Travel Photographer/FS Spouse Seeks to Help Rebuild a Small Corner of Nepal

Posted: 2:58 am EDT

 

The impact of the 25 April and 12 May earthquakes resulted in over two million people in Nepal losing their houses due to damage. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, during September and October this year, population movements are expected to increase, particularly with the mass outflux from the Kathmandu Valley to districts before the Dashain festival beginning in late October. On a smaller scale, with the end of the monsoon, the majority of those residing in spontaneous settlement and those relocated due to landslide risks will likely return to their original residence. Ensuring comprehensive returns will also depend on the availability of support for shelter reconstruction.

Derek Brown, a Foreign Service spouse and a friend of the blog is helping with shelter reconstruction in a small corner of Nepal.  Derek is an American travel photographer, currently based in Kathmandu. He was previously in Pakistan and India with his USAID FSO spouse and has been generous in sharing some of his photos with this blog (see Derek Brown’s Photographs From India — Old Delhi, Ahmedabad, Udaipur, and Kutch; NYT’s India Ink Features Awesome Photographer and USAID/EFM).

In the aftermath of the earthquake, Derek wanted to document Nepalis helping Nepalis, and reached out to his friend Pawan Shakya whom he’d first met in 2013. Pawan who runs a small family publishing business from Durbar Square, the historic center of Kathmand has already embarked on self-funded relief projects aimed at some of the neediest villages following the earthquake. Derek realized that he could help in the planning, funding and execution of Pawan’s projects. He brought in Tyler Driscoll, a graphic designer he knew from San Francisco and together they put up a GoFundMe fundraising to help rebuild a small corner of Nepal.

The relief effort is intended to improve the lives of over 500 earthquake-stricken Nepali villagers in 2 villages. They picked the village of Chhap, 3.5 hours northeast of Kathmandu. Of 250 houses in the area, only 1 remained inhabitable after the earthquakes. The other location Ranipauwa Village is roughly 1.5 hours drive northwest of Kathmandu, and was almost totally destroyed by the earthquake, with essentially none of the houses inhabitable or even repairable.

The villages were selected based on need, the ability of villagers to help each other, and their ability to help themselves. Very importantly, one young man from each village works for Pawan’s family business. Having a person from inside each community not only provides valuable insight into issues and opportunities, but it also facilitates ongoing communication and monitoring that can help avoid all sorts of missteps.

They plan not only to build bamboo relief houses, they also plan to fund chicken farms, replace livestock and provide improved seeds for future plantings in the two villages.

derek bamboo hse

Tyler, Derek and Pawan © 2015 Derek Brown http://www.rebuildnepaltogether.com/photo-blog/

Derek says that neither Pawan nor him will be taking any compensation at any point–Pawan is doing the calendar printing at cost and there will be no charge for Derek’s  images.  The GFM campaign provides other rewards that do carry cost like mugs, t-shirts, large prints, so do let them know if you do not want them.  They have raised about $11K so far in the last two months of their GFM campaign.   If you are able to help, check out their GFM campaign: http://www.gofundme.com/nepaltogether.

You may also follow Derek’s photo blog documenting their rebuilding efforts here: http://www.rebuildnepaltogether.com/photo-blog/

Below is a photo of a mother and child washing hair in a creek in Nepal, one of our favorites from Derek’s  collection. What a lovely smile! Check out the rest of his photos on Facebook and Tumblr.  धन्यवाद

Photo by

© 2015 Derek Brown

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Tick Tock: Ambassador Nominees Cleared by SFRC Still Waaaaaaaiting For Senate Votes

Posted: 12:54  pm EDT

 

The Senate will head out for its five-week August recess this week. According to the calendar, the recess would kick off on August 10 and run through Labor Day. The following nominees are currently waiting for a full Senate vote. Unless they get confirmed this week, they’re stuck in confirmation purgatory for another month.
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Cleared by the SFRC on May 21:

  • Cassandra Q. Butts, of the District of Columbia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

Cleared by the SFRC on June 10:

  • Azita Raji, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Sweden.

Cleared by the SFRC on June 25:

  • David Hale, of New Jersey, 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 Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
  • Atul Keshap, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Maldives.
  • Alaina B. Teplitz, of Illinois, 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 Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.
  • William A. Heidt, of Pennsylvania, 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 Kingdom of Cambodia.
  • Glyn Townsend Davies, 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 Kingdom of Thailand.
  • Jennifer Zimdahl Galt, of Colorado, 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 Mongolia.
  • Brian James Egan, of Maryland, to be Legal Adviser of the Department of State, vice Harold Hongju Koh, resigned.

Cleared by the SFRC on July 29

  • Sheila Gwaltney, of California, 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 Kyrgyz Republic.
  • Perry L. Holloway, of South Carolina, 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 Co-operative Republic of Guyana.
  • Kathleen Ann Doherty, of New York, 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 Cyprus.
  • Hans G. Klemm, of Michigan, 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 Romania.
  • James Desmond Melville, Jr., of New Jersey, 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 Estonia.
  • Peter F. Mulrean, of Massachusetts, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Haiti.
  • Laura Farnsworth Dogu, of Texas, 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 Nicaragua.
  • Samuel D. Heins, of Minnesota, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Norway.
  • Paul Wayne Jones, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Poland.
  • Michele Thoren Bond, of the District of Columbia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Consular Affairs), vice Janice L. Jacobs, resigned.
  • Sarah Elizabeth Mendelson, of the District of Columbia, to be Representative of the United States of America on the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, with the rank of Ambassador.
  • Sarah Elizabeth Mendelson, of the District of Columbia, to be an Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations, during her tenure of service as Representative of the United States of America on the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

Also cleared by the SFRC are the two USAID nominees and one Foreign Service list with 181 names:

FOREIGN SERVICE

PN573 – 1 FOREIGN SERVICE nominations (181) beginning Maura Barry Boyle, and ending Anthony Wolak, which nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record of June 10, 2015.

UNITED STATES AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

  • Gayle Smith, of Ohio, to be Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, vice Rajiv J. Shah, resigned.
  • Thomas O. Melia, of Maryland, to be an Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, vice Paige Eve Alexander, resigned.

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We Meant Well, Afghanistan Edition: Ghost Students, Ghost Teachers, Ghost Schools, Ugh!

Posted: 1:16 am  PDT

 

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Excerpt:

Over and over, the United States has touted education — for which it has spent more than $1 billion — as one of its premier successes in Afghanistan, a signature achievement that helped win over ordinary Afghans and dissuade a future generation of Taliban recruits. As the American mission faltered, U.S. officials repeatedly trumpeted impressive statistics — the number of schools built, girls enrolled, textbooks distributed, teachers trained, and dollars spent — to help justify the 13 years and more than 2,000 Americans killed since the United States invaded.

But a BuzzFeed News investigation — the first comprehensive journalistic reckoning, based on visits to schools across the country, internal U.S. and Afghan databases and documents, and more than 150 interviews — has found those claims to be massively exaggerated, riddled with ghost schools, teachers, and students that exist only on paper. The American effort to educate Afghanistan’s children was hollowed out by corruption and by short-term political and military goals that, time and again, took precedence over building a viable school system. And the U.S. government has known for years that it has been peddling hype.
[…]
USAID program reports obtained by BuzzFeed News indicate the agency knew as far back as 2006 that enrollment figures were inflated, but American officials continued to cite them to Congress and the American public.

As for schools it actually constructed, USAID claimed for years that it had built or refurbished more than 680, a figure Hillary Clinton cited to Congress in 2010 when she was secretary of state. By 2014, that number had dropped to “more than 605.” After months of pressing for an exact figure, the agency told BuzzFeed News the number was 563, a drop of at least 117 schools from what it had long claimed.
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Last week, we were looking for clinics.

What’s next … ghost soldiers? Oops, that’s already an old story?

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June Is PTSD Awareness Month — Let’s Talk Mental Health, Join Us at the Forum

Posted: 11:13 pm  EDT

Join us at the forum today at http://forums.diplopundit.net, noon – 2pm, EST

I’ve blogged about mental health in the State Department for years now (see links below). I know that a mental health issue affecting one person is not a story of just one person.  It affects parents, spouses, children, siblings, friends; it affects the home and the workplace. It is a story of families and communities. While there is extensive support in the military community, that’s not always the case when it comes to members of the Foreign Service.

I once wrote about a former Foreign Service kid and his dad with severe PTSD. A few of you took the time to write and/or send books to the ex-FS employee incarcerated in Colorado, thank you.

I’ve written about Ron CappsRachel SchnellerCandace Faber, FSOs who came forward to share their brave struggles with all of us. There was also a senior diplomat disciplined for volatile behavior who cited PTSD, I’ve also written about Michael C. Dempsey, USAID’s first war-zone related suicide, and railed about suicide prevention resources.  The 2014 Foreign Service Grievance Board 2014 annual report says that eight of the new cases filed involved a claim that a disability, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or other medical condition affected the employee performance or conduct that resulted in a separation recommendation.

With very few exceptions, people who write to this blog about mental health and PTSD do so only on background. Here are a few:

  • A State Department employee with PTSD recently told this blog that “Anyone outside of our little insular community would be appalled at the way we treat our mentally ill.”  The individual concludes with clear frustration that it “seems sometimes the only unofficially sanctioned treatment plan encouraged is to keep the commissaries well stocked with the adult beverage of your choice.” 
  • Another one whose PTSD claim from service at a PRT in Iraq languished at OWCP said, “I can assure you that OER and State Med have been nothing but obstructions… as a vet, I have been treated at VA for the past ten months, else I would have killed myself long ago.”
  • Still another one writes: “VA indicates the average time between trauma and treatment-seeking is eight years. The longer it is undiagnosed and treated, the more difficult to ameliorate. I have a formal diagnosis from VA but could not even get the name of a competent psychiatrist from DoS. The bulk of DoS PTSD claims are still a few years away (2008/2009 PLUS 8), with no competent preparation or process.”
  • A friend of a State employee wrote that her DOS friend was “deployed/assigned to a  war-torn country not too long ago for a year. Came back with PTSD and  was forced by superiors to return to very stressful/high pressure work  duties while also seeking medical attention for an undiagnosed then, but eventually diagnosed (took about 6 months) disease  triggered by environmental conditions where s/he was last posted.”
  • Another FSO said, “I actually thought State did a decent job with my PTSD. After I was subject to an attack in Kabul, the social worker at post was readily available and helpful. He indicated I could depart post immediately if I needed to (and many did after the attack). When I departed post I was screened for PTSD and referred to MED here in DC. After a few sessions here with MED, I was referred to a private psychologist who fixed things up in a few months.”
  • One FSO who suffered from PTSD assured us that “State has come a very long way since 2005” and that it has made remarkable progress for an institution. Her concerns is that PTSD is widespread in the Department in the sense that people develop it in a wide range of posts and assignments. She cited consular officers in particular, who evacuate people from natural disasters and civil wars and deal with death cases on a regular basis, and are particularly at risk.

 

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June is PTSD Awareness Month. We are hosting a forum at http://forums.diplopundit.net for an open discussion on PTSD.

It’s not everyday that we get a chance to ask questions from somebody with post traumatic stress disorder. On Monday, June 29, FSO Rachel Schneller will join the forum and answer readers’ questions  based on her personal experience with PTSD.  She will be at this blog’s forum from noon to 2 pm EST. She will join the forum in her personal capacity, with her own views and not as a representative of the State Department or the U.S. Government.  She’s doing this as a volunteer, and we appreciate her time and effort in obtaining official permission and  joining us to help spread PTSD awareness. Please feel free to post your questions here.

Rachel Schneller joined the Foreign Service in 2001. Following a tour in Iraq 2005-6, she was diagnosed with PTSD. Her efforts to highlight the needs of Foreign Service Officers returning from tours in war zones helped prompt a number of changes in the State Department, for which she was awarded the 2008 Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent.

Prior to joining the U.S. Department of State, Rachel served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali from 1996-98. She earned her MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in 2001. We have previously featured Rachel in this blog here, and here.

The forum, specifically created for PTSD discussion is setup as an “open” forum at this time; readers may post questions without registration.  We’re hosting, same Privacy Policy apply.

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Below are some of our previous blog posts on mental health, PTSD, security clearance and the State Department’s programs:

What to do when different voices start delivering multiple démarches in your head?]

USAID’s First War-Zone Related Suicide – Michael C. Dempsey, Rest in Peace

State Dept’s Suicide Prevention Resources — A Topic So Secret No One Wants to Talk About It

Former Foreign Service Kid Writes About Dad With Severe PTSD  (Many thanks to readers who took the time to write and send books to Tony Gooch! We appreciate your kindness).

Ron Capps | Back From The Brink: War, Suicide, And PTSD

Rachel Schneller | PTSD: The Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me

Senior Diplomat Disciplined for Volatile Behavior Cites PTSD in Grievance Case, Fails

Pick the Long or Short Form, But Take the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Screening

On the Infamous Q21, PTSD (Again) and High Threat Unaccompanied Assignments

Ambassador Crocker Arrested for Hit and Run and DUI in Spokane

Quickie | Running Amok: Mental Health in the U.S. Foreign Service

Former FSO William Anthony Gooch: No Mercy for Broken Men?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Ticking Bomb in the Foreign Service

Clinton issues note on mental health; seeking help a sign of maturity and professionalism

EFM shouldn’t have to see three RMOs, do a PPT presentation and wait 352 days for help

Join the Petition: Revised Q21 for the Foreign Service

State Dept’s WarZone Deployment Incentives, Programs, Training and Medical Support

DMW: Mental Health Treatment Still a Security Clearance Issue at State Department

Insider Quote: Returning to the Real World

What’s State Doing with Question 21?

 

Gayle Smith For USAID Gets a Confirmation Hearing, a Protestor, an Open Letter to End Famine

Posted: 12:13 pm  PDT

 

On June 17, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a confirmation hearing on the nomination of Gayle Smith as the next USAID Administrator:

Ms. Gayle Smith Of Ohio,
To Be Administrator Of The United States Agency For International Development
Download Testimony (pdf)

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Then this happened:

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ALL Foreign Affairs Agencies Affected By #OPMHack: DOS, USAID, FCS, FAS, BBG and APHIS

Posted: 6:15  pm  PDT

 

AFSA has now issued a notice to its membership on the OPM data breach. Below is an excerpt:

On Thursday June 4, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) became aware of a cybersecurity incident affecting its systems and data. AFSA subsequently learned that the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of many current and former federal employees at the foreign affairs agencies have been exposed as a result of this breach.

The most current information provided to AFSA indicates the following: Most current, former and prospective federal employees at ALL foreign affairs agencies have been affected by this breach. That includes the State Department, USAID, FCS, FAS, BBG and APHIS. OPM discovered a new breach late last week which indicates that any current, former or prospective employee for whom a background investigation has been conducted is affected.

In the coming weeks, OPM will be sending notifications to individuals whose PII was potentially compromised in this incident. The email will come from opmcio@csid.comand it will contain information regarding credit monitoring and identity theft protection services being provided to those federal employees impacted by the data breach. In the event OPM does not have an email address for the individual on file, a standard letter will be sent via the U.S. Postal Service. All the foreign affairs agencies suggest that those affected should contact the firm listed below. Members of the Foreign Commercial Service may additionally contact Commerce’s Office of Information Security at informationsecurity@doc.gov.

As a note of caution, confirm that the email you receive is, in fact, the official notification. It’s possible that malicious groups may leverage this event to launch phishing attacks.  To protect yourself, we encourage you to check the following:

  1. Make sure the sender email address is “opmcio@csid.com“.
  2. The email is sent exclusively to your work email address. No other individuals should be in the To, CC, or BCC fields.
  3. The email subject should be exactly “Important Message from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management CIO”.
  4. Do not click on the included link. Instead, record the provided PIN code, open a web browser, manually type the URL http://www.csid.com/opm into the address bar and press enter. You can then use the provided instructions to enroll using CSID’s Web portal.
  5. The email should not contain any attachments. If it does, do not open them.
  6. The email should not contain any requests for additional personal information.
  7. The official email should look like the sample screenshot below.
image via afsa.org

image via afsa.org

Additional information has been made available on the company’s website, www.csid.com/opm, and by calling toll-free 844-777-2743 (International callers: call collect 512-327-0705).

Agency-Specific Points of Contact:

If you have additional questions, contact AFSA’s constituency vice presidents and representatives:

Read the full announcement here.

Amidst this never ending round of data breaches, go ahead and read Brian Krebs’ How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Security Freeze. The USG is not offering to pay the cost of a credit freeze but it might be worth considering.

Of course, the security freeze does not solve the problem if the intent here goes beyond stealing USG employees’ identities.   If the hackers were after the sensitive information contained in the background investigations, for use at any time in the future, not sure that a credit freeze, credit monitoring and/or ID thief protection can do anything to protect our federal employees.

Security clearance investigations, by their very nature, expose people’s darkest secrets — the things a foreign government might use to blackmail or compromise them such as drug and alcohol abuse, legal and financial troubles and romantic entanglements. (via)

I understand why the USG has to show that it is doing something to address the breach but — if a foreign government, as suspected, now has those SF-86s, how can people protect themselves from being compromised? If this is not about compromising credit, or identities of USG employees but about secrets, credit monitoring and/or ID thief protection for $20 Million will be an expensive but useless response, wouldn’t it?

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The Brink: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid – Coming June 21 on HBO (Video)

Posted: 2:14 am EDT

 

That time when you showed your diplomatic passport and a host country official in uniform tore it up? Yup, they put that here — see another clip from The Brink,  coming to HBO this month.   Jack Black plays FSO Alex Talbot and Tim Robbins plays Secretary of State Walter Larson. The Brink’s 10-episode season premieres June 21 at 10:30PM on HBO.

 

Related post:
Doomsday Go: The Brink, Nuclear Apocalypse Dark Comedy With Tim Robbins and Jack Black (Video)

 

USAID’s Arab Spring Challenges in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen: The State Department, It’s No.2 Challenge

Posted: 12:10 am EDT

 

USAID’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted a survey (pdf) to identify the challenges USAID faced during the early transition period (December 2010-June 2014) in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen. USAID/OIG identified and interviewed 31 key USAID officials from various parts of the organization who have worked on activities in these countries.It also administered a questionnaire to supplement the information gathered from the interviews. Together, 70 employees from USAID were either interviewed or responded to the questionnaire. It notes that the while the survey collected the perspectives of a number of USAID employees, it is not statistically representative of each office or USAID as a whole.

The highest addressee on this report is USAID/Middle East Bureau Assistant Administrator, Paige Alexander. It includes no State Department official nor congressional entities.

Below is an excerpt:

In 2013 OIG conducted a performance audit of USAID/Egypt’s economic growth project1 and found that the changes of the Arab Spring severely affected the project’s progress. Approximately midway through implementation, the project had not made significant progress in seven of the ten tasks in the original plan mainly because of changes in the Egyptian Government’s counterparts and priorities. To adapt to the environment, the project adjusted its plan and identified three new areas of work to focus on. In another audit that year,2 OIG found similar challenges at USAID/Yemen when one of that mission’s main projects had to adjust its approach after the Arab Spring started (page 16).

Beyond project delays, we found a host of other challenges common to all four countries that revolve around three broad categories:

  1. Security
  2. Increased influence from the State Department
  3. Host-countryreadiness

1. Security.

One of the most commonly cited challenges was the difficulty of operating in a volatile environment. Security dictated many aspects of USAID’s operations after the Arab Spring started, and it was not uncommon for activities to be delayed or cancelled because of security issues.
[…]
In addition to access, security also disrupted operations because employees were evacuated from the different countries. U.S. direct-hire employees at USAID/Egypt were evacuated twice in 3 years. In USAID/Yemen, employees were evacuated twice in 3 years for periods of up to 6 months.3 In our survey, 76 percent of the respondents agreed that evacuations made managing projects more difficult.
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Because of the precarious security situations, strict limits were placed on the number of U.S. direct hires who were allowed to be in each country. Employees said the Agency did not have enough staff to support the number of activities. This problem was particularly pronounced in Tunisia and Libya, where for extended periods, USAID had only one permanent employee in each country

2. Increased Influence From State Department.

According to our survey results, the majority of respondents (87 percent) believed that since the Arab Spring the State Department has increased its influence over USAID programs (Figure 3). While USAID did not have activities in Libya and Tunisia before the Arab Spring, staff working in these countries afterward discussed situations in which the State Department had significant influence over USAID’s work. A respondent from Tunisia wrote, “Everything has been driven by an embassy that does not seem to feel USAID is anything other than an implementer of whatever they want to do.”

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 6.56.05 PM

While there is broad interagency guidance on State’s role in politically sensitive environments, the specifics of how USAID should adapt its operations were not entirely clear to Agency employees and presented a number of challenges to USAID’s operations. In Yemen, the department’s influence seemed to be less of an issue (page 17), but for the remaining countries, it was a major concern. As one survey respondent from Egypt wrote:

[State’s control] makes long-term planning incredibly difficult and severely constrains USAID’s ability to design and execute technically sound development projects. A path forward is agreed, steps taken to design activities and select implementation mechanisms, and then we are abruptly asked to change the approach.

State’s involvement introduced a new layer of review and slowed down operations. USAID employees needed to dedicate additional time to build consensus and gain approval from people outside the Agency.

USAID employees also described challenges occurring when State employees, unfamiliar with the Agency and its different types of procurement, made requests that were difficult to accommodate under USAID procedures. One respondent wrote that State “think[s] programs can be stopped and started at will and that we can intervene and direct partners in a manner that goes far beyond the substantial involvement we are allowed as project managers.”

Beyond operational challenges, many people we interviewed expressed frustration over the State Department’s increased role, particularly when State’s direction diverted USAID programming from planned development priorities and goals. This was an especially contentious issue at USAID/Egypt (page 7).

This difference in perspectives caused some to question State’s expertise in development assistance, particularly in transitional situations. A USAID official explained that countries in turmoil presented unique challenges and dynamics, and embassies may not have experts in this area. Others said USAID was taking direction from State advisers who were often political appointees without backgrounds in development.
[…]
State was not the sole source of pressure; employees said other federal entities such as the National Security Council and even the White House had increased their scrutiny of USAID since the start of the Arab Spring. As a result, mission officials had to deal with new levels of bureaucracy and were responding constantly to different requests and demands from outside the Agency.

3. Host-Country Readiness.

In each of the four countries, employees reported problems stemming from award recipients’ ability to implement assistance programs. According to one employee, local capacity in Libya was a major problem because the country did not have a strong workforce. Moreover, local implementers had not developed the necessary technical capacity because development assistance was not a priority in Libya under Muammar Qadhafi’s closed, oil-rich regime. Activities in Tunisia and Yemen encountered similar issues because neither have had long histories of receiving foreign development assistance. In Egypt, employees reported that some of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working on the mission’s democracy and governance program also lacked sufficient capacity.

On Egypt:  More than 85 percent of the employees surveyed who worked on activities related to USAID/Egypt agreed that the State Department had increased its influence over USAID programs since the start of the Arab Spring (Figure 5). A number of respondents said State steered Agency programs to address political rather than development needs. This dynamic had a profound effect on the mission’s ability to follow USAID’s guidance on designing and implementing developmentally sound projects. […] Some mission officials questioned the value of adhering to USAID’s project design procedures when the State Department had already decided a project’s fate. […] In this example, State’s desire to award education scholarships to women in Egypt was difficult to justify because university enrollment data showed that higher education enrollment and graduation rates for women are slightly higher than for men.  […] With so many differing voices and perspectives, USAID employees said they were not getting clear, consistent guidance. They described the situation as having “too many cooks in the kitchen.” One survey respondent wrote:

State (or White House) has had a very difficult time making decisions on USAID programming for Egypt . . . so USAID has been paralyzed and sent through twists and turns. State/White House difficulties in decisions may be expected given the fluid situation, but there has been excessive indecision, and mixed signals to USAID.

On Tunisia: The State Department placed strict restrictions on the number of USAID employees allowed to be in-country. As a result, most Agency activities were managed from Washington, D.C. … [O]ne survey respondent wrote, “I have been working on Tunisia for nearly 3 years now, and have designed programs to be carried out there, but I’ve never been. I don’t feel like I have been able to do my job to the best of my ability without that understanding of the situation on the ground.”

On Libya: The attacks in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, had a profound impact on USAID operations in Libya. According to one interviewee, after the attacks USAID did not want to attract too much political attention and put a number of Agency activities in Libya on hold. The period of inactivity lasted from September 2012 to September 2013. It was not until October 2013, after Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted, that the U.S. Government refocused attention on Libya and funding for activities picked up again.

Before the attacks, USAID had five employees in the country; afterward, only one was allowed to remain. Although his main priority then was to manage USAID/OTI projects in Libya, he also was asked to oversee four to five additional activities managed out of Washington—a stretch for any employee. As one survey respondent wrote, “The lack of people in the field in Libya (small footprint) means that DC overwhelms the field. People in the field are worked ragged.”

On Yemen: USAID/Yemen did not suffer from the challenges of unclear strategy that other USAID missions did in the region; 70 percent of respondents who worked on activities in Yemen believed that the Agency had a clear strategy for its post-Arab Spring activities (Figure 12). This is a stark contrast to responses related to USAID/Egypt, where only 22 percent believed that USAID had a clear strategy. …[O]ur survey also found a strong working relationship between USAID/Yemen and the State Department; the two often agreed on what needed to be done. […] Some respondents said the collaborative atmosphere was due to individual personalities and strong working relationships between USAID and State officials. One employee said because employees of both organizations lived and worked together in the close quarters, communication flowed freely as perspectives could be exchanged easily. …[O]ne senior USAID/Yemen official said, some of what needed to be done was so obvious that it was difficult for the two agencies not to agree.

Lessons Learned

The report offers 15 lessons learned including the development of a USAID transition plan at the country level, even if it may change. USAID/OIG says that by having a short-term transition plan, the Agency “would have a better platform to articulate its strategy, particularly when it disagrees with the decisions of other federal entities.”It also lists the following:

  • Resist the urge to implement large development projects that require the support of host governments immediately after a transition.
  • Prepare mission-level plans with Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs)—locally hired USAID employees who are not U.S. citizens—in case U.S. direct hires are evacuated. Evacuation of U.S. staff can be abrupt with only a few hours’ notice. People we interviewed recommended that U.S. staff develop plans with the mission’s FSN staff ahead of time, outlining roles, responsibilities, and modes of operation to prevent a standstill in operations in the event of an evacuation.
  • Get things in writing. When working in environments where USAID is getting input and instructions from organizations that are not familiar with Agency procedures, decisions made outside of USAID may be documented poorly. In such circumstances, it is important to remember to get things in writing.
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Ann Calvaresi Barr: USAID Gets a New Inspector General Nominee After Vacancy of 1,310 Days

Posted: 12:15 am EDT

 

On May 8, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ann Calvaresi Barr, as the next Inspector General for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The WH released the following brief bio:

Ann Calvaresi Barr is the Deputy Inspector General of the Department of Transportation, a position she has held since 2010.  Ms. Calvaresi Barr joined the Department of Transportation as Principal Assistant Inspector General for Audits and Evaluations in 2009.  She served at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) as Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management from 2004 to 2009, Assistant Director for Strategic Issues from 2002 to 2004, and Assistant Director for Health Care Issues from 1998 to 2002.  Ms. Calvaresi Barr held several roles as an analyst and senior analyst at GAO from 1984 to 1998, including a five year tour in GAO’s former European Office.

Ms. Calvaresi Barr received a B.A. from Dickinson College and an M.P.A. from American University.

Screen capture from c-span

Screen capture from c-span

Click here for a video of Ms. Calvaresi Barr during a congressional hearing on Amtrak in 2012. If confirmed, she would succeed Donald A. Gambatesa who resigned three and a half years ago after a five year tenure. The OIG position at USAID has been vacant for 1,310 days according to the OIG Tracker put together by POGO (see Where Are All the Watchdogs?)

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Conspired to Defraud Uncle Sam? Be Very Afraid. We’re Gonna Put You in Home Confinement!

Posted: 9:40 am EDT

 

Remember the USAID nonprofit contractor IRD? (See Dear USAID OIG — That Nonprofit Contractor Mess Really Needs a Fact Sheet). Well, here’s another one.  This is a case where the CEO of a major USAID contractor gets feather-slapped by the court.

A 2011 ranking of private USAID partners by devex.com lists LBG as the third largest USAID private-sector partner that has contracted some of the government’s largest post-conflict redevelopment projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Bloomberg, Louis Berger International, a unit of Louis Berger Group, got about $736 million to modernize a power system and rehabilitate the Kajakai Dam in Afghanistan.  Whoa! We thought that dam only cost $305.5 million! Plus cost of fuel that  US taxpayers also had to shoulder.

What is missing from this announcement? How much was the total contracts that LBG received in the last 20 years? Who’s paying the independent monitor? And for heaven’s sake, what lessons are we sending to other reconstruction capitalists doing awesome work for love of god and country?

Via USDOJ:

The former president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of a New Jersey-based international engineering consulting company was sentenced today to 12 months of home confinement and fined $4.5 million for conspiring to defraud the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with respect to billions of dollars in contracts over a nearly 20-year period, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Derish Wolff, 79, of Bernardsville, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson to a superseding information charging conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims. Judge Thompson imposed the sentence today in Trenton federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Wolff, the former president and CEO of Morristown, New Jersey-based Louis Berger Group Inc. (LBG), and the former chairman of LBG’s parent company, Berger Group Holdings Inc. (BGH), led a conspiracy to defraud USAID by billing the agency on so-called “cost-reimbursable” contracts – including hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts for reconstructive work in Iraq and Afghanistan – for LBG’s overhead and other indirect costs at falsely inflated rates.

USAID, an independent federal government agency that advances U.S. foreign policy by supporting economic growth, agriculture, trade, global health, democracy, and humanitarian assistance in developing countries, including countries destabilized by violent conflict, awarded LBG hundreds of millions of dollars in reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in other nations. LBG calculated certain overhead rates and charged USAID and other federal agencies these rates on cost-reimbursable contracts, which enabled LBG to pass on their overhead costs to the agency in general proportion to how much labor LBG devoted to the government contracts.

From at least 1990 through July 2009, LBG, through Wolff and other former executives, intentionally overbilled USAID in connection with these cost-reimbursable contracts. The scheme to defraud the government was carried out by numerous LBG employees at the direction of Wolff.

Wolff targeted a particular overhead rate, irrespective of what the actual rate was, and ordered his subordinates to achieve that target rate through a variety of fraudulent means. From at least as early as 1990 through 2000, Wolff ordered LBG’s assistant controller to instruct the accounting department to pad its time sheets with hours ostensibly devoted to federal government projects when it had not actually worked on such projects.

At an LBG annual meeting in September 2001, Salvatore Pepe, who was then the controller and eventually became chief financial officer (CFO), presented a USAID overhead rate that was significantly below Wolff’s target. In response, Wolff denounced Pepe, called him an “assassin” of the overhead rate and ordered him to target a rate above 140 percent, meaning that for every dollar of labor devoted to a USAID contract, LBG would receive an additional $1.40 in overhead expenses supposedly incurred by LBG.

In response, Pepe and former controller Precy Pellettieri, with Wolff’s supervision, hatched a fraudulent scheme from 2003 through 2007 to systematically reclassify the work hours of LBG’s corporate employees, including high-ranking executives and employees in the general accounting division, to make it appear as if those employees worked on federal projects when they did not. At his plea hearing on Dec. 12, 2014, Wolff admitted that Pepe and Pellettieri, at Wolff’s direction, reclassified these hours without the employees’ knowledge and without investigating whether the employees had correctly accounted for their time, and at times did so over an employee’s objection.

In addition to padding employees’ work hours with fake hours supposedly devoted to USAID work, Wolff instructed his subordinates to charge all commonly shared overhead expenses, such as rent, at LBG’s Washington, D.C., office to an account created to capture USAID-related expenses, even though the D.C. office supported many projects unrelated to USAID or other federal government agencies.

On Nov. 5, 2010, Pepe and Pellettieri both pleaded guilty before then-U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz to separate informations charging them with conspiring to defraud the government with respect to claims. Also on that date, LBG resolved criminal and civil fraud charges related to Wolff’s and others’ conduct. The components of the settlement included:

  • a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), pursuant to which the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey suspended prosecution of a criminal complaint charging LBG with a violation of the Major Fraud Statute; in exchange, LBG agreed, among other things, to pay $18.7 million in related criminal penalties; make full restitution to USAID; adopt effective standards of conduct, internal controls systems, and ethics training programs for employees; and employ an independent monitor who would evaluate and oversee the company’s compliance with the DPA for a two-year period;
  • a civil settlement that required the company to pay the government $50.6 million to resolve allegations that LBG violated the False Claims Act by charging inflated overhead rates that were used for invoicing on government contracts; and an administrative agreement between LBG and USAID, which was the primary victim of the fraudulent scheme.

In the settlement, the government took into consideration LBG’s cooperation with the investigation and the fact that those responsible for the wrongdoing were no longer associated with the company.

Click here for the original announcement (pdf).

 

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