Category Archives: State Department

State Dept Seeks Organizational Shrink to Assist in Foreign Service Selection Procedures

– Domani Spero

 

On September 12, the State Department published a solicitation via FedBiz.gov seeking “a certified industrial and organizational psychologist to provide advice, assistance and support for Foreign Service selection procedures.” 

Extracted from the FedBiz documents:

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 tasks the U.S. Department of State (the Department), and the Board of Examiners (BEX) specifically, with the responsibility for the evaluation and selection of candidates for the Foreign Service. The Bureau of Human Resources, Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment, Board of Examiners (HR/REE/BEX) oversees these examinations, including the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT), Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP), Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA), and selection procedures for Foreign Service generalists, specialists and limited non-career appointments. HR/REE/BEX is seeking a certified industrial and organizational psychologist to provide necessary advice and assistance in support of the Foreign Service Selection Process.

The contractor will assist the Department in ensuring that all examinations for Foreign Service generalists, specialists and limited non career appointments have been professionally validated and constitute a reliable means of identifying those applicants who show the greatest possibility of success in the Foreign Service. The successful contractor will provide consultative and analytical services as requested including formulating program alternatives and operational support for successful implementation of any revisions to testing and hiring procedures.

 

According to the solicitation, the organizational shrink, formally known as the contractor here shall perform the following work, as assigned by the Department:

1. Assist in evaluating the extent to which the generalist, specialist and limited non-career appointment hiring programs are effective in meeting the needs of the Foreign Service.

2. Work with the contractor who develops and administers the FSOT to review test components, as directed by HR/REE/BEX, including redesign of sections where requested; review and advise HR/REE/BEX on any revisions to the FSOT prior to their inclusion in the Department’s hiring process.

3. Attend, as the Department’s expert contractor, meetings of the Board of Examiners for the Foreign Service, established pursuant to Section 211 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended. At the request of HR/REE/BEX, attend meetings with the Director General that involve discussion of Foreign Service selection procedures.

4. Provide advice on the procedures and training involved in the generalist, specialist and limited non-career appointment Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP), and assess the validity of QEP results.

5. Provide advice on the content validation of the Foreign Service Oral Assessment process (FSOA) and prepare FSOA validation reports for use by the Bureau of Human Resources.

6. Work with subject matter experts to create, review and revise all Foreign Service Selection Process assessments (QEPs, interviews, cases, competency tests, etc.). Provide programming and administrative support for online competency assessments.

7. Compile, manage, and report on assessment data. Validate assessments by conducting studies to ensure compliance with legal and professional testing guidelines. Analyze assessment data for statistical quality, adverse impact, and other purposes (e.g., answering questions from management).

8. Create feedback reports for assessors and management. Conduct special studies on the assessments (e.g., passing rates, comparing equivalence, faking, etc.) as requested. To include documenting all validation evidence, analyses, and special studies in technical reports.

9. Monitor all aspects of the implementation of the assessments and make continuous improvements.

10. Provide advice on alternate methods of entry to the FSOA (other than the FSOT) and assess the validity of these programs.

11. Evaluate on a recurring basis the Department’s recruiting and testing procedures, and advise HR/REE on how best to meet its hiring objectives and ensure the validity of any changes made to the examination processes.

12. Develop an online practice FSOT that potential candidates can use to assess their chances of passing the FSOT. Provide support to HR/REE for the Department’s recruiting mobile application.

13. Provide advice on the Department’s specialist hiring program, including possible examination alternatives; to include remote testing. Review and revise specialist and limited non-career appointment vacancy announcements and questionnaires used for initial screening of applicants.

14. Provide the Department with professional expertise in litigation should there be legal challenges to the FSOT, Oral Assessment,specialist examinations, or selection processes, including through production of requested documentation and service as an expert witness.

15. Provide professional advice and consultation to other HR offices within the Department as requested by HR/REE.

16. Define the mission-critical competencies required of entry-level Foreign Service Officers. Use this information to update the 2007 Job Analysis of Foreign Service Officer Positions

17. Conduct organizational or workforce surveys. To include a survey of generalists and specialists who have participated in the Oral Assessment; Entry-level Officers; and other candidate groups as designated by BEX.

Additionally the contractor should be an expert in psychometrics, the statistical science of psychological measures that are used to comprise knowledge tests and shall be conversant with:

  • The Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (1978) . These guidelines were established by federal agencies in charge of enforcing employment anti-discrimination laws. Among those agencies are the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, and the Department of Justice.
  • The Principles for the Validation and Use of Personnel Selection Procedures , published by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 {Public Law 88-352 (78 Stat. 241)} prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

 

The State Department expects the following deliverables:

  • Based on its observations, the Contractor shall prepare a comprehensive report on generalist and specialist hiring programs, including the FSOT, Foreign Service Oral Assessment and specialist hiring programs, in addition to test-specific reports. The contractor may be required to brief HR/REE/BEX on the findings contained in the report to the Contract Officer’s Representative (COR).
  • The Contractor shall develop and provide in person (not recorded) an up-to-date Oral Assessment training program for assessors in order to ensure consistency among those conducting the oral assessment. Training shall address at a minimum the following elements: orientation to the concept of assessment centers and their role in pre-hire screening, background on the Foreign Service Oral Assessment process, and any revisions made since the last training session.
  • The Contractor shall provide training to BEX on each of the testing exercises that make up the FSOA (see http://www.careers.state.gov) and shall provide detailed guidance on scoring methodologies and anchors. The contractor shall ensure that the training is consistent with professional and legal standards or guidance.
  • The Contractor shall conduct a job analysis of the five Foreign Service Officer career tracks to determine what knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics FSOs need to perform their jobs effectively. Based on this analysis, the contractor will update the current blue prints being used by the Department.
  • The contractor shall compile evidence on the validity of the FSOA, and prepare a report summarizing such evidence, including a complete analysis of the demographics of those participating in the FSOA.
  • The contractor shall develop, monitor, provide, and maintain a comprehensive training program for the panel members involved in the generalists qualifications/evaluation/assessment (QEP).
  • As necessary, assist the Department, including its legal counsel, in legal matters pertaining to the FSOT, QEP and Oral Assessment, or other selection procedures established for the Foreign Service generalists and specialists.
  • The contractor will be required to compile a library of materials created pursuant to the contract on the content validation for all FSOTs administered during the contract period. Title to the library of materials compiled by the Contractor for which the Contractor is entitled to be reimbursed under this contract shall pass to and vest in the Government.

A couple of thoughts — this organizational psychologist has the potential to impact the hiring process of the State Department. Two, we are not sure if this is one of the results of the EEOC class action, but the requirement that this contractor provide the Department “with professional expertise in litigation should there be legal challenges to the FSOT, Oral Assessment,specialist examinations, or selection processes” seems to indicate that an expected challenge/s may be in the works.

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EEOC Affirms Class Action Certification For Disabled Applicants to the U.S. Foreign Service

– Domani Spero

 

In October 2010, we blogged that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has certified a class action brought on behalf of all disabled Foreign Service applicants against the U.S. State Department.  (see  EEOC certifies class action against State Dept on behalf of disabled Foreign Service applicants).

Related items:

Meyer, et al. v. Clinton (Department of State), EEOC Case No. 570-2008-00018X (September 30, 2010) (certifying class action based upon disability discrimination in State Department’s Foreign Service Officer hiring)

This past June, the EEOC affirmed the class certification for applicants to the Foreign Service denied or delayed in hiring because of their disabilities, based upon the “worldwide availability” policy.  (see Meyer v. Kerry (Dept. of State), EEOC Appeal No. 0720110007 (June 6, 2014)).

The State Department Disability Class Action now has its own website here.  Bryan Schwartz in San Francisco and Passman & Kaplan in Washington represented the class. The State Department’s Office of Legal Advisor and Office of Civil Rights represented the department.

Below is an excerpt from the class action website:

The EEOC decision found that the Class Agent in the matter, Doering Meyer, has had multiple sclerosis (MS) in remission for decades, without need for treatment, but was initially rejected outright for State Department employment anywhere in the world because the Department’s Office of Medical Services perceived that her MS might cause her problems in “a tropical environment.” This was notwithstanding a Board Certified Neurologist’s report approving her to work overseas without limitation.
[...]
The Department challenged the judge’s initial certification decision because, among other reasons, Meyer eventually received a rare “waiver” of the worldwide availability requirement, with her attorney’s assistance, and obtained a Foreign Service post. She is now a tenured Foreign Service Officer, most recently in Croatia, and being posted to Lithuania. Meyer’s attorney argued to the EEOC that she was still delayed in her career growth by the initial denial in 2006, and missed several posting opportunities over the course of an extended period, losing substantial income and seniority. The EEOC agreed with Meyer – modifying the class definition slightly to include not only those denied Foreign Service Posts, but those “whose employment was delayed pending application for and receipt of a waiver, because the State Department deemed them not ‘worldwide available’ due to their disability.”

Schwartz indicated that the case may ultimately have major implications not only for Foreign Service applicants, and not only in the State Department, but for all employees of the federal government abroad who have disabilities, records of disabilities, and perceived disabilities, and who must receive medical clearance through the Department’s Office of Medical Services. He noted that he has already filed other alleged class cases, also pending at the EEOC – one on behalf of applicants for limited term appointments (who need “post-specific” clearance, but are also denied individualized consideration), and another on behalf of employees associated with people with disabilities, who are denied the opportunity to be hired because of their family members who might need reasonable accommodations (or be perceived as disabled).

The Commission had also received an “Amicus Letter” from a consortium of more than 100 disability-related organizations urging the Commission to certify the class.

Read the full ruling at (pdf) Meyer v. Kerry (Dept. of State), EEOC Appeal No. 0720110007 from June 6, 2014 where the State Department contends that since this complaint was filed, the Office of Medical Services has changed many of its procedures in assessing “worldwide availability.”It also suggested that “many of those individuals who were found not worldwide available in 2006 maybe currently worldwide available under new definitions and procedures.”

The Commission, however, says that it “is not finding that changes made to the Medical Clearance process subsequent to the filing of the instant complaint have remedied any alleged discriminatory policy.”  

The order states (pdf): “It is the decision of the Commission to certify the class comprised of “all qualified applicants to the Foreign Service beginning on October 7, 2006, who were denied employment, or whose employment was delayed pending application for and receipt of a waiver, because the State Department deemed them not “world-wide available” due to their disability.”

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U.S. Embassy Yemen Now on Evacuation … No, on Temporary Reduction of Staff Status

– Domani Spero

 

On September 25, the State Department finally ordered the evacuation temporary reduction of USG personnel from the US Embassy in Yemen.  Below is an excerpt from the updated Travel Warning:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.  The Department urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Yemen and those U.S. citizens currently living in Yemen to depart. This supersedes the Travel Warning for Yemen issued on July 21, 2014.

On September 24, 2014, the Department of State ordered a reduction of U.S. government personnel from Yemen out of an abundance of caution due to the continued civil unrest and the potential for military escalation. The Embassy’s ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency and provide routine consular services may be limited. Embassy officers are restricted in their movements and cannot travel outside of Sana’a. In addition, movements within Sana’a are severely constrained and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation.

The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high. The Embassy is subject to frequent unannounced closures.  In May 2014, the Embassy was closed for almost five weeks because of heightened security threats.

Demonstrations continue to take place in various parts of the country and may quickly escalate and turn violent. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid areas of demonstrations, and to exercise extreme caution if within the vicinity of a demonstration.

Read in full here.

In related news, the Official Spokesperson of the State Department released a statement emphasizing that “The Embassy did not suspend operations and will continue to operate, albeit with reduced staff” and that “Consular services have not been affected by this temporary reduction in personnel.”

Serious question — when the USG declares that post is on “temporary reduction” or on “temporary relocation” of personnel, which seems to be the trend these days, are affected personnel considered “evacuees” for allowance and travel purposes?  Or are all the affected personnel put on TDY status to their designated safe havens?  We’re having a hard time locating the citation for “temporary reduction”or “temporary relocation” in the Foreign Affairs Manual.

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Clips via Twitter:

Yesterday:

 

 

Today:

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Americans Abroad, Consular Work, Evacuations, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service, FSOs, Media, Protests, Realities of the FS, Regulations, Security, Social Media, Staffing the FS, State Department, Terrorism, U.S. Missions, War

Photo of the Day: First Parent-Daughter Assistant Secretary of State

– Domani Spero

 

 

President Obama announced Ms. Crocker’s nomination in October 2013. The WH released a brief bio at that time:

Bathsheba N. Crocker is the Principal Deputy Director in the Office of Policy Planning at the Department of State (DOS), a position she has held since 2011.  Previously at DOS, she served as Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary of State from 2009 to 2011.  From 2008 to 2009, Ms. Crocker was a Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer for International Affairs at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  She was the Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support at the UN Peacebuilding Support Office from 2007 to 2008.  From 2005 to 2007, Ms. Crocker was the Deputy Chief of Staff to the UN Special Envoy at the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery.  Ms. Crocker worked at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project as a Fellow and Co-Director from 2003 to 2005 and as an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations from 2002 to 2003.  Ms. Crocker was an Attorney-Adviser for the Office of the Legal Advisor at DOS from 2001 to 2002 and from 1997 to 1999.  From 2000 to 2001, she was Deputy U.S. Special Representative for Southeast Europe Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, Italy.  From 1999 to 2000, Ms. Crocker was Executive Assistant to the Deputy National Security Advisor for the National Security Council at the White House.  She has served as an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, George Washington University, and American University.  Ms. Crocker received a B.A. from Stanford University, an M.A. from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Ms. Crocker’s father, Chester Crocker is a career diplomat who served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 1981 to 1989 in the Reagan administration.  Click here for his ADST oral history interview (pdf).

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This is late, but here is the Senior Foreign Service Promotion List

– Domani Spero

 

This is late, but we’ve only recently found the list from the congressional records.  We believed these were some of the nominees who were promoted last fall but did not get the Senate’s confirmation until April 2014.  See this for an explanation of the ranks in the Senior Foreign Service.

Nomination: PN1381-01-113
Date Received: January 30, 2014 (113th Congress)
Nominees: One hundred and ninety-three nominations, beginning with Gerald Michael Feierstein, and ending with David Michael Satterfield
Referred to: Senate Foreign Relations
Reported by: Senate Foreign Relations

Legislative Actions
Floor Action: January 30, 2014 – Received in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.
Floor Action: April 10, 2014 – Reported by Senator Menendez, Committee on Foreign Relations, without printed report.
Floor Action: April 10, 2014 – Placed on Senate Executive Calendar. Calendar No. DESK.
Floor Action: April 11, 2014 – Confirmed by the Senate by Voice Vote.
Organization: Foreign Service

List of Nominees:

The following named Career Members of the Senior Foreign Service of the Department of State for promotion into and within the Senior Foreign Service to the classes indicated:

Career Members of the Senior Foreign Service of the United States of America, Class of Career Minister:

  • Gerald Michael Feierstein, of PA
  • Robert S. Ford, of MD
  • David M. Hale, of NJ
  • Stuart E. Jones, of VA
  • Linda Thomas-Greenfield, of LA

 

Career Members of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor:

  • Ronald D. Acuff, of FL
  • Douglas A. Allison, of VA
  • Marjorie Ann Ames, of FL
  • Whitney Young Baird, of NC
  • Erica Jean Barks-Ruggles, of VA
  • Kristen F. Bauer, of MA
  • Paul S. Beighley, of DC
  • Kate M. Byrnes, of FL
  • Floyd Steven Cable, of NY
  • Aubrey A. Carlson, of TX
  • Anne S. Casper, of NV
  • Todd Crawford Chapman, of TX
  • Karen Lise Christensen, of VA
  • Susan R. Crystal, of PA
  • Karen Bernadette Decker, of VA
  • Kathleen A. Doherty, of NY
  • Mary Dale Draper, of CA
  • Michael J. Fitzpatrick, of FL
  • Robert W. Forden, of CA
  • Jennifer Zimdahl Galt, of CO
  • Thomas Henry Goldberger, of NJ
  • Mark A. Goodfriend, of CA
  • Robert Daniel Griffiths, of NV
  • Kelii J. Gurfield, of WA
  • Peter David Haas, of FL
  • Daniel J. Hall, of TX
  • Dennis B. Hankins, of VA
  • Kathleen D. Hanson, of DC
  • Clifford Awtrey Hart, of VA
  • Jennifer Conn Haskell, of FL
  • Donald L. Heflin, of VA
  • Leo J. Hession, Jr., of CA
  • Catherine M. Hill-Herndon, of PA
  • Perry L. Holloway, of SC
  • John F. Hoover, of VA
  • Christine L. Hughes, of FL
  • Thomas J. Hushek, of DC
  • Michael Joseph Jacobsen, of TX
  • Julie Lynn Kavanagh, of VA
  • Michael Stanley Klecheski, of VA
  • Kent D. Logsdon, of FL
  • Matthew Robert Lussenhop, of MN
  • Michael William McClellan, of KY
  • Robin D. Meyer, of DC
  • Jonathan M. Moore, of IL
  • Wendela C. Moore, of VA
  • Kin Wah Moy, of NY
  • Warren Patrick Murphy, of VA
  • Julieta Valls Noyes, of FL
  • Larry G. Padget, Jr., of TX
  • Virginia E. Palmer, of VA
  • Beth A. Payne, of DC
  • Mary Catherine Phee, of DC
  • Claire A. Pierangelo, of CA
  • Lonnie J. Price, of VA
  • Robin S. Quinville, of CA
  • Elizabeth H. Richard, of TX
  • Adele E. Ruppe, of MD
  • Sue Ellen Saarnio, of VA
  • Christian J. Schurman, of VA
  • Kristen B. Skipper, of CA
  • Paul Randall Sutphin, of VA
  • Mara R. Tekach, of FL
  • Michael Stephen Tulley, of CA
  • David A. Tyler, of NH
  • Thomas Laszlo Vajda, of VA
  • James E. Vanderpool, of CA
  • Paul Dashner Wohlers, of WA
  • Steven Edward Zate, of FL
  • Timothy P. Zuniga-Brown, of NV

 

Career Members of the Senior Foreign Service of the United States of America, Class of Counselor:

  • Kelly Adams-Smith, of VA
  • Steven P. Adams-Smith, of VA
  • Jorgan Kendal Andrews, of VA
  • Virginia Meade Blaser, of VA
  • Scott Douglas Boswell, of DC
  • William Harvey Boyle, of AZ
  • Matthew Gordon Boyse, of CT
  • Bridget A. Brink, of DC
  • MaryKay Loss Carlson, of TX
  • James A. Carouso, of NY
  • Melissa Clegg-Tripp, of WA
  • Theodore R. Coley, of VA
  • Kelly Colleen Degnan, of CA
  • Leslie Stephen Degraffenried, of TX
  • Jill Derderian, of MD
  • Thomas M. Duffy, of CA
  • Stuart Anderson Dwyer, of ME
  • Andrew S. E. Erickson, of CA
  • Thomas R. Favret, of PA
  • Tara Feret, of VA
  • Patricia L. Fietz, of VA
  • Frank Jonathan Finver, of MD
  • Dehab Ghebreab, of VA
  • Paul G. Gilmer, of CA
  • Joshua D. Glazeroff, of VA
  • Anthony F. Godfrey, of VA
  • Katharina P. Gollner-Sweet, of VA
  • Francisco Javier Gonzales, of NJ
  • Laura Marlene Gould, of VA
  • Eric F. Green, of DC
  • Allen S. Greenberg, of TX
  • Michael Nicholas Greenwald, of CA
  • Henry Harrison Hand, of DC
  • Todd C. Holmstrom, of MI
  • Henry Victor Jardine, of VA
  • Lisa Anne Johnson, of VA
  • Elizabeth Jane Jordan, of FL
  • George P. Kent, of VA
  • John Stuart Kincannon, of DC
  • Michael B. Koplovsky, of NY
  • Steven Christopher Koutsis, of MA
  • Dale A. Largent, of WA
  • Laura Anne Lochman, of NC
  • James L. Loi, of CT
  • Theodore J. Lyng, of CT
  • Jean Elizabeth Manes, of FL
  • Andrew Cooper Mann, of WA
  • Carlos F. Matus, of MD
  • Wayne Amory McDuffy, of VA
  • David Slayton Meale, of VA
  • David Mees, of MD
  • Christopher Midura, of VA
  • Keith W. Mines, of NY
  • Sarah Craddock Morrison, of VA
  • Susan Butler Niblock, of MD
  • Karen L. Ogle, of MI
  • Kevin Michael O’Reilly, of VA
  • Inmi Kim Patterson, of NY
  • Brian Hawthorne Phipps, of FL
  • Thomas C. Pierce, of OR
  • John Mark Pommersheim, of FL
  • John Robert Post, of DC
  • Lynette Joyce Poulton, of CA
  • Timothy Joel Pounds, of NV
  • Jean E. Preston, of DC
  • Monique Valerie Quesada, of FL
  • David J. Ranz, of NY
  • David Reimer, of VA
  • Richard Henry Riley, IV, of VA
  • Lynn Whitlock Roche, of VA
  • Elizabeth Helen Rood, of VA
  • Kathryn M. Schalow, of VA
  • David Jonathan Schwartz, of VA
  • Dorothy Camille Shea, of DC
  • Adam Matthew Shub, of MD
  • Lynne P. Skeirik, of NH
  • Michael H. Smith, of NJ
  • Thomas D. Smitham, of MD
  • Andrew Snow, of NY
  • Sean B. Stein, of ID
  • James Kent Stiegler, of CA
  • Martina A. Strong, of TX
  • Stephanie Faye Syptak-Ramnath, of TX
  • Gregory Dean Thome, of WI
  • Laurence Edward Tobey, of NJ
  • Laurie Jo Trost, of VA
  • John Michael Underriner, of OH
  • Denise A. Urs, of TX
  • Peter Hendrick Vrooman, of NY
  • Gary S. Wakahiro, of CA
  • Jessica Webster, of DE
  • William J. Weissman, of CA
  • Eric Paul Whitaker, of CA
  • Frank J. Whitaker, of SC
  • Henry Thomas Wooster, of VA
  • Thomas K. Yazdgerdi, of FL
  • Paul Douglas Yeskoo, of VA
  • Marta Costanzo Youth, of MD

Career Members of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, and Consular Officers and Secretaries in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America:

  • Raymond Bassi, of VA
  • Mark S. Butchart, of MD
  • Richard A. Capone, of VA
  • Janet A. Cote, of NV
  • Carolyn I. Creevy, of VA
  • Jill E. Darken, of IL
  • Bartle B. Gorman, of VA
  • Aleen Janice Grabow, of WI
  • Robert Allen Hall, of PA
  • Ralph A. Hamilton, of OH
  • Roger A. Herndon, of PA
  • Bruce J. Lizzi, of MD
  • David Lee Lyons, of MD
  • Michael M. Mack, of VA
  • Kathleen A. McCray, of VA
  • Alex G. McFadden, of FL
  • Beverly Doreen Rochester, of NV
  • Thomas Gerard Scanlon, of VA
  • Dean K. Shear, of VA

The following named Career Member of the Foreign Service of the Department of State for promotion within the Senior Foreign Service to the class indicated, effective October 12, 2008: Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service of the United States of America, Class of Career Minister:

David Michael Satterfield, of MO

Control Number: 113PN0138101

 

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Tired of Another War? Operation Repeat Iraqi Freedom Officially On In Iraq. And Syria.

– Domani Spero

 

Only yesterday:

 

Before you know it, this fellow on Twitter live-tweeted the strikes :

 

The Pentagon soon confirmed the air strikes:

 

Here is the official statement

 

Here’s a YouTube video of the ISIL strike:

 

The new coalition of the willing includes five Arab countries: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar:

 

The five Arab countries and their planes:

 

President Obama’s statement on the Syria bombing:

 

Here is the congressional notification:

 

Here is a longer letter (there were two?) citing authority to carry out Public Law 107-40 and Public Law 107-243).  We’re now at war in Syria, and for the third time, in Iraq:

 

Still “no boots on the ground!?”

 

How much will all this cost?

 

Did Congress say/do anything?

 

How about those war predictions?

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As of this writing, the State Department has not announced any new Travel Warning for Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain or Qatar.  The last Worldwide Caution notice was published on April 10, 2014.

One post out of the five Arab countries in the coalition, the US Embassy in Jordan, has issued a Security Message noting the coalition strikes against ISIL targets and the likely increased of police presence at public and diplomatic buildings throughout the country.

The only other post in the area to issue a Security Message citing “regional events” is the US Embassy in Lebanon.  Embassy Beirut advises U.S. citizens that coalition airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets in Syria have begun and notes an increased in kidnappings in  northern and eastern Lebanon. Both embassies say that there is no specific threat against U.S. citizens in their respected countries but caution citizens to exercise security awareness and maintain a heightened level of vigilance.

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Filed under Americans Abroad, Congress, Consular Work, Defense Department, Foreign Affairs, Media, Obama, Realities of the FS, Security, Social Media, State Department, Terrorism, U.S. Missions, War

Media Operations Centers in Afghanistan: $7.2Million Build/Suspend and Demolish Projects

– Domani Spero

 

They’re called MOCs or Media Operations Centers (MOCs). We’re building them in Afghanistan.  One State Department grant was for the construction of one MOC at Balkh University for $3,782,980. A second grant was for the construction of another MOC at Nangarhar University for $3,482,348. The grant awards totaled $7,265,328, and the periods of performance for both grants were October 1, 2013, through December 31, 2014.   According to State/OIG, these grants were executed in Afghanistan by Omran Holding Group (OHG) with two subcontractors, Capitalize Omran—a company based in Washington, DC, responsible for managing the overall project—and TriVision Studios, the firm responsible for outfitting the MOCs with broadcasting equipment. Apparently, the contraction construction related to both grants was suspended in January 2014 and has not resumed. On September 18, State/OIG recommended the immediate termination of the two grant agreements. Why?

Based on preliminary results of the audited sample, OIG identified areas of concern related to two construction grants being executed in Afghanistan by Omran Holding Group (OHG) that require immediate attention. These areas of concern include misuse of Government funds, significant noncompliance with Federal regulations, and inaccurate financial reporting. Additionally, OHG failed to comply with the terms of one grant agreement by beginning construction without required design approval, and also began construction of the building in the wrong location. We therefore recommended, among other actions, that the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) immediately terminate grant agreements S-AF200-13-CA-012 and S-AF200-13-CA-014 with OHG, and that the Bureau of Administration’s Office of the Procurement Executive (A/OPE) develop Department guidance regarding the use of Federal assistance funds for overseas construction.

 

So one MOC was constructed without the required design approval:

“The grants required that the recipient develop building designs for the MOCs and that these designs be approved by the Department prior to the commencement of construction. However, OHG “jumped” the construction schedule and began to construct the Balkh University MOC in December 2013, without prior approval from the Department. As a result, certain aspects of the newly constructed structure were not in accordance with the Department’s requirements for the building design.”

The same MOC was constructed in the wrong location, and had to be demolished no later than October 31, 2014.

“OHG began the Balkh University MOC construction in the wrong location, based on the direction of a local Afghan government official who did not have the authority to direct the grantee, resulting in the need to demolish the new structure.” 

How did we end up from design/build to build/demolish?

State/OIG may have an answer:

“OIG also noted concerns related to the Department’s oversight of construction grants, in general. Specifically, the Department had no policies or procedures for awarding or overseeing construction grants, which resulted in ineffective construction grant agreements. For example, the OHG grant agreements lacked details that are normally included in construction contracts, and the terms and conditions were created by the GOR without documented input or approval from Department legal representatives or construction specialists.”

The Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) and the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) concurred with the recommendations with the later noting that the termination letters for each award are currently in the clearance process. A response from the SRAP also notes that the Public Affairs Section (PAS) at embassy Kabul has “obligated more than 975 awards totaling over  $270,000,000  under extraordinarily challenging circumstances.”

Think about that for a moment.

We don’t know how many MOCs have been constructed in Afghanistan, but in January 2013, the State Department announced a $325,000 award for “the completion of the PAS-funded Media Operations Center (MOC) at Herat University”and a maximum award for $200,00 for the  the operation and maintenance of this facility for a period of up to 24 months.  In spring 2013, the US Embassy in Kabul also announced the inauguration of a state-of-the-art Media Operations Center (MOC) at Kabul University.  The Embassy provided a $2.67 million grant to the HUDA Development Organization, to build and equip the Media Operations Center there.

So just to round-up, our precise and active verbs for these Afghanistan projects now include: design, build, suspend,complete, equip, maintain, and demolish. Also terminate.

Although, possibly, terminate is only good until a new grantee can be located to complete these grants.

Read the audit here (pdf) and weep.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Follow the Money, Foreign Assistance, Govt Reports/Documents, Media, Regional Bureaus, State Department, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Kabul

Madam ★ Secretary Debuts With a Crisis But Without Her Ops Center and Gray-Haired Advisors

– Domani Spero

 

Last week, CBS’ new kid in the block, Madam Secretary had its premiere screening event at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington D.C.  The cast and crew were joined by special guest Madeleine Albright.

 

Last night, the show finally aired, sandwiched between 60 Minutes and The Good Wife.  Twitter reacted with excitement, ugh and in between; take your pick. Here are our favorite reactions:

 

In the long history of the Secretaries of State of the United States, from Thomas Jefferson in 1790 to-date, the appointees have been predominantly male, white and old. It doesn’t look like like we’ve ever had one appointed in their 40’s nor have one with kids running around Foggy Bottom’s corridors. And we’ve never had one who did a minor make-over and with a short skirt, stopped the presses.  So this secretary of state is a tad unrecognizable.  But, okay, we’ll go along with the premise for now. We’d have liked to see her at the UNGA this week, but the UN’s TV magnets from  Iran and Venezuela will not be around this time, so never mind.

The pilot episode involves a couple of young American hostages held in Syria.  They were released in exchange for $1.5 million in kind (medical stuff and such), which may still be considered ransom payment.  According to  TVGuide, the second episode deals with a fiery attack on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, and the third deals with an Edward Snowden-inspired whistle-blower/hacker causing havoc throughout the State Department. TVGuide promised that each situation will be resolved rather neatly.  By a secretary of state who is perfect in every way. Now, where’s the fun in that?

Here is a photo tweeted last week with the lead star Téa Leoni who played Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord, and her staff during an official dinner for the King of Swaziland and his merry wives. What’s wrong with this picture?

 

The most glaring one, of course!  Where are the rest of the Swazi guests, or more to the point, why are the secretary’s staffers sitting in on the principal’s table drinking champagne instead of more important D.C. invitees? Pardon me, they’re all note-takers?!

The staffers except for a couple look like they just got out of A-100 or the campaign trail.  Where did the SecState’s gray-haired advisors go?  Nooooo, not the broomroom!  Will Secretary McCord go to PTA meetings and curriculum nights?  Will she cook her own dinners or have take outs?  And who’s doing the laundry?  The pilot episode also showed us the secretary of state in her pajamas, are we going to see her with scrunchies next?

Next week’s episode is reportedly about an attack on U.S. Embassy Sana’a. Let’s see if the show will bring in the Secretary’s Ops Center and if anyone will be dragged before Congress for talking points. We’re watching. We want to know how long she can have it all.

The reviews are in, here are some of them:

The Hollywood Reporter: Leoni and Daly are a great couple, and if Madam Secretary does one important thing and nails it in the pilot, it’s making their marriage and family believable. Knowing that Elizabeth is grounded and sensible and funny at home — meaning she’s handling the mother and wife thing just fine, unlike so many women on TV who are great at their jobs and a disaster in their personal lives — gives hope that the series can be multidimensional.[...] And while it’s fun to see Leoni put out some international terrorist fires behind the scenes — while figuring out a way to get her point across delicately at State Department dinners that she’d rather not have — other parts of Madame Secretary need work.

Vox: Madam Secretary seems terrified the audience will miss something, to the degree that all of the characters might as well be walking around wearing index cards emblazoned with any given scene’s subtext glued to their foreheads. It is not a subtle show, and it mistakes copying the surface moves of Good Wife — to say nothing of other quality TV dramas — for being able to match that show’s depth. There’s promise here, but it’s already rapidly deteriorating.

TVline: The show’s biggest challenge will be making Elizabeth’s home life as compelling as her work life (something the pilot struggled to do despite some nice chemistry between Leoni and Daly). Also, the government cover-up subplot will likely elicit a collective eye roll from conspiracy-fatigued TV viewers.

Variety: “Madam Secretary” has enough interesting pieces, as well as a great big world of trouble to mine, to have significant potential. The premiere, however, doesn’t bode particularly well for being able to maximize those assets, and as they say in diplomatic circles, the devil is in the details.

USAToday: [U]nlike Good Wife, Secretary seems to fear that anything but the most straightforward plotting will lose us. Twists are too few, solutions too simple, and knowing moments too often canceled out by silly ones.

Some good news though for aspiring actors — according to Politico, in addition to real-life news events, we should expect some cameos from real-life Washingtonians. The Madam Secretary people threw in an invitation,  “We would love to have people from Washington come through, and real people in the media, to make the world — to ground it in reality, because we want this to feel like a recognizable version of Washington.”

What are you waiting for? Go. Call. Now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Snapshot: Top 30 State Department Contractors (Based on Highest Dollar Amounts)

– Domani Spero

 

According to State/OIG, after several media reports were written about the use of confidentiality agreements that limit the ability of contractor employees to report fraud, waste, or abuse to Inspectors General or other oversight entities, it sent a letter in August 2014 requesting information from the thirty companies which have the highest dollar amount of contracts with the Department of State. The list does not indicate their rank in any particular order:

Screen Shot 2014-09-21

Screen Shot 2014-09-21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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State Department/USAID OIG Published Reports — August 2014

– Domani Spero

 

All reports in pdf files hosted at http://oig.state.gov and http://oig.usaid.gov. A very short August list from State/OIG:

USAID/OIG August reports:

 

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Filed under Govt Reports/Documents, State Department, Uncategorized, USAID