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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Gordon Adams on New QDDR — Thin Gruel For the Future of America’s Civilian Statecraft

Posted: 11:15  am EDT

 

You don’t like the new QDDR rolled out recently by the State Department? Just, you wait.  Gordon Adams writing for Foreign Policy has hopes.  He says that “the next secretary of state will look at the management and planning side of Foggy Bottom and leave it to someone else while he or she flies around the world doing the “fun” stuff. “  Oops! Mr. Adams writes that the longtime effort to reform and strengthen the State Department will be handed off again, as it has been for decades. And you know what, he hit that nail squarely on its tiny head; we kind of share that view.

There’s a race on who will be the most travelled Secretary of State — how many countries, how many miles, how many travel days, total flight time and so on and so forth. Secretary Kerry, so far has registered 791,085 miles, still way below the total miles traveled by Secretary Clinton at 956,733 miles. Secretary Albright held the record of most countries visited at 98 until that record was broken by HRC at 214 countries visited.

Unfortunately, there is no race on who will be the secretary of state who can sit still long enough to do the necessary fixes  needed by our “lead institution of U.S. foreign policy.”

Below is an excerpt from Democracy-Pushing Is Not Cutting-Edge Foreign Policy via FP:

[T]he first QDDR missed a great opportunity for fundamental change — change it might have pulled off with the star power of Clinton, which would have elevated the State Department to real foreign-policy leadership and would have eliminated some serious organizational dysfunction. It did not broaden the mission of the Foreign Service to include dealing with governance issues in other countries. It did not change training of Foreign Service officers fundamentally to provide skills in strategic planning and program development and management, and to make mid-career training and education available. It did not reform a broken architecture for security assistance at the State Department or make an effort to recapture leadership over U.S. security assistance policy from the Defense Department.

It did not end the division of planning and budgeting between a stovepipe over on the “management” side that does personnel, buildings, security, administration, and IT/communications support, and the other stovepipe over in the foreign assistance program office that plans and budgets for U.S. foreign assistance. And it did not even discuss the reality that the United States has far too many foreign assistance programs — an uncoordinated diaspora of offices and agencies scattered around the bureaucratic universe in D.C. from the Justice Department to the DoD to the Commerce Department to the Export-Import Bank to the Treasury Department and beyond, to the bewilderment of anyone the United States does business with overseas.

So I hammered away a little last year in this column after the new QDDR was launched, urging the new team to at least try to address some key institutional problems that make the State Department (and its USAID partner) dysfunctional and unable to lead U.S. foreign policy. I picked three themes: 1) make governance dilemmas in the world a core mission of U.S. foreign policy, and build the programs and training to implement that priority; 2) take civilian control of U.S. security assistance (much of it is now at DoD), and embed that effort in stronger civilian governance overall; and 3) centralize and empower a capacity at the State Department to do integrated strategic and resource planning.

It will not surprise you that this latest QDDR did not go for the gold on any of these three core problems. At best it gets a fairly weak incomplete. Secretary of State John Kerry, like his star-powered predecessor, earned few points; in the end he didn’t actually put his credibility and heft on the line to get fundamental change, a change the department needs if it is going to give reality, not talk, to its claim that it is the lead institution for U.S. foreign policy.

Read in full here.

Thanks for the shoutout, GA! Follow him on Twitter at 

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State Dept and USAID to Host Family Member Employment Forum, May 14, 9am -1pm

Posted: 10:42 am EDT

 

The State Department and USAID will be hosting a Family Member Employment Forum this Thursday at the George Marshall Center. This is described as “an event for family members from all agencies under Chief of Mission Authority who are going or returning overseas and are interested in employment outside the mission. Career development experts will share information on the latest hiring practices and trends. Family members will share their employment challenges and successes within their respective career fields (legal, medical, education, accounting, and finance).”  Check out the forum Agenda:  2015 Family Member Employment Forum Agenda

  • Meet one-on-one with career counselors
  • Network and learn from fellow EFMs
  • Learn to develop your global network
  • Develop a strategy for employment outside the mission
  • Learn tips for launching a home-based business
  • Build your personal brand
  • Explore telework and virtual employment options
  • Update your LinkedIn photo at the FLO photo booth
  • Meet with FLO’s team of employment experts

Click here to register at State/FLO.

May 14, 2015
9:00am – 1:00pm

U.S. Department of State, George Marshall Center
21st Street and Virginia Avenue NW
Washington, DC
Metro Station Map (2 pages)

 

One-on-One Coaching Sessions: To sign up for a 20-minute coaching session with a professional career counselor during the Employment Forum, email LJohnson@usaid.gov.

Opening Keynote Speakers

Heather Higginbottom, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources
Arnold A. Chacon, Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources
Erin Elizabeth McKee, Senior Deputy Director, USAID
Susan Frost, Director of the Family Liaison Office

Speakers, Panelists and Career Counselors

Fernando Alvarez Sarah Novak
Vicky Bell Deborah Pratt
Christine Elsea-Mandojana Joan Rooney
Paula Feeney Mary Santulli
Susan Musich Debra Thompson
Vici Koster-Lenhardt Vonda Vandaveer
Catherine McCormick Tobias Ward
Bill Norris Carol Brooke-Williams

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Gayle Smith: From National Security Council to USAID Administrator

Posted: 12:10 am EDT

 

On April 30, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Gayle Smith as the next USAID Administrator:

 “Today, I am proud to nominate Gayle E. Smith as our next Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  I’ve worked closely with Gayle for nearly a decade, and for the past six years Gayle has served as a senior leader on international development, humanitarian crisis response, and democracy issues on my National Security Council staff.  Gayle’s energy and passion have been instrumental in guiding America’s international development policy, responding to a record number of humanitarian crises worldwide, and ensuring that development remains at the forefront of the national security agenda at a time when USAID is more indispensable than ever.  Gayle has my full confidence and I have no doubt that she will prove to be an outstanding leader for the tireless men and women of USAID as they work to improve lives around the world. I urge the Senate to act quickly on this nomination.”

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Click here for a discussion on Africa via CSPAN featuring Ms. Smith, and Howard French, a veteran journalist and author, who reported from Africa for several years.

The WH released the following brief bio:

Gayle E. Smith, Nominee for Administrator, United States Agency for International Development 
Gayle E. Smith is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Development and Democracy on the National Security Council staff, a position she has held since 2009, with responsibility for global development, democracy, and humanitarian assistance issues.  In her capacity as Senior Director, she has coordinated the first-ever Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, led the Administration’s work on global health, overseen the creation of Presidential initiatives including Feed the Future, Power Africa, the Global Health Security Agenda, and the Open Government Partnership, and helped coordinate U.S. government responses to more than 15 major humanitarian crises around the world.  Prior to joining the Administration, Ms. Smith was a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where she led the Sustainable Security Project and co-founded the ENOUGH Project and the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.  Ms. Smith also served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council from 1998 to 2001 and as Advisor to the Chief of Staff and Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development from 1994 to 1998.  Ms. Smith previously lived and worked in Africa for almost 20 years, where she was a journalist and worked for non-governmental relief and development organizations.  Ms. Smith received a B.A. from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

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US Embassy Nepal: DART and Search and Rescue Teams Are On the Ground

Posted: 12:15 am EDT

 

At the DPB on April 27, the State Department said that Embassy Kathmandu remains open and the U.S. Embassy and the American Club continue to shelter U.S. citizens and their family members as well as dozens of non-Americans. There are reportedly about 85 U.S. citizens at the chancery and about 220 U.S. citizens at the American Club.  The spokesman said he is “not aware of any significant damage, at least not that is impeding their [embassy’s] operations.”  

Embassy Kathmandu staff is reportedly being supplemented with resources in the region “to better enable us to respond to – not only to the things concerning U.S. citizens, but also liaison coordination with the U.S. Government and such.” All of the American personnel at the embassy are accounted for. The embassy is continuing its efforts to account for all its local employees. Meanwhile, the DART and the search and rescue teams have arrived in country.

 

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Nepal Earthquake: USAID/OFDA activates Disaster Assistance Response Team; how you can help in relief efforts

Posted: 12:30 am EDT

 

On April 25, the U.S. Government (USG) issued a disaster declaration for Nepal due to the effects of the earthquake. In response, USAID/OFDA immediately activated a Response Management Team (RMT) in Washington, D.C., and a DART—including urban search-and-rescue (USAR) specialists from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department—to support emergency response efforts in cooperation with the GoN. USAID/OFDA has also authorized an initial $1 million to address urgent needs.

According to media reports, the earthquake has resulted in widespread damage and destruction of buildings as well as damaged roads and other public infrastructure. According to USAID, USG staff in Kathmandu reported that electrical and telecommunications networks are intermittently operational, although landlines appear to function. The airports in Kathmandu and Pokhara reportedly remained open, with some commercial flight activity already resumed.  Nepal earthquake death toll is now reported to be over 3,200, including 3 Americans.  More than 6,000 have been injured in the earthquake.

The U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu has drilled about the big one for years now. Our post there has an American staff of less than a hundred. Post is a typical accompanied post so there will be family members there.  If public infrastructure and food supply becomes problematic, we anticipate that family members will be evacuated to a safehaven area or back home like what happened in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. It is also worth noting that in a crisis like this, the local employees who are expected to assist the mission may also be facing their own challenges with the need and safety of their own families. Let’s keep them all in our thoughts.

In response to the Government of Nepal requests for assistance, USAID/OFDA deployed a DART to Nepal. The team includes USAID/OFDA humanitarian specialists and 54 USAR personnel from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. USAID/OFDA has also allocated an initial $1 million for relief organizations in Nepal to address urgent humanitarian needs. Also this:

For nearly two decades, USAID/OFDA has supported disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts in Nepal, including throughout Kathmandu Valley. USAID/OFDA funding has enabled the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to identify, prepare, and preserve more than 80 open spaces in Kathmandu Valley to ensure the sites are available for humanitarian purposes—such as distribution centers or warehouses—in the event of large-scale disasters. USAID/OFDA has also supported Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) to pre-position critical emergency relief supplies in order to address the immediate needs of affected communities following a disaster.

Here are a few more updates via Twitter:

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We understand that due to the weather, tents are an urgent need right now. USAID/OFDA director Jeremy Konyndyk says, “We’re mobilizing emergency shelter supplies from our global stocks. Clear need.”

How You Can Help

USAID says that the most effective way people can assist relief efforts is by making cash contributions to humanitarian organizations that are conducting relief operations. A list of humanitarian organizations that are accepting cash donations for disaster responses around the world can be found at www.interaction.org.

USAID encourages cash donations because they allow aid professionals to procure the exact items needed (often in the affected region); reduce the burden on scarce resources (such as transportation routes, staff time, and warehouse space); can be transferred very quickly and without transportation costs; support the economy of the disaster-stricken region; and ensure culturally, dietary, and environmentally appropriate assistance.

More information can be found at:

  • The Center for International Disaster Information: www.cidi.org or +1.202.821.1999.
  • Information on relief activities of the humanitarian community can be found at www.reliefweb.int

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Major Earthquake Strikes Nepal, High Death Toll Expected (Contact Info For U.S. Citizens)

Posted: 9:54 am PDT

 

On April 25, a 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal, approximately 80 km from the capital Kathmandu. More than a thousand people have reportedly been killed with the number expected to go up.  USAID is launching a a DART team to respond.  U.S. citizens in need of urgent assistance in Nepal should call +977 1 423 4068.  U.S. citizens from the U.S. and Canada needing assistance in Nepal should call 1-888-407-4747 or email the State Department at NepalEmergencyUSC@state.gov.  Google has also rolled out its Person Finder.

Via the USGS:

The April 25, 2015 M 7.8 Nepal earthquake occurred as the result of thrust faulting on or near the main frontal thrust between the subducting India plate and the overriding Eurasia plate to the north. At the location of this earthquake, approximately 80 km to the northwest of the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu, the India plate is converging with Eurasia at a rate of 45 mm/yr towards the north-northeast, driving the uplift of the Himalayan mountain range. The preliminary location, size and focal mechanism of the April 25 earthquake are consistent with its occurrence on the main subduction thrust interface between the India and Eurasia plates.

Although a major plate boundary with a history of large-to-great sized earthquakes, large earthquakes on the Himalayan thrust are rare in the documented historical era. Just four events of M6 or larger have occurred within 250 km of the April 25, 2015 earthquake over the past century. One, a M 6.9 earthquake in August 1988, 240 km to the southeast of the April 25 event, caused close to 1500 fatalities. The largest, an M 8.0 event known as the 1934 Nepal-Bihar earthquake, occurred in a similar location to the 1988 event. It severely damaged Kathmandu, and is thought to have caused around 10,600 fatalities.
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Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2014 — Noteworthy Cases

Posted: 1:30  am EDT

 

The Foreign Service Grievance Board recently released its 2014 annual report:

A primary goal of the Board continuing during this past year (and in prior years) has been to improve its timeliness in terms of issuing its orders and decisions. The Board is acutely aware of the short timeframes that impact the careers of Foreign Service employees, and especially the schedules of various agency-appointed boards that grant tenure, decide on promotions, rank (and “low rank”) employees, and make other career-defining personnel decisions. While the Board does not fully control the entire grievance appeal process, e.g., the period during which the parties engage in sometimes lengthy discovery or file time- consuming motions, it has put in place procedures to expedite where possible those actions it does control.
[…]
The three-member panels selected to decide grievance appeals continued to work effectively during the year, producing several orders and decisions with significant issues of first impression or complexity. Social media has had an impact on some of the Board’s grievance appeals, and is likely to expand as a growing presence in both professional and personal interactions among Foreign Service employees. The increased exposure of what may have been considered private communications in the past has produced challenging questions regarding standards for personal and professional conduct of Foreign Service personnel, including the issue of what is a reasonable expectation of privacy; similarly, rapid changes in technology, in particular the growth of digitally based communications and cyber tools such as cloud computing, have altered methods of information storage, access and security that undoubtedly affect Foreign Service operations. These developments, along with rapidly evolving social and demographic changes, both within the Foreign Service and the society at large, are likely to influence to some degree future grievance disputes. A major challenge for the Board is to maintain its level of institutional and technological awareness to keep pace with the dynamic environment in which future dispute resolution will be necessary.

See the stats here:  Snapshot: Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2014 – Statistics

According to the 2014  report, the largest number of grievance appeals by office were those filed by employees of the Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (31% of the total). The Board is now seeing cases on disability, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or other medical condition that affected the employee performance or conduct that resulted in a separation recommendation.  The average time for disposition of a case, from time of filing to Board decision, withdrawal, or dismissal, was 45 weeks. This is two weeks longer than the average time of disposition in 2013. The Board currently has 19 members, with 12 retired foreign affairs members and 7 legal professionals.

Below is an excerpt from the report:

Fifty-three new cases were filed with the Board in 2014, comparable to the number filed the previous year (54). Over the past six years, the number of new cases has ranged from a high of 74 to a low of 43. Of the 2014 cases, 47 cases were filed by employees of the Department of State (or survivors of State Department employees); five by employees of USAID; and one by AFSA. No cases were filed by employees of the other agencies under the Board’s jurisdiction.
[…]
Timeliness of disciplinary actions, as governed by agency regulations, also continued as an issue of concern to employees. In three new cases filed, the employees alleged that delays ranging from 14 to 36 months violated Department regulations and disadvantaged them. Two cases involving timeliness were decided by the Board this year. In the first case, the Board found that a three-year delay was prejudicial to the employee and dismissed the charges. In the second, a two-year delay was deemed not to be prejudicial, but the charges were dismissed as not proven.

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. Four involved allegations of alcohol abuse. The largest number of grievance appeals by office were those filed by employees of the Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (31% of the total).

A number of individually noteworthy cases were filed in 2014:

    • A USAID case involved the starting salary of a new hire, whose documentation of his previous salary while self-employed was alleged to be fraudulent. The grievant was one of several USAID new hires who were issued bills of collection for overpayment of salary following an agency audit of the starting salaries of new hires. Regulations for establishing starting salaries primarily took into account standard salary histories, and did not address factors stemming from self-employment or lower salaries/stipends earned while an applicant was earning an advanced degree.
  • The daughter of a State Department employee contested a bill of collection issued by the Department for $311,000 in overpayment of a survivor annuity and denial of a waiver for the overpayment. The grievant was unaware that she needed to notify the Department upon the death of her mother. Survivor annuity payments were deposited into a joint account for several years before the error was discovered.
  • AFSA filed an implementation dispute challenging the Department’s decision to deny payment of Meritorious Service Increases (MSIs) to outstanding employees identified by the selection boards in 2013. AFSA maintained that its agreement to defer such payments during sequestration of the budget in 2013 did not extend to a discretionary decision by the Department to withhold such payments permanently after the funds were available.
  • A former president of AFSA contested the propriety of an email sent out by senior Department staff criticizing her for an op-ed piece she had co- authored with two former ambassadors. The op-ed piece, published in the Washington Post, expressed the authors’ perception that State was inappropriately placing an increasing number of civil service and political appointees in the highest leadership positions. The grievant also challenged the failure of one of the authors of the email to recuse herself from service on the grievant’s promotion board that year.
  • A retired Foreign Service Officer filed a grievance alleging that remedies granted to him pursuant to the first grievance ever filed, in 1972, under authorities preceding the establishment of the Foreign Service Grievance Board, had never been implemented. He is seeking monetary relief.
  • A grievant who in 1998 claimed bias on the basis of sexual orientation and a procedural error, and who appealed the FSGB decisions to both the district court and court of appeals, filed a new grievance claiming that Time-In-Class (TIC) and Time-in-Service (TIS) extensions awarded in that case had never been properly implemented, resulting in his impending separation for expiration of his TIS.

Discipline

The Board resolved 12 appeals from discipline imposed by the Department of State. There were no appeals from disciplinary decisions of other agencies. In discipline cases, the agency has the burden to prove that the charge is factually correct; has a nexus to employment; and that the penalty is appropriate. The appeals covered a range of issues: alcohol and/or weapons-related incidents (five cases); filing false claims for reimbursement; false statements given to explain an absence from work; failure to maintain control of a diplomatic pouch; interfering with an investigation; the appearance of prostitution (two cases); and a security violation. In eight of the cases the charged employee alleged that the penalty was too harsh. In five of the discipline cases the Board affirmed the Department’s decision; in two it found in favor of the charged employee; in one it partially affirmed and partially reversed; and four cases were settled before reaching a decision on the merits. Nine of the cases involved employees of the Office of Diplomatic Security.

In one discipline case and a handful of others, the employees claimed that the incidents were related to the stress of service at hardship posts. As more employees are assigned to posts in countries where violence is endemic, the Board will be sensitive to similar conditions in appeals arising from this issue.

EER/OPF/IER

Eighteen appeals involving inaccuracies, omissions, prejudicial statements, or prejudicial errors in employees’ Official Performance Files that could affect their promotion and/or tenuring competitiveness were decided by the Board. The Board affirmed the agency decision in ten of the cases; reversed in two; and partially affirmed, partially reversed in three cases. Two appeals were settled, and one was withdrawn.

Two of the appeals contested IERs issued by the Office of the Inspector General, one involving an ambassador and the second a public affairs officer. In the first, the Board found that the right to counseling applied equally to ambassadors as to other employees. Although the bar may be higher in what an ambassador is expected to know, the Board found that in this particular case the ambassador had no reason to know of the deficiencies identified in the IER, and, therefore, lack of counseling by her supervisors prior to inclusion of the criticisms in the IER and her OPF was not harmless error. The Board also found that several comments in the IER about another, identifiable employee should not have been included in the ambassador’s OPF. The Board ordered that the IER be removed from the ambassador’s OPF. The second case was settled and withdrawn prior to a decision on the merits.

See The Buck Stops Where? Ambassador Files Grievance Over an OIG Evaluation Report

Assignment

In general, the Board does not have jurisdiction over assignment actions. However, the Board may hear appeals in which the employee alleges a procedural violation of the assignment process. Two such cases were resolved last year. The first case stemmed from the 2012 violence in Benghazi. The employee alleged that he was removed from his position based on ill-founded conclusions by the Benghazi Accountability Review Board, and that he had been made a scapegoat as part of a politically motivated damage control effort. Prior to the conclusion of the appeal process, the grievant retired from the Department. The Board found that most of the remedies he had requested were no longer viable post-retirement, and it therefore drew no conclusions based on the merits. In the second case, the Board also found that the requested remedy, a change in eligibility requirements for long- term training, was outside its authority and dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.

See The Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?

Financial

Eight appeals involving financial claims were resolved by the Board last year, each presenting different, complex issues:

  • In an appeal challenging denial of a medical evacuation allowance, the Department followed a long-established Standard Operating Procedure in denying medical evacuation for a high-risk pregnancy prior to the 24th week of gestation. The employee was directed to seek instead the lower separate maintenance allowance, even though all medical personnel agreed that grievant’s spouse needed to return to the U.S. in the 10th week of pregnancy.  The Board found that the Department’s practice was inconsistent with its own regulations and directed the Department to recalculate grievant’s per diem based on the medical evacuation rate.See High Risk Pregnancy Overseas: State/MED’s SOP Took Precedence Over the FAM? No Shit, Sherlock!
  • Six Security Engineering Officers (SEOs) challenged the Department’s decision to limit hiring of their class to an FP-06 pay level, while hiring preceding classes with similar qualifications up to the FP-04 level. In addition to charging a violation of merit principles, the grievants claimed that there were no jobs available at the lower level, so they were unjustly required to work at a higher pay grade than they were being paid. The case was resolved with respect to four grievants when they withdrew their appeals. The appeal of the other two is pending.
  • A career Civil Service employee was given a Limited Non-career Appointment in the Foreign Service, then granted a conversion to career Foreign Service. While in the U.S. working to satisfy the language requirement for a pending overseas FS assignment, grievant’s position was first designated FP-02, then retroactively downgraded to GS-12. The Department required her to reimburse the overpayment in salary resulting from the initial designation. The Board found that, while the Department’s regulations regarding conversions are unclear, in this case the downgrade without notice was an improper application of the relevant laws and regulation, and the employee was entitled to recover the funds repaid to the Department.
  • The Department denied a cash award to an employee for a suggestion he had made and that it had implemented. The primary basis for denial was that grievant had received a cash award for a similar reason, and thus was not permitted a second cash award for the suggestion. Grievant also claimed that the official who denied the award was the deciding official in a disciplinary action pending against him, and thus should have recused himself. The Board found that the two awards were for different purposes and thus not prohibited by the regulation, and agreed that the deciding official should have recused himself from the award decision. It remanded the case to the Department to reconsider its original decision.
  • A Diplomatic Security agent was required to surrender his law enforcement credentials and was denied law enforcement availability pay (LEAP) when the Secret Service investigated him regarding a collectible coin that he had purchased and sold, which turned out to be counterfeit. The investigation remained pending for a number of years, with no charges brought against the agent. During that time, his LEAP pay remained in abeyance. The Board found that although the Department did not have regulations addressing these circumstances, it had implemented a clear and consistent policy and did not act arbitrarily in denying grievant LEAP pay.
  • A retired criminal investigator with the USAID Inspector General’s Office alleged that the State Department miscalculated his retirement annuity by applying a pay cap imposed by the USAID IG through a 2006 memorandum. The Board found that the Department’s reliance on the memorandum was proper, and denied grievant’s claim to a higher annuity. The grievant has appealed this decision to the D.C. district court.

Judicial Actions Involving Board Rulings

One new case was filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia last year. Gregory Picur, retired from USAID’s Office of Inspector General, appealed the Board’s decision to uphold the Department’s calculation of his retirement annuity. A decision is pending.

Three other cases are pending decisions in federal court:

    • The five plaintiffs in Richard Lubow, et al. v. United States Department of State, et al. (923 F. Supp. 2d 28 (D.D.C. 2013)), retired and active duty Diplomatic Security agents who served in Iraq in 2004, appealed a district court decision granting summary judgment to the Department. The plaintiffs had grieved the Department’s application of a cap on their premium pay during their time in Iraq and its decision not to grant them a waiver of repayment of the amounts they had been paid in excess of that cap. The Board had affirmed the Department’s decision applying the cap and denying the waiver.
      (note: a ruling was issued on this case this past week, we will post separately)
    • In November 2012, Jeremy Yamin petitioned the D.C. district court to review a FSGB order denying in part his request for attorney fees incurred in a grievance appeal.
  • In January 2011, Joan Wadelton appealed a Board decision ordering six new reconstituted selection boards be convened as the remedy for three prior grievances. Ms. Wadelton’s appeal contests the Board’s decision to order a new round of reconstituted boards, rather than direct a promotion, as she had requested. Ms. Wadelton is separately engaged in litigation against the Department concerning compliance with three related FOIA requests she filed seeking certain Department records about her. The Department has completed its production of documents pursuant to those requests and is currently engaged in briefing related to motions for summary judgment. (see  Former FSO Joan Wadelton With Truthout Goes to Court Over FOIA Case)

One of the “other” cases adjudicated by the Board.

[T]he employee had been assigned to a senior job in an international organization for five years by virtue of separation/transfer with reemployment rights. Under that particular arrangement, his OPF was not reviewed for promotion for those years, and he was reemployed by State at the same grade as when he had left. Grievant contested the legality of that policy. The Board found that, although there was confusion within State about the ramifications of different transfer/secondment actions and grievant had not always been given consistent information, the precepts were clear and no remedy was warranted. Grievant has two related cases pending. (see Secondments to international organizations and promotions? Here comes the boo!).

The full report is available here.

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Colombia Counternarcotics Program Costs Over $8 Billion the Last 11 Years, Where’s the Audit Trail?

Posted: 3:02 am EDT

 

Last month, we’ve blogged about State/INL’s aerial eradication program in Colombia (see State/INL: Anti-Drug Aerial Eradication in Colombia and the Cancer-Linked Herbicide, What Now?). We understand that there was a cable sent through the Dissent Channel concerning this subject. We also received an  allegation that the “OIG wouldn’t touch this issue last year.”   So we asked the Office of Inspector General and here is its official response:

There is no Department program or operation that the OIG is unwilling to review. In fact, the OIG inspected Embassy Bogota, Colombia in early 2011. That inspection discusses counter narcotics programs, drug production and trafficking in Colombia. Additional pertinent, recent reports include a Compliance Follow-up Review of Embassy Bogota, published in December 2008 (ISP-C-09-08A), and an Inspection of Embassy Bogota published in March 2006 (ISP-I-06-16A).

That 2011 OIG inspection report is a 64-page document;  the discussion on the counternarcotics program encompasses approximately four pages of that report.

We could not locate a recent OIG inspection/audit of the counternarcotics (CN) program in Colombia. By comparison,  there are multiple audits for the CN program in Afghanistan (see related items below). The CN program in Colombia predates the one in Afghanistan, so makes one ask questions. We’ve also asked State/OIG if there is any plan to put this program in the IG’s inspection or audit schedule anytime soon? Here is the response:

OIG develops its work plans based on a number of factors – including, a program’s risk profile, its relation to the Department’s management challenges, mandated work, congressional requests, OIG resources, etc. Our FY 2015 Work Plan and 2015 Office of Audits Strategic Work Plan are on our website. I wouldn’t be able to comment on any work, in addition to that listed in the plans, which may or may not be scheduled in the near future.

Below is an excerpt from the Embassy Bogota 2011 report (pdf):

Since 2001, Colombia’s estimated annual cocaine production potential has decreased by 61 percent, from 700 to 270 metric tons. The United States has made a major investment in helping Colombia address the narcotics problem. The United States provided more than $7.4 billion (approximately $5.9 billion from the Department of State (Department) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and $1.5 billion from the Department of Defense for Plan Colombia and its follow-on programs from FYs 2000 through 2010.

Embassy Bogotá’s NAS is one of the largest in the world, with 134 employees and 664 contractors. The FY 2010 NAS budget for all programs was approximately $244 million, a significant decrease over a 3-year period from approximately $326 million in FY 2007.

That’s a lot of money and that 61% looks good but when was the last time this program was audited?

The only Audit of INL Programs in Colombia we could locate is one dated July 2000 and posted publicly online in 2004.  The audit says that “Despite spending over $100 million on the increased eradication efforts during FY 1997-99, the results of the spray program are uncertain.”

But this 2000 OIG audit is, of course, an ancient dog.

In any case, aerial eradication is discussed briefly under “Other Matter” in a 2010 USAID/OIG audit on the Alternative Development program in Colombia (pdf):

The UNODC [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime], acting on the behalf of the Government of Colombia, delineates project boundaries and verifies, using a combination of satellite and ground monitoring, that the area is free of illicit crops. Despite these measures taken, beneficiaries do not have a guarantee that they will not be subject to aerial eradication. Officials from USAID/Colombia and the Department of State’s Narcotics Affairs Section acknowledge that occasionally, land that the Government of Colombia has certified as being illicit free and has come under the alternative development program has been subject to fumigation (eradication). The audit interviewed beneficiaries from two alternative development activities in the department of Putumayo who lost their licit agricultural crops because of aerial eradication efforts.

Beneficiaries are still at risk despite demonstrating that their land is illicit free because the different goals and objectives that the U.S. Government is trying to achieve under its three-tiered counternarcotics strategy (interdiction, eradication, and alternative development) do not always complement each other. For example, a key U.S. Government’s counternarcotics objective is to assist the Government of Colombia in its efforts to eliminate the cultivation of illicit drug crops. Under the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the Office of Aviation supports the Colombian National Police’s efforts to eradicate coca through aerial fumigation. As part of those efforts, the Office of Aviation uses airborne digital cameras to photograph suspected coca fields. If coca is identified, these fields become targets for aerial fumigation.

According to officials from both USAID/Colombia and the Department of State’s Narcotics Affairs Section, the routes used for aerial fumigation are based on predetermined global positioning system coordinates. However, while in the air, if the pilot is able to visibly identify coca outside of the predetermined area, then a decision to eradicate can be made. Unfortunately, some licit crops share an appearance similar to that of the coca leaf, creating a possibility for human error in the decision to eradicate.

According to USAID/Colombia and Narcotics Affairs Section officials, there is a complaint process established for anyone who believes that their land has been fumigated erroneously. The complaint process can be lengthy, and if beneficiaries cannot provide the correct global positioning system coordinates of their land and the date of the alleged fumigation, any damages resulting from the fumigation can be difficult to prove. Adding to the challenge is that the effects of aerial fumigation are not immediately visible but appear days or weeks after the field was sprayed. If a complaint is successful, the beneficiary is compensated for the loss. However, it is doubtful that the beneficiary can truly recover the time and effort invested in the cultivation of the licit agricultural crops on the land. And having lost their investment once, the beneficiary may decide not to continue with the production of licit crops.

Officials from both USAID/Colombia and the Narcotics Affairs Section state that interagency coordination has improved and more sharing of information is helping to ensure that alternative development program beneficiaries are better identified and considered prior to instances of aerial fumigation. Nevertheless, the protection of these beneficiaries cannot be guaranteed.

 

In March 2014, the Congressional Research Service issued  a report (pdf) on International Drug Control Policy: Background and U.S. Responses. Excerpt below:

Much of contemporary counternarcotics efforts in Colombia stem from a 1999 Colombian government strategy to address security and development issues, called Plan Colombia. It was intended to be a six-year plan, concluding in 2005, to end the country’s decades-long armed conflict, eliminate drug trafficking, and promote economic and social development. The plan aimed to curb trafficking activity and reduce coca cultivation in Colombia by 50% over six years. In support of Plan Colombia and its follow-on programs, the U.S. government spent more than $8 billion in security and development assistance between FY2000 and FY2011, to include both civilian and military counterdrug support efforts.

Here is the part of the 2014 CRS report that talks about eradication:

Eradication is a long-standing but controversial U.S. policy regarding international drug control. As recently as 2008, the State Department had considered crop control the “most cost-effective means of cutting supply,” because drugs cannot enter the illegal trade if the crops were never planted, destroyed, or left unharvested. Without drug cultivation, the State Department’s rationale continued, “there would be no need for costly enforcement and interdiction operations.”

Proponents of eradication further argue that it is easier to locate and destroy crops in the field than to locate subsequently processed drugs on smuggling routes or on the streets of U.S. cities. Put differently, a kilogram of powder cocaine is far more difficult to detect than the 300 to 500 kilograms of coca leaf that are required to make that same kilogram. Also, because crops constitute the cheapest link in the narcotics chain, producers may devote fewer economic resources to prevent their detection than to conceal more expensive and refined forms of the drug product.

Opponents of expanded supply reduction policy generally question whether reduction of the foreign supply of narcotic drugs is achievable and whether it would have a meaningful impact on levels of illicit drug use in the United States. Manual eradication requires significant time and human resources, reportedly involving upward of 20 work-hours of effort to pull up and destroy one hectare of coca plants. Aerial application of herbicide is not legal or feasible in many countries and is expensive to implement where it is permitted. Aerial fumigation in Colombia has also raised allegations that the herbicide chemical used has caused negative human, animal, and environmental consequences.

Others question whether a global policy of simultaneous crop control is cost-effective or politically feasible because eradication efforts may also potentially result in negative political, economic, and social consequences for the producing country, especially in conflict or post- conflict environments.  Some argue that this has been the case with respect to eradication efforts in Afghanistan, where some U.S. officials have acknowledged that poppy eradication may have caused many poor Afghan farmers to ally with insurgents and other enemies of the Afghan government.  In 2009, Richard Holbrooke, who was the Obama Administration’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the time, called Western eradication policies in Afghanistan “a failure” and stated that they have “wasted hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.” Since 2009, the U.S. government has no long directly participated in eradication operations in Afghanistan.

Ok.

So help us out here.  What we can’t understand is how a program that costs American taxpayers over $8 billion in the last 11 years has no State/OIG audit trail?

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Related posts:

 

Related items: Counternarcotics (CN) Reports Afghanistan

Audit of Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Counter-narcotics Assistance to Afghanistan | November 14, 2014} AUD-MERO-15-02 | View Report: aud-mero-15-02.pdf

Performance Evaluation of PAE Operations and Maintenance Support for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs’ Counternarcotics Compounds in Afghanistan | March 04, 2011| MERO-I-11-02 | View Report: 157927.pdf

Status of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Counternarcotics Programs in Afghanistan Performance Audit | December 23, 2009 | MERO-A-10-02
| View Report: 134183.pdf

Interagency Assessment of the Counternarcotic Program in Afghanistan July 2007 | August 03, 2007 |  ISP-I-07-34 | View Report: 90158.pdf

Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs July 2005 | June 18, 2009 | ISP-I-05-14 | View Report: 125271.pdf