Category Archives: USAID

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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Sorry FSOs: Senate Confirms Lippert, O’Malley, Crocker, Scheinman, Holleyman and Lenhardt

– 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!

 

Oh, wait! Too late to start a coup.  The Senate’s gone, people!

 

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SIGAR: Not angling for another gov job, movie role, book advance or to be next YouTube hottie

Domani Spero

 

“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 

 

Patrol Boat Purchased for the Afghan National Police (SIGAR photo)

A BOAT, A BOAT! Patrol Boat Purchased for the Afghan National Police (SIGAR photo)

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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Snapshot: Women in Management at State Dept and USAID (General Schedule Workforce Only)

Domani Spero

 

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?

State Department

Screen Shot 2014-09-04

Extract from EEOC (click on image for larger view)

USAID

Screen Shot 2014-09-04

Extract from EEOC (click on image for larger view)

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State Dept Asks A Most Important Question: Folks, the Internet Answers Are Not/Not Pretty

– Domani Spero

 

Last week, the official blog of the State Department posted the following on QDDR 2014:

The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), initiated by Secretary Clinton, is an opportunity for State and USAID to look forward a generation at threats and opportunities, and ensure our capabilities, structures, and allocations of resources and personnel are maximizing our ability to advance.

Secretary Kerry has asked for the 2014 QDDR, the second iteration of this strategic review, to “be a blueprint for America’s success in this new world,” and “a product that guides a modern State Department and USAID and empowers our frontline diplomats and development professionals [to] get the job done.” As part of a process of continuous improvement, this QDDR will identify emerging policy and management priorities and the organizational capabilities needed to maximize the impact and efficiency of America’s diplomatic and development efforts.

At the request of Secretary Kerry, Special Representative Thomas Perriello joined the Department in February to conduct the 2014 QDDR and oversee its implementation. He is a former Member of Congress from Virginia who has worked extensively on transitional justice and conflict prevention overseas.  Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom and Administrator Raj Shah serve as co-chairs to foster a participatory process that engages State and USAID personnel, Congress, interagency partners, thought leaders, non-governmental organizations, the business community and the American public.

The State Department also posted the following video on the blog and in YouTube. Interested individuals are invited to send their ideas to QDDRideas@state.gov:

 

The State Department  then tweeted about it, and asked the Twitterverse about what it must think is a most important question.

 

The U.S. not only must right the world’s wrong, it must now also work on “improving the world?”

Oops! The AP’s Matt Lee tweeted what we were thinking.

 

A lucky thing the blog post and video went online on a holiday weekend. That said, the Internet, nonetheless, responded.  We’re sorry to report that the answers are not/not pretty. Below are the tamer selection:

 

 

 

 

Ouch!  This 21st Century public square is pretty wild. You never know who’s going to show up or what you’re gonna hear or who are going for the slug feast.  But a serious question; for purposes of the upcoming QDDR, how is this really helpful?

The current QDDR office is staffed with one special rep, Mr. Perriello, one deputy director, a staff assistant, two senior advisors and three policy analysts. This is the group tasked with engaging with State and USAID personnel, Congress, interagency partners, thought leaders, non-governmental organizations, and the business community. In addition, the same group presumably will have to comb through the submitted ideas the State Department is soliciting through QDDRideas@state.gov from the American public.  We’d like to see how much of the publicly generated ideas would make it to the QDDR 2014 report and how “a better job” would actually be measured.

We have to admit that our jaded slip maybe showing here but how come we feel as if this has a campaign flavor of sort? We’re almost afraid they’re going to ask us for $25 for a chance to have coffee with Mr. Perriello.  Sorry, that’s just us, sweet ones. If you’ve got ideas, they want it need it at QDDRideas@state.gov.

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Filed under Huh? News, John F. Kerry, Org Life, Realities of the FS, Reorganization, Secretary of State, State Department, USAID

State Dept Issues Travel Alert on Ebola-Related Screening and Travel Restrictions in West Africa

– 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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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Africa, Americans Abroad, Consular Work, Foreign Service, MED, Realities of the FS, State Department, Trends, U.S. Missions, USAID

U.S. Embassy Liberia Now on Ordered Departure For Family Members, New Travel Warning Issued

– Domani Spero

 

On August 7, the State Department ordered the departure of all family members not employed at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia.  The new Travel Warning issued today says that the U.S. government employees in Liberia will remain on active duty at the Embassy and additional staff are being deployed to assist the Government of Liberia in addressing the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak.  This follows the departure of  the U.S. Peace Corps from Liberia on July 30 as a result of the current outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in the region. Yesterday, the CDC also issued a Level 3 warning urging all US residents to avoid nonessential travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.  

Full State Department statement below:

At the recommendation of the U.S. Embassy in Liberia, the State Department today ordered the departure from Monrovia of all eligible family members (EFMs) not employed by post in the coming days. The Embassy recommended this step out of an abundance of caution, following the determination by the Department’s Medical Office that there is a lack of options for routine health care services at major medical facilities due to the Ebola outbreak. We are reconfiguring the Embassy staff to be more responsive to the current situation. Our entire effort is currently focused on assisting U.S. citizens in the country, the Government of Liberia, international health organizations, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the Liberian people to deal with this unprecedented Ebola outbreak.

We remain deeply committed to supporting Liberia and regional and international efforts to strengthen the capacity of the Liberian health care infrastructure and system – specifically, their capacity to contain and control the transmission of the Ebola virus, and deliver health care. Additional staff from various government agencies including 12 disease prevention specialists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a 13-member Disaster Assistance Response Team from USAID are deploying to Liberia to assist the Liberian Government in addressing the Ebola outbreak.

A new Travel Warning for Liberia also came out today indicating that the ordered departure of USG family members will begin tomorrow, August 8. The new warning also advised travelers that some airlines have discontinued service and flights to Liberia and that air carriers chartered by medical evacuation insurance companies may not be able to provide timely services in Liberia or the region. Excerpt below:

In May 2014, a case of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) was confirmed in Liberia, marking the first case in a second wave of the EVD outbreak. Since then, EVD has continued to spread and intensify. The latest wave of the outbreak has overwhelmed Liberia’s health system and most health facilities lack sufficient staff or resources to address the continuing transmission of EVD.  Options for obtaining routine medical care are severely limited.  For more information concerning EVD, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.  Please direct inquiries regarding U.S. citizens in Liberia to EbolaEmergencyUSC@state.gov. Callers in the United States and Canada may dial the toll free number 1-888-407-4747.  Callers outside the United States and Canada may dial 1-202-501-4444.

If you arrive in Liberia and subsequently need routine or emergency medical care, you should expect limited, if any, options.  Travelers are advised that air carriers chartered by medical evacuation insurance companies may not be able to provide timely services in Liberia or the region.  Policyholders should confirm the availability of medical evacuation services prior to travel.  While commercial flights are still available from Monrovia, some airlines have discontinued service and flights may become more difficult to obtain.  If you plan to visit Liberia despite this warning, you should purchase travel insurance that includes medical evacuation, and confirm that the coverage applies to the circumstances in Liberia.

According to USAID , the deployed staff came from the Agency’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)  and will be overseeing critical areas of the response, such as planning, operations, logistics in coordination with other federal agencies, including the U.S. Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services. Members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are also on the DART to lead on public health and medical response activities.

USAID has already provided $2.1 million to the UN World Health Organization and UNICEF for the deployment of more than 30 technical experts and other Ebola response efforts.

Two days ago, USAID also announced an additional $5 million in assistance to help ramp up the international community’s Ebola response efforts. This new funding will support outreach campaigns via radio, text messages, and through local media as well as the expansion of Ebola outbreak programs the Agency is already supporting in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. These programs help trace people who may be infected with the disease, as well as provide health clinics and households with hygiene kits, soap, bleach, gloves, masks, and other supplies to help prevent the spread of disease.

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Filed under Africa, Americans Abroad, Consular Work, Defense Department, Evacuations, Federal Agencies, Foreign Assistance, Foreign Service, MED, Realities of the FS, Spouses/Partners, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions, USAID

USAID’s undercover Latin youth — whose brainchild is this, pray tell (video)

– Domani Spero

 

Read more here. Documents about this program is at http://apne.ws/UxJ05x.

Whose brainchild is this, pray tell.

Alan Gross, the  65-year-old American citizen mentioned in this article has been imprisoned in Cuba since 2009. His family has mounted a petition demanding Mr. Gross’ “immediate release” and  that “the Cuban and U.S. governments sit down and resolve Alan’s case.”

This morning, USAID released a statement about what it calls, the AP’s “sensational claims,”excerpt below:

Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to empower Cubans to access more information and strengthen civil society. USAID makes information about its Cuba programs available publicly at foreignassistance.gov. This work is not secret, it is not covert, nor is it undercover. Instead, it is important to our mission to support universal values, end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies. Chief among those universal values are the right to speak freely, assemble and associate without fear, and freely elect political leaders. Sadly, the Cuban people and many others in the global community continue to be denied these basic rights.

One paragraph in the article captures the purpose of these and many civil society programs, which is to empower citizens to “tackle a community or social problem, win a ‘small victory’ and ultimately realize that they could be the masters of their own destiny.” But the story then goes on to make sensational claims against aid workers for supporting civil society programs and striving to give voice to these democratic aspirations. This is wrong.

USAID remains committed to balancing the realities of working in closed societies–particularly in places where we do not have a USAID mission and governments are hostile to U.S. assistance–with our commitment to transparency, and we continuously balance our commitment to transparency with the need for discretion in repressive environments. In the end, USAID’s goal is to continue to support democracy, governance and human rights activities in multiple settings, while providing the maximum transparency possible given the specific circumstances.

A couple of items from that USAID statement: 1)   “the Cuban people and many others in the global community,” does that mean this happened in Cuba and elsewhere?; 2) “with our commitment to transparency” — USAID’s Cuba programs data available publicly at foreignassistance.gov only covers FY2013 and 2014 and not the years covered by the AP report. USAID also would not tell the AP how much the Costa Rica-based program cost.

These young “aid workers” from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Peru sent to Cuba could have been arrested and jailed for 10 years for the work they did for USAID, and the agency would have been able to claim that these are not USG employees.  The US has not been able to effect the release of USAID contractor Alan Gross, would it be any more successful intervening for the release of foreign nationals who are not?  Also, the notion that you can run democracy promotion operations like this in certain parts of the world and that it will not have a dangerous blowback against USAID employees advancing development work in other parts of the world, is frankly, lunacy.

Does USAID have a scenario planned for what happens after a ‘Cuban Spring’unfolds in Cuba? Is it publicly available at fomentingchange.gov?

Just a reminder, the nominee for USAID OIG, in case you’re wondering has been waiting for Senate confirmation since July 2013 (see Officially In: Michael G. Carroll – From Deputy IG to USAID/OIG).

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Filed under Contractors, Foreign Service, Leaks|Controversies, Promotions, State Department, Technology and Work, U.S. Missions, USAID, Video of the Week

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

QDDR II Walks Into a Bar and Asks, What Happened to the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations?

– Domani Spero

The State Department says that the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) is “a sweeping assessment of how the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) can become more efficient, accountable, and effective in a world in which rising powers, growing instability, and technological transformation create new threats, but also new opportunities.” 

In July 2009, Secretary Clinton announced that the State Department, for the first time ever, will conduct a QDDR. The report from a 17-month review was released in December 2010.

Yesterday, Secretary Kerry, joined by Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, and recently appointed Special Representative for the QDDR, Thomas Perriello launched the State/USAID review process for the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR II). Special Rep Thomas Perriello was appointed top QDDR II honcho by Secretary Kerry in February 2014. Previously, Mr. Perrielo served as the congressman from Virginia’s fifth district, and most recently served as CEO of the Center for American Progress.

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at the public launch of the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) review process for the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) April 22, 2014 (state.gov photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at the public launch of the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) review process for the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) April 22, 2014
(state.gov photo)

Also yesterday at the DPB, the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that The 2014 QDDR builds on the foundation established by the 2010 review as a part of Department and USAID’s processes of continuous improvement.” And because AP’s Matthew Lee was in attendance, it was quite a show (see Erik Wemple’s AP reporter scorches State Department spokeswoman on Hillary Clinton initiative over at WaPo).

We understand that the Deputy Secretary will also host a QDDR II Town Hall meeting in Foggy Bottom today.  Perhaps somebody could ask how the State Department is going to fix QDDR I’s offspring, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations?

Why fix it? Well, in March 2014, State/OIG posted its inspection report (pdf) of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO). It looks like a huge mess and may need more than therapy.

The CSO was created in November 2011, as directed by the 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), to replace S/CRS and be “the institutional locus for policy and operational solutions for crisis, conflict, and instability” as a whole of government endeavor.  CSO is one of eight bureaus and offices that report to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. The Under Secretary position was vacant for much of 2013— the second half of CSO’s 2-year existence.  Below are some of the OIG report’s key judgments:

  • The mission of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations remains unclear to some of its staff and to many in the Department and the interagency. The bureau was established in 2011 but there remains a lack of consensus on whether coordination, analysis, or operations should dominate its mission.
  • The bureau does an inadequate job managing its large contingent of contractors. The inspection uncovered weaknesses in oversight, performance of inherently governmental functions, and incomplete contracting officer’s representative files. [Redacted] (b) (5)
  • Bureau practices violate basic Department regulations and procedures in several areas, including security, travel and hiring. Procedural and physical security programs require prompt attention.

But there’s more. The following bulleted items are extracted from the OIG report:

Leadership: Leading By Example

  • The Assistant Secretary’s leadership resulted in some progress toward establishing new directions for the bureau in a short time. There have been internal costs, however, as CSO struggles from a lack of directional clarity, lack of transparency, micromanagement, and re-organizational fatigue. The turnover of 54 percent of CSO staff between February 2012 and August 2013 created widespread internal suspicion and job insecurity in addition to confusion in the Department and the interagency.
  • The new noncareer leadership arrived with fresh models and analytics for conflict prevention and intervention, but some of them lacked basic understanding of the roles, responsibilities, and workings of the Department, especially of the regional and functional bureaus they are tasked to support.
  • The Assistant Secretary sought to demonstrate the bureau’s value to senior leaders in the Department and Congress in the bureau’s first year of operation. His early focus has been for CSO to operate where it can, rather than where it should. Relatively few of the bureau’s engagements to date have been in places or on issues of significant foreign policy importance.
  • In addition, the Assistant Secretary and several of his deputies promote a culture of bending and evading rules. For example, the OIG team heard in multiple interviews that CSO leadership loosely interpreted the level of bureau or embassy support for certain of its activities, arguing that doing so is justified by the urgent nature of its work and need to build a more innovative and agile bureau. Interviewees gave examples of disregard for the Department’s procedures, This laxity contributed to low staff scores for morale and leadership of some in the front office. The perceived CSO attitude that it does not have to follow [Redacted] (b) (5) rules is cited by some bureaus and ambassadors as reasons they seek to avoid working with CSO. The Assistant Secretary needs to lead by example and ensure that the deputies do the same.

Top-Heavy Bureau, Staffing “Churn” and Curtailments

  • Since the establishment of CSO, there have been curtailments in six of its 15 Foreign Service positions. The bureau had not been active in recruiting Foreign Service officers in the past, but for the past cycle it actively campaigned for candidates with some success.  Upon the departure of the remaining Foreign Service DAS, there will be no Senior Foreign Service officer in the front office.
  • Athough the bureau is new and its organizational structure in frequent motion, CSO has many relatively new, talented, and dedicated, staff who frequently impress bureaus and embassies when deployed. The staff includes Foreign Service, Civil Service , fellows, and contractors. They function in a chaotic atmosphere and sometimes lack familiarity with their portfolios and the Department.
  • The CSO front office promotes turnover among its staff to foster innovation. This philosophy creates considerable job insecurity and uncertainty. According to one study, 54 percent of CSO’s staff (direct hire and contractor) has turned over since the reorganization. The human resources team has started conducting exit interviews with departing staff to determine their reasons for leaving CSO.
  • Overseas deployments of 6 months or longer offer both opportunities and heavy responsibilities. Deployment burnout is evident as reported in interviews with staff and personal questionnaires, and the OIG team questions how long this model can endure.
  • The bureau is top-heavy. Its front office comprises the Assistant Secretary, a Civil Service Senior Executive Service principal deputy assistant secretary, two noncareer deputy assistant secretaries (DAS), a Senior Foreign Service DAS for administration, and two GS-15 senior advisors. In addition to the four DASes and two front office GS-15 advisors, CSO has 21 GS-15 and FS-01 positions.

The Traveling Band of Conflict Mitigators to Honduras, Nigeria Plus Conferences/Meetings in the UK, Belgium, and Switzerland — Oh, My!

  • In Honduras, CSO estimates the budget for its 2-year anti-violence program at $2 million. Six CSO staff in Washington support the program. According to CSO data, in FY 2013, 28 CSO staff members made 58 trips to Honduras, collectively spending 2,837 days there, at a cost of approximately $450,000. By contrast, USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives employs one staff member in Washington and two in Honduras to oversee a similar but larger $12 million program.
  • In Nigeria, CSO estimates that its anti-violence program in the Niger Delta region will cost $5.6 million. The central component is a television series that will advocate nonviolent ways to address grievances. CSO estimates it will broadcast one hour of programming a week for 13 weeks. It hopes to complement the television series with support to community groups and local governments. CSO envisions maintaining three Washington-based staff members on long-term temporary duty assignments in Nigeria in FY2014 and hiring two more staff locally. It expects to devote up to eight staff—four to five full-time—in Washington to support the program. In August 2013, to prepare for the program and begin implementing it, CSO travelers spent 578 days in Nigeria at a cost in excess of $111,000.
  • Many CSO employees commented in OIG personal questionnaires and interviews that some front office travel to conferences and meetings, especially to Europe, appeared to be linked more to personal interests than to the bureau’s mission. During FY 2013, CSO employees took 17 trips to the United Kingdom, 7 trips to Belgium, and 6 trips to Switzerland. In one case, the PDAS and two other DASes were in London at the same time for different meetings.
  • Justifications provided in the approved requests for travel authorization and invitational travel often do not contain sufficient detail to link the trips directly to CSO goals. According to 14 FAM 533.4-1, authorizing officials must ensure that conference travel is necessary to accomplish agency goals. Likewise, Department policy on gifts of invitational travel in 2 FAM 962.1-8e (1) (b) states that travel must relate to an employee’s official duties and represent priority use of the traveling employee’s time. Without adequate justification, funds and staff time devoted to travel and trip support could be wasted. More transparency in the travel approval process also could increase staff understanding of the purpose of travel.

Morale needs duct tape over there!

  • OIG’s pre-inspection survey results reflected lower than normal morale among bureau staff, in terms of both personal and office morale. Ninety-six percent of CSO staff who completed personal questionnaires responded to questions on morale. The bureau average for office morale was 2.75 and for personal morale 3.09, on a 5-point scale. Bureau leadership sought to attribute these low scores to dissatisfaction among former S/CRS staff who, due to reorganization and other changes, perceived themselves as marginalized in the new bureau. The OIG team found that dissatisfaction was more widespread than this explanation suggested.
  • Comments on morale in the personal questionnaires cited many factors behind low bureau morale. The most common included cramped office space/lack of privacy (cited by 20 percent of the respondents); too many reorganizations and physical moves; pressure from senior management (including the Assistant Secretary and deputies) to bend, force, or evade Department regulations and hire favored candidates; top management’s philosophy of “churn” to prevent people staying in CSO for more than 3 years; lack of clear communication or inconsistent application of policies; shifting priorities; fear of retribution from senior management; and the residual impact of the reorganization and layoffs during the creation of CSO.
  • The status of the former S/CRS staff and the impact the reorganization had on them merits attention. Although some have been promoted to leadership positions, surveys and interviews with other S/CRS staff indicate they feel they are treated shabbily, are encouraged to leave because they no longer fit the organization’s new needs, and are not valued. CSO leadership needs to find ways to address these perceptions.

Integrated Not Replicated — Really?

  • Several Department offices and other agencies work on issues similar to CSO’s. For example, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor promotes democracy and the rule of law, including free and fair elections. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement trains police. The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Middle East Partnership Initiative manages programs that support democratic transition in the region. USAID has experience, infrastructure, and programs in place in most nations facing conflict.
  • USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives has a mission statement almost identical to that of CSO. CSO and the Office of Transition Initiatives have worked together on several engagements with the participation of staff from both. The QDDR acknowledged that the capabilities of USAID and the Department often overlap. But their efforts must be integrated, not replicated. When asked about the imperative to engage in program activities overseas, many CSO staff told the OIG team that the bureau needs to implement overseas programs to be considered relevant and influential within the Department and interagency.

These are all troubling items, of course, and there’s more but this report is frankly, depressing to read. We should note that another disturbing content of the State/OIG report is the significant number of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints within CSO in the last year. The per capita rate of informal complaints from direct-hire employees according to State/OIG is five times the Department average. So the bureau tasked with “operational solutions for crisis, conflict, and instability” not only had a 54 percent turnover (see page 8) since reorganization, it also has five times the agency’s average in informal EEO complaints.

Maybe this sounds crazy — but we think that the bureau with “Stability Operations” on its name ought to have stability, steadiness and firmness in its operation before it starts “fixing”, “mitigating” or what have you in conflict areas.

Perhaps QDDR II will provide an opportunity to do just that?

If not, there’s always QDDR III in 2018.

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Filed under Contractors, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Hillary, Interagency Cooperation, John F. Kerry, Leadership and Management, Reorganization, State Department, USAID