Category Archives: Interagency Cooperation

Joshua Foust on The Uncomfortable Questions Not Raised by Benghazi

In the most recent Oversight Committee hearing, State Department’s Gregory Hicks mentioned that there were 55 people in the two annexes in Benghazi.  Earlier reports says that a total of 30 people were evacuated from Benghazi. Only  7 of the 30 evacuees were employees of the State Department.  So if 55 is correct, there were actually 48 CIA folks in Benghazi.  How come no one is throwing a tantrum to hear what they have to say?

Joshua Foust writes that the press and Congress are asking the wrong questions.


The eight-month controversy over the attacks on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi reintensified last week, as the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Tripoli testified before a panel at the House of Representatives. The hearing, however, seemed to focus not on the attack itself, but rather on what happened afterward: the content of the talking points handed to UN Ambassador Susan Rice, and whether President Obama referred to it as terrorism quickly enough.Indeed, the entire scandal, as it exists in the public, is a bizarre redirection from the serious failures for which no one has yet answered.
The CIA’s conduct during and after Benghazi should be the real scandal here, not the order in which certain keywords make their way into press conferences. It is a tragedy that two diplomats died, including the first ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979. Sadly, they are part of a growing number of American diplomats hurt or killed in the line of duty. Embassies and diplomatic facilities were attacked 13 times under President Bush, resulting in dozens of dead but little action. If future Benghazis are to be avoided, we need to grapple with why the attack and our inadequate response unfolded the way it did.

Many of those issues were raised in the Accountability Review Board report that the State Department released last December. But to this day, the complicated nature of CIA operations and, more importantly, how they put at risk the other American personnel serving alongside them have gone largely unremarked upon. It’s past time to demand answers from Langley.


Read in full here.

Joshua Foust is a freelance writer and an analyst. Check out his website here:; follow him on Twitter @joshuafoust.

This piece originally appeared in Medium, a new elegant publishing platform from Evan Williams, of Blogger and Twitter fame. Check it out.


– DS











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Filed under Blogs of Note, CIA, Congress, Diplomatic Attacks, Diplomatic Security, Federal Agencies, Foreign Service, Interagency Cooperation, Media, Questions, Realities of the FS, Security, State Department

US Embassy Mexico: Kept in the Dark on ATF’s Fast and Furious Escapades

Richard A. Serrano of LAT’s Washington Bureau reports that officials at the US Embassy in  Mexico raised concerns that U.S. guns were showing up at crime scenes in Mexico. But ATF officials kept the embassy in the dark about the operation to sell weapons to straw purchasers to trace smuggling routes.

If true, this is an excellent example of interagency uncooperation. Excerpt:

As weapons from the United States increasingly began showing up at homicide scenes in Mexico last summer, U.S. Embassy officials cabled Washington that authorities needed to focus on small-time operators supplying guns to the drug cartels.

Embassy officials did not know that at least some of the weapons were part of an ill-fated sting run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in which illegal straw purchasers were allowed to buy guns so smuggling routes into Mexico could be traced. Ultimately, ATF lost track of an estimated 1,700 weapons that were part of the so-called Fast and Furious operation, which began in November 2009.

Active links added above. Read the whole thing here.

LAT has also obtained a copy of an SBU telegram (sensitive but unclassified) from US Embassy Mexico dated July 2, 2010 sent via SMART with the subject “Mexico Weapons Trafficking – The Blame Game.” The cable includes the names of the drafting officer, clearance officers (EXEC, POL, ATF, CBP, ICE). Click here to read the cable.

Fast and Furious was somebody’s dumb idea masquerading as a light bulb, approved by several somebodies who sign off on it. But nobody with spine and integrity has come forward to claim this exhibit in “poor judgment.” I’m waiting for a top dog to step to the podium and announced to all interested that “mistakes were made.”    


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State Dept OIG looked into SIPDIS captioned cables shared in the SIPRNet two years before WikiLeaks

In March 2008, the State Department’s Inspector General Office did a Review of Department of State Headquarters Cable Drafting and Distribution Process (Report Number OIG-SIA-08-03, March 2008).  It’s an unclassified report available online. You can read it here.

Nothing striking in that report which was conducted (1) to determine the adequacy of the rules and regulations that govern cable drafting and subsequent distribution and (2) to determine whether these rules and regulations are being followed. Its conclusion:

“This review found the majority of the rules and regulations governing cable drafting to be adequate. [...]  It was found that cable drafting rules and regulations are being followed except for those pertaining to the protection of personally sensitive information. Nearly 12 percent of the unclassified randomly selected cables were found to contain personally sensitive information.”

This OIG review recommends that:

  • The Department of State determine and promulgate through Department Notices and the Foreign Affairs Manual the specific types of information that require protection as personally identifiable information, and
  • The Department require that individual cable access user privileges be based upon need-to-know requirements and be supervisory approved.

But here is the part of the report that I find interesting:

“This review is the first in a series of two reviews concerning the drafting and distribution of Department cables as they pertain to the protection of sensitive and classified information. The second review in this series will focus on the posting of Department cables to the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) via the SIPRNet Distribution (SIPDIS) caption.”

As pointed elsewhere in the interwebs, the data sharing was a reaction to the demands of the post 9/11 world.  This paper publicly released in 2005 talks about the Net Centric Diplomacy as part of DOD’s Horizontal Fusion portfolio (Profiling and Testing Procedures for a Net Centric Data Provider by Derek Pack). The roll out at State presumably happened after 2005.   The fact that the OIG reviewed the SIPDIS captioned cables in the Net Centric Diplomacy project some time after its roll out indicate to us that there were concerns about it within the State Department.  Since the first part of the review was released in March 2008, we presume that the second part would have been concluded later that year or early in 2009.  We spent hours looking online for the second part of the review to no avail.

Before our eyeballs fell out, we decided to ask the OIG directly. Bless their souls, the press folks at the Inspector General’s Office actually respond to email inquiries, even from bloggers in tacky pjs.

Douglas Welty, State OIG’s Congressional Public Affairs Officer responded to our email inquiry with the following:

“The Office of Inspector General is closely following the current situation involving Department of State cables and WikiLeaks. As a part of our oversight responsibility, and as a follow-up to the March 2008 report you cite below, it would be appropriate for us to initiate a review of lessons learned and processes and procedures implemented to ensure the security of sensitive and classified Department information.”

Well, I thought good to know and that’s that.  But the following day we received  a follow-up response from the amazing Mr. Welty:

“I have been doing a bit more research and am able to confirm that there was an OIG report, issued in September 2008, subsequent to the one in March 2008 about which you originally inquired. It was titled “Review of the Process for Sharing Department Cables via the Net-Centric Diplomacy (NCD) Program. However, this was a CLASSIFIED report so it was not posted to our Website nor in any other way made available to the general public.”

We went and dug out the Office of Inspector General Semiannual Report to the Congress, April 1, 2008 to September 30, 2008. And it did have the following item on the Review of the Process for Sharing Department Cables via the Net-Centric Diplomacy Program (SIA-08-04):

“The Net-Centric Diplomacy (NCD) program was accomplishing its intended pur­pose of facilitating the sharing of classified and unclassified cables originating from the Department and overseas posts with other U.S. Government agencies that have Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) access. Some posts were not sharing cables with other government agencies via the SIPRNet distribution (SIPDIS) caption because of the mistaken belief that posting cables to the NCD database requires SIPRNet access. The Department had not provided adequate guidance regarding the specific types of personally identifiable information that should be excluded from cables posted to the NCD, so as to avoid the potential for violations of the Privacy Act.”

Anyway, so there, the OIG did review State’s the cable sharing with DOD two years before WikiLeaks.  But besides what we see in its publicly available report to Congress, no one can talk about its findings. And we can’t tell if there were any red flags cited because that report as Mr. Welty points out, is classified.

If you can convince State’s OIG to declassify this report, good luck!

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Filed under Govt Reports/Documents, Interagency Cooperation, Leaks|Controversies, State Department

The downside to better information-sharing: the human factor aka rotten apple with a security clearance

Via WaPo by Ellen Nakashima: With better sharing of data comes danger: Excerpt

The American intelligence community came under heavy criticism after Sept. 11, 2001, for having failed to share information that could have prevented the attacks that day. In response, officials from across the government sought to make it easier for various agencies to share sensitive information – effectively giving more analysts wider access to government secrets.
“One of the consequences [of 9/11] is you gave a lot of people access to the dots,” said Jeffrey H. Smith, a former CIA general counsel. “At least one of the dots, apparently, was a bad apple.”

While WikiLeaks has not identified the source of the more than 250,000 cables, suspicions have centered on a 23-year-old Army private, Bradley Manning, who was also the suspected source of the military intelligence documents from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a series of chats with an online companion, Manning said this spring that “*someone* i know” – apparently a coy self-reference – had gained access to 260,000 State Department cables from embassies and consulates around the world “explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail.”

“Hilary Clinton [sic], and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning, and finds an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format to the public,” he said.
To prevent further breaches, the Pentagon announced Sunday it had ordered the disabling of a feature on its classified computer systems that allows material to be copied onto thumb drives or other removable devices. (Manning reportedly told an associate that he once copied data onto a CD labeled as Lady Gaga music.)

The Defense Department will limit the number of classified systems from which material can be transferred to unclassified systems. It will also require that two people be involved in moving data from classified to unclassified systems.

Such efforts “should have been done long ago before any of this happened,” said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. The rush to knock down so-called “stove-piping” without hardening operational security “was asking for trouble,” he said.
A former senior intelligence official said that over the past decade access to Siprnet has ballooned to about 500,000 or 600,000 people, including embassy personnel, military officials from other countries, state National Guard officials and Department of Homeland Security personnel.
He said that the answer to network breaches is not to restrict access but to improve the vetting of personnel by strengthening the clearance process.

“The fact that you’ve got someone exfiltrating information doesn’t mean you’ve got a technical problem,” he said. “You’ve got a human problem.”

Read the whole thing here.

The FS blog, Dead Men Working has an item here on the the leaks and security clearance.

We must confess that we fell off our horse when we read this item above: “Pentagon announced Sunday it had ordered the disabling of a feature on its classified computer systems that allows material to be copied onto thumb drives or other removable devices.”

Even after the previously war log leaks, the Pentagon only ordered the disabling of this function yesterday?

Holy mother of goat and all her wingnut nephews!
Elsewhere in the interwebs, it has been reported that Hillary Clinton has “ordered” FSOs to spy on diplomats in the UN, because see there’s a cable out there with her name at the bottom.

Ughh! Are they saying that she wrote all those cables that have her name on it?  Really? But ALL cables coming out of the State Department when the Secretary of State is not traveling will have “CLINTON” as sign-off signature, approved through multiple layers of the alphabet soup, functional and regional bureaus, etc. She does not actually write them, dudes. And when she is traveling, the sign-off signature changes to whoever is in charge of the building, like “STEINBERG” or “BURNS” (since new D/MR “NIDES” has not been confirmed yet).Yes, that building has a life of its own.

The same is true with the embassy cables. The leaked cables were the transmitted ones; they usually do not include the names of the writers.  And like the State Department cables, they all have the embassies’ chiefs of missions in the sign-off lines. Does it mean the ambassador is XYZ country wrote all those cables? Goodness, no! Would they be able to go anywhere else or do anything else if they were all tied to their desks?

We suspect that this leak will have several repercussions on process, access and and more, and most probably for the short term, make the embassy reporting jobs more difficult than they already are (Already, OMB under newly confirmed director, Jack Lew has issued a Nov 28 memorandum on WikiLeaks and the Mishandling of  Classified Information).  But after reading some of the published cables, we feel that this is middle bad, not top bad. That could quickly change if anyone, including sources named in these cables end up in a pickle, i.e. gets whacked.  Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations did call the leak “somewhere in the middle” when asked to rate this “diplomatic disaster” whether “bad, not so bad, or somewhere in the middle.” 

Benedict Brogan, the Daily Telegraph’s Deputy Editor writes about the embarrassment of the leak which we thought makes some sense: 

[H]owever much the Guardian, the New York Times and Julian Assange assure us that this represents a shattering blow to every assumption we hold about foreign relations, the fact remains that it’s a collection of little substance that will do nothing to reshape geo-politics. The Saudis would like someone to whack Iran? No kidding. Afghanistan is run by crooks? Really? Hillary Clinton would like to know a lot more about the diplomats she is negotiating against? You surprise me. The Russian government may have links to organised crime? Pass the smelling salts, Petunia. The Americans are secretly whacking al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen? What, you thought the Yemenis were doing it? Muammar Qaddafi has a full time, pneumatic Ukrainian ‘nurse’? Nice one. Diplomats are terrified of Pakistan’s nukes? Me too. And so on, ad infinite boredom. Perhaps something better will pop up, but nothing I’ve read since last night’s surprises.
Effective diplomacy involves all the transgressions Wikileaks is exposing. Embarrassment is just the consequence of exposure. Perhaps the more sophisticated response is to stand firm, to assume a degree of worldiness from those involved in the world of diplomacy (who will for example enjoy seeing the US Secretary of State squirming about her UN spying operation, but only because theirs hasn’t been exposed as well), and to accept that occasional embarrassment is an occupational hazard in a 21st century marked by vast quantities of information circulating in all too accessible digital form.

True. Dat.  It’s not totally technology or system error, but also user error, the human factor aka: the rotten apple with a security clearance syndrome. Should information sharing now take a back seat for fear of rotten apples with thumb drives?  

Former diplomat and Wilson Center scholar Aaron Miller writes that “The republic will survive the WikiLeaks brouhaha; but there’s a lesson here for all of us: whether you’re in Washington or Kabul, think and think hard before you draft.” We agree about the survival of the republic but — do we really want our diplomats to be more politically correct than be brutally candid when reporting to our policy makers? What used would that be to our decision makers? 

And here the cables are called “insulting [to] world leaders.” You should read what foreign diplomats wrote about George W. and our congressional leaders.  Oh, right, you can’t — those are all in secret diplomatic channels going overseas, too.  Secret for now until WL gets there.

We do think that in the future, it would be nice if there’s a well tested fire extinguisher right over there before somebody shouts the order to bring the “stove-pipe” walls down.      

In any case, to those who are shocked, shocked at reading these leaked cables — a simple perspective on the diplomatic tradecraft:  The foreign diplomats in WashDC, the UN in NYC and elsewhere around the United States are there for the view. Really.

Update @ 8:31 pm.

The Secretary of State has just completed her 1pm EST press appearance addressing the leaks. We will post video/text here as soon as they are available.


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Filed under 67, Current Stuff, Defense Department, Foreign Affairs, Interagency Cooperation, Secretary of State, State Department, Technology and Work, U.S. Missions

Will New Embassy Addis Ababa go on staggered lunches from 9am-3pm?

Lunch at NyalaImage by faria! via Flickr

I’m not trying to be funny. Really.  See — the New Embassy Compound (NEC) in Addis Ababa is set to open later this year. It will be sub-Saharan Africa‘s largest with room for 568 mission employees. But its cafeteria apparently only fits 80 hungry folks.  Unless OBO do something, the embassy presumably will have to cope with staggered lunch hours. For the cafeteria to feed most of the working folks at the embassy, it has to have at least 7 lunch hour seatings.  Perhaps start serving lunch at 9 am and ending at 3 pm? Or they can have strict half hour lunches starting at 11:00 and ending at 2:00? What? But they all have to eat ….    

Below is an excerpt from the OIG report:

The new embassy in Addis Ababa, with space for 568 employees, will be sub-Saharan Africa’s largest. Although the facility was originally designed for 472 employees, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations enlarged it to accommodate 96 additional employees after the project was awarded. The mission had not anticipated the exceptionally rapid growth in USAID, CDC, and military and law enforcement operations when the original planning numbers were created. The new embassy project director has coordinated with each agency that will occupy the building to assign spaces and to accommodate new requirements. Space remains tight, particularly in the controlled access area, with pressure to fit in additional USAU and military positions.
The new embassy’s cafeteria has seating room for only 80 people, a serious issue in an embassy with 568 employees and no restaurants nearby. The cafeteria was sized far too small for the original 427 occupants of the building, even before an additional 96 positions were added to the building plan. The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations has offered no solutions to this problem, leaving it to the embassy to cope.
Embassy Addis Ababa’s 2011 Mission Strategic Plan requests only one additional U.S. direct-hire position, an information systems officer. In addition, although not reflected in the strategic plan, USAID expects to request NSDD-38 approval for 15-30 U.S. employees and 30-50 locally employed staff to manage and support the President’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative. USAID Washington hopes to assign at least ten development leadership initiative positions (akin to the Depart- ment’s entry-level officer positions) to the USAID mission in Addis Ababa, including positions in contracting and finance. None of these positions has been approved via the required NSDD-38 process, nor is there space in the new embassy building for this level of growth.
The embassy does not currently require all agencies to use the NSDD-38 process to request permission to add U.S. personal service contract employees to their staff. These personnel, however, consume the same embassy resources as a U.S. direct-hire employee, including office space, housing, and other ICASS services. They also fall under chief of mission authority for security and other purposes. If the mission does not request NSDD-38 approval for U.S. personal services contractors, agencies can add positions without regard to the effect that they will have on overall mission resources.

Related Item:
OIG Report No. ISP-I-10-51A, Embassy Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, April 2010

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Filed under Africa, Functional Bureaus, Govt Reports/Documents, Interagency Cooperation, U.S. Missions

OIG recommends precondition for continued TDY of Media Information Support Team (MIST) in Addis Ababa

In the mistImage via Wikipedia

Here we continue peeling off the 91-page onion provided us by the Office of the Inspector General on US Embassy Addis Ababa.  

In 2009, AFRICOM released a Fact Sheet on MIST:

Military Information Support Teams (MISTs) are funded by the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCCOM) and support Department of State and U.S. Embassies by augmenting or broadening existing public diplomacy efforts. The MIST’s partnerships with their respective U.S. Embassy Country Teams have demonstrated their ability to successfully provide advice and assistance to partner nations in the development of information activities. Synchronized with embassy goals and objectives and with Country Team oversight, the teams articulate USG messages by informing, clarifying and persuading foreign audiences. MISTs primarily work in coordination with partner nation agencies in support of U.S. and partner nation’s objectives, policies, interests and U.S. Africa Command Theater Security Cooperation objectives.

Sounds good on paper. Not to mention the funding they get which dwarfs PD funding at the embassy level.

The most recent OIG report on US Embassy Addis talks about DOD’s Media Information Support Teams (MIST) in Ethiopia:    

Reflecting the increased U.S. military presence in the Horn of Africa, Embassy Addis Ababa currently has a four-person Department of Defense media information support team. Members of the team are not covered under the National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 38 process and are in Addis Ababa under a long-term but purportedly temporary arrangement. They report locally to the Defense attaché and ultimately to their command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Office space for the team has become contentious in that there is no room for them as temporary employees in the already overly subscribed-for new embassy compound, and their current quarters are slated for destruction. The team appears to have limited understanding of chief of mission authorities and would benefit from tighter oversight and integration into the mission. For example, they believe that only the chief of mission can instruct them and thus that there is no need for approval of their projects by the public affairs officer. Without at least informal coordination with the public affairs officer, however, the OIG team believes that the military information support team will continue not to fully factor into their proposals and activities the sociocultural context of Ethiopia. The OIG team left an informal recommendation that the chargé d’affaires meet with the military information support team to discuss better coordination with the public affairs section, as a precondition for continued temporary duty in Ethiopia. Further, the Ambassador could insist that the team take direction from the public affairs officer, who would submit formal input for their annual performance reviews. This practice has worked well at other missions with a military information support team.

A further OIG team concern is that the military information support team spends significant time and resources in identifying and developing projects – and leading local contacts to assume they will be awarded a contract – before vetting proposals with relevant mission elements. With such sunk costs, other embassy offices generally pass these projects on with only minor edits rather than a serious review. A better practice would be to coordinate the projects with the public affairs and political/economic sections earlier on.

“Limited understanding” of chief of mission (COM) authority, of course, can spell big trouble for the country effort. Ambassador Charles Ray (formerly to Cambodia) has an informative piece (with real examples) and some interesting questions on Defining Lines of Authority in a 2009 issue of the Armed Forces Journal:

During nearly 47 years of combined military and civilian service, I have noted that conflicts over who is in charge arise from two main causes: lack of understanding by both military and civilian about each other’s cultures, and lack of clearly stated lines of authority in nontraditional situations.
Military units, particularly those deployed abroad for short-term missions like NEOs, cannot be expected to be sensitive to or even aware of the foreign policy situation. But then, that is why the president has vested authority for coordination in the COM.

In 2008, Ambassador Robert Gribbin (formerly to Rwanda and Central African Republic) also wrote in American Diplomacy about COM authority:

“[T]he ambassador has absolute authority over personnel and operations in his or her country of assignment. We should think about and treat non-resident AFRICOM personnel exactly as we considered previous command elements. Visitors need country clearances. JCET (exercises), IMET and ACOTA (training), FMS (sales), TSCTP (anti-terrorism), and other programs, training, and exercises are subject to ambassadorial approval. Only CJTFHOA (Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa) forces — 1500 troops stationed at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti — fall under the operational command of a CoCom (formerly called a CINC), which is currently CENTCOM (as the shift to AFRICOM control has yet to be effected). In accordance with existing practice such combat elements enjoy a separate chain of command, even though their in-country, non-combat activities — drilling wells in Djibouti for example — remain subject to ambassadorial oversight. Since aside from CJTFHOA, AFRICOM does not anticipate stationing additional combat personnel on the continent, i.e., no other bases, exceptions to chief of mission authority should not occur elsewhere.

In addition to misinterpretation of lines of authority and cultural disconnect, we have to recognize the elephant in the room – funding inequities.  I don’t know how much MIST has for Addis Ababa but the OIG report indicates that the embassy’s actual FY 2009 budget for public diplomacy was $529,100 (with public diplomacy representation at $6,800). However much it is, you can be sure that the MIST money is more than the embassy’s PD budget (see page 39).  Just an example, in Somalia, the Embassy reportedly had $30,000 to spend on public diplomacy while the MIST team had $600,000.  Let’s think about that for a moment. Over there, DOD gets to spend 20 times more than the Embassy on public diplomacy efforts.  Tell me again, that money has nothing to do with the bad equation.

Related Item: 
OIG Report No. ISP-I-10-51A, Embassy Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, April 2010

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Filed under Africa, Countries 'n Regions, Defense Department, Govt Reports/Documents, Interagency Cooperation, Public Diplomacy, U.S. Missions

Houston, we have a problem … at USAID

Whether you like it or not, USAID is a poor shadow of its old self.  Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) which provided a background paper to the Obama-Biden Transition Project had stark things to say about USAID staffing:

The number of employees at USAID has dropped from 4,300 in 1975, to 3,600 in 1985, to 3,000 in 1995. As of September 2007, USAID was staffed with 2,417 direct hire staff (1,324 foreign service officers and 1,093 civil servants) and 908 staff with limited appointments (628 personal services contractors and 280 Pasas, Rasas, and others). In addition, the agency employed 4,557 Foreign Service nationals at missions overseas. While staffing levels have declined, program responsibility has increased from approximately $8 billion in 1995 to approximately $13 billion in 2007 (in 2005 dollars). USAID has set a target of a contracting officer managing a range of $10-14 million per year, but the current level is at an average of $57 million.

There are inadequate numbers of experienced career officers; as a result, management oversight of programs is at risk. Fifty percent of Foreign Service officers were hired in the last 7 years. One hundred percent of Senior Foreign Service officers will be eligible to retire in 2009. Of 12 Career Ministers, six will reach the mandatory retirement age of 65 in 2010. Mid-career Foreign Service officers in their mid-40s have less than 12 years of service. Until 2007, 70-80 members of the Foreign Service would leave the service annually, 85% for retirement; that rate has fallen to 45-55%. Of 122 new hires in 2007, only 10% were experienced mid-career hires. While the Foreign Service union recognizes the need for mid-career hires, its membership has responded negatively to hiring at the level of FS 03 and 02.

Despite DLI, a new administrator and an ongoing QDDR, the organizational future does not look bright to me. Unless Congress wades into this issue forcefully, USAID is stuck in a big guacamole swamp.

In a related note, the USAID AFSA VP has just released a survey on the State Department’s ICASS operation with some troubling results on the State Department and USAID relationship:

“In countries where the consolidation has taken place, the tension between Embassy and USAID staff has increased. USAID employees feel ignored and upset at the treatment they have received from their State counterparts. There is no longer a team concept in these countries and Ambassadors and DCMs do not seem supportive of their complaints. Although each country has a Joint Management Council under ICASS, their one vote is not enough to make changes to decisions which are hurting USAID. A large amount of USAID funds go to subsidize Embassy operations and USAID staff does not believe they are getting their money’s worth. USAID executive officers are spending an inordinate amount of time checking and objecting to the poor support, equipment and services provided by the Embassy. It is an unequal relationship and the situation is deteriorating.”

The survey provides a quick background of the ICASS operation at the State Department:

On March 15, 2010, the USAID AFSA office asked overseas Mission Foreign Service Officers, US Personal Service Contractors, and Foreign Service Nationals to respond to a survey regarding the State Department’s International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS) operation. The ICASS process, which is being phased in worldwide in countries where USAID and the U.S. Embassies exist, involves the consolidation of overseas agency administrative operations such as motor pool services, warehousing, administrative supplies, maintenance, leasing, and many other operations with the purpose of improving efficiency and reducing administrative costs. Input to this survey, which closed on April 2, 2010, was requested anonymously to better understand the real life impact on those most closely affected by significant administrative changes under ICASS.

Initially, the ICASS was sold to non-State Department agencies based on three key “pillars”: transparency, local control and voluntary participation.  In theory, ICASS leadership was to be assigned to the most competent and skilled agency. USAID, normally the second biggest operation after the Embassy in these countries, was encouraged to participate in this system. In practice, over time, a clear mandate from Washington, developed that forced most USAID Missions to accept the State Department as the agency in charge regardless of the fact that perhaps USAID was the best suited for such a role and was operating very efficiently and effectively. The concept of transparency, local control and voluntary participation evaporated. Control of administrative operations shifted to the Embassy in these countries.

There were 1,073 responders reporting from overseas USAID Missions of which 43% were Foreign Service Officers (FSOs), 13% were U.S. Personal Services Contractors (USPSC), and 44% were Foreign Service Nationals (FSN). About 72% of the posts are already consolidated with their Embassy or in the process. Only 27% reported that consolidation had been fully or somewhat participatory and transparent and only 6% reported that USAID interests were considered a priority in the move to consolidate.

The obvious conclusion we can make based on the results of this survey is that there IS a problem. Without question, development programs are being harmed by the forcible consolidation. There is also a clash of cultures between State and USAID. It is even possible that State employees are feeling the stress of taking on more and incompatible activities they would prefer that USAID continue administering. The ICASS implementation was not collaborative and there is a very good possibility that costs have increased and that productivity has decreased.

One has to ask what was the problem that ICASS was aiming to fix? USAID administrative services were not broken and yet they were targeted to be FIXED. ICASS principles were not followed and the end result has been widespread dissatisfaction and even anger. While there may be some administrative services which make sense to combine, this can be a highly individual country team decision and should never be forced on any one Mission.

The USAID AFSA survey summary suggests that the best solution is to stop the consolidation:

“The best solution is to stop the consolidation, do a scientific review, audit or investigation by a neutral party, and return back to USAID control those services whose “consolidation” is causing financial or operational harm. We have a new Administration at USAID which is looking at bringing us back to being the world’s premier development agency. These will be empty words, unless we listen to the needs of our staff. Staying the course will only be detrimental to our mission.”

Read the entire survey here.

This consolidation partly gobbles USAID (did you hear that buurrp?)  Nobody would probably put it politely that way.  But the concern and anxieties are real.  Not too long ago, the State Department, did chew and gobble the entire USIA. And we know what happened to that one.

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Filed under Interagency Cooperation, Org Culture, Reform, Retirement, State Department, USAID

Horn v. Huddle, Officially Settled 16 Yrs and $3 Million Later

After a decade and a half, the Court officially dismissed this case with prejudice but “not without some misgivings” according to Judge Lambert:

“[...] It is not without some misgivings that the Court reaches this decision. Another member of this Court last year approved the settlement of another case (involving the FBI’s investigation of the anthrax mailings in late 2001) which involved payment to an individual plaintiff of almost $6,000,000 by the United States. See Hatfill v. Mukasey … It does not appear that any government official was ever held accountable for this huge loss to the taxpayer.

Now this Court is called upon to approve a $3,000,000 payment to an individual plaintiff by the United States, and again it does not appear that any government official have been held accountable for this loss to the taxpayer. This is troubling to the Court.”

Civil Action No. 1994-1756, HORN v. HUDDLE, et al | Links below:
Doc No.
521 (memorandum and opinion)
Doc No.
522 (order) by Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth

Read the memorandum and opinion below:

Horn v Huddle Settlement

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Snapshot: USDA Boots on the Ground in Afghanistan

Seal of the United States Department of Agricu...Image via Wikipedia

QUESTION: Alan Bjerga from Bloomberg News. Yesterday, the Administration said that it was going to be increasing civilian presence in Afghanistan. I’m wondering, from a USDA and USAID standpoint, how many more boots on the ground do you expect to be putting down?

SECRETARY VILSACK: We currently have 54 people in country and another 10 are on their way. And we’ll have an opportunity after this visit not only to thank those workers, but also to evaluate what additional assistance may be necessary. It isn’t just necessarily government boots on the ground; it’s also ways in which we can partner with the many land grant universities and other universities that are providing assistance and help, as well as working with USAID.
So we’re going to have a significant presence. I suspect and know that over the short time, all it’s going to increase. And I also know that there’s already significant work being done, from planting additional trees, up to 3 million additional trees in a forestation effort, to building storage facilities, to improving productivity, there’s good work being done.
from U.S. Government Agriculture Sector Programs in Afghanistan and Upcoming Travel to the Region Briefing with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, and SRAP Richard C. Holbrooke Washington, DC | January 7, 2010 (link)

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Quickie: Is This Really An Intelligence Failure?

This one excerpted from one of Spencer Ackerman’s recent posts: 

… And the rationale for the all-source, multi-agency NCTC is all about intelligence sharing. But remember: the inputs are that the guy’s dad says he’s dangerous; he’s Nigerian; he might be in Yemen; and al-Qaeda in Yemen may be looking to use a Nigerian in a forthcoming attack. Is that really enough?
The answer to that question most certainly requires a policy decision, not an intelligence decision. The intelligence community is drinking from a fire hose of data, a lot of it much more specific than what was acquired on Abdulmutallab. If policymakers decide that these thin reeds will be the standard for stopping someone from entering the United States, then they need to change the process to enshrine that in the no-fly system. But it will make it much harder for people who aren’t threatening to enter, a move that will ripple out to effect diplomacy, security relationships (good luck entering the U.S. for a military-to-military contact program if, say, you’re a member of the Sunni Awakening in Iraq, since you had contacts with known extremists), international business and trade, and so on. Are we prepared for that?
Active links added above. Continue reading Spencer Ackerman’s post, Is This Really an Intelligence Failure? Real Talk on Abdulmutallab

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