On July 22, The Hill reported that the Gowdy committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks announced it has called on one of Secretary of State John Kerry’s top aides to appear this week. The panel apparently wanted Jon Finer, Kerry’s chief of staff, to appear on July 29th to discuss the State Department’s compliance with the panel’s investigation.
Late on July 27, The Hill reported that the State Department has agreed to release 5,000 pages of documents to the House Select Committee on Benghazi tomorrow, July 28. This document release temporarily cancels Mr. Finer’s appearance before the panel but chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) has not ruled out any future appearance.
The new document dump comes after a standoff between the State Department and the House panel, which had previously ordered a top aide to Secretary of State John Kerry to testify on Wednesday.
After the department committed to releasing the 5,000 new pages to the committee, the hearing with that aide — Kerry’s chief of staff, Jon Finer — will be postponed until after Kerry has completed a marathon string of briefings and hearings to sell the international nuclear deal with Iran.
“If the State Department does not fulfill this production, or if production continues to be anemic and underwhelming, we will move forward with scheduling a compliance hearing before the committee,” he added.
The Hill State Dept to release 5,000 pages to Benghazi panel: The State Department has agreed to release 5,000… http://t.co/Rq0Cb88AHq
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) will hold confirmation hearings on May 20 for ambassadorial nominees for Kosovo, Georgia, Latvia, Sweden and Croatia.
The fellowship of the tortoise SFRC held confirmation hearings on March 10 (see Nominations), March 25 (see Nominations), and May 19 (see Nominations). So far, it had only cleared cleared 6 Foreign Service lists on March 26 (see Business Meeting); all were cleared by the full Senate on March 27. The SFRC is currently scheduled to take up 10 ambassadorial nominations and five FS lists on Thursday, May 21st.
Here’s what’s up for Wednesday, May 20:
Date: Wednesday, May 20, 2015 Time: 02:30 PM Location: Senate Dirksen 419 Presiding: Senator Johnson
The confirmation hearing video will be online here when available.
Of California, To Be Ambassador To The Kingdom Of Sweden
(see WH announcement of nomination dated October 23, 2014; political appointee, no Certificate of Competency posted on State Department website).
The Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attacks in Benghazi released an Interim Progress Update on May 8, 2015. Below is an excerpt from the report including an item on its intent to call mid-level managers from the State Department:
In the coming months, an additional 60 witnesses representing current and former officials and employees from the State Department, the White House and the Intelligence Community will be interviewed.
The Committee is nearing the end of its first round of interviews with State Department employees. Information obtained from this first round of interviews has raised additional questions of current and former State Department officials. Upon completion of these interviews, the Committee will begin a second round of interviews with additional State Department employees. This second round of interviews will consist of mid-level managers at the Department, many of whom were and are responsible for making day-to-day decisions and implementing the policy that is set by State Department leadership.
The Committee also intends to interview current and former senior State Department officials. These officials include Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan, Huma Abedin, Susan Rice and Patrick Kennedy, among others.
[T]he Committee intends to interview former White House and National Security Staff personnel regarding their roles in the events prior to, during and after the Benghazi attacks. These individuals include former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, former Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, former Deputy Strategic Communications Advisor Ben Rhodes, former National Security Council spokesperson Tommy Vietor, and former Director for Libya on the National Security Staff Ben Fishman. None of these individuals have previously testified before Congress regarding their role in and including knowledge of the events prior to, during or after the Benghazi attacks.
Beginning in June, the Committee intends to interview current and former Department of Defense employees about their role in the response to the Benghazi attacks. These individuals include Secretary Leon Panetta, General Martin Dempsey and General Carter Ham, among others.
The 11-page update is available to read here (pdf).
On March 10, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) held confirmation hearings for the following nominees:
Mr. Stafford Fitzgerald Haney Of New Jersey, To Be Ambassador To Costa Rica Download Testimony
Mr. Matthew T. McGuire Of The District Of Columbia, To Be United States Executive Director Of The International Bank For Reconstruction And Development For A Term Of Two Years Download Testimony
Mr. Gentry O. Smith Of North Carolina, To Be Director Of The Office Of Foreign Missions, And To Have The Rank Of Ambassador Download Testimony
Mr.Charles C. Adams Jr. Of Maryland, To Be Ambassador Of The United States Of America To The Republic Of Finland Download Testimony
On March 25, four more nominees had their confirmation hearings before the committee:
Mr. Paul A. Folmsbee Of Oklahoma, To Be Ambassador Of The United States Of America To The Republic Of Mali Download Testimony
Ms.Mary Catherine Phee Of Illinois, To Be Ambassador Of The United States Of America To The Republic Of South Sudan Download Testimony=
Ms.Cassandra Q. Butts Of The District Of Columbia, To Be Ambassador Of The United States Of America To The Commonwealth Of The Bahamas Download Testimony
Ms. Katherine Simonds Dhanani Of Florida, To Be Ambassador Of The United States Of America To The Federal Republic Of Somalia Download Testimony
On March 27, the U.S. Senate left for the Easter recess, so we won’t see the senators hard at work again until mid April. None of the nominees who already had their confirmation hearings this month were cleared before the committee left town. Regular Foreign Service officers who have been waiting confirmation for their promotions have also been stuck, some in super glue. We will have a separate post on that. The following are the 25 nominations for ambassadors and senior officials stuck in Committee.
via Wikimedia Commons
2015-03-26 PN325 | Alaina B. Teplitz, of Illinois, 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 Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.
2015-03-26 PN324Julieta Valls Noyes, 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 Croatia.
2015-03-26 PN323Atul Keshap, 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 Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Maldives.
2015-03-25 PN317Lucy Tamlyn, of New York, 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 Benin.
2015-03-25 PN316Hans G. Klemm, 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 Romania.
2015-03-25 PN315Kathleen Ann Doherty, of New York, 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 Cyprus.
2015-03-16 PN289Ian C. Kelly, of Illinois, 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 Georgia.
2015-03-11 PN280David Hale, of New Jersey, 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 Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
2015-03-04 PN238Perry L. Holloway, of South Carolina, 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 Co-operative Republic of Guyana.
2015-03-04 PN237Gregory T. Delawie, 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 Kosovo.
2015-02-25 PN212Sheila Gwaltney, 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 Kyrgyz Republic.
2015-02-25 PN211Katherine Simonds Dhanani, of Florida, 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 Federal Republic of Somalia.
2015-02-12 PN192Mary Catherine Phee, of Illinois, 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 South Sudan.
2015-02-12 PN189Charles C. Adams, Jr., of Maryland, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Finland.
2015-02-05 PN177Nancy Bikoff Pettit, 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 Republic of Latvia.
2015-02-05 PN176Stafford Fitzgerald Haney, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Costa Rica.
2015-02-05 PN175Cassandra 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.
2015-01-08 PN49Azita Raji, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Sweden.
2015-01-08 PN47Paul A. Folmsbee, of Oklahoma, 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 Mali.
Nominees for two ambassador ranked positions at the United Nations and four assistant secretary level positions at the State Department are also awaiting their confirmation hearings and/or full Senate vote.
2015-02-12 PN191 United Nations | Sarah Elizabeth Mendelson, of the District of Columbia, to be an Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations, during her tenure of service as Representative of the United States of America on the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
2015-02-12 PN190 Department of State | Sarah Elizabeth Mendelson, of the District of Columbia, to be Representative of the United States of America on the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, with the rank of Ambassador.
2015-01-29 PN131 Department of State| 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.
2015-01-16 PN87 Department of State | Brian James Egan, of Maryland, to be Legal Adviser of the Department of State.
2015-01-08 PN48 Department of State | Jennifer Ann Haverkamp, of Indiana, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
2015-01-08 PN46 Department of State | Michele Thoren Bond, of the District of Columbia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Consular Affairs).
Update: In response to our inquiry, State/OIG informed us that the 128 debarment and suspension referrals it made to the State Department “were accepted by the Department and action was taken.” However, we were also informed that the OIG actually “made more referrals, but no action has been taken by the Department to date.”*
As to the issue of OIG’s IT independence and integrity, “a memorandums of understanding have been executed in which the Department has agreed to obtain prior approval from OIG before accessing its network. In addition, we are engaging a third party to explore options to enhance the independence of our network system.”**
* * *
Last week, the State Department Inspector General Steve Linick appeared before the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs on the Senate panel’s hearing on improving the efficiency, effectiveness and independence of inspector generals. State/OIG has oversight of an agency with more than 72,000 employees (includes locally employed staff) in over 280 overseas missions and domestic entities, the BBG and the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission. These agencies’ total annual appropriated funding includes approximately $15 billion, nearly $7 billion in consular fees and other earned income, and full or partial oversight of an additional $17 billion in Department-managed foreign assistance.
Although the Department has made improvements on overseas security, challenges remain. Through our inspection and audit work, OIG continues to find security deficiencies that put our people at risk. Those deficiencies include failing to observe set-back and perimeter requirements and to identify and neutralize weapons of opportunity. Our teams also uncover posts that use warehouse space and other sub-standard facilities for offices, another security deficiency. Our audit of the Local Guard Program found that firms providing security services for embassy compounds were not fully vetting local guards they hired abroad, placing at risk our posts and their personnel. In other audits, we found that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (responsible for setting standards) and the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (responsible for constructing facilities to meet those standards) often do not coordinate adequately to timely address important security needs.
We found that follow-through on long-term security program improvements involving physical security, training, and intelligence-sharing lacked sustained oversight by Department principals. Over time, the implementation of recommended improvements slows. The lack of follow-through explains, in part, why a number of Benghazi ARB recommendations mirror previous ARB recommendations.
The Department’s obligations in FY 2014 equaled approximately $9 billion in contractual services and $1.5 billion in grants, totaling approximately $10.5 billion. However, the Department faces challenges managing its contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements. These challenges have come to light repeatedly in OIG audits, inspections, and investigations over the years. […]In FY 2014, more than 50 percent of post or bureau inspections contained formal recommendations to strengthen controls and improve administration of grants.
OIG’s assessments of the Department’s cybersecurity programs have found recurring weaknesses and noncompliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) with respect to its unclassified systems.[…] Our work in the information security area is ongoing. Since my arrival, OIG has arranged for penetration testing of the Department’s unclassified networks in order to better assess their vulnerability to attack.
What’s happening in FY2015? The following were specifically identified in IG Linick’s testimony (pdf):
Planned FY 2015 security audits include an audit of the approval and certification process used to determine employment suitability for locally employed staff and contracted employees, an audit of emergency action plans for U.S. Missions in the Sahel region of Africa, and an audit of the Vital Presence Validation Process (VP2) implementation. VP2 is the Department’s formal process for assessing the costs and benefits of maintaining its presence in dangerous locations around the world. Note: The VP2 is a result of the tragedy in Benghazi.
The DS/International Programs Directorate of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security is up for inspection. Note: This is one of the main bureaus in aftermath of the Benghazi attack that came under congressional scrutiny. Charlene Lamb has now been succeeded by Christian J. Schurman who was named Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Assistant Director for International Programs on September 15, 2014. DAS Schurman is a Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent with 27 years of service who was recently promoted to the rank of Minister Counselor in April 2014.
In FY 2015, OIG plans on issuing, among others, audits involving non-lethal aid and humanitarian assistance in response to the Syrian crisis, the Iraq Medical Services Contract, and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement’s Embassy Air Wing Contract in Iraq.
ESP is conducting a joint review with the Department of Justice’s OIG of the handling of the use of lethal force during a counternarcotics operation in Honduras in 2012.
IG Linick also highlighted new OIG initiatives to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of OIG’s independent oversight of the Department’s programs and operations including:
the issuance of issue Management Alerts and Management Assistance Reports
the creation of the Office of Evaluations and Special Projects (ESP), and using ESP to improve OIG’s capabilities to meet statutory requirements of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012
new oversight of overseas contingency operations specifically for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR)—the U.S.-led overseas contingency operation directed against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),
data and technology enhancements
suspension and debarment: between 2011 and 2014, OIG referred 128 cases to the Department for action *
new offices in Charleston, South Carolina, where one of the Department’s Global Financial Services Center resides, and in Frankfurt, Germany, the site of one of the Department’s Regional Procurement Support Office.
co-locating an OIG attorney-investigator as a full-time Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys (SAUSAs) in the U.S. Attorney Office for the Eastern District of Virginia in order to prosecute more quickly and effectively cases involving fraud against the Department of State
This hearing followed a well -publicized accessibility issues the Peace Corps and EPA OIG had with their own agencies. In his prepared testimony, IG Linick stated that “unfettered and complete access to information is the linchpin that ensures independence and objectivity for the entire OIG community.”
He was careful to note “the importance of forging productive relationships with Department leadership and decision-makers” and cited the Department notice issued by Secretary Kerry at the start of his tenure over a year ago “outlining OIG authorities and obligations under the IG Act and advising staff of our need for prompt access to all records and employees.” He then shared with Congress the OIG’s two main challenges:
Access: Generally, most of our work is conducted with the Department’s full cooperation and with timely production of material. However, there have been occasions when the Department has imposed burdensome administrative conditions on our ability to access documents and employees. At other times, Department officials have initially denied access on the mistaken assumption that OIG was not entitled to confidential agency documents. In these instances, OIG ultimately was able to secure compliance but only after delays and sometimes with appeals to senior leadership. These impediments have at times adversely affected the timeliness of our oversight work, resulting in increased costs for taxpayers.Delays in responding to document requests also occur because the requested information has not been maintained at all or in a manner to allow timely retrieval. Such disorganization of information may negatively impact not only OIG audits, inspections, evaluations, and investigations but also the integrity of Department programs and operations. For example, an OIG Management Alert identified missing or incomplete files for contracts and grants with a combined value of $6 billion.
OIG Network Vulnerabilities: Vulnerabilities in the Department’s unclassified network also affect OIG’s IT infrastructure, which is part of the same network. We noted in our November 2013 information security Management Alert that there are literally thousands of administrators who have access to Department databases. That access runs freely to OIG’s IT infrastructure and creates risk to OIG operations. Indeed, a large number of Department administrators have the ability to read, modify, or delete any information on OIG’s network including sensitive investigative information and email traffic, without OIG’s knowledge. OIG has no evidence that administrators have actually compromised OIG’s network. However, the fact that the contents of our unclassified network may easily be accessed and potentially compromised unnecessarily places our independence at risk. We have begun assessing the best course of action to address these vulnerabilities. **
The Democrats have put up its own Select Committee on Benghazi Minority site. Benghazi on the Record was prepared at the request of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the Select Committee on Benghazi, “to collect—in one place—as much information as possible regarding questions that have already been asked and answered about the attacks in Benghazi.”
Then there are the other Benghazi related sites prep and ready:
House Republicans: Accountability Investigation of Benghazi
House GOP Benghazi site: “For over a year now, House Committees have engaged in serious, deliberate, and exhaustive oversight investigations of what led up to this tragic event, what happened that night, and why the White House still refuses to tell the whole truth. All of the unclassified information and findings from this ongoing investigation can be found on this website.”
According to thehill.com, the super-PAC American Bridge and Correct the Record, a group that defends former Secretary Clinton, has launched a rapid-response website at benghazicommittee.comaka Benghazi Research Center.
Media Matters For America
“All Questions Answered”
Media Matters For America, another pro-Clinton group, launched a guide to the committee called “All Questions Answered.”
No doubt this is just the beginning. Twitter handle scramble should happen just about now. Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, AMA on Reddit, blogs still up for grabs.
As the House Select Committee on Benghazi prepares for its first hearing this week, a former State Department diplomat is coming forward with a startling allegation: Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to “separate” damaging documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board investigating security lapses surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
According to former Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell, the after-hours session took place over a weekend in a basement operations-type center at State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C.
When he arrived, Maxwell says he observed boxes and stacks of documents. He says a State Department office director, whom Maxwell described as close to Clinton’s top advisers, was there. Though the office director technically worked for him, Maxwell says he wasn’t consulted about her weekend assignment.
“She told me, ‘Ray, we are to go through these stacks and pull out anything that might put anybody in the [Near Eastern Affairs] front office or the seventh floor in a bad light,’” says Maxwell. He says “seventh floor” was State Department shorthand for then-Secretary of State Clinton and her principal advisors.
“I asked her, ‘But isn’t that unethical?’ She responded, ‘Ray, those are our orders.’ ”
In Ms. Attkisson’s report, Mr. Maxwell criticizes the ARB for failing to interview key people at the White House, State Department and the CIA, including Secretary Clinton. We actually see no point in the ARB interviewing Secretary Clinton, given that she tasked the ARB to do the investigation and that the report is submitted to her. The regs as it exist right now does not even require that the Secretary submits the actual report to Congress, only that the Secretary of State “report to the Congress on any program recommendations and the actions taken on them.”
12 FAM 036.3: The Secretary will, not later than 90 days after the receipt of a Board’s program recommendations, submit a report to the Congress on each such recommendation and the action taken or intended to be taken with respect to that recommendation.
So we’re not hung up on the fact that she was not interviewed But who gets the actual ARB report is probably one more thing that Congress really do need to fix in the regs.
Mr. Maxwell also named other officials who allegedly were never interviewed by the ARB: 1) Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, who managed department resources in Libya; 2) Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro; and 3) White House National Security Council Director for Libya Ben Fishman.
ARB Benghazi in its public report never identified all the people it interviewed in the conduct of its investigation. ABB Kenya/Tanzania did that and the list is online. We still cannot understand why those names in the Benghazi investigation are not public. What kind of accountability is it when we can’t even tell who the ARB investigators talked to? Redact the names of the CIA people if needed, but the names of those interviewed should be public unless there is a compelling security reason not to do so. There is an opportunity here for the State Department to declassify that part of ARB Benghazi’s report.
At the heart of this latest bombshell on Benghazi is that the weekend document session, according to Mr. Maxwell, was reportedly held “in the basement of the State Department’s Foggy Bottom headquarters in a room underneath the “jogger’s entrance.”
This would be the 21st Street entrance; and the room is underneath the jogger’s entrance [insert room number for prospective Foggy Bottom visitors]. We understand that FOIA has had offices there in the past but that most of the FOIA offices moved to SA-2. Apparently, the only office the A organization chart shows to be in the Harry S. Truman basement are B2A61 the Facilities Managment Office and B258 the Office of General Services Management. But which office is called the Emergency Management Operations Center? Some media sites are already calling this the “boiler room operation.”
We have generally been disappointed with the Benghazi investigations. The fact that it has become a political football to throw back and forth with all the offense and defense attendant of the game makes us cringe; even more so, every “new” book or revelation gave us a sad.
But we think this one is a most serious allegation and cannot be swatted away by a State Department spokesman simply calling the implication that documents were withheld “totally without merit.” A State Department spokesman also told Ms. Attkisson that “it would have been impossible for anybody outside the Accountability Review Board (ARB) to control the flow of information because the board cultivated so many sources.” So, hypothetically, if folks scrubbed through the documents as alleged, then an instruction went down to IT to removed those docs from the system — that could not really happen, could it?
If this is not true, if no document scrub happened in the basement of the State Department as alleged by a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, then we’d like the agency spokesman to say so clearly and call out Mr. Maxwell on this. Security access records should also indicate if these five individuals were at the State Department that weekend, when this alleged “review” took place.
So, let’s hear it people. But. Without the word salad, please.
In any case, now that this allegation is out in the open, the individuals named or positions cited in the Attkisson report are presumably candidates for an appearance before the Benghazi Select Committee:
1) two officials, close confidants of Secretary Clinton (Congressman Chaffetz said that he was told then-Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan were there and overseeing the operation)
2) one office director (??? from NEA bureau)
3) one intern (??? about to become the second most famous intern in Wash, D.C.)
4) State Department ombudsman (Office of the Ombudsman – Ombudsman Shireen Dodson)
One entity not included in the report but potentially a candidate for an appearance in the Select Committee is the Office of the Inspector General. In September 2013, State/OIG under the then acting OIG issued a report on the “process by which Accountability Review Boards (ARB/Board) are established, staffed, supported, and conducted as well as the measures to track implementation of ARB recommendations.”
In any case, CA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Michele Bond has been the Acting A/S since April 2014. This past June, at a hearing at the Senate Subcommittee on Tourism, Competitiveness and Innovation on The State of U.S. Travel and Tourism Industry, Ms. Bond discussed how the bureau is meeting increasing demand for visas worldwide, particularly in Brazil, India, Mexico and China (see prepared statement). Stressing that the State Department’s “top priority in visa adjudication is always national security,” the prepared statement provides a look at where the bureau is seeking to expand. Specifically, it seeks legislative authority to expand the Interview Waiver Program and wanted to see an expanded Visa Waiver Program to include additional countries to the 37 current participants. The Interview Waiver Program (visa applications without personal appearances) is potentially controversial given its history, and probably the reason the bureau is seeking legislative authority from Congress.
Below are excerpts from the prepared statement:
In 2013, Brazilian visitors contributed $10.5 billion to the U.S. economy, a 13 percent increase from the prior year. During the same period, Chinese visitors contributed $9.8 billion, an 11 percent increase from the prior year, or $5,400 per visitor. To address this important opportunity to contribute to our country’s economy, 167 officers perform consular work in Mission China. Consular Affairs created over 50 new officer positions in China in fiscal year 2012 alone. In the same year, we increased consular staffing in Mission Brazil by 40 percent within six months, and eventually increased staffing by more than 100 percent. We met the President’s Executive Order target of 40 percent capacity increase in Brazil in June 2012 and in China in November 2012, both ahead of schedule.
In 2011, we realized our traditional hiring mechanisms wouldn’t allow us to deploy officers quickly enough to meet exploding visa demand in Brazil and China. We weren’t recruiting enough Portuguese- and Mandarin-speaking officers and could not wait for new entry-level officers to learn these essential languages. In response, the Department created a rapid hiring pilot program to ramp up staffing at critical needs posts. These adjudicators met a high bar for qualifications and underwent a rigorous screening process to assess their skills and background for these positions. The first class of these adjudicators, appointed for one-year periods and limited to a maximum of five consecutive years, began in January 2012. That year, we brought on a total of 24 Mandarin-speakers and 19 Portuguese-speakers, all of whom arrived at posts by mid-July. In fiscal year 2013, we expanded the program to recruit Spanish-speakers. To date, we have hired and deployed 59 adjudicators under this program to China, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, representing an added capacity of 900,000 visa adjudications per year.
Interview Waiver Program
We are utilizing technology and advanced fraud detection techniques to help us expand the pool of applicants for whom interviews can be waived under the Interview Waiver Program. This allows us to focus resources on higher-risk visa applicants while facilitating travel for low-risk applicants.
We are working with our colleagues across the government to expand this successful program, which became permanent in January 2014. In fiscal year 2013, we waived over 380,000 interviews, and a recent study showed that tourist and business visitor visa holders whose interviews were waived, all of whom were subject to the full scope of security checks, posed no greater risk for an overstay than those who were interviewed. We are interested in explicit legislative authority to supplement the existing Interview Waiver Program by adding additional low-risk applicant groups such as citizens of Visa Waiver Program members applying for other types of visas such as student or work visas; continuing students moving to a higher level of education; non-U.S. citizen Global Entry and NEXUS trusted traveler program members; and holders of visas in other categories, such as students and workers, who wish to travel for tourism or business. The Department is interested in working with Congress on legislation specifically authorizing the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to enhance our interview waiver programs.
Visa Waiver Program
[W]e are working with our U.S. government colleagues to expand the Visa Waiver Program, consistent with U.S. law, as was recently done with the addition of Chile to the program earlier this year. With this designation, Chile now joins 37 other participants and is currently the only participant from Latin America. The Department supports the proposed amendments contained in the Senate-passed Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, because we believe they would restructure the Visa Waiver Program in a manner that would strengthen law enforcement cooperation, while maintaining the program’s robust counterterrorism and criminal information sharing initiatives and promoting commerce and tourism in the United States.
No to Premium Visa Processing
However, we do not recommend offering premium visa processing. We believe many visa applicants would be willing to pay any “premium processing fee” in the false belief that payment of a higher fee will ensure visa issuance, thus making any such program less efficient and compromising the integrity of the visa process. The best approach to achieve greater efficiencies is the continued prioritization of student, medical, and urgent business travel applications, which is already in effect at consular posts worldwide. We will also pursue increased visa validity where reciprocal agreement can be obtained with interagency support.