Tag Archives: OIG

Don’t Give Up On Us Baby: State Dept OIG Writes Back on Leadership and Management

– Domani Spero

 

In the years that we’ve blogged about the State Department and the Foreign Service, we’ve covered the Office of Inspector General (OIG) quite a bit.  The complaints that reports to the OIG were ignored or forwarded to other parts of the bureaucracy are not new.  We have readers bending our ears about that specific issue for years.

Recently, we had a Burn Bag submission saying “The OIG can’t and won’t save us. They stress, the Bureaus, not the OIG, should be the “bad leadership police.”

That is troubling, yes?  To paraphrase the Dalai Lama, if people lose hope, that’s your real disaster. If employees start thinking and feeling that their institution do not care about them, how soon before the employees stop caring about their institution?

So we sent the following questions to the Office of Inspector General:

Is it true that complaints or allegations of bad leadership or mismanagement are forwarded by the OIG to the bureaus to handle?

Do you think that the bureaus are equipped to police their own ranks?

Who do you go to if you have complaints about mismanagement at the bureau level?

If top officials are not accountable for their bad leadership or mismanagement and as these officials are reassigned from one post to the next, doesn’t this build a negative impact on morale and ultimately on the institution?

I am trying to understand why the OIG, which is often, the last resort in many of these cases, does not think effective management and leadership is a priority as he embarks on his new tenure at State?

Yesterday, we received the following response:

 

Oops, excuse me, that’s Hutch’s 1977 smash-hit single. If you don’t remember him, that’s because I’m officially an oldster protected by ADEA.  And he’s that fellow from the original Starsky and Hutch.

 

Here’s the official OIG response, republished below in full:

Leadership and management are challenges for the Department and an oversight priority for the Office of Inspector General (OIG). IG Linick has discussed leadership and management issues directly with the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources. Each of the divisions within OIG play a role, often collaborating to hold the Department accountable for ineffective leadership and mismanagement.

OIG’s Office of Investigations (INV) learns of ineffective leadership or management through Hotline reports, from our Office of Inspections (ISP), and in the course of its own investigations. INV addresses complaints about Department leadership and management in a number of different ways. OIG investigators conduct initial reviews of mismanagement involving fraud, waste, abuse, administrative misconduct, or retaliation against whistleblowers, for example, and refer matters to the Department of Justice when there is evidence of possible criminal or civil violations.

There are, however, circumstances that prompt OIG to refer leadership and management concerns to the Department. If, for instance, a complainant’s allegations relate to a personnel matter, such as allegations that an official used abusive language with subordinates, OIG may notify appropriate Department officials about the alleged perpetrator so that they may take action. Thus, if such a complaint were about a COM or DCM, OIG would notify the relevant Assistant Secretary and Director General. Matters referred to the Department are monitored for appropriate follow-up. In other circumstances, when warranted, OIG will send investigators to look into the allegations directly.

OIG’s Office of Investigations notifies OIG inspectors of allegations or complaints about leadership and management at posts and bureaus to help ISP prioritize its work and to identify areas that should be assessed during formal inspections. OIG monitors compliance with its recommendations and brings them to the attention of Congress through formal and informal means. ISP evaluates the effectiveness of leadership and management in the course of its inspections, and it may move up scheduling of a post’s inspection when these types of concerns surface in survey results or by other means.

Over the years, ISP has made recommendations to the Department aimed at improving Department-wide leadership and management issues, such as recommendations that the Department develop directives on leadership or management principles, conduct 360-degree surveys on its leaders, enhance First And Second Tour (FAST) mentoring, and be more innovative in providing sustained leadership and management training to Foreign Service Officers throughout their careers. The Department has already adopted some of OIG’s major recommendations, such as updating the Foreign Affairs Manual to address leadership. It has also begun to conduct its first 360-degree survey of COMs.

 

We  appreciate State/OIG’s effort  to address our questions. We hope this is helpful to our readers. We will have a follow-up post later on.

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State/OIG: No More Ambassador Report Cards Cuz They’re Not as Sexy as Debarments?

– Domani Spero

Update, February 28, 2014, 4:23 pm -This blog post has been updated to include a comment from State/OIG spokesman Douglas Welty.

In late January, we learned that the State Department’s Office of Inspector General  no longer issue “report cards” for ambassadors and senior officials during inspections at overseas missions. (See State/OIG Terminates Preparation of Report Cards for Ambassadors and Sr. Embassy Officials).

The Inspector General Office confirmed to us that the practice of preparing these Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) ended in April 2013.

According to the State/OIG, the official reason for ending the IERs is as follows; let’s call this Razón número #1:

It was an OIG decision, in part based on the points mentioned below that we will continue to comment on executive direction in the course of each inspection in the published report, and because we have seen progress with implementation of the recommendations in the memo report mentioned before (the 360 reviews noted in our 2012 memo report http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/198810.pdf).

The OIG told Congress in oh, 2009, that the overriding purpose for the IERs is “to assure that upper level post management is not immune to criticism as a result of their positions of authority and physical distance from their own supervisors.”  The OIG was supposed to also issue “corrective” IERs for other employees, “when information surfaces that the EERs for such employees are inaccurate, either in a positive or negative direction.”

After we blogged about this, we received the following explanation from an unofficial source with connections to the relevant office. Here’s Razón número #2:

“The reason OIG stopped writing evaluations on Ambassadors, DCMs, and senior management is because the Department could not successfully challenge grievances by those Ambs, etc.  Because the evaluations were based on anonymous comments, grievance boards would throw them out.”

So the issue here is accountability versus due process, is it?

According to MSPB, due process under the Constitution requires that a tenured federal employee be provided “written notice of the charges against him, an explanation of the employer’s evidence, and an opportunity to present his side of the story.” Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 546 (1985). The Court has described “the root requirement” of the Due Process Clause as being “that an individual be given an opportunity for a hearing before he is deprived of any significant property interest.” Id. at 542 (emphasis in original). This requires a “meaningful opportunity to invoke the discretion of the decision maker” before the personnel action is effected. Id. at 543.

But as the cases below show, when these IERs are scrupulously done, the Grievance Board hold that the State Department is justified in keeping them on file.  We thought, it might be useful to dig up a few of these IER cases that ended up in the Foreign Service Grievance Board.

Here is a 1987 Foreign Service Grievance Board case G-093(7):

The inspectors’ Memorandum, Report M-3 laid out in detail what they called “serious problems related to the performance of the [title], [grievant], ” and urged that [grievant's] next post, [post], be warned.  The memorandum pointed to: “(A) difficulty in establishing her authority among junior officers and the FSN staff; (B) inability to resolve a festering personnel problem caused by the marginal performance of one FSN; (C) problems in organizing “her own work so as to prevent dysfunctional slowdowns in ; (D) difficulty in managing the system.”

This was issued as an IG memorandum, and the career counselor (or what you would call the Career Development Officer now) informed the onward assignment post that the inspectors had found grievant’s performance in country X wanting.  The FSGB notes in its decision that “had the inspectors’ findings been prepared in the form of an Inspector’s Evaluation Report instead of a memorandum report, copies would have gone only to [grievant], to her performance file, and to the rating inspector’s file.”

The Board find that “grievant has not shown that the criticisms of her performance in the inspection memorandum or the EER were false or that she should be promoted.” They also  find that a report of her performance problems should not have been sent to her next post.  The FSGB decision directed the Department to instruct Embassy [post] to destroy any existing copies of the [year], letter concerning grievant from his career development counselor.  It denied other relief requested by FSO-grievant.

A couple of examples of grievance cases related to IERs that were thrown out and the grievant prevailed:

FSGB Case No. 2008-018

Grievant, a mid-level career FSO, challenged an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) assessing his performance during a 10-month period when he was chargé d’affaires at [Post].  The IER positively appraised grievant’s overall performance under difficult circumstances, but, based on questionnaire responses from and interviews with a “significant cross-section of American and local employees,” the IER concluded that grievant was prone to outbursts of anger that intimidated some of his staff.  Grievant’s efforts to discover the names and statements of the sources of this criticism were refused by the agency because the employees had been guaranteed confidentiality.  Grievant alleged that the IER was “falsely prejudicial, inaccurate, and highly unjust,” since it was based on a distorted and selective use of comments from a small number of dissatisfied personnel and on anonymous sources he could not challenge and because he had not been counseled regarding the performance criticized.

The Board held:  “Grievant met his burden of proof, establishing that critical comments in an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) were inaccurate and of a falsely prejudicial character.  The agency may not rely on undisclosed anonymous or confidential sources without any independently verifiable evidence in the record to corroborate the criticism in the IER where grievant presents material evidence that directly contradicts that criticism.  The grievance was remanded for the parties to address the question whether grievant would have been promoted in [Year] or [Year], had the erroneous IER not been in his performance folder.”

FSGB 2008-012

The IER stated eleven negative factual findings or conclusions regarding grievant’s managerial performance as head of the [Named Section] during the evaluation period covered by the IER.  These deficiencies consisted, inter alia, of grievant lacking the interpersonal and leadership skills needed to mentor and guide entry level officers (ELOs) and causing or contributing to the resignation or early departure of ELOs in the [Named Section].  The findings and conclusions contained in a “corrective” Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) violate grievant’s rights either because they are contrary to the preponderance of the record evidence, they impermissibly have as their basis sources that remain anonymous or confidential, or they violate grievant’s substantive right to be counseled with an opportunity to improve.

FSGB directed the Department “to expunge the IER in its entirety from grievant’s Official Performance File (OPF) and if grievant has been low-ranked as a result of the inclusion of this IER in his OPF, the Department is directed to rescind such low rankings.”

Some examples of grievance cases related to IERs where the grievance was denied and the Board decided that the State Department was justified in keeping the IERs on file:

FSGB Case No. 2010-031

Grievant, an FS-01 officer serving as [Officer] in [Host Country], challenged an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) assessing his performance during a 10 month period.  Mr. [Grievant] urged that the IER be expunged from his OPF because the IER process was procedurally flawed and unfair, five specific statements in the IER were falsely prejudicial and inaccurate, and he was not counseled during the evaluation period or given an opportunity to improve his performance.  If the IER were to remain in his file, it would jeopardize any future promotion.  Based on confidential interviews and questionnaires obtained from fifteen embassy staff members by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the IER concluded that grievant was partly responsible for some embassy officers’ consideration of curtailment from the post, that the grievant had trouble making decisions, that he incurred unnecessary delays because of excessive attention to detail, and that he missed deadlines.  Grievant was held responsible for several problems associated with his failure to focus on internal embassy management.

The grievance board denied this grievance in its entirety.  The FSGB held that “Grievant failed to meet his burden of proof to establish that an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) was “falsely prejudicial and contain[ed] inaccurate, misleading statements obtained through improper methodology.”  The agency was justified in relying on anonymous, confidential sources which formed the basis of the criticisms within the IER.  Such information was independently corroborated and verified through questionnaires solicited from the same embassy staff that had provided the confidential information.  Grievant was provided with these subsequently obtained questionnaires, including the names of staff members who completed them.  Grievant failed to produce evidence that would cast doubt on the agency’s evidence, nor did he carry his burden to demonstrate that the IER process was in violation of due process or that he was not counseled appropriately. “

FSGB Case No. 2004-064

Grievant asserted that an IER prepared while he was Chargé at a post included false and inaccurate criticisms of his management style, was prepared in violation of the Department’s regulations, and was based on anonymous information from unverified sources.  He alleged that the Inspection team leader’s ill will toward him resulted in an unfairly biased and unbalanced evaluation.  He claimed that the low ranking he received by the 2004 Selection Board (SB) was based on the IER, and was procedurally defective because the SB did not adhere to the precepts when it low ranked him.

The Board denied the grievant’s appeal.  The FSGB held that “(1) An Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) concerning grievant by an OIG team leader was prepared in accordance with applicable procedures and regulations; grievant failed to carry his burden of proving bias of the team leader.  (2) Consideration of the IER as the principal basis for a low ranking by a selection board was proper and in accordance with the precepts.”

FSGB 2004-55

Grievant appealed the Department of State’s (agency) denial of his grievance centered on an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) prepared while he was serving as the Deputy Chief of Mission at an American Embassy.  He alleges that the agency violated applicable law and regulation by the inclusion in his Official Performance Folder (OPF) of a materially false and inaccurate IER.  The IER, prepared following a post inspection conducted by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), “did grievous injury to [his] professional reputation and career prospects through distorted and defamatory allegations of managerial negligence.”

The appeal was denied in its entirety.  The Board found that grievant had not provided persuasive evidence on argument in support of his contention that the inspection “was intentionally biased and consciously violated the letter and spirit of the OIG mandate and some FAM regulations,” and failed to overcome the presumption of regularity that attaches to the official acts of public officials.  This presumption, established by the federal courts, “supports the official acts of public officers, and in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, courts presume that they have properly discharged their official duties.”  Furthermore, specific evidence is required to overcome the presumption that public officers have executed their responsibility properly.

FSGB 2004-056

{Grievant}, an FE-MC officer with the Department of State (Department, agency), appeals the agency’s denial of his grievance concerning an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) that he received while serving as the U.S. Ambassador in {Host City, Host Country}.  He contends that the IER is inaccurate and false, and damaged his personal and professional reputation and career prospects.  The IER, while lauding grievant’s efforts to advance U.S. foreign policy initiatives, criticized his management skills.  For example, the IER found that some officers characterized grievant’s loss of temper, occasional yelling and inattention to management issues as dysfunctional and unprofessional.  Moreover, junior officers found his conduct intimidating and some questioned whether they would remain in the Foreign Service.

The Department maintains that the IER is accurate and that it was written and issued in accordance with applicable regulations.  Because it received letters of support for grievant, some from junior officers expressing second thoughts about what they had told the inspectors, the agency queried other officers who visited the Embassy at the time of or just after the inspection.  The latter officers confirmed the low morale and lack of proper attention to management issues that led to the critical IER.  The Board held that grievant failed to carry his burden of proof.  On many of the issues raised, grievant simply disagreed with the inspectors’ findings without offering any evidence to the contrary.  On other issues, evidence of grievant’s inappropriate behavior was documented by named witnesses, documents of record, and in some cases his own admissions. The grievance appeal was denied.

We hate to think that the State Department with all its smart people is unable to balance accountability with due process and simply gave up on this.  Folks, you’ve litigated the use of official letterhead, in the past; isn’t this more important than the alleged misuse of official letterhead?

Then, while we were not looking, we received an owl delivery with the following howler from Diagon Alley. Enter Razón número #3:

“Don’t hold your breath–IERs went away BECAUSE of AFSA, not despite it.  New IG is mostly interested in cost-savings and debarments (wants to compete with SIGIR/SIGAR); considers leadership/management issues to be Department’s concern, not IG’s; and has been convinced by Hill/GAO that FS experience is problematic.  Inspection division doesn’t know what hit it.”

Oh dear, doesn’t that make you feel totally like  …

via http://replygif.net/127

via replygif.net

So — which do you think again  is the most feasible reason the Inspector General no longer conduct IERs for ambassadors and senior embassy officials?

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch La Razón by the toe.
If it hollers,well, say “boo!”
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

Damn, my whole brain is crying; yours, too?

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After this blog post went online, the State/OIG spokesman Douglas Welty sent us a statement, published in full below:

In response to your most recent blog posting,” State/OIG: No More Ambassador Report Cards Cuz They’re Not as Sexy as Debarments?”<http://diplopundit.net/2014/02/28/stateoig-no-more-ambassador-report-ca
rds-cuz-theyre-not-as-sexy-as-debarments/>  transparency is a key component of effective IG oversight.  The Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs), which OIG would produce at the Department’s request, were non-public documents processed internally within the Department and used for performance evaluations of senior Department leadership.  Although OIG no longer produces IERs, senior official performance issues that were previously addressed in IERs are now addressed transparently in OIG inspection reports, which are available to all stakeholders.  OIG’s proper oversight role is to use its reports to alert Department management and other stakeholders (e.g., Congress and taxpayers) so that the Department takes proper management action to address them.

Mr. Welty is a great spox but brain’s still crying.  Next week, we’ll have a publicly sourced exhibit on IERs.

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State/OIG Terminates Preparation of Report Cards for Ambassadors and Sr. Embassy Officials

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– Domani Spero

We heard recently that the State Department’s Office of Inspector General  no longer issue “report cards” for ambassadors and senior officials at inspected diplomatic missions. Apparently, State/OIG no longer prepare Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) but that there are measures underway to collect input for the performance of chiefs of mission (COMs). One we’ve heard is evaluation of ambassadors by their deputy chiefs of missions and by desk officers.  (Achoooo! May we point out that the chief of mission is also the rating officer of the deputy chief of mission?) We could not verify those measures because DGHR is not responsive to email inquiries from this blog. However, we can confirm that the Inspector General Office stopped preparing Inspector’s Evaluation Reports in April 2013. We should note that the current OIG Steve Linick was nominated in June 2013 and did not come into office until September, five months after this change was put in place

The next question , of course is — was this an OIG decision and if so, why?  This is what we were told by State/OIG:

It was an OIG decision, in part based on the points mentioned below that we will continue to comment on executive direction in the course of each inspection in the published report, and because we have seen progress with implementation of the recommendations in the memo report mentioned before (the 360 reviews noted in our 2012 memo report http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/198810.pdf).

That memorandum report from State/Deputy OIG Harold Geisel to State/M Patrick Kennedy dated September 19, 2012 talks about Improving Leadership at Posts and Bureaus.  We’ve blogged about it here: State Dept’s Leadership and Mgt School Needs Some Leadership, And It’s Not Alone.  As an aside, the U.S. military is reported to be in various stages of ramping up efforts to implement 360-degrees feedback. According to Marine Corps Times, it is currently used as a self-developmental tool and not/not as a part of the formal system of performance evaluation. The report notes that “Even if there is interest among the brass to formalize the process, there may be big legal hurdles to expanding the 360-review process beyond a strictly confidential tool for self-awareness.” (Previous post on 360 feedback used as a bidding tool: Sexing up the 360-Degree Feedback, Revisited and for the heck of it, this one Earth Embassy Ganymede – Administrative Notice #04-011300).

We think that the termination of IER preparation by State/OIG is a step in the wrong direction.

The problem here is simple. Do we really expect to see the OIG reports to be included in the official personnel file  (OPF) used for promotion consideration?  Of course not.  Comments on senior officials performance on the executive direction portion of OIG reports will not go into their official personnel file.   Some of the more egregious sections in OIG reports, we don’t even get to read because they are politely Sharpied out.  Meanwhile, the persons referred to in these reports are sometimes quietly moved to other posts.  In one case, a DCM was allowed to curtail and landed as a principal officer at another post.  Previously, this DCM was a senior officer at country X where he/she is alleged to have “pushed a seasoned FSO he/she supervised so cruelly and relentlessly, that this FSO attempted suicide.” In another case, a senior management officer was allowed to serve out a remaining tour and moved to one of our more dysfunctional posts at the end of the world.   As if that post needed a bump on its misery factor.  We have typically called this personnel movement, the State Department’s Recycling Program.  Of which we were roundly scolded by one reader who suffered the brunt in one case. “To suggest the Dept.‘s recycling program merely ‘stinks’, is to insult Parisian taxis and slaughter house septic tanks, everywhere.” 

OIG’s FY 2012 inspections found that “while 75 percent of ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, and principal officers are doing a good to excellent job, 25 percent have weaknesses that, in most cases, have a significant impact on the effectiveness and morale of their posts and certainly warrant intervention by the Department.” Then Deputy OIG Geisel was careful to point out that “The 75 percent/25 percent figures apply to the posts OIG inspected and not necessarily to the Department as a whole.”

And because State/OIG saw “progress” which is not detailed or publicly available, it is terminating the preparation of  IERs for ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, and other senior officials.

Is that the kind of accountability that serves the public interest and the employees that work in these missions?

In fact, the Foreign Affairs Manual that dictates the preparation of the IERs for senior managers is still in the books and has not been deleted or superseded by new guidance:

3 FAM 2813.5-1 last updated on November 23, 2012 states that OIG Inspectors will prepare Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) on senior officers (chiefs of mission, permanent chargés, deputy chiefs of mission, principal officers, Assistant Secretaries and deputy assistant secretaries) in connection with each post or bureau inspection. These IERs will be related directly to the officer’s management or supervision of the domestic unit or post abroad being inspected and will constitute a part of the independent review of the operation being evaluated. They will focus on the skills and abilities of rated officers to manage personnel, budgets, resources, and programs. Both career and noncareer officers will be evaluated.

Another section of that FAM cites additional reasons for the preparation of the IERs as follows:

1 FAM 055.6(f) last updated on July 17, 2013 says that IERs may be prepared, at the discretion of inspectors, on any employee for the reasons stated in 3 FAM 2813.5-2, including: (1) To record outstanding or substandard performance that the inspection team leader feels needs further documentation; or (2) To record performance observed during the inspection that noticeably differs from that reported in an employee’s evaluation report prepared by his or her regular supervisors.

What happens to these IERs when prepared by the OIG inspection teams?

“Upon receiving an IER from the inspection team, OIG/ISP designates a panel of three active or retired ambassadors who have been senior inspectors to review the IER. Once approved, the panel sends the IER to the Inspector General. In the case of a career employee, the Inspector General sends it with a memorandum to the Director General of the Foreign Service, requesting that it be placed in the rated officer’s official performance evaluation file. In the case of a noncareer employee, the Inspector General sends it to the Director General to review and send to the Deputy Secretary and White House Liaison Office to forward to the White House’s personnel office.”

So now, since the IERs are no longer prepared, poor performance will no longer be documented and will not appear in the rated officer’s official performance evaluation file. They will appear in OIG reports, which may or may not be redacted, but will not be included in the official personnel file.  The Promotion Boards will have no idea how senior officers manage our overseas missions when those officers names come up for promotion.

Do we really think this a good thing?

Also, the White House is now saved from the embarrassment of learning how some of its “highly qualified” political ambassadors show their deficiencies as stewards of the embassies and representatives of the United States abroad.

One less headache for the Press Secretary to worry about, yes?

The IERs typically are not released to the public. But some of the details occasionally leaks out when cases end up in the Foreign Service Grievance Board. We hope to have a separate blog post on that.

If you value accountability and the proper functioning of the service, you might consider  sending a love letter to State/OIG Steve Linick and asking him to reverse the prior OIG decision of terminating the preparation of IER reports.

Why?

Because … gummy bears!  All teeth, but no bite will have repercussions.

gummy-bears-o

Gummy Bears by Dentt42 via GIFsoup.com

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State/OIG Issues Alert on Recurring Weaknesses of State Department’s Computer Security

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– By Domani Spero

In November 2013, Inspector General Steve Linick issued a management alert memo to the State Department’s Management Control Steering Committee concerning the “significant and recurring weaknesses” of its information system security program over the past three fiscal years (2011-2013).

The recurring weaknesses identified were in six areas: Authority to Operate (ATO), Baseline Controls, Scarming and Configuration Management Controls, Access Controls, Cyber Security Management, and Risk Management and Continuous Monitoring Strategies.

A backgrounder from the OIG report:

The Department of State (Department) is entrusted to safeguard sensitive information, which is often the target of terrorist and criminal organizations. Cyber attacks against Government organizations appear to be on the rise,’ including state-sponsored efforts to exploit U.S. Government information security vulnerabilities. The Department is responsible for preserving and protecting classified information vital to the preservation of national security in high risk environments across the globe. The Department also undertakes significant numbers of financial and other transactions, including, for instance, the daily collection of millions of dollars in consular fees. In addition, the Department maintains records on approximately 192 million current passports,5 which contain such sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) as dates of birth and social security numbers. To protect this information, the Department must ensure that its Information System Security Program and management control structure are operationally effective.

Some of the examples of weaknesses cited include the following:

  • In FY 2013, OIG found another instance of access control weakness. Specifically, OIG reported that 36 employees assigned to the [Redacted] (b) (5).  Pursuant to 12 FAM 232, those systems can only be accessed by individuals possessing appropriate clearances. The 36 employees did not possess such clearances.
  • On August 20, 2013, the Bureau of Information Resource Management (IRM) reported that the Department had a total of 6,369  system administrators. According to IRM officials, system administrators are given network-wide permissions to allow them to collaboratively manage and troubleshoot issues.“ However, such broad access by large numbers of system administrators also subjects the system to risk. The recent, highly-publicized breach of information pertaining to national security matters by Edward Snowden, a contract systems administrator, starkly illustrates the issue.”
  • The Bureau of Diplomatic Security did not have the administrative credentials needed for Demilitarized Zone servers  to perform periodic scanning.

State/OIG made three recommendations including directing the Office of the Chief Information Officer to employ the services of the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct independent penetration testing to further evaluate the Information System Security Program and outline a range of technical and procedural countermeasures to reduce risks.

On December 13, 2013, James Millette, the chairman of the Steering Committee and the State Department’s Comptroller who also heads the State Department’s Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services (CGFS) sent the OIG a written response which says  that they “respectfully disagree on the level of severity these weaknesses collectively represent.” Part of the response also includes the following:

Your memo recommended that the MCSC direct IRM to employ the services of the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct independent penetration testing. The Committee believes that DS, like the OIG, has direct lines to the Secretary and has the capability to be independent in these matters. In addition, DS assured the Committee that they have the capability and work with and have the confidence of NSA in these matters. We believe OIG would not disagree that DS has the capability to adequately perform the testing. However, we fully understand the issue of perception of independence. Therefore the MCSC is supportive of DS and IRM having further discussions with the OIG on this matter to determine the best plan of action to perform penetration testing that meets the needs of the OIG and Department management. In addition, at the meeting, we suggested that there may be other alternatives to NSA, such as using a 3rd party to review the methodology used by DS.

That’s an old timer at the State Department telling the new IG that the Committee believes that Diplomatic Security (DS)  like the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has “direct lines” to the Secretary?  Really!  It is a fact that DS reports to “M” or the Under Secretary for Management  and not directly to the Secretary.  (Unless, the Committee thinks the OIG also reports to “M” just like DS)?  OIG is one of the ten offices at State that reports directly to the Secretary.  If  the Secretary in practice delegates that authority, he has two deputies above the under secretaries, and one of them is for management and resources.

On Jan 13, 2014, the Inspector General sent another memo to the Management Control Steering Committee. The memo indicates closure of one recommendation but left the other two issues “unresolved.” This is also where the OIG patiently explains to the Committee what it means by “independence.”

OIG considers Recommendation 3, pertaining to independent penetration testing, unresolved. The MCSC indicated that it is supportive of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) and IRM having further discussions with OIG on this matter, but it further stated that “OIG would not disagree that DS has the capability to adequately perform the testing.” The issue, however, is not about DS’s “capability” but its independence and perceived independence.

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST):

An independent assessor is any individual or group capable of conducting an impartial assessment of security controls employed within or inherited by an information system. Impartiality implies that the assessor is free from any perceived or actual conflicts of interest with respect to the development, operation, and/or management of the information system or the determination of security control effectiveness.

Because DS is actively involved in the Department’s Information System Security Program, it cannot be considered an independent, impartial assessor. The recommendation will remain open until OIG reviews and accepts documentation showing that independent penetration testing has been implemented. The penetration testing must be performed by the National Security Agency or an equally qualified organization independent of the Department and approved by OIG.

The NSA is already conducting pentest on critical U.S. infrastructures among other things.  Why is State thinking only DS, or third party and not NSA?

* * *

Related item:

-01/13/14   Mgmt Alert on OIG Findings of Significant and Recurring Weaknesses in the Dept of State Info System Security Program (MA-A-0001)  [6298 Kb]

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Senate Confirms Steve Linick; State Dept Finally Gets an Inspector General After 2,066 Days

– By Domani Spero

President Obama nominated Steve A. Linick as State Department Inspector General back in June filling a 1,989-day vacancy. (After 1,989 Day-Vacancy — President Obama Nominates Steve Linick as State Dept Inspector General). He will succeed Howard J. Krongard who announced his resignation on December 7, 2007.   Mr. Linick went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 30, 2013 (see video here).  During his confirmation hearing, he made the following pledges:

From a strategic and leadership perspective, I understand that the responsibilities of the position to which I have been nominated are great. Based on the significant issues facing the Department of State, it is clear to me that assuming the leadership role of Inspector General will be challenging and rewarding. I look forward to this task, if confirmed.

If confirmed, I pledge to: 

  • Ensure that the Department of State Office of Inspector General (OIG) is an independent and objective organization that provides timely, robust, fact-based oversight, transparency, and accountability to the programs and operations of the Department of State; 
  • Consult stakeholders regularly (including the Government Accountability Office and affected communities)
  • Efficiently and effectively deploy OIG resources to those areas that present the highest risk to the Department of State; 
  • Collaborate with other inspectors general who have potentially overlapping interests, jurisdiction, and programs; 
  • Ensure whistleblowers have a safe forum to voice grievances and are protected from retaliation; and
  • Aggressively protect taxpayer funds against fraud, waste, and abuse.

 

On September 17, after a wait of almost three months, the Senate finally confirmed Mr. Linick. So for the first time in 2,066 days, the State Department has a Senate-confirmed watchdog.

Today, September 30, will reportedly be Mr. Linick’s first day at work as Inspector General of the oldest executive department in the union.

While we have not been following his work as IG for the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), we understand that he was not shy in questioning publicly the large compensation packages for executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He also told them off the bat that he would be no ordinary Washington regulator.  We are pleased with this appointment as State/OIG primarily because of that and because he is from outside The Building with limited Foreign Service connections.  With him as new watchdog in Foggy Bottom, we hope to see some changes in the way the OIG conducts its business.  We think our wishlist below is pretty reasonable.

1.  Redactions

One of our pet peeves, especially in the last several years is the redaction of OIG inspectors names from publicly available reports posted online.  The controversial OIG report on the IIP Bureau (Inspection of the Bureau of International Information Programs (ISP-I-13-28), similarly was stripped of names on who conducted the inspection.  The copy we were furnished did include the names of the team leader and deputy team leader but the rest of the names of the inspection team members were redacted.

When we inquired from State/OIG about this, we were told:

“It is marked as FOIA Exemption (b)(6) – “exempts from disclosure records or information which if disclosed would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Now, that there alone gave us a terrible headache. The OIG inspectors are conducting official business in the name of the American public. Why would it be an invasion of privacy if their names are revealed?

So we asked “Why”? And this is what we were told by State/OIG:

“There is recent case law that specifically protects inspectors and investigators from having their information disseminated. However, there is concomitant protection for auditors – so, we continue to release their names.”

Protects them from having their “information disseminated” — as if we were asking for their home address.  We just want the names public. So we tried again asking State/OIG for the case law and date that their official FOIA lawyer is citing.

State/OIG who is actually quite good with response time sent us a disappointing reply:

“I’m afraid I don’t have it – and today was her last day.”

Look, there is a a reason why the inspectors’ names should not/not be redacted.  Retired and active FS officers are part of the OIG staff.  Active FS officers who become IG staff eventually has to bid for other rotational Foreign Service jobs.  Since 1978, the Government Accountability has questioned the use of FSOs detailed to the OIG  office since they bid and return to regular FS assignments.

  • In 1978, GAO reviewed the IG’s inspection reports and questioned the independence of Foreign Service officers who were temporarily detailed to the IG’s office and recommended the elimination of this requirement.
  • In 1979, the GAO noted that Foreign Service officers detailed as inspectors for temporary tours of two years and then reassigned to activities which they may recently have evaluated has negative as well as positive aspects.
  • In 1982  GAO continued to question the use of Foreign Service officers and other persons from operational units within the department to staff the IG office. It told Congress that it believes the IG’s extensive use of temporary or rotational staff affects the IG office’s independence because (1) these staff members routinely rotate between the IG office and management positions within the organizations they review, and (2) major decisions affecting their careers are determined by the State Department rather than by the IG office.
  • In 1991, GAO examined whether the Department of State’s Office of Inspector General (OIG): (1) omitted references to itself in an annual oversight report to Congress in a deliberate attempt to conceal internal problems; and (2) inappropriately hired and paid experts and consultants.
  • In 2007 GAO reported to Congress that it continue to identify concerns regarding the independence of the State IG that are similar to concerns they reported almost three decades ago. GAO concerns include (1) the appointment of line management officials to head the State IG in an acting capacity for extended periods, and (2) the use of ambassador-level Foreign Service staff to lead inspections of the department’s bureaus and posts even though they may have conflicts of interest resulting from their roles in the Foreign Service.
  • In 2011, the GAO noted some improvements, specifically noting that while State/OIG continues to assign Foreign Service officers at the ambassador level as team leaders for inspections, four of the six officers are rehired annuitants unlikely to rotate to State Department Foreign Service positions. GAO remains concerned, however, about the OIG’s use of Foreign Service officers and the State Department’s need to rely on acting IGs for extended periods of time.

In 1986, Congress made the State IG a presidentially appointed inspector general subject to the Inspector General Act and prohibited a career member of the Foreign Service from being appointed as the State IG. That change did not prohibit the appointment of a career member of the FS as acting IG or deputy IG.  According to the GAO in 2011, State/OIG implemented a change to the succession planning for acting IG positions to exclude Foreign Service officers.

We have yet to see that in action.

While we have not been able to confirm the relevant case law that State/OIG cited in withholding the identities of inspectors, we were told that this “doesn’t sound implausible.”  Steven Aftergood (@saftergood on Twitter) who runs Secrecy News for the Federation of American Scientists posits that even if such an exemption from disclosure exists (which it probably does), then it would be discretionary, not mandatory.  It means that State/OIG would be “at liberty to disclose it even if there was no compelling legal obligation to do so.”

Given the nature of the assignments/rotations in the Foreign Service, and the persistent questions of potential impairments to independence, we look on Mr. Linick to lean on the side of disclosure. Mr. Aftergood suggests that “such disclosure would be a good practice to adopt, particularly in light of the variability of State OIG career tracks and the potential for subsequent conflicts of interest.” 

2.  Recusals

The GAO report dated April 2011 indicates that to address independence impairments the State/OIG relies on “a recusal policy where Foreign Service officers must self-report whether they have worked in a post or embassy that is subject to an inspection and therefore presents a possible impairment.”  The GAO insist that they “continue to believe that the State OIG’s use of management staff who have the possibility of returning to management positions, even if they are rehired annuitants or currently report to civil service employees in the OIG, presents at least an appearance of impaired independence.”

We have never seen any of the published OIG reports indicate whether any recusal was filed related to an inspection or audit.  We would like to see that information included in State/OIG reports and audits.

3.  A Note on Black Sharpies 

Remember the hard-hitting OIG reports on Luxembourg, Kenya, Malta? All made the news. All also have one other thing in common — the chiefs of mission at these three posts were all political appointees.  Then there were two other OIG reports on Pakistan and Lebanon that caught our attention, both under career diplomats, and both severely redacted, including one that talks about the leadership shortcomings in the front office. (State Dept OIG Reports: Oh, Redactions, Is Double Standard Thy True Name?).  We were told that the redactions in one case had to do with the “geopolitical situation” at one post.  Our main concern about this as we have said here in the past is two-fold: 1) the appearance of a double standard and 2) recycling FSOs with problematic leadership and management skills is not going to make another embassy greener or healthier nor make for better FSOs.  Without effective intervention, they’re just going to make another post as miserable as the last one and impairs the embassy mission and operation. We would like to see State/OIG apply one standard on its reviews of chiefs of mission performance. Not whether they are effective political appointees or effective career appointees but whether they are effective representatives of the President regardless of their appointment authorities.

4. Cobwebs Over Troubled OIG Memo

Finally – remember this past summer when there was a big kaboom in Foggy Bottom ? (See CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal.  The Cable’s John Hudson had an exclusive with Aurelia Fedenisn, a former State Department inspector general investigator Exclusive: Whistleblower Says State Department Trying to Bully Her Into Silence.  Some real serious allegations were made about cases that were reportedly “influenced, manipulated, or simply called off” in the State Department.  State/OIG released a statement to CBS News here.

On June 10, 2013, the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki was on the podium answering questions about the CBS report:

QUESTION: First, what – I guess we can begin most broadly simply by asking what comments you have about the report that aired on CBS News this morning concerning State Department OIG Office.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, the Department of State employs more than 70,000 dedicated men and women serving in some of the most challenging environments working on behalf of the American people at 275 posts around the world. We hold all employees to the highest standards. We take allegations of misconduct seriously and we investigate thoroughly. All cases mentioned in the CBS report were thoroughly investigated or under investigation, and the Department continues to take action.

[...]

QUESTION: – to borrow a phrase. You stated at one point early in your answer just now that all cases mentioned in the CBS News report were thoroughly investigated but that the State Department continues to take action on them. Did I understand you correctly?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. I did not mean to imply they were – the investigations were completed. Some are in process.

QUESTION: And when you talk about those cases being in process or in progress and action continuing to be taken on them, is that separate from the hiring of outside personnel that you also just referenced?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not a hiring. It’s – it would be an investigation being done by the Inspector General’s Office working with outside law enforcement officers. So I would refer you them for any more specifics on that or how that would work. That’s a decision, of course, they make.

The back and forth went on and on to a point of total uselessness.  But the official spokesperson of the State Department did confirm that all the cases mentioned in the CBS report were “thoroughly investigated or under investigation.”

So imagine our confusion when the State/OIG submitted its Semiannual Report to the Congress October 1, 2012, to March 31, 2013 which was posted online on June 19, 2013?   We could not find any of the eight cases alleged in the CBS news report. None are listed as either an ongoing or a completed investigation in this semi-annual report; they’re not in the report submitted six months earlier either. What happened to them?

The report to Congress ending on March 31, 2013 lists investigations on bribery, theft and embezzlement, false claims, and grant fraud. It includes four investigations under employee misconduct: 1) a DCM repeatedly used his government resources for non-official purposes; 2)  a passport specialist used her official position to access personal information of personal acquaintances from official passport databases; 3) a Foreign Service officer responsible for award and oversight of the grants failed to follow grant policy; and 4) a Department employee who was overpaid for workers’ compensation leave (WCL) after a work-related injury.

Any of that remotely resembles the cases described in the October 2012 memo reported on the news?

The report did include under Congressional Mandates and Requests the following item which also made the news at around the same time as the CBS news:

“On November 2, 2012, OIG received a request from Senator Rand Paul to investigate allegations of staff misconduct at the U.S. Consulate General in Naples, Italy. In its response, OIG noted that the complaints were referred to the appropriate offices in the Department and that the complainants were provided contact information for the offices to which the complaints were referred.”

So –

We would like to suggest that among Mr. Linick’s first order of business, and we expect that he will have a full plate, is to personally look into what happened to these eight cases alleged to have been deep-sixed.  If these cases had been “thoroughly” investigated as claimed, then there should be records.   If the individuals were cleared, there should also be records.  If these allegations were never investigated, or there are no records, then one needs to ask why. Of course, there is another “why” that we are interested in. Why would a retired investigator of the Service turn against her old office in the most public way?

How aggressively Mr. Linick tackle these cobwebs and get some answers would help tell us what kind of junkyard dog he is going to be.

Whew! That’s sorta long. We’ll stop here and get some sleep and see what happens, okay?

(o_o)

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State/OIG Releases Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process

– By Domani Spero

The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General released its Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process.  [See Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process (ISP-I-13-44A)  [491 Kb]  Posted on September 25, 2013].  The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between April 15 and August 13, 2013. The names of the inspectors have been redacted per [FOIA Exemption (b) (6)]  which “exempts from disclosure records or information which if disclosed would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” (Argh!!!)

The OIG report in short form says “The Accountability Review Board process operates as intended—independently and without bias—to identify vulnerabilities in the Department of State’s security programs.”

Among its key judgments are 1) the implementation of Accountability Review Board recommendations works best when the Secretary of State and other Department of State principals take full ownership and oversight of the implementation process; 2) per Benghazi ARB recommendation to enable future Boards to recommend that the Department of State take disciplinary action in cases of unsatisfactory leadership performance related to a security incident, State “plans to revise the Foreign Affairs Manual and request that Congress amend the applicable statute to incorporate this change.”

According to the report, the OIG team interviewed the four secretaries who held office between 1998 and 2012. “All stated that the ARB process was an effective tool that could provide the Department with important lessons for enhancing the security and safety of U.S. diplomatic facilities and employees. The interviews revealed that the secretaries had engaged actively in the ARB process and had taken the ARB and the resulting recommendations with utmost seriousness.”

The report does not include the names of the interviewees but the four SecState would have been Madeleine Albright (1997-2001), Colin Powell (2001-2005), Condoleezza Rice (2005-2009), and Hillary Rodham Clinton (2009-2013)

The very same report notes that the “OIG team was not able to identify an institutionalized process by which the Secretary or Deputy Secretary engaged beyond the drafting and submission of the Secretary’s legislated report to Congress.”

Two former secretaries “raised questions as to whether the process is sufficiently robust for handling investigations of major, complex incidents, especially those in which the interests and actions of several agencies were involved.”

The report further noted that all four former secretaries described the inherent tug of war between risks and rewards as the Department conducts its business in dangerous places around the world:

Typically, the strong preference among those responsible for advancing U.S. policy objectives is to keep posts open whenever possible, even in dangerous places, while those officials responsible for security give priority to the risks and the possibilities for harm. Within the Department, these sometimes contradictory positions tend to be represented respectively by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and the Under Secretary of State for Management. For that reason, two former secretaries were strongly of the view that responsibility for reconciling these perspectives should be vested at the deputy secretary level. Indeed, one former Secretary told the OIG team that this concern was at the heart of the original proposal to create a second deputy secretary position, one that would have as a principal responsibility overseeing and reconciling these competing interests of policy and security on a daily basis.

The second deputy secretary position was first filled in 2009 during Secretary Clinton’s tenure.  The State Department describes the position as the Chief Operating Officer of the Department, but the official title is Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (D/MR).   The position “serves as principal adviser to the Secretary on overall supervision and direction of resource allocation and management activities of the Department.” The job summary posted online makes no special mention of this position as the arbiter when the competing interests between policy and security comes to the fore.

From 2009-2010, Jacob J. Lew was D/MR and oversaw the civilian surge in Afghanistan. From 2011-2013, Thomas R. Nides was D/MR and delivered State’s first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR).  Most recently, President Obama announced the nomination of Heather Higginbottom, the new Counselor in the Office of the Secretary of State to be the third Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.

We hope to do a follow-up post on the ARB Permanent Coordinating Committee and how come no ARB was convened following the attack at the US Embassy in Tunis in September 2012 despite “significant destruction of property.”

 (O_O)

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GAO Examines Foreign Service Promotion Process — Strengthened But Documentation Gaps Remain

◉  By Domani Spero

 

Congress tasked the Government Accountability Office to look into the State Department’s Foreign Service promotion process.  The GAO conducted a performance audit from July 2012 to July 2013.  According to the July 2013 report, the audit addresses actions taken by State since March 2010 to help ensure the Foreign Service promotion process operates with fairness and integrity. The report examines (1) State’s process for ranking and promoting Foreign Service personnel, (2) procedural changes State has made to its Foreign Service promotion process in response to identified concerns, and (3) the extent to which updated procedures were consistently followed in 2011 and 2012 and whether any notable concerns about the promotion process remain.

Here is the audit’s conclusion:

State’s Foreign Service promotion process is conducted within the context of an up-or-out system and the practice of identifying a set percentage of staff each year for possible separation from the Service. Within an organizational culture that emphasizes performance and career advancement, safeguards to ensure the fairness and integrity of the promotion process are of particular importance. While we found that State had responded to previously identified concerns about its Foreign Service promotion process and taken a number of actions to strengthen internal controls over the process, documentation supporting the full implementation of these controls was sometimes missing. For example, we found that many selection board member oaths were missing from 2012 selection board reports and some boards did not include documentation of recusal requests. In the absence of a fully documented system of controls, there is a risk that intentional or unintentional failures to implement safeguards, by board members or HR staff, will go undetected and uncorrected. A failure to implement safeguards, in turn, increases the risk that promotion results could be intentionally or inadvertently compromised.

Screen Shot 2013-07

The GAO recommends the following:

To improve and better document State’s compliance with key safeguards governing the Foreign Service promotion process, we recommend that the Secretary of State instruct the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of the Human Resources Office of Performance Evaluation to take steps to ensure that selection board, performance standards board, and reconstituted board reports are complete and fully document compliance with internal controls, including but not limited to signed oaths and recusal memos.

Some details

According to the GAO, the State Department prompted by concerns identified by the OIG and Foreign Service Grievance Board in 2010,  took a number of actions to strengthen procedures governing selection boards and reconstituted boards as follows:

  • New Board Member Oath
  • Revised Recusal Procedures
  • Updated Procedures for Reconstituted Boards
  • Renewed Emphasis on Certifying Board Results
  • Discontinued Annotation of Promotion Lists
  • More Nonspecialists to Serve on Specialists Boards
  • New Procedural Manual for HR Staff

Documentation Gaps

We found that selection boards, performance standards boards, and reconstituted boards complied with many updated procedures in the 2011 and 2012 Foreign Service promotion cycles; however, some selection boards and reconstituted boards had documentation gaps for certain internal controls.[...]  We found that some board reports, which constitute the master record of proceedings, had a number of documentation gaps. As shown in figure 2, there were several instances of missing oaths and incomplete documentation of recusals among the 41 selection boards we reviewed. For example, we found that 2012 selection board reports did not include 45 of 122 required signed oaths from members, or nearly 40 percent of the required total. Subsequent to our file review, State officials provided a portion of these missing oaths and other missing documents from ancillary records.

Discrepancies Explained

We also checked for discrepancies between boards’ rank-ordered promotion lists and official promotion announcements and found a total of 74 names recommended for promotion in 2011 and 2012 selection board reports that did not appear on corresponding promotion announcements. State officials explained that these individuals were not included on promotion lists due to requirements outlined in the FAM relating to the (1) permanent removal of names from promotion lists due to personnel actions such as retirement, and (2) temporary removal of names from promotion lists due to outcomes of the vetting process described earlier. State provided documentation to account for each removed name.

Three Specific Boards

  • Our online data collection tool revealed a limited number of procedural concerns relating to the operations of three specific boards. Our online tool was designed to provide board members with an opportunity to identify whether they observed any actions, behaviors, or concerns that could have compromised their board’s integrity and fairness. Our online tool was sent to 293 of 298 members who served on the 2011 and 2012 selection boards, 2011 and 2012 performance standards boards, and reconstituted boards since October 2011.23 We received 206 completed forms.24 From this total, two responses identified a total of four concerns with the operation of a board in 2011 or 2012. One response claimed that a board member had refused to follow precept instructions to consider candidate service in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan in a favorable light.25
  • The same response noted that the board did not follow proper recusal procedures in all cases. The second response claimed that an “HR official” had inappropriately instructed a board member. The same response noted that the board did not follow proper recusal procedures in all cases. We obtained permission from one respondent to provide the respondent’s two concerns to State’s HR staff and the OIG for further review and follow-up as appropriate.

Footnote on the report says that “According to State, since January 2011, no State employee has filed a procedural complaint relating to State’s Foreign Service promotion process through the Office of Special Counsel, and one State employee has filed such a complaint through the District Courts.” (That court case is presumably Joan Wadelton’s — See Joan Wadelton’s Appeal Makes it to FSGB 2011 Annual Report to Congress and  Joan Wadelton’s Case: That’s One Messy Promotion Scorecard, Next Up – It’s GAO Time!)

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Related item:

State Department Has Strengthened Foreign Service Promotion Process Internal Controls, but Documentation Gaps Remain GAO-13-654

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Officially In: Dan Clune – From HR/BEX to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

 By Domani Spero

On June 21, President Obama announced his intent to nominate  Dan Clune as the next Ambassador to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The WH released the following brief bio:

Dan Clune, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, is an Assessor on the Board of Examiners in the Bureau of Human Resources at the Department of State.  From 2010 to 2012, he was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.  From 2007 to 2010, he was Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Canberra, Australia.  From 2005 to 2007, he was the Director of the Department of State Office of Monetary Affairs, and from 2002 to 2005, he was Director of the Department of State Office of Economic Policy and Public Diplomacy.  Mr. Clune served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, The Bahamas from 2000 to 2002.  Previously, he was the Trade Advisor at the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development from 1998 to 2000.  In Washington, his earlier assignments include Director for Middle East in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative from 1997 to 1998, and Economic Officer in the European Affairs Bureau from 1990 to 1992.  He has also served overseas at the U.S. Embassies in Lima, Peru and Jakarta, Indonesia.

Mr. Clune received a B.A. from Boston College and a J.D. from the University of California at Berkeley.

Until 2012, Mr. Clune was the PDAS at the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), and was reportedly charged with overseeing the Keystone XL project, one of the more contentious subjects facing the State Dept. in the domestic front; contentious enough that it might manifest during his confirmation hearing currently scheduled for Tuesday, July 23 at 9 am.

As an aside, Senators Sanders, Wyden and Whitehouse had requested State/OIG for an investigation into the State Department’s handling of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and National Lnterest Determination (NlD) for TransCanada Corporation’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline.  (See  Special Review of the Keystone XL Pipeline Permit Process Report Number AUD/SI-12-28, February 2012).

If confirmed, Mr. Clune would succeed career diplomat, Karen Stewart who was appointed chief of mission to the US Embassy in Vientiane in November 2010.  The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is one of the 42 countries in the world where we haven’t had a political appointee. Ever.

According to history.state.gov, the American Legation in Vientiane was established on August 22, 1950, when it opened under Chargé d’Affaires ad interim Paul L. Guest.  On July 27, 1955, the United States Senate confirmed Charles W. Yost, who was then Minister to Laos, for the post of Ambassador to Laos.  According to a joint announcement by the Governments of the United States and Laos on August 10, 1955, the United States elevated its diplomatic mission in Vientiane from a Legation to an Embassy. With the founding of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR) in December 1975, the diplomatic relation was downgraded. The ambassadorial relations was not restored until August 6, 1992 with the the presentation of  credentials by our first Ambassador to the LPDRAmbassador Charles B. Salmon Jr.

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US Embassy Juba: An All-in-One Consular Officer on First Rodeo Works Out of a Storage Closet

By Domani Spero

The US Embassy in Juba, South Sudan started providing limited consular services in 2012.  The consular section is a one-person operation staff by a part-time, entry level officer. On his first tour.  According to the OIG report, the section processes official A and G visas only (diplomatic applicants and employees of designated international organizations), but also issue emergency passports, provides notarial services, and accepts passport applications.  But that’s not all. The consular officer operates out of a 9 x 7 foot storage closet; and the DCM has not done the required adjudication reviews.

Below excerpted from the OIG report on US Embassy Juba:

One part-time entry-level officer on his first tour staffs the section. He has done an outstanding job coping with the difficult environment and lack of consular infrastructure. His position is 40 percent consular and 60 percent political, but he spends the majority of time on consular issues.

There is no consular LE staff, so the officer also serves as consular cashier and prints visas and emergency passports. He does not have time to carry out regular consular business, set up consular systems and resources from scratch, prepare the first-ever submissions of the consular package and certification of consular management controls from Juba, and also handle his political workload. Lack of adequate training and operational support has led to deficiencies in internal controls and procedures.

As the sole consular officer at Embassy Juba, the entry-level officer is required to handle consular internal controls and accountability issues for which the Department provided him only limited training. To avoid serious consequences at post, it is essential that any sole consular officer receive adequate training prior to beginning his or her assignment.

Storage Closet as Office 

There is no office space available for a consular work area and no consular hard line or interview area. Consular space consists of a 9 x 7 foot storage closet that opens directly off the embassy cafeteria. The “consular closet” contains a workstation with consular peripheral equipment, an Automated Cash Register System machine, and a two-drawer safe holding all consular controlled items. The power connections are so limited that the officer cannot have the document printer and passport laminator plugged in at the same time.

Standard measurements of consular productivity do not apply in Juba. After the officer has collected documents and any fees from the applicant, he walks across the compound to the consular workspace, deposits the fee in the Automated Cash Register System machine, and processes the case. He then walks back to the compound access control building and delivers the materials to the applicant. This process is awkward and more time consuming than similar services would be in a more traditional section. The consular section has dealt with several complex high-profile cases in recent months, including an arrest case involving an American citizen with serious medical issues, which generated significant congressional interest; a death case in a remote part of the country; a medical evacuation of a patient on the verge of death; and a number of arrest cases. The lack of basic transportation and communication infrastructure and the limited capacity of the newly installed government make Juba one of the most challenging environments in the world for consular work.

Cats and Dogs – Haven’t You Heard of Telephones?

Embassy Juba processes only A and G nonimmigrant visas. Referrals for other visa categories go to Embassy Nairobi under a memorandum of understanding between the two embassies. There is a history of misunderstandings, missed travel, and recriminations between them, however. Embassy Juba has not always understood the requirements of the referral program and visa policy and appears to have attempted to intervene inappropriately in some visa cases. Embassy Nairobi has not always displayed an understanding of conditions in South Sudan.

Cool DCMs Do Visa Adjudication Reviews

The DCM has not been carrying out required adjudication reviews for nonimmigrant visa cases. This failure weakens oversight of the consular function. Such oversight is critically important at Embassy Juba, where a first-tour officer handles consular operations.

Firts-tour officers are not known to complain or even know what to ask for. They’re just learning, they’re not supposed to go solo.  Still, they’re the only ones, in practice, who go on directed assignments to places few people put on top of the bid lists.  So, what can be done about the consular section working out of a consular closet pending the construction of a new embassy in 2018?  We don’t know, but certainly if the building has electricity, something can be done about that power connection so the poor sod can plug in more than one machine.

In FY2012, the Bureau of Consular Affairs generated approximately $3.14 billion in consular fee revenue, of which 78% or $2.45 billion was retained by the State Department and shared among its regional and functional bureau.  That’s in the official fact sheet.

It can afford to rewire that whole 9 x 7 foot storage closet where the mission’s only, consular officer works every day.  Ay, caramba!

Also, one of the OIG recommendations is for the Bureau of Consular Affairs to send a temporary duty consular officer to Embassy Juba to set up internal control systems and help prepare the consular package.  While at it, perhaps the same TDY officer ought to give a mandatory briefing on visa referrals for all embassy personnel authorized to write referrals for visa applicants processed at US Embassy Nairobi.

Anyone who skips the mandatory briefing should Google Alden Stallings.

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Filed under Consular Work, DCM, Foreign Service, FSOs, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Leadership and Management, Realities of the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions, Visas

US Embassy Juba: Dear Congress, This Facility Puts Employees “At Risk” But Hey, Waivers

By Domani Spero

The South Sudan gained independence on July 9, 2011, after being at war with Sudan for nearly 40 of the past 57 years. USCG Juba became an embassy the same time.  In early 2013, State/OIG conducted an inspection of the USG’s newest embassy in the world. The mission is headed by Ambassador Susan D. Page who arrived at post in December 2011; DCM Michael McClellan arrived at post in September 2012.  At just one paragraph, the leadership section of the OIG report is a haiku and the shortest we’ve seen ever.

For all those folks in Congress almost tearing their hair silly over the Benghazi talking points, here is one for you – Juba.  And this one is actually an embassy not a special mission like Benghazi.

Map of Juba, South Sudan

Map of South Sudan

Backgrounder excerpted from the OIG report:

The United States invested significant high-level energy and funding in the process that led to South Sudan’s 2011 referendum and subsequent independence. The South Sudan Government and people have a positive opinion of the United States for its role in their independence. However, the country faces severe and long-standing security, economic, and development challenges supplemented by worrisome government measures to restrict human and civil rights.

South Sudan is among the world’s poorest countries. The literacy rate is 27 percent, and half the population of 10.6 million is under the age of 18. The population of Juba has expanded to 1 million, a tenfold increase over the past decade. Although South Sudan has substantial oil reserves, exploitation requires trans-shipment of the crude oil to the Red Sea via Sudanese pipelines. The economy has deteriorated since January 2012, when the government shut down oil production as the result of disputes with Sudan. There is very little manufacturing or commercial farming, and most products are imported. The country suffers from a severe shortage of foreign currency. The United States and South Sudan have no significant bilateral trade.

The United States is the largest bilateral donor to South Sudan, providing $632 million in FY 2012. Since 2005, the United States has provided $10 billion in humanitarian, development, peacekeeping, and reconstruction assistance to South Sudan and eastern Chad. In South Sudan there are an estimated 212,000 refugees, 114,000 of them displaced, and since 2010, 691,000 returnees from Sudan. Fighting across the borders continues, resulting in new refugee flows.

One of the OIG’s key findings is that the Department has been unable to staff Embassy Juba adequately, “preventing the embassy from functioning as effectively as it should.” It operates out of a small chancery deemed too small to accommodate additional staff and the new embassy is not scheduled for construction until 2018.

But post is not short on ambition. Its 2014 Mission Resource Request includes as one of its goals “the elimination of conflicts in flashpoint areas;”  in a country that has only known war in 40 of the past 57 years.


Facility Puts Embassy Employees At Risk

The embassy compound is too small and operates under waivers for a number of security standards. The embassy cannot accommodate the personnel necessary to advance U.S. interests effectively and to manage and monitor the $1.6 billion development program—the largest in Africa. A recent USAID/South Sudan staffing review found the need for 27 new positions to oversee programs properly. Staffing on the policy side is also insufficient to meet Washington’s high demand. All reporting offices work long hours trying to keep up with questions from the National Security Council Staff, S/USSESSS, the Department, and the Combatant Command for Africa (AFRICOM).

The current facility puts embassy employees at risk. The inability to add more staff leaves assistance programs vulnerable to failure or misuse of funds. The Department has decided to keep the mission with its current footprint until construction of a new embassy. It will be a number of years, however, until the new embassy is ready. In the meantime, personnel and the integrity of our programs are at risk.

Tour of Duty

When Consulate General Juba became an embassy in July 2011, the Department specified that tours of duty would be unaccompanied and 1 year in duration, with two rest and recuperation trips. The Ambassador has developed policies to increase time on the ground, including a November 2012 policy setting a maximum of 33 days that an officer could be away from post. Frequent absences due to illness further reduce time in the office. The 1-year tour of duty has a number of negative consequences. Officers find it difficult to conduct policy advocacy effectively, because it takes so long for them to learn their portfolios and establish personal contacts with South Sudanese officials. They often do not have time to understand, oversee, and shape foreign assistance programs. Frequent rotations also result in ineffective management of locally employed (LE) staff, causing them to take less initiative due to shifting priorities.

Below are a few more items in the report that we thought striking .  We will blog separately about the consular operation there.

  • There is no entry-level officer development program at Embassy Juba. The two entry- level officers interact with the DCM on a regular basis, but there are no activities directed to their long-term career development.
  • The invisibility of the EEO counselor at a post with many junior officers and new LE staff members could account in part for the lack of EEO complaints. Local guard force personnel indicated on questionnaires and interviews that they had been victims of tribalism, favoritism, and other discrimination. Without the guidance of certified, trained personnel and ready access to pertinent information, mission employees cannot resolve EEO issues and are vulnerable to workplace discrimination.
  • The embassy’s limited computer platform leaves officers tracking upcoming visitors and reports on dry-erase whiteboards. Department-issued BlackBerry devices do not work in South Sudan.
  • Few employees use the embassy SharePoint site, inaugurated in October. Instead, they email documents to one another, inevitably missing some employees and spawning multiple requests for updates.
  • When asked how they track contacts, officers showed inspectors piles of business cards. These stacks are practically meaningless without context, which officers lack because of complete turnover in American staffing each summer.

Public Diplomacy Fail: $600 Million in Aid and Locals Don’t Know It’s From Uncle Sam?

 The PAO does not hold regular planning meetings with the Ambassador or the DCM, and there is no mission public diplomacy strategy. Other than the daily “gaggle” in the Ambassador’s office, which concentrates mostly on the agenda of the day, the only planning meeting is the weekly extended political section meeting once a week on Fridays. That meeting does not lend itself to an exchange of information on how the public affairs section can support mission objectives.

The USAID mission has a budget of more than $600 million, but USAID public affairs support is located in Washington. The Ambassador is an active promoter of USAID activities and often opens projects for them. USAID has brought on board an LE staff member in public affairs and is now in the process of hiring a documentation, outreach, and communications U.S. direct hire. It is important for the PAO to think ahead about how best to coordinate her work and that of the USAID documentation, outreach, and communications officer. As is, according to one interviewee, “the man on the street has no idea that the United States is contributing more than $600 million in assistance to South Sudan.”

The full report is available here.

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Filed under Africa, Foreign Assistance, Govt Reports/Documents, State Department, Technology and Work, U.S. Missions, USAID