levels. Additionally, as the U.S. military draws down its presence in Afghanistan, State will have to decide whether to close its facilities in the field or engage support contractors to replace life-support services currently provided by the military, such as food, water, fuel, and medical services. Such changes may affect embassy staffing and operations. Future composition of U.S. agencies, staffing levels, and embassy facility needs continue to be subject to change.

Once current contracts are completed, the Kabul embassy’s permanent facilities—both older and newly-constructed office and apartment buildings—are to contain 1,487 desks and 819 beds. These totals do not include any desks or beds within temporary offices and housing that State expects to demolish. Furthermore, the desk totals assume that compressed office areas in currently crowded office buildings will be alleviated as some staff move out of those areas and into the newly completed office annexes. 

Projected embassy staffing for 2015 is approximately 600 U.S. direct hires and 1,100 locally employed staff. State is working to identify its and other agencies’ desk positions (both U.S. direct hires and locally employed staff) that will occupy the new office space. State is also examining how to accommodate new support contractors—either on or off compound—that may be used to provide needed services after the U.S. military departs Afghanistan. 

State is conducting a master planning study, due in August 2014, to address on-compound facility needs unmet by current construction. That plan may address parking facilities that were removed from the current construction project. State is also considering the continued use of various leased off-compound facilities in the future.

 

Read the full report here (pdf).

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A Blackwater Warning Before the Nisour Square Shooting and the State Dept’s Non-Response

– Domani Spero

 

A James Risen  scoop over in NYT on how a warning on Blackwater in Iraq prior to the 2007 Nisour Square shooting that killed 17 civilians was ignored by the State Department. Quick excerpt:

State Department investigators arrived in Baghdad on Aug. 1, 2007, to begin a monthlong review of Blackwater’s operations, the situation became volatile. Internal State Department documents, which were turned over to plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Blackwater that was unrelated to the Nisour Square shooting, provide details of what happened.

It did not take long for the two-man investigative team — Mr. Richter, a Diplomatic Security special agent, and Donald Thomas Jr., a State Department management analyst — to discover a long list of contract violations by Blackwater.
[...]
The armored vehicles Blackwater used to protect American diplomats were poorly maintained and deteriorating, and the investigators found that four drunk guards had commandeered one heavily armored, $180,000 vehicle to drive to a private party, and crashed into a concrete barrier.
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The investigators concluded that Blackwater was getting away with such conduct because embassy personnel had gotten too close to the contractor.
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The next day, the two men met with Daniel Carroll, Blackwater’s project manager in Iraq, to discuss the investigation, including a complaint over food quality and sanitary conditions at a cafeteria in Blackwater’s compound. Mr. Carroll barked that Mr. Richter could not tell him what to do about his cafeteria, Mr. Richter’s report said. The Blackwater official went on to threaten the agent and say he would not face any consequences, according to Mr. Richter’s later account.

Mr. Carroll said “that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” Mr. Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Department officials in Washington. He noted that Mr. Carroll had formerly served with Navy SEAL Team 6, an elite unit.
[...]
On Oct. 5, 2007, just as the State Department and Blackwater were being rocked by scandal in the aftermath of Nisour Square, State Department officials finally responded to Mr. Richter’s August warning about Blackwater. They took statements from Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas about their accusations of a threat by Mr. Carroll, but took no further action.

Condoleezza Rice, then the secretary of state, named a special panel to examine the Nisour Square episode and recommend reforms, but the panel never interviewed Mr. Richter or Mr. Thomas.

Patrick Kennedy, the State Department official who led the special panel, told reporters on Oct. 23, 2007, that the panel had not found any communications from the embassy in Baghdad before the Nisour Square shooting that raised concerns about contractor conduct.

“We interviewed a large number of individuals,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We did not find any, I think, significant pattern of incidents that had not — that the embassy had suppressed in any way.”

Read in full Mr. Risen’s piece, Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater.

Click here for text of the teleconference call on October 23, 2007 with then State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack and Ambassador Patrick F. Kennedy on the Report of the Secretary of State’s Panel on Personal Protective Services in Iraq. The Q and A below:

QUESTION: Hi, this is Brian Bennett from Time magazine. I’m wondering in these reviews — why this review wasn’t done earlier, complaints about contractor conduct have been relayed to Ambassador Khalilzad, tocharge d’affaires Margaret Scobey, to Ambassador Crocker. And I’m wondering if in looking into this you had found any communiqus that have gone out of the Embassy into main State in the months prior to the September 16th incident about concerns about contractor conduct and why wasn’t – why it took an event like September 16th for these concerns to be addressed?

AMBASSADOR KENNEDY: We — when you look through the report you’ll see that we interviewed a large number — large number of individuals. We did not find any, I think, significant pattern of incidents that had not — that the Embassy had suppressed in any way. No one told us that they had — that they had made reports to the Embassy that had been suppressed.

 

Also see the  Implementation of Recommendations from the Secretary of State’s Report on Personal Protective Service Details

We found the Panel’s 2007 report (see below).  The Panel was composed of Eric Boswell, George Joulwan, J. Stapleton Roy and Patrick F. Kennedy.  Appended at the end of the report are the list of interviewees, which includes the acting RSO named in the NYT report. It does not, however, include the names of  the Blackwater project manager, or  Jean C. Richter, the Diplomatic Security special agent nor Donald Thomas Jr., the State Department management analyst.  According to the NYT, Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas declined to comment for its article.

Mr. Richter’s report that the private security firm’s manager there had threatened to kill him, an episode that  occurred just weeks before Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square is available here via NYT.    We note also that Ambassador Kennedy was appointed Under Secretary of State for Management (M)  on November 6, 2007. Prior to assuming his position as “M,” he was Director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation (M/PRI) from May 2007.

Read the Secretary of State’s Report on Personal Protective Service Details from 2007:

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Filed under Diplomatic Security, Foreign Service, FSOs, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Leadership and Management, Org Life, Realities of the FS, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions, Under Secretary, US Embassy Baghdad, War