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– Domani Spero
The June 2014 Foreign Service Journal includes an item on the AFSA USAID survey. The 23-question, electronic survey focused on concerns, commendations and assessments related to the USAID FSO experience in calendar year 2013.
The USAID VP writes that the survey results will be discussed with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Special Representative for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review Tom Perriello to help in the formulation of USAID priorities.
The agency morale rating has dropped significantly. Thirty-seven percent of respondents rated agency morale “poor” in 2012; in 2013, 47 percent of respondents rated morale “poor.” The “good/fair” rating shows a corresponding drop, from 61 percent in 2012 to 51 percent for 2013.
A wide range of concerns were shared by respondents, such as: tension between more seasoned USAID employees and those who have entered within the last five years; an overburdened system with too many “initiatives;” lack of transparency and support from HR; and slow encroachment by State.
In a cross-comparison between questions on the new HR leadership and agency morale, a similarly high percentage of employees (61) rated the new HR leadership “poor” and also determined that morale had dropped.
The “poor” rating for the Administrator (question 20) increased from 23 percent in 2012 to 41 percent in the 2013 survey. His overall approval rating (“fair, good, excellent”) for 2013 stands at 58 percent, also a significant drop from 2012 (78 percent). This decline is disturbing and will be pointed out to his office.
Many FSOs originally liked the new initiatives. However, the prevailing sentiment now is that they are too numerous to coordinate and accurately report on, and many do not come with funding. The comments also reflect a recurring theme that work outside of Africa appears to be a lower priority for the Administrator.
The survey indicates a significant perception that overall conditions at work are worsening (42 percent). This is not as bad as it was in 2011 (46 percent) or 2010 (55 percent); nevertheless, it is a setback since 2012, when only 36 percent thought conditions at work were deteriorating. Pay and bonus freezes, work space concerns due to consolidation and micromanagement of the field by Washington were some of the concerns highlighted this year, and are possible explanations for the increased rating.
AFSA reports that several important issues have been illuminated in this survey, including the following:
The AFSA USAID VP Sharon Wayne writes that “AFSA will continue to engage management on these issues. It is my hope that current leadership will choose to accept these results for what they are: valuable feedback on which to act to make this agency better.”
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– Domani Spero
WaPo’s report on whistleblowers’ complaints that critical details had been sanitized from publicly released reports of USAID OIG includes an item on the NGO trial and bail money in Egypt:
[T]he Egyptian government charged 43 NGO workers with operating illegally. Sixteen of them were Americans, including the son of then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The Americans were freed in March 2012 after USAID secretly paid the Egyptian government $4.6 million in “bail” money.
On March 1, 2012, the Americans were permitted to leave the country after USAID transferred $4.6 million from a local currency trust fund to the Egyptian government as “bail.” USAID’s connection to the money was not disclosed at the time.
“This was paid by the NGOs,” a State Department spokeswoman said that day.
Several findings were condensed; entire sections disappeared. They included a section titled “USAID/Egypt Borrowed Local Currency From the Trust Fund for Bail Expenses.”
That section raised questions about the legality of using the $4.6 million to free the NGO workers. Also deleted were concerns that the use of trust fund money for “bail payments” could set a bad precedent for USAID.
A lie and a bribe:
US lied about USAID providing the bribe money to Egypt. Another lie is calling NDI/IRI “NGOs.” http://t.co/qi6EGnMScl
— Dan Murphy (@bungdan) October 23, 2014
WP: USAID paid $4.6 million ransom to SCAF’s Egypt to free arrested NGO staff. And more. http://t.co/sSul14zULK
— Marc Lynch (@abuaardvark) October 23, 2014
The State Department spokeswoman not named in the report was the former spox, and now Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Victoria Nuland. And because the lie was from the official podium of the State Department, this was an official USG lie. Let’s revisit the Daily Press Briefing from March 1, 2012:
QUESTION: Victoria, could you clarify for us the role of the U.S. Government in posting the bond? I understand that $300,000 per individual was posted and the promise that they will return to face trial. Could you explain to us if there was any role for the U.S. Government in that aspect?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me just clarify that none of these people who have now departed were in custody, none of them were subject to arrest warrants. They were under travel restrictions. So at the request of the attorneys for the employees, the Egyptian court ruled that the travel restrictions would be lifted if the employees posted bail. So through their lawyers, the NGOs made payments on behalf of their employees from available funds. So there were no bribes paid, and this was paid by the NGOs.
QUESTION: No, I did not suggest that there was any bribes. I just wanted to ask if there was any official role for the U.S. Government to post bail. Some people may not have had the money. I mean, did you try to help them post that money? It’s a huge sum of money for the bail.
MS. NULAND: The organizations paid the bail.
QUESTION: But these organizations get money from the U.S. Government. Was there any government money involved in this bail payment?
MS. NULAND: The checks for this bail, as I understand it, came from the organizations.
QUESTION: But as I say, these organizations are funded, some of them quite – to the tune of quite a lot of money. So was there any taxpayer money involved in paying this bail? And if there was, which I understand there was, what happens if they – if bail is forfeited, if these people decide not to go back and to face the charges? Does that leave the taxpayer on the hook for however much the percentage was that you guys kicked in?
MS. NULAND: Well, first, to be clear, the bail was posted by the organizations.
QUESTION: Yes, but if I –
MS. NULAND: That said –
QUESTION: But if I give you $300,000 and then you give it to the Egyptians, it’s technically correct that you paid the Egyptians, but it’s my money.
MS. NULAND: Again, the bail was paid by the organizations. You are not wrong that these organizations benefit from U.S. Government funding. They benefit from U.S. Government funding so that they can do the work that they do to support a democratic transition. With regard to the fungibility of money or anything with regard to that, I will have to take that question.
So the NGOs paid Egypt; maybe those NGO’s carried and handed $4.6 million to the money shakers, and we called it NGO money. But apparently, it’s USAID money, so really — U.S. taxpayers’ money. And but for this WaPo report, the American public would not have known that we paid the bail money because the key finding about the $4.6 million payment to free the NGO workers in Egypt was removed from the performance audit and placed into financial documents. Documents that are not made public. Also apparently deleted were concerns that the use of trust fund money for “bail payments” could set a bad precedent for USAID.
So in places where American NGOs and USAID operates, a not too friendly host government can grab any of the staffers for any purported local crime, and USAID will pay
ransom bail money to get the staffers released and returned to the United States; and it can put the details about those payments in USAID financial documents that we never get to see?
And we wonder why people get jaded watching this show.
The world is changing. While this information might have been hidden in the past from public view for say 20 years or until the FRUS is released, things, at least some things increasingly don’t work like that anymore. The refresh cycle on sunshine in government is coming at shorter bursts.
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– Domani Spero
According to WaPo, Michael G. Carroll, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s acting inspector general, withdrew his name from consideration to be President Obama’s permanent inspector general today after it has been pending for 16 months. This development came amidst WaPo’s report that negative findings in USAID OIG’s reports were being stricken from audits between 2011 and 2013.
In recent interviews, eight current auditors and employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution complained about negative findings being stricken from audits between 2011 and 2013. In some cases, the findings were put into confidential “management letters” and financial documents, which are sent to high-ranking USAID officials but are generally kept from public view.
The auditors said the office has increasingly become a defender of the agency under acting inspector general Michael G. Carroll. Some auditors said Carroll did not want to create controversy as he awaited Senate confirmation to become the permanent inspector general.
On Wednesday, Carroll withdrew his nomination, which had been pending for 16 months. Carroll declined to discuss his decision. A career government employee, he has been with the office since 2000 and took over as acting inspector general in 2011.
Carroll’s withdrawal comes at a time of growing criticism from whistleblowers who have been in contact with Senate investigators and Post reporters.
“The office is a watchdog not doing its job,” said Darren Roman, an audit supervisor at the inspector general’s office who retired in 2012 after a 23-year career. “It’s just easier for upper management to go along to get along. The message is: ‘Don’t make waves, don’t report any problems.’ ”
The Post tracked changes in the language that auditors used to describe USAID and its mission offices. The analysis found that more than 400 negative references were removed from the audits between the draft and final versions.
In one audit, the number of negative references fell from 113 to 61; in another, from 170 to 13.
As a rule, inspectors general try to ensure that their reports are accurate and reflect the perspectives of the agencies and private contractors they examine. It is not unusual for audits to change between the draft and final reports, but whistleblowers say the changes have gone too far.
At the USAID inspector general’s office, several auditors and employees told The Post that their authority has been undermined, and some have hired attorneys to file whistleblower and employment discrimination claims. Auditors stationed in different offices around the world have come forward with similar complaints.
Read the allegations of disturbing shenanigans reported by the Washington Post in Whistleblowers say USAID’s IG removed critical details from public reports.
At the time of Mr. Carroll’s nomination in June 2013, he was the Deputy Inspector General at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a position he held since May 2012. From October 2011 to May 2012, he was Acting Inspector General at USAID. From 2006 to 2011, he was Deputy Inspector General, and from 2000 to 2004, he was the Assistant Inspector General for Management at USAID.
While Mr. Carroll has now withdrawn him name from consideration as permanent USAID IG, according to WaPo, he apparently told his staff that he plans to remain in the office as a deputy inspector general.
As of this writing, the WH has yet to publish its withdrawal of the Carroll nomination.
Can we please have a congressional hearing on these allegations and make sure the witnesses include people who actually knew what was going on? And please, let’s not have an excuse that some folks were not interviewed because they had left government service and are no longer employees or contractors of USAID.
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– Domani Spero
USAID/OIG August reports:
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– Domani Spero
On September 18, the Senate confirmed the following State Department nominations. Also confirmed were the nominees for USTR and USAID.
South Korea: Mark William Lippert, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Korea
Ireland: Kevin F. O’Malley, to be Ambassador to Ireland
State/IO: Bathsheba Nell Crocker, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (International Organization Affairs)
State/NPT: Adam M. Scheinman, to be Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation, with the rank of Ambassador
USTR: Robert W. Holleyman II, to be Deputy United States Trade Representative, with the rank of Ambassador
USAID: Alfonso E. Lenhardt, to be Deputy Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development
Looking at the names of these lucky ones who made it out of the Senate, one simply feels bad for career diplomats who typically do not have BFFs in high places to lobby for their confirmation. Nominees for Palau and Timor-Leste who both have waited over 400 days may be forced to wait many more days unless the Senate act on those nominations in the next couple of days. Or perhaps after the November election? Perhaps next year? Nominees for Paraguay, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Cabo Verde, all career diplomats are also stuck in the Senate. Confirmation by crisis works as we have seen clearly this year, though not all the time. But if a coup or a civil strife breaks out in any of these places in the next 48 hours, the nominees might, just might get moved up the Senate’s “we haven’t forgotten you” list before the clock runs out.
Well, what are you waiting for? Start something happening somewhere, pronto!
— Stephen Sestanovich (@SSestanovich) September 19, 2014
Oh, wait! Too late to start a coup. The Senate’s gone, people!
— Niels Lesniewski (@nielslesniewski) September 19, 2014
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“Unless a piece of information is legitimately classified or otherwise restricted, it ought to be available, even if disclosure is not technically required. And, when disclosure is legally required, as by the IG Act, then agency refusal to provide timely access to the data is intolerable.” — DIG Gene Aloise, SIGAR
A couple of days ago, Gene Aloise, the Deputy Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) was at the CIGIE Federal Audit Executive Council Annual Conference in Virginia and gave a speech on “Transparency—For the IGs and the Public Interest.” He was standing in for John Sopko, the IG, who apparently is still recovering from knee surgery. Excerpt below:
You may have noticed that many SIGAR reports have made the news. One reason is that we publish, post, tweet, and otherwise publicize virtually everything we do.
Some people are unhappy with the fact we get press coverage, even though our two-person press shop pales in comparison to the squadrons of PR people at Embassy Kabul, ISAF, or DOD. Some people think we’re doing this to attract attention and gratify our egos.
They are mistaken. Neither John nor I are angling for another government job, movie role, book advance, or trying to become the next YouTube sensation.
We simply follow the basic principles that: (1) unless it’s a security risk or classified, we publish it; and(2) if it’s worth publishing, it’s worth publicizing.
We seek publicity because publicity has impact.
Very few Americans have seen the Health and Human Services Department IG reports on billing fraud against Medicare for motorized wheelchairs. But millions of people have had the chance to read, in print or online, the Washington Post’s 4,000-word illustrated story on August 16 that dramatized and humanized the problem.
The Post noted that Medicare has paid out more than $8 billion for motorized wheelchairs for 2.7 million people, even though a large but unknown portion of the payments involved offers of free wheelchairs, recruitment of people with no mobility problems, and prescriptions faked by corrupt doctors or even by scammers using the names of dead doctors.
That’s the kind of story that gets attention. Editorial writers, ordinary citizens, congressional staff, and think-tank researchers pick up on such revelations and weigh in. Members of Congress call hearings and draft legislation. Agency heads eagerly or reluctantly draft responses, policies, and testimony. With any luck, things get better, whether systematically or a bit at a time.
Let’s face it: No matter how good an IG audit, GAO report, or commission finding may be, if it falls into a black hole and molders unnoticed while Washington bustles on, it helps no one.
Widespread dissemination of IG reports can promote the following good outcomes:
- Publicity brings problems to the attention of senior leaders whose information gatekeepers may not have relayed unwelcome news.
- Exposing incidents of waste can motivate people to do the right thing, whether sharpening their own performance or calling out problems.
- Publicity may prompt managers to take corrective action before they get a nasty memo from the boss.
- Publicity can deter government contractors from cutting corners, using substandard materials, or tolerating unsafe practices if they fear they may not get paid, or be debarred.
- Publicity can deter fraud. When potential wrongdoers read about a federal civilian, military member, or contractor going to jail and paying big fines for taking kickbacks or bribes, or stealing, or smuggling, they may decide not to give in to temptation.
- Publicity can encourage people to come forward to the IG community. Some of our best tips and other information have come from senior officials, including generals and ambassadors, who approach us here or in the field, or use the SIGAR fraud hotline.
- Publicity that points out successes and best practices can encourage agencies to continue improving their own performance, or to follow the example others have set.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, publicizing our work gives the American taxpayer—and congressional appropriators—confidence that someone appointed by the President of the United States is looking out for how their money is spent.
As our friends in the armed services would say, publicity is a force multiplier for the substantive results of your hard work.
When you turn up an important finding that involves serious threats to mission, to lives, to public funds, or the public interest, don’t be shy about spreading the word beyond the usual channels of distribution. It’s legitimate, it’s helpful, and—even if some officials get peeved at you— it’s a public service.
Read the whole thing here.
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The EEOC’s FY 2011 Annual Report on the Federal Work Force Part II includes the workforce composition profiles for the General Schedule (GS) workforce at the State Department and USAID. We have been unable to locate the Foreign Service profile and are still looking. Below is a snapshot of the Women in Management at both agencies. Most notable here is the 0% first level and senior level management for USAID in FY2011. “This represents a decrease of 186 women in senior management positions since FY 2010.” What happened to them?
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– Domani Spero
On August 28, the State Department issued a Travel Alert for screening and restrictions related to the Ebola outbreak in parts of West Africa:
The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to screening procedures, travel restrictions, and reduced aviation transportation options in response to the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. This Travel Alert will expire on February 27, 2015.
Due to an outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the West African nations of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued Level 3 Travel Warnings for those three countries advising against non-essential travel and provided guidance to reduce the potential for spread of EVD. The CDC also issued a Level 2 Travel Alert for Nigeria to notify travelers of the Ebola outbreak in that country. The Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website prominently features an Ebola Fact Sheet and links to the CDC Health Travel Warnings, Travel Alert, and general guidance about Ebola.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and CDC have also published and provided interim guidance to public health authorities, airlines, and other partners in West Africa for evaluating risk of exposure of persons coming from countries affected by EVD. Measures can include screening, medical evaluation, movement restrictions up to 21 days, and infection control precautions. Travelers who exhibit symptoms indicative of possible Ebola infection may be prevented from boarding and restricted from traveling for the 21-day period. Please note neither the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs nor the U.S. Embassy have authority over quarantine issues and cannot prevent a U.S. citizen from being quarantined should local health authorities require it. For questions about quarantine, please visit the CDC website that addresses quarantine and isolation issues.
The cost for a medical evacuation is very expensive. We encourage U.S. citizens travelling to Ebola-affected countries to purchase travel insurance that includes medical evacuation for Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). Policy holders should confirm the availability of medical care and evacuation services at their travel destinations prior to travel.
Some local, regional, and international air carriers have curtailed or temporarily suspended service to or from Ebola-affected countries. U.S. citizens planning travel to or from these countries, in accordance with the CDC Health Travel Warnings and Health Travel Alert, should contact their airline to verify seat availability, confirm departure schedules, inquire about screening procedures, and be aware of other airline options.
The Department is aware that some countries have put in place procedures relating to the travel of individuals from the affected countries, including complete travel bans. Changes to existing procedures may occur with little or no notice. Please consult your airline or the embassy of your destination country for additional information.
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— USAID/OFDA (@theOFDA) August 27, 2014
According to the WHO’s Outbreak News, the total number of probable and confirmed cases in the current outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) as reported by the respective Ministries of Health of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone is 3069, with 1552 deaths. The World Health Organization reports that the outbreak continues to accelerate with more than 40% of the total number of cases occurring within the past 21 days. The overall case fatality rate is 52%.
A separate outbreak of Ebola virus disease not related to the four-country outbreak was laboratory-confirmed on August 26 by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC’s index case was a pregnant woman from a village who butchered a bush animal that had been killed and given to her by her husband. From July 28- August 18, 2014, a total of 24 suspected cases of haemorrhagic fever, including 13 deaths, have been identified in that outbreak.
As of this writing, Senegal also confirmed its first case of Ebola related to the four-country outbreak in West Africa.