Category Archives: Snapshots

Official Guidance on Nap Rooms: Our diplomats are tireless, no nap rooms needed!

– Domani Spero

Well, that was quick.  Yesterday, there was this Tweet of the Day: US Embassy London to Get Nap Rooms?. Barely 24 hours later, the State Department slapped down the nap room idea at Embassy London or any of our diplomatic missions. The State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf  said that the agency is not considering establishing nap rooms “at this time.” Below is an excerpt from the DPB:

2 kittens taking a nap

2 kittens taking a nap (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

QUESTION: This is a slightly whimsical question –

MS. HARF: Uh-oh.

QUESTION: — but I see a tweet suggesting that the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom has –

MS. HARF: You’re asking about nap rooms, aren’t you?

QUESTION: Yes. Is there anything to that?

MS. HARF: I was going to make a joke, but I’m not. Actually, I might still.

QUESTION: Do you have guidance on this?

MS. HARF: Yeah, I have guidance.

QUESTION: Amazing.

MS. HARF: And I wrote at the top: Our diplomats are tireless advocates for our foreign policy. It’s pretty good, right? Nap room, tireless, no? Okay, fine. No one liked my joke.

QUESTION: I liked it.

MS. HARF: Thank you, Elise. So yes, I do have guidance on this. In a private talk yesterday, U.S. employees at the Embassy in London – Arianna Huffington touted the productivity benefits of getting more sleep – something we can probably all attest to – and urged the ambassador to follow the Huffington Post example of installing nap rooms. The ambassador graciously and diplomatically said he would look into it. While we are not considering establishing nap rooms at Embassy London or any of our diplomatic missions at this time, we obviously think that work-life balance is important, and someday I will attempt to find it.

While they were at it, the Secretary arrived in Poland.  Attending a meeting in Warsaw, the Secretary was spotted taking what appears to be a snooze. Was this a nano-nap, a micro-nap,  a mini-nap or a power nap?

JK’s rapid response:

 

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Filed under Foreign Service, John F. Kerry, Photo of the Day, Secretary of State, Snapshots, State Department, U.S. Missions

USAID Afghanistan — SIGAR, OIG Investigates Second Largest Recipient of Reconstruction Funds

– Domani Spero  

Via SIGAR – Snapshot of Top Ten Recipients of USAID Funds in Afghanistan Reconstruction (2002-2013):

Our analysis of USAID data indicated that the top ten implementing partners in total awards accounted for about $7.7 billion, or 58 percent of total obligations. The remaining 42 percent of obligations were awarded to a total of 193 implementers who averaged $29 million in total awards. The World Bank was the top overall recipient of USAID funds in Afghanistan, with total awards equal to approximately $1.75 billion. USAID provided $1.74 billion to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), which is administered by the World Bank, and awarded the Bank a $2 million grant for a project supporting business environment reform in Afghanistan. International Relief and Development, Inc. (IRD) received the second highest amount of total rewards at approximately $1.1 billion. Table 2 shows the top ten recipients by total obligation as reported by USAID. Figure 3 demonstrates the percentage of total USAID reconstruction awards received by each of the top ten recipients.

via SIGAR

via SIGAR

Via SIGAR

Via SIGAR

 

International Relief and Development, Inc. (IRD), number #2 on the list above is the subject of a recent WaPo investigation on Big budgets, little oversight in war zones. Quick notes from the report:

  • International Relief and Development increased its annual revenue from $1.2 million to $706 million, most of it from the USAID.
  • The nonprofit rewarded its employees with generous salaries and millions in bonuses. 38 IRD employees received more than $3.4 million in bonuses during the same period, according to the company’s tax filings.
  • IRD’s impressive board of advisers included former House majority leader Richard A. Gephardt and John D. Negroponte, who served as ambassador to several countries, including Iraq, and was the nation’s first director of national intelligence.
  • The company hired an all-star cast of humanitarian officials, drafting them from the top levels of USAID. In addition to the former acting administrator, the officials have included the deputy assistant administrator, the director of contracts and a key operations officer. According to WaPo, it has hired at least 19 employees from USAID. “Several of them came directly from their desks at the agency to occupy important posts at the company.”
  • As acting director of USAID, Alonzo Fulgham made $199,418. As vice president of IRD, he received $330,000. Jeffrey Grieco made $185,000 as the top public affairs official at USAID. As chief of public affairs at IRD, he received $225,000.

According to WaPo, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko had opened an investigation into allegations of “significant waste and mismanagement” and “kickbacks and bribery by IRD senior employees over a road project, which wound up costing $317 million.

We understand that SIGAR is also investigating IRD for  attempting to “use confidentiality agreements as a way of prohibiting its employees from making critical statements about IRD to “funding agencies” or “officials of any
government.” 

Via WaPo:
Some of the people who might know the most about what has happened with IRD-run programs — former company employees — say they have been barred from speaking about their experiences. Before leaving IRD, they said, they were asked to sign confidentiality agreements.

The agreements warn employees that they could be sued for making any “derogatory, disparaging, negative, critical or defamatory statements” about IRD to anyone, including “funding agencies” or “officials of any government.” Lawyers who reviewed the agreements at the request of The Post said it appeared that they could violate federal protections afforded to whistleblowers under the False Claims Act.

[Read a copy of the confidentiality agreement.]

In a letter to IRD, SIGAR Sopko writes that “IRD’s policy of prohibiting employees fiom informing government officials of critical information appears to violate the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729-3733, federal whistleblower statutes, and the Federal Acquisition Regulation. … The threat of retaliation for reporting problems to oversight agencies is all too real. I am simply not willing to tolerate an attempt to institutionalize employee intimidation. Therefore, I am initiating an inquiry into these allegations.”

SIGAR had also asked USAID to consider inserting a provision in all future contracts, cooperative agreements, and grant agreements for Afghanistan reconstruction that forbids the recipients of federal funds from using confidentiality agreements that prohibit their employees from talking to U.S. government officials.

Meanwhile at USAID/OIG — a “well-placed government source” told devex.com that the agency’s watchdog has been conducting an investigation into IRD for “months.” Devex.com reports that Bill Pierce, who serves as a spokesperson for IRD, told Devex that he was not aware of an OIG investigation that had been going on for months. 

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Filed under Afghanistan, Contractors, Follow the Money, Foreign Assistance, Snapshots, U.S. Missions, USAID

Snapshot: Top Sectors for State Dept Reconstruction Awards in Afghanistan (2002-2013)

– Domani Spero

Via SIGAR:

We identified seven project sectors for Department of State reconstruction awards in Afghanistan. The project sectors include mine removal, governance and rule-of-law, support to cultural activities and civil society, education, humanitarian aid, human rights, and economic development. The governance and rule-of-law project sector had the highest amount of total awards with $3.5 billion, of the $4.0 billion in total awards. Governance and rule-of-law projects include rule-of-law activities such as counternarcotics programs and justice sector reform, peacekeeping initiatives, and government outreach programs. Land mine removal programs had the second-largest proportion of total awards with $150.7 million. Table 1 includes the total awards for each identified project sector as well as the percentage of total awards.

 

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Read more here (pdf).

 

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Filed under Afghanistan, Awards, Counting Beans, Follow the Money, Foreign Assistance, Foreign Policy, Govt Reports/Documents, Snapshots, State Department, U.S. Missions, Uncategorized, US Embassy Kabul

Snapshot: Cuba Democracy Funding to State and USAID – FY1996-2011

– Domani Spero

The Associated Press recently produced an investigative piece on ZunZuneo, a Twitter Cubano reportedly aimed at undermining the socialist government in Cuba that was managed by USAID.

The official government response cited a GAO report from 2013 which make no mention of ZunZeneo. The report, however, provides a snapshot of how much we have spent on the Cuba Democracy project from 1996-2011. Ay mucho dinero:

In fiscal years 1996 through 2011, Congress appropriated $205 million for Cuba democracy assistance, appropriating 87 percent of these funds since 2004. Increased funding for Cuba democracy assistance was recommended by the interagency Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which was established by President George W. Bush in 2003.13 Program funding, which peaked in 2008 with appropriations totaling $44.4 million, has ranged between $15 and $20 million per year during fiscal years 2009 through 2012. For fiscal year 2013, USAID and State reduced their combined funding request to $15 million, citing operational challenges to assistance efforts in Cuba.14

In fiscal years 1996 through 2011, $138.2 million of Cuba democracy funds were allocated to USAID and $52.3 million were allocated to State. (see GAO report pdf).

 

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Filed under Budget, Congress, Counting Beans, Follow the Money, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Govt Reports/Documents, Snapshots, State Department, U.S. Missions, USAID

Snapshot: Visa Waiver Program Countries as of February 2014

Under the visa waiver program (VWP), the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, may waive the “B” nonimmigrant visa requirement for aliens traveling from certain countries as temporary visitors for business or pleasure (tourists). Nationals from participating countries must use the web-based Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to get an approved electronic travel authorization before embarking to the United States, and are admitted into the United States for up to 90 days. The VWP constitutes one of a few exceptions under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in which foreign nationals are admitted into the United States without a valid visa. As of January 2014, 37 countries participate in the VWP.

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei,  Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

CRS: Visa Waiver Program, February 12, 2014

Now includes 38 countries. On February 28, 2014, Secretary Jeh Johnson announced the designation of Chile into the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).  Starting May 1, 2014, eligible Chilean passport holders with both an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and an e-passport will be able to visit the United States without nonimmigrant visitor visas.

Read more here.

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Filed under Consular Work, Govt Reports/Documents, Snapshots, State Department, Visas

Snapshot: Foreign Service Grievance Board Statistics — 2012

– Domani Spero

We last posted about this in Foreign Service Grievance Board: Out With The Old, In With The New — Website.  Below are the numbers for calendar year 2012. FSGB did not make this available until about September this year.

Screen Shot 2013-09-28

In 2011, the average time for consideration of a grievance case was 41 weeks, so the Board had been able to shaved off 8 weeks from the process in 2012.

Below is the FSGB’s summary of its cases, extracted from the 2012 annual report posted at fsgb.gov:

EERs/IERs/OPFs 

The Board decided 16 cases in which the grievants contested some aspect of material in their Official Performance Files (OPF), which provide the basis for promotions and other career decisions. The cases included a variety of claims: late and missing awards; falsely prejudicial material; lack of prior counseling on perceived performance deficiencies; and procedural errors. The Board affirmed the agency’s decision in eight of the cases; reversed the agency in five cases; and partially affirmed/partially reversed in one case. One case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, and two were settled.

In one case, the Board rever reversed a decision by the agency that the grievant had not met the standards of her class. The Board found that the agency had violated several of its own regulations by not providing grievant written notice of performance deficiencies or adequate counseling. It also found that the record did not support the conclusion that the grievant had not met the standards of her class. The Board made the relatively unusual recommendation in this case that the agency grant the grievant a retroactive administrative promotion.

In another case, the Board found that the many procedural errors incurred in processing the grievant’s OPF for tenure review cast serious doubt on whether the grievant had received a fair review in a year in which he was denied tenure. As a remedy, it directed that the grievant’s OPF be placed before reconstituted tenure and selection boards.

Financial Cases 

The Board resolved 20 cases involving financial disputes this year, as compared to eight cases the previous year. It affirmed the agency decision in 13 of those cases, and partially affirmed and partially reversed in three cases. Three cases were settled and one was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

The three cases in which the agency was partially reversed involved reimbursement for the cost of vaccinations; credit for prior work experience in setting initial salary; and reimbursement for the shipment of HHE effects to grievant’s separation address upon his retirement. Six of the cases in which the agency decision was affirmed also involved challenges to the grievant’s starting salary.

One of the more complex financial cases involved the shipment of wood flooring, doors, and door frames by grievants in their household effects. The agency characterized the items as construction materials rather than household effects, and charged grievants for their shipment. The Board upheld the agency’s finding that the items could not properly be considered HHE. (In a separate action, USDA found the wood to be an endangered species that could not be imported legally unless it was part of HHE, and the items were eventually confiscated and destroyed.)

Disciplinary Cases 

The Board decided 12 disciplinary cases this year involving a range of issues: inappropriate behavior toward women; extramarital relationships; lack of candor; drinking while armed; failure to report contacts; unauthorized travel; violation of the agency’s Cyber Security Policy; violation of an embassy vehicle use policy; drunk and disorderly conduct; and misuse of USG equipment. The Board affirmed the agency decision in four cases; partially affirmed and partially reversed in two cases; and reversed in one case. Five of the cases were settled.

Separation Cases 

The Board addressed 12 cases involving the potential separation of the employee. Four of the cases involved separation for cause for misconduct. The other eight involved recommendations for separation by the Performance Standards Board for failure to meet the standards of the class; failure to become tenured; failure to meet an agency’s language requirements; and suspension of the employee’s security clearance. Eleven of these cases were settled and/or withdrawn. In the remaining case, the Board affirmed the agency’s decision to separate the employee for cause. No hearing was held, however, because the employee was living outside the country and failed to respond to repeated attempts by the Board and the agency to schedule a hearing.

Assignment 

Three grievants claimed that assignment actions violated agency regulations and policies. One grievant challenged the agency’s decision to direct a third assignment when his second assignment as a junior officer was curtailed for medical reasons. A second grievant objected to the agency breaking a linked assignment to a follow-on post when he curtailed from Afghanistan under conditions that were considered both medical and voluntary. The Board affirmed the agency decision in both cases. The Board dismissed the third grievance, in which the grievant claimed that the agency had violated merit system principles by not giving him an at-grade assignment, for lack of jurisdiction.

Other 

Five cases fell outside the above categories. These cases involved claims regarding non-selection for a position as an Eligible Family Member; an improperly delayed investigation by Diplomatic Security that resulted in a disrupted career and legal fees; statements made in a Report of Investigation that allegedly discriminated against grievant on the basis of disability and mental illness; improper calculation of grievant’s Time in Service date; and the agency’s improper failure to extend grievant’s retirement travel date. Three of the cases were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and/or timeliness. One was settled. The Board affirmed the agency decision in the final case.

We will post separately the judicial actions on the 2012 FSGB cases.

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Filed under 2012, Counting Beans, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Grievance, Snapshots, State Department

Snapshot: U.S. Government Humanitarian Assistance to the Philippines

Via USAID – @theOFDA as of November 18, 2013:

Screen Shot 2013-11-20

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Filed under Countries 'n Regions, Defense Department, Disasters, Foreign Assistance, Snapshots, State Department, USAID

Snapshot: Top 10 State Department Assistance Recipients FY2013

Via USASpending.gov

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Filed under Follow the Money, Foreign Assistance, Govt Reports/Documents, Snapshots, State Department, UN

Snapshot: Top 10 State Department Contractors FY2013

Via USASpending.gov

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Filed under Contractors, Follow the Money, Snapshots, State Department

Snapshot: Afghan Opium Produced and Seized (2008-2012)

Via SIGAR

Screen Shot 2013-09-19

 

 

 

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Filed under Afghanistan, Counting Beans, Countries 'n Regions, Defense Department, Follow the Money, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Assistance, Foreign Policy, Huh? News, Snapshots, War