Category Archives: Visas

Tweet of the Day: Visa That Saved a Mom’s Life

– Domani Spero

 

The tweet below is from Andrew Schapiro, the Ambassador-Designate to the Czech Republic who arrived in Prague on August 18, 2014 but yet to participate in official events pending the presentation of credentials per diplomatic protocol.

 

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Burn Bag: Oh, Mr. Personality, Your Visa Stamp So Sexy 😍 !!!

Via Burn Bag:

“Those consular adjudicators who met a “high bar for qualifications and underwent a rigorous screening process”? I’m not sure it’s a good idea to skip the rigorous screening process that normally applies to Foreign Service officers (FSOs), as these adjudicators have the very same powers as FSOs and appear to the outside world to be diplomats. For example, at my post, the very first time one officer represented the Mission at a representational event, he spent the time picking up women, rather than working (he’s married, and here with his family). Within two weeks, he’d told his wife their marriage was over. I can’t believe this represents the kind of good judgement the FS is looking for, any more than I believe the woman he picked up is interested in his personality.”

 

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Via reactiongifs.com

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Renunciation of U.S. Citizenship About to Get More Expensive: From $450 to $2,350

– Domani Spero

 

Updated 8:36 am PST, Aug 28, 2014:  The Federal Register has now published  this interim final rule online. This interim final rule becomes effective September 6, 2014. Written comments must be received on or before October 21, 2014. A note on “interim final rule” from the Federal Register: “When an agency finds that it has good cause to issue a final rule without first publishing a proposed rule, it often characterizes the rule as an “interim final rule,” or “interim rule.” This type of rule becomes effective immediately upon publication. In most cases, the agency stipulates that it will alter the interim rule if warranted by public comments. If the agency decides not to make changes to the interim rule, it generally will publish a brief final rule in the Federal Register confirming that decision.” See more here (pdf).

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Yesterday, we got the following via the Burn Bag:

“CA [Consular Affairs] will publish a proposed rule on Thursday in the Federal Register raising the fee for renunciation of citizenship from $450 to $2,350. This will not be popular. Fee based on annual fee study and lack of common sense.”

Today, the Federal register posted online the pre-publication interim final rule for the changes in the Schedule of Fees for consular services (see full interim rule embedded below).  The percentage  increase in the renunciation fee is 422%. With an estimated 2,378 annual renunciation of citizenship cases, this increase would net the USG an estimated $4,518,200.  Using the projected FY 2014 workload, Consular Afffairs’ estimated change in annual fees collected for affected consular services is $64,003,862. Below is an extract from the interim final rule which will be published on August 28:

The interim final rule makes changes to the Schedule of Fees for Consular Services of the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. The Department sets and collects its fees based on the concept of full cost recovery. The Department completed its most recent review of current consular fees and will implement several changes to the Schedule of Fees based on the new fees calculated by the Cost of Service Model (CoSM).
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The CoSM demonstrated that documenting a U.S. citizen’s renunciation of citizenship is extremely costly, requiring American consular officers overseas to spend substantial amounts of time to accept, process, and adjudicate cases. For example, consular officers must confirm that the potential renunciant fully understands the consequences of renunciation, including losing the right to reside in the United States without documentation as an alien. Other steps include verifying that the renunciant is a U.S. citizen, conducting a minimum of two intensive interviews with the potential renunciant, and reviewing at least three consular systems before administering the oath of renunciation. The final approval of the loss of nationality must be done by law within the Directorate of Overseas Citizens Services in Washington, D.C., after which the case is returned to the consular officer overseas for final delivery of the Certificate of Loss of Nationality to the renunciant. These steps further add to the time and labor that must be involved in the process. Accordingly, the Department is increasing the fee for processing such requests from $450 to $2,350. As noted in the interim final rule dated June 28, 2010 (77 FR 36522), the fee of $450 was set substantially below the cost to the U.S. government of providing this service (less than one quarter of the cost). Since that time, demand for the service has increased dramatically, consuming far more consular officer time and resources, as reflected in the 2012 Overseas Time Survey and increased workload data. Because the Department believes there is no public benefit or other reason for setting this fee below cost, the Department is increasing this fee to reflect the full cost of providing the service. Therefore the increased fee reflects both the increased cost of the provision of service as well as the determination to now charge the full cost.

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The Department intends to implement this interim final rule, and initiate collection of the fees set forth herein, effective 15 days after publication of this rule in the Federal Register.
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Administrative Procedure Act |  The Department is publishing this rule as an interim final rule, with a 60-day provision for post promulgation comments and with an effective date less than 30 days from the date of publication, based on the “good cause” exceptions set forth at 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(3)(B) and 553(d)(3). Delaying implementation of this rule would be contrary to the public interest because the fees in this rule fund consular services that are critical to national security, including screening visa applicants.

Anybody know where we can find a copy of CA’s Cost of Service Model (CoSM) study?

Apparently, dual citizens in Canada trying to shed their U.S. citizenship have created a  backlog at the U.S. consulate in Toronto that stretches into the third week of January 2015.

In any case, Americans who will be upset by this change in renunciation of citizenship fee can  contact Congress to complain about this. Their elected representatives, presumably will be super-helpful to the soon-to-be non-voters.

We should note that interim final rule also lowers the consular time fee of $231 to $135 per hour, per employee:

The Department previously charged a consular time fee of $231 per hour, per employee. This fee is charged when indicated on the Schedule of Fees or when services are performed away from the office or outside regular business hours. The CoSM estimated that the hourly consular time charge is now lower. Accordingly, the Department is lowering this fee to $135 per hour.

See the full interim final rule below. The document posted below is a pre-publication copy. It is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on 08/28/2014 and available online at http://federalregister.gov/a/2014-20516, and on FDsys.gov

 

 

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Consular Affairs Bureau Seeks to Expand Visa Waiver and Interview Waiver Programs

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs retired last April (see Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs to Retire Effective April 3).  As far as we know, no successor has been nominated to date.  Pardon me? You want ……..? And you want Overseas Citizens Services DAS Jim Pettit?  Excuse me, Mr. Pettit was already nominated as Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova.  Who else?  You want ……. ? Well, maybe State should have a list of nominees and have all CA employees vote for their next boss per the bureau’s Leadership Tenets. Because wouldn’t that be a screamingly fantastic experiment?

In any case, CA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Michele Bond has been the Acting A/S since April 2014.  This past June, at a hearing at the Senate Subcommittee on Tourism, Competitiveness and Innovation on  The State of U.S. Travel and Tourism Industry, Ms. Bond discussed how the bureau is meeting increasing demand for visas worldwide, particularly in  Brazil, India, Mexico and China (see prepared statement). Stressing that the State Department’s  “top priority in visa adjudication is always national security,” the prepared statement provides a look at where the bureau is seeking to expand.   Specifically, it seeks legislative authority to expand the Interview Waiver Program and wanted to see an expanded  Visa Waiver Program to include additional countries to the 37 current participants.  The  Interview Waiver Program (visa applications without personal appearances) is potentially controversial given its history, and probably the reason the bureau is seeking legislative authority from Congress.

Below are excerpts from the prepared statement:

Consular Adjudicators

In 2013, Brazilian visitors contributed $10.5 billion to the U.S. economy, a 13 percent increase from the prior year.  During the same period, Chinese visitors contributed $9.8 billion, an 11 percent increase from the prior year, or $5,400 per visitor.  To address this important opportunity to contribute to our country’s economy, 167 officers perform consular work in Mission China.  Consular Affairs created over 50 new officer positions in China in fiscal year 2012 alone.  In the same year, we increased consular staffing in Mission Brazil by 40 percent within six months, and eventually increased staffing by more than 100 percent.  We met the President’s Executive Order target of 40 percent capacity increase in Brazil in June 2012 and in China in November 2012, both ahead of schedule.
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In 2011, we realized our traditional hiring mechanisms wouldn’t allow us to deploy officers quickly enough to meet exploding visa demand in Brazil and China. We weren’t recruiting enough Portuguese- and Mandarin-speaking officers and could not wait for new entry-level officers to learn these essential languages.  In response, the Department created a rapid hiring pilot program to ramp up staffing at critical needs posts.  These adjudicators met a high bar for qualifications and underwent a rigorous screening process to assess their skills and background for these positions.  The first class of these adjudicators, appointed for one-year periods and limited to a maximum of five consecutive years, began in January 2012.  That year, we brought on a total of 24 Mandarin-speakers and 19 Portuguese-speakers, all of whom arrived at posts by mid-July.  In fiscal year 2013, we expanded the program to recruit Spanish-speakers.  To date, we have hired and deployed 59 adjudicators under this program to China, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, representing an added capacity of 900,000 visa adjudications per year.

Interview Waiver Program

We are utilizing technology and advanced fraud detection techniques to help us expand the pool of applicants for whom interviews can be waived under the Interview Waiver Program.  This allows us to focus resources on higher-risk visa applicants while facilitating travel for low-risk applicants.

We are working with our colleagues across the government to expand this successful program, which became permanent in January 2014.  In fiscal year 2013, we waived over 380,000 interviews, and a recent study showed that tourist and business visitor visa holders whose interviews were waived, all of whom were subject to the full scope of security checks, posed no greater risk for an overstay than those who were interviewed.  We are interested in explicit legislative authority to supplement the existing Interview Waiver Program by adding additional low-risk applicant groups such as citizens of Visa Waiver Program members applying for other types of visas such as student or work visas; continuing students moving to a higher level of education; non-U.S. citizen Global Entry and NEXUS trusted traveler program members; and holders of visas in other categories, such as students and workers, who wish to travel for tourism or business.  The Department is interested in working with Congress on legislation specifically authorizing the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to enhance our interview waiver programs.

Visa Waiver Program

[W]e are working with our U.S. government colleagues to expand the Visa Waiver Program, consistent with U.S. law, as was recently done with the addition of Chile to the program earlier this year.  With this designation, Chile now joins 37 other participants and is currently the only participant from Latin America.  The Department supports the proposed amendments contained in the Senate-passed Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, because we believe they would restructure the Visa Waiver Program in a manner that would strengthen law enforcement cooperation, while maintaining the program’s robust counterterrorism and criminal information sharing initiatives and promoting commerce and tourism in the United States.

No to Premium Visa Processing

However, we do not recommend offering premium visa processing.  We believe many visa applicants would be willing to pay any “premium processing fee” in the false belief that payment of a higher fee will ensure visa issuance, thus making any such program less efficient and compromising the integrity of the visa process.  The best approach to achieve greater efficiencies is the continued prioritization of student, medical, and urgent business travel applications, which is already in effect at consular posts worldwide.  We will also pursue increased visa validity where reciprocal agreement can be obtained with interagency support.

The full statement is available here.

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State Dept/CBP Reportedly Announced Fix for Certain Applicants Ensnared By Visa Glitch

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department’s Consular Consolidated Database has been having performance issues since July 19th. We have written about it in this blog (see State Dept Answers FAQ on Ongoing Visa and Passport Database Performance Issues and  State Dept’s Critical National Security Database Crashes, Melts Global Travelers’ Patience).

Last week, Greenberg Traurig posted on The National Law Review that the State Department and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have reportedly announced a fix for certain visa applicants affected by the technical glitch.

“DOS and CBP will, on a case-by-case basis, waive nonimmigrant visa (H-1B, L-1, O-1, etc.) requirements for admission into the United States. In particular, applicants whose U.S. travel involves an “emergency” (i.e., humanitarian travel and life-and-death situations) or impacts U.S. national interests may request consideration for special travel permission.”

The post further states that if “emergency” travel is approved, the embassy or consulate will issue a transportation letter for presentation to common carriers to allow boarding of international U.S.-bound flights. (See DOS and CBP Announce Fix for Certain Visa Applicants Who Are Experiencing Consular Delays Due to Recent Technical Challenges).

This information is nowhere to be found on the State Department’s website or on the Visa Section of travel.state.gov nor the FB page of the Bureau of Consular Affairs. No such announcement is made available from the CBP website.

An  August 10 update from U.S.-China Visa Law Blog includes the following details:

A nonimmigrant visa applicant whose U.S. travel is urgent because it either involves an “emergency” or impacts U.S. national interests, may request consideration for special travel permission to the United States if their visa issuance is delayed as a result CCD systems problems. “Emergencies” in this instance include urgent humanitarian travel and life-and-death situations. Upcoming business engagements and U.S. employment needs are “not typically considered humanitarian emergencies and likely will not be considered as such in most cases.”

If approved jointly by the State Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the consular post that accepted the visa application will release the traveler’s passport and will issue a transportation letter, which can be presented to the airlines to allow boarding of international U.S.-bound flights. Upon arrival to a U.S. port of entry and presentation of the transportation letter, CBP will waive the nonimmigrant visa requirement for admission.

Read more:  An Computer Crash Hobbles U.S. Visa, Passport Operations in China (Aug. 10 Update).

It is, of course, just a coincidence that the two sources noting the transportation letter fix are both law firms working on immigration, right? 😉  CA bureau’s FB page does not have an August 8 or August 10 update that includes this information. If there was an announcement, are we to understand that it was done on limited distribution with the State/CBP telling lawyers about this but not releasing this guidance to the general public?

We must confess that we’ve made a mistake of asking for clarification about this from the press office of the Bureau of Consular Affairs.  It turns out that some  folks there are unable to answer “yes” or “no” questions and are only able to provide cut and paste “on background” information for recycled details already publicly available.

Don’t get us wrong. It certainly is impressive cut and paste skills, but we won’t help them recycle the canned info and add to the glut.

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State Dept Answers FAQ on Ongoing Visa and Passport Database Performance Issues

– Domani Spero

 

Yesterday, we posted about the troubled Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) (see State Dept’s Critical National Security Database Crashes, Melts Global Travelers’ Patience).  During the Daily Press Briefing, yesterday, the State Department officially stated that it believed the root cause of the problem was “a combination of software optimization and hardware compatibility issues.” According to the deputy spokesperson, the servers are getting back online but that they are coming back in a queue and that fixes are not being done on a country-by-country basis. And by the way, it’s not just the peak summer travel season, there’s also the Africa Summit in D.C. next week.

“Obviously, there’s actually a huge crush right now because of the Africa Leaders Summit, so obviously that’s a huge priority for us to make sure everybody gets their visas for the Africa Leaders Summit. We do believe that a vast majority of the travelers who have applied for visas for the summit have been issued.”

CA’s FB folks have been regularly answering questions from angry complaints posted on its Facebook page and have announced that they will continue to monitor and respond to consular clients at 9:00 EDT tomorrow, Thursday, July 31.

Late yesterday, the Bureau of Consular Affairs also posted a new Frequently Asked Questions on Facebook and on its website (not easily accessible from the main visa page) concerning the CCD performance issues and the steps taken to address those issues. Perhaps the most surprising is that its back-up capability and redundancy built into the CCD were both affected killed by the upgrade that hobbled the system.  Something to look forward to by end of calendar year — CA is upgrading the CCD to a newer version of the Oracle commercial database software and that plan includes establishing two fully redundant systems. We are republishing the FAQ in full below.

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 12.07.05 AM

Information Regarding Ongoing Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) Performance Issues and Steps Taken| JULY 30, 2014

The Department of State continues to work to restore our visa system to full functionality.

We anticipate it will take weeks to resume full visa processing capacity.

We continue to prioritize immigrant visas, including adoption cases.  So far, we have been able to issue most cases with few delays.

Nearly all passports are currently being issued within our customer service standards, despite the system problems.

We are able to issue passports for emergency travel.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  What caused the system performance issues?  Hardware, software, or both?  Details?

On July 20, to improve overall system performance and address previous intermittent performance issues, we updated software as recommended. Our database began experiencing significant performance issues shortly after this maintenance was performed.

A root cause has not been identified at this time.  Current efforts are focused on bringing the system back to normal operations.  Once that has been accomplished, resources will be applied to determine the root cause.

Q:  What steps did we take to mitigate the performance issues?

Since July 20, our team has worked to restore operations to full capacity.  On July 23, the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) was brought back online with limited capacity.

The Department of State is working with Oracle and Microsoft to implement system changes aimed at optimizing performance and addressing ongoing performance issues.

We are incrementally increasing the number of processed cases as our systems will allow.

Q:  Has the Bureau of Consular Affairs experienced these types of outages in the past?

CA has experienced minor outages in the past, but never of this magnitude.  We have a plan in place to mitigate these occurrences in the future.

Q:  Is the software to blame?  Are contractors at fault?  Why was this allowed to happen?

We have been working to improve our services through upgrades while maintaining existing operations worldwide.  However, we are limited by outdated software and hardware.

Q:  Why did those steps not work?  What’s the next step?

We have not determined why the problems occurred.  We are working with our contractor and the software vendor to address the problems.

We are bringing additional servers online to increase capacity and response time.

Q: Why wasn’t there a back-up server?

There was back-up capability and redundancy built into the system.  However, the upgrade affected not only our current processing capability, but also our ability to use our redundant system.

Q: What steps are being taken prevent this from happening again?

CA has a plan in place to upgrade the CCD to a newer version of the Oracle commercial database software by the end of the calendar year.  We are working to ensure the existing system will remain fully functional until the new database is up and running and thoroughly tested.  The plan includes establishing two fully redundant systems.

Q:  If CA is fee funded, why can’t it build a robust database that doesn’t fail?

The database has grown dramatically, in both quantity of data and functionality, and vastly improved border security.  In addition to checking names against databases, we review fingerprints and perform facial recognition.

We are working towards modernization of our software, hardware, and infrastructure.  Demand for our services outpaced our modernization efforts.

Consular Affairs has, and has had, a redundant system.  However, the upgrade affected not only our current processing capability, but also our ability to use our redundant system.  This is one of the issues we are urgently addressing now.

Q:  What do I need to know if I’m a passport applicant?

Almost all passports are currently being issued within our customer service standards, despite the system problems.

We are able to issue passports for emergency travel.

Q:  What do I need to know if I’m a visa applicant?

Visa applicants they can expect delays as we process pending cases.  We remain able to quickly process emergency cases to completion.

We are working urgently to correct the problem to avoid further inconveniencing travelers.

We are posting updates to the visa page of travel.state.gov, and our embassies and consulates overseas are communicating with visa applicants.

In addition to communicating through our websites, e-mail, and letters, we are also reaching out to applicants via Facebook and other social media sites, such as Weibo, to relay the latest information.

Q:  Why hasn’t the Department been more forthcoming until now?

We have experienced CCD outages in the past, but they have never disrupted our ability to perform consular tasks at this magnitude.

We informed the public as soon as it was apparent there was not a quick fix to bring the CCD back to normal operating capacity, and are briefing Congressional staffers regularly.

Q:  What is the outlook for Non-immigrant visas?  When do we estimate the backlog will be processed?

That will depend on a number of factors.  Current efforts are focused on bringing the system back to normal operations.

We must also continue processing new requests.  We are committed to reducing the number of pending visa cases as quickly as possible, but we want applicants to know that we will continue to be operating at less than optimal efficiency until the system is restored to full functionality.

Q:  Is the Department going to reimburse applicants who missed flights/canceled weddings/missed funerals?

We sincerely regret any delays, inconvenience, or expense that applicants have may have incurred due to the CCD performance issues.

While it might be of little solace to those who have experienced hardship, we are always very careful to tell travelers NOT to make travel plans until they have a visa in hand.  Even when the CCD is operating normally, there may be delays in printing visas.

The Department does not have the authority to reimburse applicants for personal travel, nor do we include these costs when calculating our fees.  The Department cannot refund visa fees except in the specific circumstances set out in our regulations.

Q:  What impact will this have on SIVs?

We have the highest respect for the men and women who take enormous risks in supporting our military and civilian personnel.  We are committed to helping those who have helped us.  While issuances of Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to Afghans and Iraqis have been impacted, as have visa issuances around the world, SIV processing continues and remains a high priority.

Q: How is this impacting student visas?  They are scheduled to start the fall semester soon.

We are committed to issuing visas to all qualified students and exchange visitors.  Issuance of student and exchange visitor visas has been impacted in the past few days, but visa processing continues.

We understand the importance to international students and exchange visitors, their families, and their U.S. host institutions of timely visa issuance in order to facilitate travel and to ensure all students and exchange visitors may begin their programs on time.

Q: What about situations where the student won’t arrive to school on time?

Students should contact their educational institution’s Designated School Official (F and M visas) or designated U.S. sponsor’s Responsible Officer (J visas) and discuss with them what arrangements they can provide for you to begin your program after the start date on your Form I-20 (F and M visas) or Form DS 2019 (J visas), should such a circumstance become necessary.

Q:  Will this have any impact on the Diversity Visa program in September?

While issuances of all immigrant visas, including diversity visas, have been impacted in the past few days, IV processing continues and remains a high priority.  The Department expects to have used all numbers for DV-2014 when the program year ends on September 30, 2014.

Q:  What impact do we anticipate this will have on the U.S. economy?

Tourism and students have a major impact on our economy.  Last year, it was estimated that international visitors spent $180.7 billion and supported 1.3 million American jobs.  International students contribute $24.7 billion to the U.S. economy through their expenditures on tuition and living expenses, according to the Department of Commerce.

We recognize the significant impact that international travel and tourism has on the U.S. economy, and are taking all possible steps to ensure that the economic impact is minimal.

People traveling under the Visa Waiver Program are not affected at all; nor are those whose previously-issued visas remain valid.

We routinely advise applicants needing new visas to make appointments well in advance of their planned travel, and not to book their travel until they have their printed visas in hand.

The original post is available here.  If CA is reading this, it would be helpful if a link to the FAQ is posted on the main visa page of travel.state.gov and in the News section.  We were only able to find the FAQ from a link provided in Facebook and not from browsing around the travel.state.gov website.

 

 

 

 

 

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State Dept’s Critical National Security Database Crashes, Melts Global Travelers’ Patience

– Domani Spero

 

The first announcement about the troubled Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) went out on Wednesday, July 23:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs is currently experiencing technical problems with our passport/visa system.  This issue is worldwide and is not specific to any particular country, citizenship document, or visa category.  We apologize to applicants who are experiencing delays or are unable to obtain a passport, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or visa at this time. We are working urgently to correct the problem and expect our system to be fully operational again soon.

The AP reported on July 23 that unspecified glitches have resulted in performance issues since Saturday, which would be July 19.

On July 25, CA announced:” Our visa and passport processing systems are now operational, however they are working at limited capacity. We are still working to correct the problem and expect to be fully operational soon.”

A State Department official speaking on background told us the same day that this issue was not/not caused by  hackers. We were told that the CCD crashed shortly after maintenance was performed and that the root cause of the problem is not yet known.

On July 27, CA released an update:

As of July 27, the Department of State has made continued progress on restoring our system to full functionality. As we restore our ability to print visas, we are prioritizing immigrant cases, including adoptions visas. System engineers are performing maintenance to address the problems we encountered. As system performance improves, we will continue to process visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. We are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

On July 29, CA posted this on FB:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs continues to make progress restoring our nonimmigrant visa system to full functionality. Over the weekend, the Department of State implemented system changes aimed at optimizing performance and addressing the challenges we have faced. We are now testing our system capacity to ensure stability. Processing of immigrant visas cases, including adoptions, remains a high priority. Some Embassies and Consulates may temporarily limit or reschedule nonimmigrant visa interview appointments until more system resources become available to process these new applications. We sincerely regret the inconvenience to travelers, and are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

 

The CA Bureau’s Facebook page has been inundated with comments. There were complaints that at one post the visas were printing fine and then they were not. There were complains from people waiting for visas for adopted kids, for fiancees, for family members, for family waiting at the border, for students anxious to get to their schools, people worried about time running out for diversity visas, applicants with flights already booked, and many more.  One FB commenter writes, “I feel that the problem most people have is not that the system broke, but the lack of clear, meaningful information so people can make appropriate plans.

Other than what the CA Bureau chose to tell us, we cannot pry any substantial detail from official sources.  We, however, understand from sources familiar with the system but not authorized to speak for the bureau that the CCD has been having problems for sometime but it got worse in the last couple weeks.   If you’re familiar with the highs and lows of visa operation, this will not be altogether surprising.  Whatever problems already existed in the system prior to this “glitch” could have easily been exacerbated in July, which is the middle of the peak travel season worldwide. A source working in one of our consular posts confirmed to us that the system is back running, but not at the normal level and that the backlogs are building up. Another source told us that Beijing already had a 15k NIV backlog over the weekend.  We haven’t yet heard what are the backlogs like in mega visa-issuing posts like Brazil, Mexico and India.

We understand that everyone is currently doing all they can to get the process moving, but that some cases are getting through the system, while some are not. No one seems to know why this is happening. These machine readable visas are tied to the system and there are no manual back-ups for processing these cases (more of that below).

 

So who owns CCD?

The Consular Systems and Technology (CA/CST) manages the CCD.  We have previously blogged about its troubled past:

CST is currently headed by a new Director, Greg D Ambrose who reports to the CA Bureau’s Assistant Secretary.  It looks like despite the 2011 OIG recommendation, the CST deputy position remains vacant. We should also note that the  Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs retired this past April.  No replacement has been nominated to-date and Michele T. Bond has been Acting Assistant Secretary since Ms. Jacobs’ departure.

Last September, Mr. Ambrose was with FedScoopTV and talked about Consular One, the future of consular IT.

 

CST Just Got a New Data Engineering Contract

In Many 2014, ActioNet, Inc., headquartered in Vienna, Virginia,announced a 5-year task order for data engineering, supporting CST.

ActioNet, Inc. announced today the award of a five (5)-year task order entitled Data Engineering (DE) in support of Department of State (DOS). This task order will provide data engineering and database infrastructure support services necessary for planning, analysis, design, and implementation services for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.  These service also include contract and program management support to ensure that innovation, efficiency, and cost control practices are built into the program. [...] The Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) within the Bureau develops, deploys and maintains the unclassified and classified IT infrastructures that help execute these missions. The Bureau currently manages over 800 servers worldwide, in order to comply with the fast paced changes inherent to data processing and telecommunications, CST requires that contractor services provide for rapid provisioning of highly experienced and trained individuals with the IT (information technology) backgrounds and the security clearances required of CA’s environment of workstation-based local and wide-area network infrastructures.

Due to limited information available, we don’t know if the new Consular One and/or the new DE contract are related to ongoing issues or if there are hardware issues, given the multiple legacy systems, but we do know that CST has both an impressive and troubled history. Let’s take a look.


Records Growing by the Day

The 2010 Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) describes (pdf) the CCD as “one of the largest Oracle based data warehouses in the world that holds current and archived data from the Consular Affairs (CA) domestic and post databases around the world.”  According to the PIA, in December 2009, the CCD contained over 100 million visa cases and 75 million photographs, utilizing billions of rows of data, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35 thousand visa cases every day. The 2011 OIG report says that in 2010, the CCD contained over 137 million American and foreign case records and over 130 million photographs and is growing at approximately 40,000 visa and passport cases every day.

That was almost four years ago.


A Critical Operational and National Security Database with No Back-Up System?

According to publicly available information, the CCD’s chief functions are 1) to support data delivery to approved applications via industry-standard Web Service queries, 2) provide users with easy-to-use data entry interfaces to CCD, and 3) allow emergency recovery of post databases.  The CCD also serves as a gateway to IDENT and IAFIS fingerprint checking databases, the Department of State Facial Recognition system, and the NameCheck system. It  provides access to passport data in Travel Document Issuance System (TDIS), Passport Lookout Tracking System (PLOTS), and Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS).  The OIG says that the CCD serves 11,000 users in the Department and more than 19,000 users in other agencies, primarily the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and various law enforcement elements, and is accessed more than 120 million times every month.

Given that the CCD is considered “a critical operational and national security database,” there is surprisingly no redundancies or any back-up system.


Resurrect the Standard Register protectograph aka: `Burroughs visas’?

No one is actually suggesting that but when the CCD system is down, there is no manual way to issue a visa. No post can  handprint visas  because security measures prevent consular officers from printing a visa unless it is approved through the database system. Here is a quick history of the handprinted ‘Burroughs visas’ and the machine readable visas via the GPO:

November 18, 1988, mandated the development of a machine-readable travel and identity document to improve border entry and departure control using an automated data-capture system. As a result, the Department developed the Machine Readable Visa, a durable, long-lasting adhesive foil made out of Teslin.

Before MRVs, nonimmigrant visas were issued using a device called a Standard Register protectograph, otherwise known as a Burroughs certifier machine. It produced what was colloquially known as a “Burroughs visa,” an indelible ink impression mechanically stamped directly onto a page in the alien’s passport. Over time, Burroughs machines were gradually replaced by MRV technology, which is now used exclusively by all nonimmigrant visa issuing posts throughout the world.

Burroughs visas contained a space in which a consular employee was required to write the name of the alien to whom the visa was being issued. An alien’s passport might also include family members, such as a spouse, or children, who also had to be listed on the visa. In March 1983, in order to expedite the issuance of nonimmigrant visas and to improve operational efficiency, the Department authorized the use of a “bearer(s)” stamp for certain countries so that consular officers would not have to spend time writing in the applicant’s name (and those of accompanying family members). MRVs, however, must be issued individually to qualified aliens. Consequently, the “bearer”annotation has become obsolete.

The problem with the old Burroughs machine, besides the obvious, was maybe — you run out of ink, the plates are ruined/broken or you need it oiled. We could not remember those breaking down. With the MRV technology, all posts are connected to a central database, and the new machines by themselves cannot issue visas.  Which brings us to the security of that system.

 

Management Alert on Information System Security Program

The State Department PIA says that “To appropriately safeguard the information, numerous management, operational, and technical security controls are in place in accordance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) of 2002 and information assurance standards published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).” Must be why in November 2013, the Office of the Inspector General issued a Management Alert  for significant and recurring weaknesses found in the State Department’s Information System Security Program over the past three fiscal years (FY 2011-2013).

In 2011, State/OIG also issued a report on CA’s CST division and has, what appears to be a lengthy discussion of the CCD, but almost all of it but a paragraph had been redacted:

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 8.40.37 AM

That OIG report also includes a discussion of the Systems Development Life Cycle Process and notes that decision control gates within CST’s SDLC process are weak. It cites a couple of examples where this manifested: 1) the development of the Consular report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) system. “The ownership of development and deployment shifted throughout the process, and the business unit’s requirements were not clearly communicated to the development team. As a result, CST designed and tested the CRBA for a printer that did not match the printer model identified and procured by the business unit;” 2)  the Crisis Task Force application, for which CST was tasked to enhance its Web-facing interaction. “The deployment of this application has been challenged by the lack of project ownership and decision controls, as well as by the incomplete requirements definition. The use of incorrect scripts that were provided by the CM group has further delayed the Crisis Task Force application’s deployment.”

 

If there’s somethin’ strange in your CCD, who ya gonna call? (Glitchbusters!)

The Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) is central to all consular operations. It is run by CST where according to the OIG, “the smooth functioning of every part of the office depends on its contractors.” And because it runs such an important element of U.S. national security systems, if all CST’s contractors, all 850 of them quit, this critical consular data delivery to the State Department and other Federal agencies would screech to a a halt.

To carry out its mandate, CST must provide uninterrupted support to 233 overseas posts, 21 passport agencies, 2 passport processing centers, and other domestic facilities, for a total of 30,000 end users across 16 Federal agencies and in nearly every country. CST faces 24/7/365 service requirements, as any disruption in automated support brings operations to an immediate halt, with very serious implications for travelers and the U.S. image.
[...]
CST is led by a director and is staffed by 68 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees (62 Civil Service and 6 Foreign Service). There are 12 positions (3 Foreign Service and 9 Civil Service) currently vacant. CA recently authorized CST 19 additional FTE positions. There are also more than 850 contractors operating under nearly 30 different contracts. In FY 2010, CST’s annual operating budget was approximately $266 million.

If CCD is compromised for a lengthy period such as the last couple of weeks, what is the back up plan to keep the operation going?  Obviously, none. It’s either down or running under limited or full capacity.  No one we know remember CCD problems persist this long.  Right now, we know from a reliable source that the system is not down, and some cases and going through but — what if the CCD is completely down for two weeks … four weeks … wouldn’t international travel come to a slow stop?

What if CCD goes down indefinitely whether by hardware or software glitch or through malicious penetration by foreign hackers, what happens then?

Currently, it appears nothing can be done but for folks to be patient and wait until the fixes are in.  We know they’re working hard at it but there’s got to be a better way.   Perhaps we can also agree that this has very serious national security implications on top of disgruntled travelers and a grave impact on the U.S. image overseas.

 

 Related items:

May 2011 |  Inspection of The Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) Report Number ISP-I-11-51

-11/30/13   Audit of Department of State Information Security Program (FISMA) (AUD-IT-14-03)  [3610 Kb]  Posted January 29th, 2014

-01/13/14   Management Alert on OIG Findings of Significant, Recurring Weaknesses in Dept of State Info System Security Program (MA-A-0001)  [6298 Kb]  Posted on January 16, 2014

 

 Related articles

 

 

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Burn Bag: Where are the good, or at least decent, consular managers?

Via Burn Bag:

Our post is in the top 5 for IV, NIV, and ACS cases, with dozens of ELOs, and yet we have some of the worst senior level and mid-level managers I have ever encountered in the Foreign Service.  Our Consul General is a walking stiff who shows her face once every six months, half of the consular management seems to suffer from tone deafness and do not realize how poor morale is or how unpopular they are for their mismanagement.  Where are the good, or at least decent, consular managers?

Via reactiongifs.com

Via reactiongifs.com

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U.S. Consulate General Toronto Joins ‘Ask Me Anything’ on Reddit

– Domani Spero

Oh, the stuff you can do these days with energy and imagination.  The U.S.Consulate General in Toronto did a Reddit AMA last week, answering questions on visas and Amcit services. While the AMA response was modest, we believe this is the first time a consular post did an AMA on Reddit. USCG Toronto processes over 500 nonimmigrant visas a day. In 2008, Consulate General Toronto already had the largest NIV section in Canada.  The inspection report at that time noted that about half of all new immigrants to Canada chose the greater Toronto area for their place of residence.

USCG Toronto, Canada Photo via US Mission Ottawa/FB

USCG Toronto, Canada
Photo via US Mission Ottawa/FB

Below is an excerpt from the  AMA conducted by  FSOs, Nausher Ali, Visas Chief  and Kathryn Porter,American Citizen Services Unit Chief at U.S. Consulate Toronto:

Greetings Reddit!
We are U.S. Foreign Service Officers from the Consular Section of U.S. Consulate Toronto, and we want to answer your questions about non-immigrant visas and U.S. citizen services! We’ll give as much information as we can in order to help you understand how we work. Hopefully, this conversation will help you be better prepared for a visa interview and/or allow us to help you more efficiently if you are a U.S. citizen living or traveling abroad.

Please note, we are UNABLE to talk in detail about specific cases or “pre-adjudicate” your specific case. We also cannot answer questions on immigrant visas for this particular thread. Any questions that deal more with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will either not be answered or we will link you to their relevant websites for more information. Finally, we cannot answer questions about life in the U.S. Foreign Service for this thread either. There are already a few other threads that do that quite well! That said, we’ll try to respond to as many of your questions as possible!

Our team that is answering your questions consists of the following people:

•Nausher Ali, Consul and Visas Chief at U.S. Consulate Toronto

•Kathryn Porter, American Citizen Services Unit Chief at U.S. Consulate Toronto

Victoria from reddit will be here with us today as well. Ask Us Anything!

https://twitter.com/usconstoronto/status/479355253007998976

Edit: Thank you everybody for your questions. We really enjoyed this today. Sadly, we have to take off. Happy travels!

 

Questions include topics such as H1Bs, asylum, discrimination, moving, immunity, moving to Canada, Spain vs Chile. Somebody wanted to know the officers’ favorite snacks!  Answer:”Poutine! Mission Canada! How could you NOT like Poutine? I like sautéed mushrooms on mine” and “timbits.” No, timbits are  not/not doughnut holes!

Here are some of the Qs asked and answered:

Q: What’s the actual intention for visa interview? I mean it hardly last for not even a minute.

Nausher: Visa interviews do usually last a few minutes because the consular officers are well-trained in quickly determining whether or not the applicant is eligible for a visa. Once they’ve determined that, there’s no reason to continue the interview. Here in Toronto we interview more than 500 people a day.

Q: Questions: How can a person aged 18-19 get an internship with an office like this? Sounds interesting for the experience and Can you explain what you guys/gals do there all day?

Nausher: we actually have an intern program for both American interns and Canadian residents. Most US Embassies and Consulates have a page that talks about their internship program, including ours. And here’s the link. The work depends on what section the internship is in. But typically a lot of interns will get to experience a lot of variety during their internship because a lot of what we do varies from day to day. For example, today we’re conducting an “Ask me Anything.”

Kathryn: And what we do all day depends. Every embassy has multiple sections, including political, economic, consular, public diplomacy, and management. Officers in each section do various activities to advance US interest and work together with the host country towards shared goals.  And for our internships, it’s all over the place. We are more likely to get people from international relations, political science.

Nausher: but we are always looking for different backgrounds. Most of our interns are local kids – we have 4 Canadian interns across 3 separate units. We are just looking for enthusiasm and interest in working at a diplomatic mission.

Q: I heard law of land does not apply inside the embassy. Is that true?

Nausher: It’s very complicated and really a question for a lawyer, but we are still on Canadian territory, but consulates and embassies are guaranteed certain immunities and protections under the relevant Vienna Conventions.

Q: If you were a character in George R R Martin’s books, what house would you choose to belong to, and why?

Kathryn: I feel like in Canada, it has to be House Stark! Winter is always coming! This is specific to Mission Canada. Here in Mission Canada we would be House Stark.

Q:  What’s your opinion on Mayor Ford?

Nausher: Mayor Ford has gotten a lot of attention here and internationally. But as foreign diplomats in Canada, it’s not our role to comment on domestic politicians.

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US Embassy Abu Dhabi: A+ for Commercial Promotion, “Below Average Scores on Every Leadership Category”

– Domani Spero

 

State/OIG has just posted online its inspection report of the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and CG Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The mission is headed by career diplomat, Ambassador Michael H. Corbin and DCM Victor Hurtado who both arrived in July 2011.

Below are some of the key judgments extracted from the publicly available report:

  • The Ambassador’s focus on business development as the mission’s primary goal has contributed to an increase in U.S. exports and created a favorable image in business circles for both the Ambassador and the embassy.
  • Front office support for the bilateral military relationship has strengthened that valuable tie. The Ambassador has been a key facilitator in gaining the release of U.S. military equipment for the United Arab Emirates, including through effective congressional testimony.
  • The Ambassador’s focus on commercial promotion has de-emphasized other important U.S. interests, such as law enforcement and illicit finance that agencies at the mission are working to advance. The Ambassador received below average scores on every leadership category in OIG questionnaires.
  • The United Arab Emirates’ strategic location and stable environment has led to an expansion of U.S. Government agencies at the embassy, without a corresponding increase in management support positions. The National Security Decision Directive 38 process is not accomplishing its purpose of subjecting proposed staff increases to careful review.
  • The embassy’s Defense Support Division contract merits comprehensive review. Issues include cost, standards of service, possible expansion, duration, and the contract’s heavy reliance on mission assistance.
  • Demand for consular services at both Embassy Abu Dhabi and Consulate General Dubai has mushroomed in recent years. Both are making progress transitioning from small-scale to medium-sized, high productivity operations. Frequent requests for special handling of routine visa cases from the front office and other parts of the mission impede this process.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, September 3–23, 2013, and in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, between October 19 and November 7, 2013. Ambassador Marianne Myles (team leader), Michael Hurley (deputy team leader), Alison Barkley, Beatrice Camp, Roger Cohen, David Davison, Shawn O’Reilly, Keith Powell II, Richard Sypher, Joyce Wong, and Roman Zawada conducted the inspection.

Below are additional details that need a highlighter:

Staffing Quadrupled in Last 10 Years

Staffing for Mission UAE, which consists of Embassy Abu Dhabi and Consulate General Dubai, has quadrupled from 80 to 325 Americans in the last 10 years. More than 30 non-Department of State (Department) offices and agencies are present in country, and the mission houses 14 regional offices that cover the Middle East and other areas. The chancery is less than 10 years old but faces major space and infrastructure challenges. By 2017, the mission may also need to provide management support for 90 or more FMS personnel now supported by a private contractor that runs the Defense Support Division (DSD).

Mission UAE supported 1,605 temporary duty visitors and 63 VIP visitors in 2012, and the heavy visitor workload takes a toll on staff morale. All locally employed (LE) staff members are third country nationals, many from South Asia.

Mission Morale Is Poor

Morale and the housing program received the lowest scores on OIG questionnaires by a wide margin. Many complaints are caused by Abu Dhabi and Dubai being understaffed in management sections, lengthy initial stays in temporary quarters, and the location of the Al-Reef housing compound. Understaffing has a cascading effect on housing maintenance, personnel, and financial services, and subsequently on morale. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are not hardship differential posts but do receive a 25 percent cost of living allowance.

This is the second inspection conducted by State/OIG in less than 5 years. In the OIG inspection of 2010, the report noted a major challenge in  managing the unique and complex task of supporting one of the world’s largest foreign military sales accounts, amounting to some $15 billion. According to this latest OIG report, that contract is now valued at $34 million over 5 years. It appears that the challenge has not abated. Excerpt below:

Defense Support Division Contract 

Embassy Abu Dhabi and the Department determined that the existing ICASS support platform could not handle a large and rapid influx of FMS personnel and in 2011 created the DSD platform to augment embassy services. The DSD contract provides traditional ICASS administrative support services to approximately 90 FMS personnel; most of them arrived in 2012 and 2013. That number is expected to increase. The contract is for approximately $34 million over 5 years. The UAE Government pays for the contract. The embassy is responsible for overseeing it.
[…]
According to a March 2011 memorandum of understanding between the embassy and the Department of Defense, the Ambassador is responsible for ensuring that the quality, quantity, and cost of support provided by the contractor matches the support provided to embassy staff through ICASS. The Ambassador is also responsible for reviewing performance standards to assess the services provided by DSD. At the time of the inspection, no cost audit had been planned or performed.
[…]
Extensive interviews with staff indicate that embassy leadership and staff members do not fully understand the DSD support arrangement. The embassy has received no firm estimate of the numbers of future FMS personnel who will need support, where they will be located, and what support they will require. The Department has received personnel projections and estimates, but has not shared them with the embassy.

The air show has already made huge news with multiple announcements of civil aviation deals between the U.S. and #UAE topping $100 billion. These record contracts underline the partnership and the already strong bonds that exist between the U.S. and the UAE overall and in the commercial/private business sector. (Photo via US Embassy UAE/FB)

Dubai Air Show 2013 | The air show has already made huge news with multiple announcements of civil aviation deals between the U.S. and #UAE topping $100 billion. These record contracts underline the partnership and the already strong bonds that exist between the U.S. and the UAE overall and in the commercial/private business sector.
(Photo via US Embassy UAE/FB)

 

Visa Referrals Violations

The steady stream of inquiries from other parts of the mission for updates and special handling of otherwise routine visa cases hampers efforts in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai to provide efficient services for all consular clients and are in direct violation of Department regulations. The OIG team observed many examples of these inquiries via phone and email during the inspection. 

Pressure to handle routine nonimmigrant visa cases in a special or expedited fashion has the effect of slowing down the entire standard process in both locations, undermining cooperation and trust between the consular sections and other parts of the mission, and creating an appearance of impropriety. Responding to these inquiries, often from multiple sources relating to a single case, distracts consular chiefs from managing the day-to-day operations of the sections. These inquiries are being made in violation of 9 FAM Appendix K, which permits advocacy only through a formal referral process. Both consular sections should familiarize all staff with this policy.

 

Psst — A Special Mention on Gifts

Embassy Abu Dhabi has not designated a gifts officer or standard operating procedures for disposition of gifts, as required by Department regulations. Per 3 FAM 4122.1, the gifts officer is the embassy management officer. Because gifts are used and disposed of in accordance with Department regulations governing property management and disposal, management offices often delegate this role to the general services office. The absence of a clear standard operating procedure for gifts disposition places gift recipients at risk of ethics violations.

 

Goodbye to All That — MEPI, R&R Travel Benefit

The State/OIG report recommends that the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) close the Middle East Partnership Initiative regional office in Abu Dhabi.  Apparently, in October 2012, the UAE government directed MEPI to end all grants within the country. With the suspension of grants in the UAE and increased restrictions elsewhere, the OIG team questions the justification for a regional MEPI office in Abu Dhabi. State/OIG notes that closure of the MEPI office would save approximately $1.5 million.

State/OIG also recommends that the Bureau of Administration eliminate the rest and recuperation travel benefit for personnel posted in Embassy Abu Dhabi and Consulate General Dubai. Elimination of R&Rs would save $260,000 on rest and recuperation travel cost.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai are non-differential posts, which normally would not qualify them for rest and recuperation travel. In May 2012, the Bureau of Administration’s Office of Allowances analyzed hardship differential questionnaires from embassies and consulate generals worldwide. It used a 12-point scoring system to determine rest and recuperation eligibility. One-hundred eighty-one missions were recertified as eligible. Another 23 missions not receiving a hardship differential, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, were examined further using the 12-point scoring system. This analysis determined that neither Abu Dhabi nor Dubai was qualified. Abu Dhabi met the rest and recuperation criteria for only 2 of the 12 factors (climate and unusual personal hazards), and Dubai for only 3 (climate, unusual personal hazards, and communicable diseases). The allowances office recommended to the Assistant Secretary for Administration that Abu Dhabi and Dubai cease the authorization of rest and recuperation travel. 

The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs countered this decision with memoranda from Abu Dhabi and Dubai detailing social/cultural/gender isolation, geographic isolation, climate, health conditions, and similar issues. Inspectors noted that, with the exception of climate, the post report for the United Arab Emirates addresses none of these elements. The Bureau of Administration concurred with the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and retained rest and recuperation travel for Abu Dhabi and Dubai.   A review of the rest and recuperation destinations indicates that Dubai remains a “regional rest break” location for employees based in Kabul. There is no justification for continuing this benefit for employees assigned to Abu Dhabi or Dubai. In FY 2013, the mission spent $260,000 on rest and recuperation travel. 

 

Front Office Leadership and Management

The report says that its most significant recommendations concern needed leadership in establishing clear priorities for the whole mission and managing growth. But there are other stuff, too. Excerpt on front office leadership and management below:

DCM Gets a Nice Mention

The DCM is respected for his sound judgment, fairness, and ability to resolve issues. He has sought to clarify the Ambassador’s goals and objectives and help section chiefs and agency heads understand them. He is engaged and has hands-on knowledge of almost every issue and problem, with one person stating what many expressed in different ways: he is the “glue that holds the place together.” Senior staff members express appreciation for his open-door policy and the access it provides.   Nevertheless, the DCM needs to focus greater attention on LE staff support, mentoring of first- and second-tour employees, housing, mission expansion, office space, and the DSD contract.

Chief of Mission  — Thumbs Up

The Ambassador has accomplished much in support of the President’s National Export Initiative. He has made significant contributions to increased U.S. exports to the UAE as evidenced by his nomination for the 2013 Charles E. Cobb Award for Initiative and Success in Trade Development. He interfaces with Fortune 500 firms and has won particular praise for the assistance he has provided to smaller companies that are less certain of how to conduct business in the region. Heads of agencies with significant trade and business advocacy responsibilities characterize the Ambassador as the most engaged chief of mission with whom they have ever worked. The Ambassador has been a key player in promoting government-to-government economic dialogue and receives high marks from the local American Chamber of Commerce for including private-sector considerations at that forum. He attends dozens of trade shows and assemblies. He is generous in introducing newer U.S. companies to UAE officials.

Chief of Mission  — Thumbs Down

The Ambassador has not focused sufficiently on his staff and the internal workings of the embassy. In OIG-administered questionnaires, his staff rated him below average in every leadership category. Segments of the embassy community, including first- and second-tour employees and LE staff, feel under-supported. Staff members reported their belief that the Ambassador does not spend enough time in the embassy and is disengaged from the community. Both Department and non-Department staff members assert the Ambassador does not have a full grasp of the mandate of their office or agency. Several employees reported that the Ambassador has never visited their offices. These factors, as measured by OIG’s questionnaires and confirmed by OIG interviews at the embassy, contribute to poor morale. A systemic analysis of the underpinnings and potential impacts of these concerns is beyond the scope of this inspection. However, these results suggest the need for a more methodical review.
[…]
The Ambassador’s focus on business has left other elements of the mission somewhat adrift. Law enforcement, illicit finance, civil society, human rights, and other policy concerns receive relatively little attention. The law enforcement working group met only once in 2013, and no agenda or minutes are on file. There has been no formal illicit finance working group since the arrival of the Ambassador and the deputy chief of mission (DCM), despite the presence of more than five agencies with responsibility for sanctions, money laundering, and similar programs. The front office needs to pay greater attention to this cluster of issues.

Pesky Stuff — Leading by Example

Speeding Fines | “One result of the Ambassador’s frequent trips to Dubai and his crowded schedule is a large number of speeding fines on his vehicle. The mission has asked the host government to reduce or eliminate these fines in both Abu Dhabi’s and Dubai’s jurisdictions. This practice is contrary to Department and mission policy.”

Inappropriate Use of USG Resources |  “The Ambassador has requested that Consulate General Dubai pay personal expediting services with the consulate general’s government credit card for his convenience. Though he reimbursed all personal expediting services, he benefited from the corporate rate and inappropriately used government resources for personal purposes.”

In 2010, the OIG report on UAE said that then COM Richard Olson (now ambassador to Pakistan) and DCM Douglas C. Greene both scored “a perfect five (on a scale of one to five) on the OIG “leadership qualities” confidential survey among non-Department agency heads before the inspection.”  Links to both reports are listed under related items.

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Related items:

-05/31/14   Inspection of Embassy Abu Dhabi and Consulate General Dubai, United Arab Emirates (ISP-I-14-11A)  [468 Kb]

OIG Report No. ISP-I-10-62A – Inspection of Embassy Abu Dhabi & CG Dubai, United Arab Emirates – June 2010 

 

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