State Dept’s Bureau of Counterterrorism Writes to “Correct the Record” on GAO Report That Needs No Correction

Posted: 9:45 am PDT

 

On July 23, we blogged about the GAO report on the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism (GAO-15-684 | pdf – State Should Evaluate Its Countering Violent Extremism Program and Set Time Frames for Addressing Evaluation Recommendations). You may read the blogpost here: Bureau Tasks With Countering Violent Extremism: 96 Authorized Employees, Running on 17-23% Vacancies.

At mid-day on July 23, we received the following email from Rhonda Shore, the Spokesperson for the Bureau of Counterterrorism (published in full):

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The Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT) at the State Department would like to respond to the 7/23 Diplopundit article by Domani Spero about the GAO report on the CT Bureau.  The article was incorrect in its assessment of CT Bureau staffing and we would like to correct the record. (We would also like to suggest that you contact us in the future when writing about our bureau and/or programs so we can assist with the latest information. You can reach us by email at CT_PublicAffairs@state.gov)

Regarding full-time employees (FTEs), as of today (July 23, 2015), the CT Bureau is authorized 83 Civil Service FTEs and 18 Foreign Service FTEs (101 total FTEs). We have 13 civil service vacancies; of those 13, 10 have been selected from various vacancy announcements and all 10 are in the process of obtaining clearances to be officially appointed. Once on board, the CT vacancy rate will be less than four percent. In addition, CT is in the process of having the remaining three civil service positions classified and will advertise to fill those vacancies in the next 30-60 days.

As far as evaluating the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program, the CT Bureau has robust procedures in place to ensure the monitoring all of assistance programs, including CVE. While we have conducted evaluations of select CVE projects, State agrees with the recommendation to undertake a more comprehensive evaluation.  We are currently assessing what programs would most benefit from third-party evaluation during the upcoming fiscal year and expect CVE to be included in our final determination. As GAO rightly notes, previous consideration of conducting a comprehensive evaluation of CT Bureau CVE programming had resulted in a determination that the programs had not been underway for a sufficient amount of time. The CVE Program in CT was established in 2010, and CT Bureau received only limited funding for CVE activities the first several fiscal years. At this stage, we now have a number of programs that have been underway for a sufficient amount of time to benefit from an assessment of cross-cutting lessons learned.

It is also important to recognize that CT builds monitoring and evaluation (M&E) into each of our projects systematically; in fact, we require each implementing partner to elaborate an M&E plan for each project and dedicate a percentage of the project budget to implementing its respective M&E plan.  CT has also developed standardized CVE results indicators that it shares with embassies and implementing partners.

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The report we cited and linked to in this blog is a written product publicly released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) dated July 2015. The report also says in part, the following:

“The Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism testified before Congress on June 2, 2015 that the CT Bureau had reduced its FTE vacancies to 11 positions. However, we have been unable to verify that 4 of the reportedly filled positions have been filled because State has not provided sufficient documentation.”

We note that State/CT’s “correction” says it is authorized 101 FTEs (83 Civil Service FTEs and 18 Foreign Service FTEs) whereas the GAO says the  bureau is authorized 96 FTE positions. So we asked Ms. Shore about that. We wanted to know if the additional numbers, happened after the GAO finalized its report this month and the bureau responded, “yes.”

Further we note that even as the bureau is in the process of filling in those vacancies, the GAO illustrates the number of vacancies from FY2011-FY2015 between 17-23%.  The bureau is telling us that our blogpost is “incorrect in its assessment of CT Bureau staffing” so we asked if it is contesting that those GAO staffing numbers are incorrect since we are only passing on the GAO data?

After 4pm, we received a response from the bureau spox saying she’s not sure if her colleagues who can answer our questions are still there and and would get back to us if not on July 23, early the next day.

Early on July 24, the bureau spox sent us the following response:

Those figures are an incomplete representation of the issue.  The GAO did not properly put the staffing increases and the CT Bureau’s process to fill vacancies into the context of receiving an approximately 35 percent increase in FTE, as a result of being established as a Bureau (in 2012).  This unprecedented increase in staff has been rapid and intensive over this period, and among the functions established as a result, was the creation of an Executive Office that processed much of the new hires.  As an illustrative example of the ongoing rate of hiring in CT, during the time GAO was onsite, CT filled 10 vacancies (some of which are currently pending security clearances before being registered in an officially “hired” status).

The fact that the bureau is in the process of filing in the vacant positions cited by the GAO report does not eliminate the fact that some 10 weeks before the end of the fiscal year, those vacancies are just about to be filled.  Well, once the candidates’ security clearances are obtained, those vacancies will be filled.

The bureau is contesting the assessment and proffering an anticipated 4% vacancy rate into the future; quite possibly into the next fiscal year.  This is like counting ships currently under construction; they’re not floating around and moving people and stuff around, but counted still the same as ships.

The bureau has offered an explanation to help us understand its staffing challenges but while we publish its “correction for the record” here, we are not convinced a correction is required. We do think that the GAO is correct in assessing these positions as vacancies. Since these positions are currently not officially filled, they are factually vacant authorized positions.

Perhaps, the GAO might have called these vacancies “unfilled positions?” The bureaucracies battling it out on semantics?  In any case, this appears to be an attempt by the CT bureau to correct the language used by the GAO on its reporting. If the GAO has a response (we don’t think it will), we’ll print that, too.

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Joint IGs Statement on NYT Report: IG did not make a criminal referral, only security referral

Posted: 4:52 pm EDT

 

Related to The New York Times report of July 24, Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account, the inspectors generals of the State Department Steve Linick and Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough, III, have just released a joint statement below:

Screen Shot 2015-07-24

 

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Related items:

Statement of the ICIG and OIG Regarding Review of Clinton’s Emails_July 24, 2015 (pdf)

23 July 2015_CN_Summary of IC IG support to State Department IG (pdf)

NYT: Criminal Inquiry Sought Over Clinton Emails? Read the Inspector Generals Memos

Posted: 9:45 am PDT

Related to The New York Times report Thursday night, Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account, here are the memos from the inspectors generals of the State Department Steve Linick and Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough, III.  The memos include the response from Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. The memos from the IGs are cc’ed to Heather Higginbottom, the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (D/MR). The response from U/S Management contains no courtesy copies. Trying to read as fast as I could to find that section where the IGs have requested a criminal inquiry.

ESP-15-04-05 | Potential Issues Identified by the Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community Concerning the Department of State’s Process for the Review of Former Secretary Clinton’s Emails under the Freedom of Information Act (pdf)

Summary:

Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) staff conducted a preliminary assessment of the Department’s ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process for the Clinton emails, including 296 emails publicly released by the Department on May 22, 2015. This preliminary assessment identified four areas that require immediate attention by Department leadership.

  • Attachment #A contains OIG’s and ICIG’s Memorandum, dated June 19, 2015, which makes four recommendations related to these areas.
  • Attachment #B contains U/S Patrick Kennedy’s June 25, 2015, and July 14, 2015, responses. Based on these responses, OIG and ICIG consider two of these recommendations to be closed, whereas the other two remain unresolved.
  • Attachment #C contains more detailed information about the status of each recommendation.

On June 29, 2015, OIG and ICIG sent U/S Patrick Kennedy a follow-up memorandum providing additional information supporting their concerns about the FOIA process used for the Clinton emails (see Attachment #D). Since then, ICIG has received confirmation from lC FOIA officials that several of these emails contained classified IC information, though they were not marked as classified. In addition, at least one of these emails has been released to the public and can be accessed on the Department’s FOIA website.

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Burn Bag: Employment Vacancy Application System Has Systemic Flaws?

Via Burn Bag:

“It has recently come to light that the current employment vacancy application system at the State Department has profound and pervasive system-based flaws. It also appears that State Department HR and vendor are largely aware of these flaws, and are not acting to address them in a meaningful way. These flaws appear to exclude many qualified civil service applicants, and may contribute to a dysfunctional atmosphere in which hiring managers may rationalize that “back-channel” hiring practices, nepotism, patronage, and preselection are the only way to work around the systemic difficulties.”

Saudi Arabia Arrests 93 Suspected Terrorists Over Plot to Bomb US Embassy Riyadh

Posted: 3:30  pm EDT

 

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Related posts:

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New Front in Regional Chaos: Saudi Arabia Launches Air Strikes Against Houthis in Yemen

Posted: 6:15 pm PDT

 

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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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US Embassy Norway: Emergency Message on Foreign Fighters Returned From Syria Threat

— Domani Spero

 

The U.S. Embassy in Oslo has just issued an emergency message to Americans in Norway based on the Norwegian Government’s announcement of a threat from foreign fighters returning to Norway from Syria:

United States Embassy Oslo, Norway | 24 July 2014
This morning, 24 July 2014, the Norwegian government announced that foreign fighters returned from Syria may be planning an attack in Norway over the coming days. The Norwegian police are not aware of where, when, or in what method this attack could take place. However, public gatherings, government facilities, businesses, and public transportation systems tend to be the targets of choice for terrorists and extremist groups.

The Embassy recommends the U.S. citizen community in Norway remain extra alert during this period. Please err on the side of caution over the coming days. Especially now, if you see anything threatening, dangerous, or concerning, please call the Norwegian Police at 112.

Read the full announcement here.

U.S. Embassy, Oslo, Norway.

U.S. Embassy, Oslo, Norway. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

U.S. Embassy Oslo is currently headed by Chargé d’affaires  Julie Furuta-Toy.  The controversial nominee for U.S. ambassador to Norway, George Tsunis was announced on September 10, 2013 and has been stuck in the Senate awaiting for the full vote since February 4, 2014.

 

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Confirmations: Nichols, Wells, Nix-Hines, Harper, La Lime, Moreno

— Domani Spero

The Senate confirmations of President Obama’s nominees continue at a turtle’s pace.  Here are the following State Department nominees who made it through the confirmation process so far. The nominees for non-embassy positions do not appear to have their Certificate of Demonstrated Competence per Foreign Service Act, Section 304(a)(4 posted online. 

June 19, 2014

Brian A. Nichols, of Rhode Island, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Peru.

Certificate via State/FOIA (pdf)

June 16, 2014

Alice G. Wells, of Washington, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service,  Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of  the United States of America to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Wells, Alice G – Kingdom of Jordan – 04-2014

June 12, 2014

Crystal Nix-Hines, of California, for the rank of Ambassador during her tenure of service as the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

June 3, 2013

Keith M. Harper, of Maryland, for the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service as United States Representative to the UN Human Rights Council.

May 15, 2014

Helen Meagher La Lime, of the District of Columbia, a Career Member of the Senior  Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and  Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Angola.

Certificate via State/FOIA (pdf)

May 14, 2014

Carlos Roberto Moreno, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Belize.

Certificate via State/FOIA (pdf)

 

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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.

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-22

Read more here (pdf).

 

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