Asset Freeze Against Former Monk Accused of Defrauding Chinese Investors Highlights EB-5 Visa Program

Posted: 12:38 am EDT

 

Via Securities and Exchange Commission:

Washington D.C., Aug. 25, 2015 —The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced an asset freeze obtained against a man in Bellevue, Wash., accused of defrauding Chinese investors seeking U.S. residency through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Pilot Program by investing in his companies.

The SEC alleges that Lobsang Dargey and his “Path America” companies have raised at least $125 million for two real estate projects: a skyscraper in downtown Seattle and a mixed-use commercial and residential development containing a farmers’ market in Everett, Wash.  But Dargey diverted $14 million for unrelated real estate projects and $3 million for personal use including the purchase of his $2.5 million home and cash withdrawals at casinos.

“We allege that Dargey promised investors their money would be used to develop specific real estate projects approved under the EB-5 program, but he misused millions of dollars to enrich himself and jeopardized investors’ prospects for U.S. residency,” said Jina L. Choi, Director of the SEC’s San Francisco Regional Office.

According to the SEC’s complaint filed yesterday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington:

  • Under the EB-5 program, foreign citizens may qualify for U.S. residency if they make a qualified investment of at least $500,000 in a specified project that creates or preserves at least 10 jobs for U.S. workers.
  • Dargey and his companies obtained investments from 250 Chinese investors under the auspices of the EB-5 program.  Path America SnoCo and Path America KingCo operated as regional centers through which EB-5 investments could be made.
  • Dargey told U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and EB-5 investors that he would use investor money only for the Seattle skyscraper and Everett, Wash., projects.
  • Dargey and his companies misled investors about their ability to obtain permanent residency by investing in the Path America projects.  For example, Dargey knew that USCIS can deny investors’ residency applications if investor money is used for a project that materially departs from the approved business plan presented to USCIS.  Dargey failed to tell investors that he and his companies had departed from the business plan by using investor money for personal expenses and unrelated projects.

Late yesterday, the court granted the SEC’s request for an asset freeze and issued an order restraining Dargey and his companies from soliciting additional investors.  The SEC also was granted an order expediting discovery, prohibiting the destruction of documents, and requiring Dargey to repatriate funds he transferred to overseas bank accounts.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Brent Smyth and Michael Foley of the San Francisco office and supervised by Steven Buchholz.  The SEC’s litigation will be led by Mr. Smyth and Susan LaMarca.  The SEC appreciates the assistance of the USCIS.

According to the Seattle Times, citing a civil fraud suit filed Monday by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Dargey, a former monk, allegedly diverted millions to spend on a $2.5 million home, other real-estate investments and gambling at 14 casinos across the West. The report notes that the EB-5 visa program allows wealthy foreigners to invest at least $500,000 in a commercial enterprise that creates at least 10 full-time jobs, in exchange for a permanent-residency visa or green card. China dominates the list of countries from which immigrant investors hail.

Department of Homeland Security’s USCIS administers the Immigrant Investor Program, also known as “EB-5,” created by Congress in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors. Under a pilot immigration program first enacted in 1992 and regularly reauthorized since, certain EB-5 visas also are set aside for investors in Regional Centers designated by USCIS based on proposals for promoting economic growth. As of August 3, 2015, USCIS had approved approximately 697 regional centers. Regional centers can operate in multiple states.

In its adjudication policy memorandum dated May 30, 2013, USCIS writes on how adjudication of EB-5 petitions and applications must only adhere to the “Preponderance of the Evidence Standard“:

As a preliminary matter, it is critical that our adjudication of EB-5 petitions and applications adhere to the correct standard of proof. In the EB-5 program, the petitioner or applicant must establish each element by a preponderance of the evidence. See Matter of Chawathe, 25 I&N Dec. 369, 375-376 (AAO 2010). That means that the petitioner or applicant must show that what he or she claims is more likely so than not so. This is a lower standard of proof than both the standard of “clear and convincing,” and the standard “beyond a reasonable doubt” that typically applies to criminal cases. The petitioner or applicant does not need to remove all doubt from our adjudication. Even if an adjudicator has some doubt as to the truth, if the petitioner or applicant submits relevant, probative, and credible evidence that leads to the conclusion that the claim is “more likely than not” or “probably true”, the petitioner or applicant has satisfied the standard of proof.

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OIG Compliance Review: Minimum Security Standards For Overseas Facilities Remain a Hard Nut to Crack

Posted: 2:00 pm EDT

 

Three ARB-related IG reports were issued this past week, two of them, the Audit of the DOS Implementation of the Vital Presence Validation Process and the Review of the Implementation of the Benghazi Accountability Review Board Recommendation have been designated as Classified. The third one, the Compliance Followup Review of the 2013 Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process is available in full online.

On September 25, 2013, State/OIG released its Special Review of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) Process. That report contains 20 formal and 8 informal recommendations. For the status of the 20 formal recommendations, see Appendix B of the report.  For the status of the informal recommendations, see Appendix C of the report. The OIG notes that the action taken by State at some Benghazi ARB recommendations “did not appear to align with the intent of the recommendations and some Benghazi ARB recommendations did not appear to address the underlying security issues adequately.”

Thirteen of the formal recommendations and five of the informal recommendations are related to the ARB process. The remaining seven formal and three informal recommendations mirror or are closely related to the Benghazi ARB recommendations. As stated in the ARB process review report, the ARB process team’s rationale for issuing these recommendations was that the action taken to date on some of the Benghazi ARB recommendations did not appear to align with the intent of the recommendations and some Benghazi ARB recommendations did not appear to address the underlying security issues adequately. The classified annex to the report provides an assessment of the Department’s implementation of the recommendations of the Benghazi ARB as of the date of the review. Its focus is on the implementation of the 64 tasks S/ES issued in response to the Benghazi ARB recommendations. It contains no OIG recommendations.

In the Compliance Followup Review or CFR dated August 2015, State/OIG reissued one recommendation from the 2013 inspection report, that the Under Secretary of State for Management, in coordination with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, develop minimum security standards that must be met prior to occupying facilities located in designated high-risk, high-threat locations and include these minimum standards for occupancy in the Foreign Affairs Handbook as appropriate. The report also include a little nugget about DOD cooperation with investigative reports of security-related incidents that involve State Department personnel, specifically mentioning “the incident in Zabul Province, Afghanistan.” That’s the incident where FSO Anne Smedinghoff and four others were killed in Zabul, Afghanistan in April 2013.

Outstanding Recommendation on Minimum Security Standards 

Recommendation 17 of the ARB process review report recommended that the Department develop minimum security standards that must be met prior to occupying facilities in HRHT locations. The Department rejected this recommendation, stating that existing Overseas Security Policy Board standards apply to all posts and that separate security standards for HRHT posts would not provide better or more secure operating environments. Furthermore, recognizing that Overseas Security Policy Board standards cannot be met at all locations, the Department has a high threshold for exceptions to these standards and the waiver and exceptions process requires “tailored mitigation strategies in order to achieve the intent of the standards.”5

Although OIG acknowledges the Department’s assertion of a “high threshold for exceptions,” the Department’s response does not meet the recommendation’s requirement for standards that must be met prior to occupancy. As was noted in the ARB process review report, “…occupying temporary facilities that require waivers and exceptions to security standards is dangerous, especially considering that the Department occupies these facilities long before permanent security improvements are completed.”6 As the Department has not identified minimum security standards that must be met prior to occupancy, Recommendation 17 is being reissued.

Recommendation CFR 1: The Office of the Under Secretary of State for Management, in coordination with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, should develop minimum security standards that must be met prior to occupying facilities located in Department of State-designated high-risk, high-threat environments and include new minimum security standards of occupancy in the Foreign Affairs Handbook as appropriate. (Action: M, in coordination with DS and OBO)

So, basically back to where it was before Benghazi, when there were no minimum security standards prior to occupying temporary facilities.

How high is this “high threshold of exceptions” that’s being asserted?

Risk management process now called “tailored mitigation strategies” — resulting in waivers of Inman standards?

So waivers will continue to be executed?

And temporary facilities will continue to be occupied?

Key Findings:

  • The Department of State has complied with all the formal and informal recommendations of the 2013 Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process, except one, which has been reissued in this report.
  • The Department of State has implemented regulatory and procedural changes to delineate clearly who is responsible for implementation, and oversight of implementation, of Accountability Review Board recommendations. The Under Secretary for Management, in coordination with the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, is responsible for implementation of Accountability Review Board recommendations. The Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources is responsible for overseeing the Department’s progress in Accountability Review Board implementation, which places accountability for implementation at an appropriately high level in the Department of State.
  • The Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation manages the Accountability Review Board function. The Accountability Review Board process review report was critical of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation’s recordkeeping and files of past Accountability Review Boards. The Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation has since revised its Accountability Review Board recordkeeping guidelines. These revised guidelines have yet to be tested, as no Accountability Review Board has met since the Benghazi Accountability Review Board, which issued its report in December 2012.

More details excerpted from the IG report

Flow of Information

Formal Recommendations 1, 2, 3, and 9—as well as Informal Recommendations 1 and 3—concern the flow of information within the Department and from the Department to Congress. The recommendations introduce additional reporting requirements for all incidents that might meet the criteria to convene an ARB, as well as a more clearly defined list of congressional recipients for the Secretary’s Report to Congress. Recommendation 9 tasks S/ES with creating a baseline list of congressional recipients for the Secretary’s report to Congress. That list is now more clearly specified and included in regulations governing the ARB process.

Informal Recommendation 3 requires broader circulation of ARB reports as well as the Secretary’s report to Congress. The M/PRI position is that these reports belong to the Secretary and their dissemination should be at the Secretary’s discretion. OIG continues to believe that the Secretary should exercise discretion and circulate ARB reports and subsequent reports to Congress more widely within the Department.

ARB Recordkeeping

In December 2014, M/PRI revised its ARB recordkeeping guidelines regarding those records to be retained and safeguarded. However, because no ARB has convened since Benghazi, these revised guidelines remain untested. Although these guidelines require recording and transcribing telephone interviews, they do not mandate verbatim transcripts of all interviews, including in-person meetings, as the Inspector General suggested in his May 29, 2014, memorandum to the D/MR.

Action Memo for the Secretary

In compliance with Recommendation 1, the OIG CFR team found that M/PRI now drafts an action memo for the Secretary after every Permanent Coordinating Committee (PCC) meeting detailing the PCC decision, even if the PCC does not recommend convening an ARB.

In response to Recommendation 4, the Under Secretary for Management amended 12 FAM 030 to require vetting and reporting security-related incidents, which do not result in convening a PCC. Those cases will be communicated to the Secretary.

Alternative Review

To meet the intent of Recommendation 2, M/PRI has included in its instructions to the PCC chair a reminder to PCC members that if the PCC votes not to convene an ARB, the PCC should decide whether to recommend that the Secretary request an alternative review.

Terminology

Recommendation 5 recommends establishing written criteria to define the key terms “serious injury,” “significant destruction of property,” and “at or related to a U.S. mission abroad.” The 2013 OIG inspection team found that ambiguity in the terminology had led to their inconsistent application as criteria in decisions to convene ARBs.

ARB Implementation

Recommendations 10 and 11 recommend institutionalizing the oversight of the implementation of ARB recommendations as a responsibility of D/MR. M/PRI’s revision of 12 FAM 030 and addition of 12 Foreign Affairs Handbook (FAH)-12 now clearly delineate who is responsible for managing the ARB process and who is responsible for oversight of implementation of ARB recommendations. The Deputy Secretary’s responsibility for overseeing implementation of ARB recommendations places accountability for implementation at an appropriately high level in the Department.

Personnel Performance 

Recommendation 19 tasks M/PRI, in coordination with the Bureau of Human Resources and the Office of the Legal Adviser, to prepare clear guidelines for ARBs on recommendations dealing with issues of poor personnel performance. M/PRI has revised its standing guidance to ARB members, referring them to the Department’s new leadership principles in 3 FAM 1214, 4138, and 4532 when documenting instances of unsatisfactory performance or poor leadership. The Department further codified this ARB authority by expanding the list of grounds for taking disciplinary or separation action against an employee, including “conduct by a senior official that demonstrates unsatisfactory leadership in relation to a security incident under review by an [ARB] convened pursuant to 22 U.S.C. 4831.” In addition, in January 2013 the Department began seeking an amendment to the ARB statute (22 U.S.C. 4834(c)) to provide explicitly that unsatisfactory leadership may be a basis for disciplinary action and that the ARB would have the appropriate authority to recommend such action. No change to the statute has yet been made.

Strengthening Security at High-Risk, High-Threat Posts

New courses:  Guided by a panel of senior DS special agents and outside organizations, DS updated its former High Threat Tactical Course to create a suite of mandatory courses for DS agents assigned to HRHT locations, drawing on lessons learned from the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and Herat, Afghanistan. The cornerstone of these courses is the “High Threat Operations Course” (HT-310), which, as of October 1, 2013, was made mandatory for all DS agents at grades FS 04 through 06 who are assigned to HRHT locations. Similar, but shorter duration courses (HT-310E and HT-315) are required for senior and mid-level DS agents assigned to such locations.

Marine Detachments

The Department, in coordination with DOD, has added 20 new MSG detachments, and Marine Corps Headquarters has created the Marine Security Augmentation Unit. Although some HRHT posts still lack MSG detachments, for example, because of the lack of host government approval, the Department has made progress in deploying new detachments and increasing the size of existing detachments.[…] The June 2013 revision of the memorandum of agreement also includes a revision of the MSG mission. In the previous version, the MSG’s primary mission was to prevent the compromise of classified information. Their secondary mission was the protection of personnel and facilities. In the revised memorandum of agreement, the mission of the MSG is to protect mission personnel and prevent the compromise of national security information.

DS Agents Embed With DOD Forces

An additional area of security improvement beyond reliance on the host government has been the Department’s closer relationship with DOD, whose personnel have been involved in every Department contingency operation at an HRHT post since the Benghazi attack. Furthermore, DS agents are now embedded in DOD expeditionary forces.

About That Zabul Incident

Recommendation 6 recommends that the Department seek greater assurances from the Department of Defense (DOD) in providing investigative reports of security-related incidents that involve Department personnel. The Department makes its requests via Executive Secretary memorandum to the equivalent DOD addressee, in accordance with 5 FAH-1 H-120. The DOD counterpart has been responsive in delivering requested materials in all the recent instances, including the incident in Zabul Province, Afghanistan. M/PRI will continue to monitor DOD responses to requests for reports in the future.

That means, the State Department now has the Army investigation report into the death of FSO Anne Smedinghoff and four others in Zabul, Afghanistan in April 2013.  See Zabul Attack: Spox Says State Dept Did Its Own Review, It’s Classified, and There’s Now a Checklist! Zabul Attack: Walking But Not Lost, More Details But Not Official; Plus Update on Kelly HuntArmy Report: Poor planning led to FSO Anne Smedinghoff and troops’ death in Afghanistan.

The Chicago Tribune FOIA’ed that Army report but did not make the document public. The State Department internal report of the incident as far as we are aware, remains Classified. Then State Department spox, Jennifer Psaki referred to “multiple investigations” in April 2014;  none publicly released.

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Related item:

ISP-C-15-33 | Compliance Followup Review of the Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process | August 2015

 

Notifications of Individuals Potentially Affected By #OPMHack on a Rolling Basis From June 8-June 19

Posted: 4:15 am  EDT

 

On May 28, just days before the OPM breach was reported, OPM issued a solicitation for OPM Privacy Act Incident Services. The services required include 1) notification services, 2) credit report access services, 3) credit monitoring services, 4) identity theft insurance and recovery services, and 5) project management services. According to the solicitation, these services will be offered, at the discretion of the Government, to individuals who may be at risk due to compromised Personally Identifiable Information (PII).  The $20,760,741.63 contract for Call 1 was awarded to Winvale Group, LLC (http://winvale.com) on June 2 but was published on fedbiz on June 5, the day after the breach was reported. Call 1 contract includes services to no more than 4 million units/employees.

Here’s what the company says via: http://winvale.com:

Screen Shot 2015-06-15

click for larger view

Excerpted from CSID FAQ:

What systems were affected?

For security reasons, OPM cannot publicly discuss specifics of the systems that might be affected by the compromise of personnel data. Additionally, due to the ongoing FBI investigation, it would be inappropriate to publicly provide information that may impact current work by law enforcement. OPM has added additional security controls to better protect overall networks and systems and the data they store and process.

What personal information was compromised?

OPM maintains personnel records for the Federal workforce. The kind of data that may have been compromised in this incident could include name, Social Security Number, date and place of birth, and current and former addresses. The communication to potentially affected individuals will state exactly what information may have been compromised.

Why didn’t OPM tell affected individuals about the loss of the data sooner?

OPM became aware of an intrusion in April 2015. OPM worked with the DHS’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) as quickly as possible to assess the extent of the malicious activity and to identify the records of individuals who may have been compromised. During the investigation, OPM became aware of potentially compromised data in May 2015. With any such event, it takes time to conduct a thorough investigation, and identify the affected individuals.

It is important to note that this is an ongoing investigation that could reveal additional exposure; if that occurs, OPM will conduct additional notifications as necessary. Protecting the integrity of the information entrusted to the Office of Personnel Management is the agency’s highest priority.

I did not receive a letter stating that my information was compromised, but feel that I should have. Can you help me?

OPM is aware of the affected data and the networks and the data on which it resides. OPM will begin sending notifications to individuals whose PII may have been compromised on June 8, 2015. These notifications will take place on a rolling basis through June 19, 2015.

What are the risks of identity theft with the information that was compromised?

Receiving a letter does not mean that the recipient is a victim of identity theft. OPM is recommending that people review their letters and the recommendations provided. In order to mitigate the risk of fraud and identity theft, OPM will offer credit report access, credit monitoring and identify theft insurance and recovery services at no cost to them, through CSID®. This comprehensive, 18-month membership includes credit monitoring and $1 million in identity theft protection services.

How long will it take to inform all the potential victims involved in the incident?

OPM will begin conducting notifications to affected individuals using e-mail and/or USPS First Class mail on June 8, 2015 and will continue notifications on a rolling basis through June 19, 2015.

Can my [family member] also receive services if he/she is part of my file/records?

Your [family member] was not affected by this breach. The only data potentially exposed as a result of this incident is your personal data.

To see the full list of Frequently Asked Questions, click here. This is not dated, and it does not include any information on the potential breach of security clearance data.

If SF-86s are compromised, wouldn’t the breach potentially could also affect family members?

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Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications and Bureaucratic Bang! Bang!

Posted: 1:18 am EDT

 

“The fate of the CSCC just underscores the difficulty of experimentation in government — there is zero tolerance for risk and no willingness to let a program evolve. […] “It’s easier to do the same stuff over and over and wring your hands instead of investing resources and having patience.”

Daniel Benjamin
Former State Department CounterTerrorism Chief
Source: WaPo in In a propaganda war against ISIS, the U.S. tried to play by the enemy’s rules | May 8, 2015

 

Video clip via WaPo:

USAID’s Arab Spring Challenges in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen: The State Department, It’s No.2 Challenge

Posted: 12:10 am EDT

 

USAID’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted a survey (pdf) to identify the challenges USAID faced during the early transition period (December 2010-June 2014) in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen. USAID/OIG identified and interviewed 31 key USAID officials from various parts of the organization who have worked on activities in these countries.It also administered a questionnaire to supplement the information gathered from the interviews. Together, 70 employees from USAID were either interviewed or responded to the questionnaire. It notes that the while the survey collected the perspectives of a number of USAID employees, it is not statistically representative of each office or USAID as a whole.

The highest addressee on this report is USAID/Middle East Bureau Assistant Administrator, Paige Alexander. It includes no State Department official nor congressional entities.

Below is an excerpt:

In 2013 OIG conducted a performance audit of USAID/Egypt’s economic growth project1 and found that the changes of the Arab Spring severely affected the project’s progress. Approximately midway through implementation, the project had not made significant progress in seven of the ten tasks in the original plan mainly because of changes in the Egyptian Government’s counterparts and priorities. To adapt to the environment, the project adjusted its plan and identified three new areas of work to focus on. In another audit that year,2 OIG found similar challenges at USAID/Yemen when one of that mission’s main projects had to adjust its approach after the Arab Spring started (page 16).

Beyond project delays, we found a host of other challenges common to all four countries that revolve around three broad categories:

  1. Security
  2. Increased influence from the State Department
  3. Host-countryreadiness

1. Security.

One of the most commonly cited challenges was the difficulty of operating in a volatile environment. Security dictated many aspects of USAID’s operations after the Arab Spring started, and it was not uncommon for activities to be delayed or cancelled because of security issues.
[…]
In addition to access, security also disrupted operations because employees were evacuated from the different countries. U.S. direct-hire employees at USAID/Egypt were evacuated twice in 3 years. In USAID/Yemen, employees were evacuated twice in 3 years for periods of up to 6 months.3 In our survey, 76 percent of the respondents agreed that evacuations made managing projects more difficult.
[…]
Because of the precarious security situations, strict limits were placed on the number of U.S. direct hires who were allowed to be in each country. Employees said the Agency did not have enough staff to support the number of activities. This problem was particularly pronounced in Tunisia and Libya, where for extended periods, USAID had only one permanent employee in each country

2. Increased Influence From State Department.

According to our survey results, the majority of respondents (87 percent) believed that since the Arab Spring the State Department has increased its influence over USAID programs (Figure 3). While USAID did not have activities in Libya and Tunisia before the Arab Spring, staff working in these countries afterward discussed situations in which the State Department had significant influence over USAID’s work. A respondent from Tunisia wrote, “Everything has been driven by an embassy that does not seem to feel USAID is anything other than an implementer of whatever they want to do.”

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 6.56.05 PM

While there is broad interagency guidance on State’s role in politically sensitive environments, the specifics of how USAID should adapt its operations were not entirely clear to Agency employees and presented a number of challenges to USAID’s operations. In Yemen, the department’s influence seemed to be less of an issue (page 17), but for the remaining countries, it was a major concern. As one survey respondent from Egypt wrote:

[State’s control] makes long-term planning incredibly difficult and severely constrains USAID’s ability to design and execute technically sound development projects. A path forward is agreed, steps taken to design activities and select implementation mechanisms, and then we are abruptly asked to change the approach.

State’s involvement introduced a new layer of review and slowed down operations. USAID employees needed to dedicate additional time to build consensus and gain approval from people outside the Agency.

USAID employees also described challenges occurring when State employees, unfamiliar with the Agency and its different types of procurement, made requests that were difficult to accommodate under USAID procedures. One respondent wrote that State “think[s] programs can be stopped and started at will and that we can intervene and direct partners in a manner that goes far beyond the substantial involvement we are allowed as project managers.”

Beyond operational challenges, many people we interviewed expressed frustration over the State Department’s increased role, particularly when State’s direction diverted USAID programming from planned development priorities and goals. This was an especially contentious issue at USAID/Egypt (page 7).

This difference in perspectives caused some to question State’s expertise in development assistance, particularly in transitional situations. A USAID official explained that countries in turmoil presented unique challenges and dynamics, and embassies may not have experts in this area. Others said USAID was taking direction from State advisers who were often political appointees without backgrounds in development.
[…]
State was not the sole source of pressure; employees said other federal entities such as the National Security Council and even the White House had increased their scrutiny of USAID since the start of the Arab Spring. As a result, mission officials had to deal with new levels of bureaucracy and were responding constantly to different requests and demands from outside the Agency.

3. Host-Country Readiness.

In each of the four countries, employees reported problems stemming from award recipients’ ability to implement assistance programs. According to one employee, local capacity in Libya was a major problem because the country did not have a strong workforce. Moreover, local implementers had not developed the necessary technical capacity because development assistance was not a priority in Libya under Muammar Qadhafi’s closed, oil-rich regime. Activities in Tunisia and Yemen encountered similar issues because neither have had long histories of receiving foreign development assistance. In Egypt, employees reported that some of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working on the mission’s democracy and governance program also lacked sufficient capacity.

On Egypt:  More than 85 percent of the employees surveyed who worked on activities related to USAID/Egypt agreed that the State Department had increased its influence over USAID programs since the start of the Arab Spring (Figure 5). A number of respondents said State steered Agency programs to address political rather than development needs. This dynamic had a profound effect on the mission’s ability to follow USAID’s guidance on designing and implementing developmentally sound projects. […] Some mission officials questioned the value of adhering to USAID’s project design procedures when the State Department had already decided a project’s fate. […] In this example, State’s desire to award education scholarships to women in Egypt was difficult to justify because university enrollment data showed that higher education enrollment and graduation rates for women are slightly higher than for men.  […] With so many differing voices and perspectives, USAID employees said they were not getting clear, consistent guidance. They described the situation as having “too many cooks in the kitchen.” One survey respondent wrote:

State (or White House) has had a very difficult time making decisions on USAID programming for Egypt . . . so USAID has been paralyzed and sent through twists and turns. State/White House difficulties in decisions may be expected given the fluid situation, but there has been excessive indecision, and mixed signals to USAID.

On Tunisia: The State Department placed strict restrictions on the number of USAID employees allowed to be in-country. As a result, most Agency activities were managed from Washington, D.C. … [O]ne survey respondent wrote, “I have been working on Tunisia for nearly 3 years now, and have designed programs to be carried out there, but I’ve never been. I don’t feel like I have been able to do my job to the best of my ability without that understanding of the situation on the ground.”

On Libya: The attacks in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, had a profound impact on USAID operations in Libya. According to one interviewee, after the attacks USAID did not want to attract too much political attention and put a number of Agency activities in Libya on hold. The period of inactivity lasted from September 2012 to September 2013. It was not until October 2013, after Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted, that the U.S. Government refocused attention on Libya and funding for activities picked up again.

Before the attacks, USAID had five employees in the country; afterward, only one was allowed to remain. Although his main priority then was to manage USAID/OTI projects in Libya, he also was asked to oversee four to five additional activities managed out of Washington—a stretch for any employee. As one survey respondent wrote, “The lack of people in the field in Libya (small footprint) means that DC overwhelms the field. People in the field are worked ragged.”

On Yemen: USAID/Yemen did not suffer from the challenges of unclear strategy that other USAID missions did in the region; 70 percent of respondents who worked on activities in Yemen believed that the Agency had a clear strategy for its post-Arab Spring activities (Figure 12). This is a stark contrast to responses related to USAID/Egypt, where only 22 percent believed that USAID had a clear strategy. …[O]ur survey also found a strong working relationship between USAID/Yemen and the State Department; the two often agreed on what needed to be done. […] Some respondents said the collaborative atmosphere was due to individual personalities and strong working relationships between USAID and State officials. One employee said because employees of both organizations lived and worked together in the close quarters, communication flowed freely as perspectives could be exchanged easily. …[O]ne senior USAID/Yemen official said, some of what needed to be done was so obvious that it was difficult for the two agencies not to agree.

Lessons Learned

The report offers 15 lessons learned including the development of a USAID transition plan at the country level, even if it may change. USAID/OIG says that by having a short-term transition plan, the Agency “would have a better platform to articulate its strategy, particularly when it disagrees with the decisions of other federal entities.”It also lists the following:

  • Resist the urge to implement large development projects that require the support of host governments immediately after a transition.
  • Prepare mission-level plans with Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs)—locally hired USAID employees who are not U.S. citizens—in case U.S. direct hires are evacuated. Evacuation of U.S. staff can be abrupt with only a few hours’ notice. People we interviewed recommended that U.S. staff develop plans with the mission’s FSN staff ahead of time, outlining roles, responsibilities, and modes of operation to prevent a standstill in operations in the event of an evacuation.
  • Get things in writing. When working in environments where USAID is getting input and instructions from organizations that are not familiar with Agency procedures, decisions made outside of USAID may be documented poorly. In such circumstances, it is important to remember to get things in writing.
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US Embassy Nepal: DART and Search and Rescue Teams Are On the Ground

Posted: 12:15 am EDT

 

At the DPB on April 27, the State Department said that Embassy Kathmandu remains open and the U.S. Embassy and the American Club continue to shelter U.S. citizens and their family members as well as dozens of non-Americans. There are reportedly about 85 U.S. citizens at the chancery and about 220 U.S. citizens at the American Club.  The spokesman said he is “not aware of any significant damage, at least not that is impeding their [embassy’s] operations.”  

Embassy Kathmandu staff is reportedly being supplemented with resources in the region “to better enable us to respond to – not only to the things concerning U.S. citizens, but also liaison coordination with the U.S. Government and such.” All of the American personnel at the embassy are accounted for. The embassy is continuing its efforts to account for all its local employees. Meanwhile, the DART and the search and rescue teams have arrived in country.

 

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Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) For Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (Fort Pickett) Now Available

Posted: 11:05 am EDT

 

The final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Security Training Center(FASTC) in Nottoway County, Virginia is now available.

As required under the National Environmental Policy Act, GSA has prepared and filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed development of a U.S. Department of State (DOS), Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Nottoway County, Virginia. GSA is the lead agency; cooperating agencies are DOS, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, EPA, and National Guard Bureau. The Final EIS also documents compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966.

Screen Shot 2015-04-23

Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) – Fort Pickett

The purpose of the proposed FASTC site in Nottoway County is to consolidate existing dispersed “hard skills” security training functions to provide effective, efficient training specifically designed to enable foreign affairs personnel to operate in today’s perilous and dangerous overseas environment. Hard skills training is practical, hands-on training in firearms, explosives, anti- terrorism driving techniques, defensive tactics, and security operations. Such training improves security and life safety for the protection of U.S. personnel operating abroad. The proposed FASTC would fill a critical need, identified in the 2008 report to the U.S. Congress, for a consolidated training facility. A central facility would improve training efficiency and provide priority access to training venues from which DS may effectively conduct hard skills training to meet the increased demand for well-trained personnel. The proposed FASTC would train 8,000 to 10,000 students annually.

The Final EIS was prepared to evaluate the environmental consequences of site acquisition and development of FASTC on three adjacent land parcels at the Virginia Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett (Fort Pickett) and Nottoway County’s Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA) area in Nottoway County, Virginia.

The proposed site is 1,350 acres with an additional 12 acres for relocation of an existing tank trail and scheduled use of a 19 acre Fort Pickett range. The site is surrounded by compatible land uses within Fort Pickett. The total area of disturbance for construction of driving tracks, mock urban environments, explosives and firearms ranges, and administrative and service areas would be 407 acres. Utilities would be installed or relocated along existing roadways or within areas planned for development.

According to the Federal Register announcement, all efforts and work on the proposed site at Fort Pickett and Nottoway County’s LRA area were put on hold in early 2013 pending additional due diligence and reviews at an existing federal training site in Georgia. As part of this due diligence effort, DOS conducted site visits to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia.

During this time period, DOS also assessed the scope and size of the FASTC project and determined a smaller platform was more fiscally prudent. In April 2014, the earlier DOS selection of the proposed site for FASTC at Fort Pickett and Nottoway County was reaffirmed by the Administration. A Master Plan Update was prepared in 2014 to incorporate the adjustments in the FASTC program.

The Final EIS designates Build Alternative 3 as the Preferred Alternative. Build Alternative 3 would have direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental impacts, but the impacts are reduced as compared with the 2012 build alternatives. Changes between the Supplemental Draft EIS and Final EIS include the results of consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer as required by Section 106 of the NHPA, and updates on consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pertaining to effects on northern long-eared bats under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. Section 7 consultation will be concluded prior to the Record of Decision. The Final EIS also updates the proposed action to support emerging advanced tactical training needs and a change in the availability of existing facilities. The proposed action includes limited use of helicopters in training to approximately one or two days per month and the addition of an Ammunition Supply Point on the proposed site. The Final EIS addresses and responds to agency and public comments on the Supplemental Draft EIS.

Hopefully this means that the Fort Pickett project is on and taxpayers won’t be spending millions of dollars sending thousands of State Department trainees from VA-MD-DC all the way to Georgia as some in Congress would like to do.

-04/24/15   Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)  [13842 Kb]

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Colombia Counternarcotics Program Costs Over $8 Billion the Last 11 Years, Where’s the Audit Trail?

Posted: 3:02 am EDT

 

Last month, we’ve blogged about State/INL’s aerial eradication program in Colombia (see State/INL: Anti-Drug Aerial Eradication in Colombia and the Cancer-Linked Herbicide, What Now?). We understand that there was a cable sent through the Dissent Channel concerning this subject. We also received an  allegation that the “OIG wouldn’t touch this issue last year.”   So we asked the Office of Inspector General and here is its official response:

There is no Department program or operation that the OIG is unwilling to review. In fact, the OIG inspected Embassy Bogota, Colombia in early 2011. That inspection discusses counter narcotics programs, drug production and trafficking in Colombia. Additional pertinent, recent reports include a Compliance Follow-up Review of Embassy Bogota, published in December 2008 (ISP-C-09-08A), and an Inspection of Embassy Bogota published in March 2006 (ISP-I-06-16A).

That 2011 OIG inspection report is a 64-page document;  the discussion on the counternarcotics program encompasses approximately four pages of that report.

We could not locate a recent OIG inspection/audit of the counternarcotics (CN) program in Colombia. By comparison,  there are multiple audits for the CN program in Afghanistan (see related items below). The CN program in Colombia predates the one in Afghanistan, so makes one ask questions. We’ve also asked State/OIG if there is any plan to put this program in the IG’s inspection or audit schedule anytime soon? Here is the response:

OIG develops its work plans based on a number of factors – including, a program’s risk profile, its relation to the Department’s management challenges, mandated work, congressional requests, OIG resources, etc. Our FY 2015 Work Plan and 2015 Office of Audits Strategic Work Plan are on our website. I wouldn’t be able to comment on any work, in addition to that listed in the plans, which may or may not be scheduled in the near future.

Below is an excerpt from the Embassy Bogota 2011 report (pdf):

Since 2001, Colombia’s estimated annual cocaine production potential has decreased by 61 percent, from 700 to 270 metric tons. The United States has made a major investment in helping Colombia address the narcotics problem. The United States provided more than $7.4 billion (approximately $5.9 billion from the Department of State (Department) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and $1.5 billion from the Department of Defense for Plan Colombia and its follow-on programs from FYs 2000 through 2010.

Embassy Bogotá’s NAS is one of the largest in the world, with 134 employees and 664 contractors. The FY 2010 NAS budget for all programs was approximately $244 million, a significant decrease over a 3-year period from approximately $326 million in FY 2007.

That’s a lot of money and that 61% looks good but when was the last time this program was audited?

The only Audit of INL Programs in Colombia we could locate is one dated July 2000 and posted publicly online in 2004.  The audit says that “Despite spending over $100 million on the increased eradication efforts during FY 1997-99, the results of the spray program are uncertain.”

But this 2000 OIG audit is, of course, an ancient dog.

In any case, aerial eradication is discussed briefly under “Other Matter” in a 2010 USAID/OIG audit on the Alternative Development program in Colombia (pdf):

The UNODC [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime], acting on the behalf of the Government of Colombia, delineates project boundaries and verifies, using a combination of satellite and ground monitoring, that the area is free of illicit crops. Despite these measures taken, beneficiaries do not have a guarantee that they will not be subject to aerial eradication. Officials from USAID/Colombia and the Department of State’s Narcotics Affairs Section acknowledge that occasionally, land that the Government of Colombia has certified as being illicit free and has come under the alternative development program has been subject to fumigation (eradication). The audit interviewed beneficiaries from two alternative development activities in the department of Putumayo who lost their licit agricultural crops because of aerial eradication efforts.

Beneficiaries are still at risk despite demonstrating that their land is illicit free because the different goals and objectives that the U.S. Government is trying to achieve under its three-tiered counternarcotics strategy (interdiction, eradication, and alternative development) do not always complement each other. For example, a key U.S. Government’s counternarcotics objective is to assist the Government of Colombia in its efforts to eliminate the cultivation of illicit drug crops. Under the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the Office of Aviation supports the Colombian National Police’s efforts to eradicate coca through aerial fumigation. As part of those efforts, the Office of Aviation uses airborne digital cameras to photograph suspected coca fields. If coca is identified, these fields become targets for aerial fumigation.

According to officials from both USAID/Colombia and the Department of State’s Narcotics Affairs Section, the routes used for aerial fumigation are based on predetermined global positioning system coordinates. However, while in the air, if the pilot is able to visibly identify coca outside of the predetermined area, then a decision to eradicate can be made. Unfortunately, some licit crops share an appearance similar to that of the coca leaf, creating a possibility for human error in the decision to eradicate.

According to USAID/Colombia and Narcotics Affairs Section officials, there is a complaint process established for anyone who believes that their land has been fumigated erroneously. The complaint process can be lengthy, and if beneficiaries cannot provide the correct global positioning system coordinates of their land and the date of the alleged fumigation, any damages resulting from the fumigation can be difficult to prove. Adding to the challenge is that the effects of aerial fumigation are not immediately visible but appear days or weeks after the field was sprayed. If a complaint is successful, the beneficiary is compensated for the loss. However, it is doubtful that the beneficiary can truly recover the time and effort invested in the cultivation of the licit agricultural crops on the land. And having lost their investment once, the beneficiary may decide not to continue with the production of licit crops.

Officials from both USAID/Colombia and the Narcotics Affairs Section state that interagency coordination has improved and more sharing of information is helping to ensure that alternative development program beneficiaries are better identified and considered prior to instances of aerial fumigation. Nevertheless, the protection of these beneficiaries cannot be guaranteed.

 

In March 2014, the Congressional Research Service issued  a report (pdf) on International Drug Control Policy: Background and U.S. Responses. Excerpt below:

Much of contemporary counternarcotics efforts in Colombia stem from a 1999 Colombian government strategy to address security and development issues, called Plan Colombia. It was intended to be a six-year plan, concluding in 2005, to end the country’s decades-long armed conflict, eliminate drug trafficking, and promote economic and social development. The plan aimed to curb trafficking activity and reduce coca cultivation in Colombia by 50% over six years. In support of Plan Colombia and its follow-on programs, the U.S. government spent more than $8 billion in security and development assistance between FY2000 and FY2011, to include both civilian and military counterdrug support efforts.

Here is the part of the 2014 CRS report that talks about eradication:

Eradication is a long-standing but controversial U.S. policy regarding international drug control. As recently as 2008, the State Department had considered crop control the “most cost-effective means of cutting supply,” because drugs cannot enter the illegal trade if the crops were never planted, destroyed, or left unharvested. Without drug cultivation, the State Department’s rationale continued, “there would be no need for costly enforcement and interdiction operations.”

Proponents of eradication further argue that it is easier to locate and destroy crops in the field than to locate subsequently processed drugs on smuggling routes or on the streets of U.S. cities. Put differently, a kilogram of powder cocaine is far more difficult to detect than the 300 to 500 kilograms of coca leaf that are required to make that same kilogram. Also, because crops constitute the cheapest link in the narcotics chain, producers may devote fewer economic resources to prevent their detection than to conceal more expensive and refined forms of the drug product.

Opponents of expanded supply reduction policy generally question whether reduction of the foreign supply of narcotic drugs is achievable and whether it would have a meaningful impact on levels of illicit drug use in the United States. Manual eradication requires significant time and human resources, reportedly involving upward of 20 work-hours of effort to pull up and destroy one hectare of coca plants. Aerial application of herbicide is not legal or feasible in many countries and is expensive to implement where it is permitted. Aerial fumigation in Colombia has also raised allegations that the herbicide chemical used has caused negative human, animal, and environmental consequences.

Others question whether a global policy of simultaneous crop control is cost-effective or politically feasible because eradication efforts may also potentially result in negative political, economic, and social consequences for the producing country, especially in conflict or post- conflict environments.  Some argue that this has been the case with respect to eradication efforts in Afghanistan, where some U.S. officials have acknowledged that poppy eradication may have caused many poor Afghan farmers to ally with insurgents and other enemies of the Afghan government.  In 2009, Richard Holbrooke, who was the Obama Administration’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the time, called Western eradication policies in Afghanistan “a failure” and stated that they have “wasted hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.” Since 2009, the U.S. government has no long directly participated in eradication operations in Afghanistan.

Ok.

So help us out here.  What we can’t understand is how a program that costs American taxpayers over $8 billion in the last 11 years has no State/OIG audit trail?

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Related posts:

 

Related items: Counternarcotics (CN) Reports Afghanistan

Audit of Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Counter-narcotics Assistance to Afghanistan | November 14, 2014} AUD-MERO-15-02 | View Report: aud-mero-15-02.pdf

Performance Evaluation of PAE Operations and Maintenance Support for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs’ Counternarcotics Compounds in Afghanistan | March 04, 2011| MERO-I-11-02 | View Report: 157927.pdf

Status of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Counternarcotics Programs in Afghanistan Performance Audit | December 23, 2009 | MERO-A-10-02
| View Report: 134183.pdf

Interagency Assessment of the Counternarcotic Program in Afghanistan July 2007 | August 03, 2007 |  ISP-I-07-34 | View Report: 90158.pdf

Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs July 2005 | June 18, 2009 | ISP-I-05-14 | View Report: 125271.pdf

 

IT Consultant Using Identity Of Deceased Infant Snagged During Passport Application

Posted: 2:08  am EDT

 

Via USDOJ:

Computer Industry Consultant Convicted For Using Identify Of Deceased Infant

BOSTON – A former Boston computer industry consultant was found guilty following a five-day jury trial on March 6, 2015, of assuming the identity of an infant who died in 1966 and using that identity to obtain a Social Security number.

Steven Nolte, 51, was convicted of passport fraud, aggravated identity theft, and use of a falsely-obtained Social Security number.  U.S. District Court Judge Denise J. Casper scheduled sentencing for May 28, 2015.  He remains detained pending sentencing.

Nolte was born in Arizona in 1963 as Steven Nolte, but in 1997, he assumed the identity of a four-day-old infant who died in 1966.  At the time Nolte adopted this identity, he was in the process of stealing over $571,000 from a real estate company for which he had provided computer consulting services.  Nolte then obtained a passport in the assumed identity and traveled to Costa Rica, where proceeds of the theft had been wire-transferred.  Nolte thereafter traveled extensively in the South Pacific and ultimately settled in the Boston area, where he worked in the computer industry for many years under his assumed identity.  In 1999, he applied for a Social Security number by using the same false identity.  Nolte’s true identity was discovered in May 2012 when he submitted an application for a replacement passport in Boston under his assumed name.  State Department officials realized that the Social Security number Nolte was using had not been issued to Nolte in the assumed name until he supposedly was 33 years old.  Upon further investigation, agents learned of the infant’s death in 1966, and ultimately uncovered Nolte’s true identity.

The charge of making false statements in a passport application provides for no greater than 10 years in prison and three years of supervised release; the charge of using a falsely-obtained Social Security number provides for no greater than five years in prison and three years of supervised release; and the charge of aggravated identity theft provides for a mandatory two years in prison, and one year of supervised release.  All three charges provide for fines of up to $250,000.  Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties.  Sentenced are imposed by a federal district court judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutory sentencing factors.

United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz; David W. Hall, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Boston Field Office; and Scott Antolik, Special Agent in Charge of the Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations, Boston Field Division, made the announcement today.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian Pérez-Daple and Robert E. Richardson of Ortiz’s Major Crimes Unit.

Original announcement is here.

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Consular Affairs Bureau Seeks to Expand Visa Waiver and Interview Waiver Programs

— Domani Spero

 

The State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs retired last April (see Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs to Retire Effective April 3).  As far as we know, no successor has been nominated to date.  Pardon me? You want ……..? And you want Overseas Citizens Services DAS Jim Pettit?  Excuse me, Mr. Pettit was already nominated as Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova.  Who else?  You want ……. ? Well, maybe State should have a list of nominees and have all CA employees vote for their next boss per the bureau’s Leadership Tenets. Because wouldn’t that be a screamingly fantastic experiment?

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:

Consular Adjudicators

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.

The full statement is available here.

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