Arrest in Kickback/Bribe Scheme on Iraq Reconstruction

Keith Haring mural reconstruction, New YorkImage by racoles via Flickr

Former DOS program manager charged

Mary Beth Sheridan of the Washington Post reports on a former State Department program manager in Iraq who has been charged with accepting tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks in exchange for steering contracts to Iraqi construction firms (WaPo |October 21, 2009):

The criminal complaint, unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court in western Texas, charged Richard Lopez Razo, 52, with illegal receipt of kickbacks and bribes and with wire fraud. He was arrested Friday in Sterling and later released on his own recognizance, court documents said.

From 2005 to July 2008, Razo worked in Iraq as a logistics specialist for three U.S. companies, according to the complaint. It alleges that during that period he requested tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from Iraqi subcontractors for lining up construction contracts. The subcontractors sent some of the money to Razo’s North Carolina bank account via wire transfers, according to the allegations.

Razo began work for the State Department as a provincial program manager in Iraq in September 2008, with oversight for reconstruction projects in the south, according to the court documents.

The news item posted in Huffington Post has additional details of the case here, including specific allegations in the 16-page affidavit executed by James Wray, a special agent with the SIGAR’s office. I’m trying to locate the unsealed complaint; DOJ has nothing online on this as of this writing.

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Updated: From the State Dept DPB on October 21, 2009:

QUESTION: Ian, any reaction to the State Department official charged with taking kickbacks from reconstruction contracts in Iraq?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I don’t have a reaction, per se, because we don’t want to really comment on an ongoing criminal investigation, which is what we’re talking about here. I can talk to you about what his status was with the Department of State. He had a temporary Civil Service appointment to the State Department that was limited to Iraq only and limited to a particular timeframe. And he began employment with the Department of State in July of 2008, and his employment terminated just last week.
He was a provincial program manager on the Maysan Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq. And in this role, he would have had – he would have managed U.S. Government projects and programs designed to improve stability and security in Iraq. But beyond that, I really can’t say any more.
QUESTION: Did the State Department play any role in the investigation?
MR. KELLY: I can’t really comment on that, I’m afraid.
QUESTION: Well, was he – what was the length of his contract? Did it run its course or was he —
MR. KELLY: It – the contract ran out on October 16.
QUESTION: So he wasn’t fired, in other words?
MR. KELLY: No, because his contract ran out.

Web 2.0 Roundup: US Embassy London

This one from the recent OIG report on US Embassy London:

“PAS [Public Affairs Section] is now “tweeting,” but is not yet utilizing Facebook. A first effort at a Facebook page was taken down while its use and content are being reevaluated. These new media, especially the social networks, work best when they can be personalized. While ELOs might have the right skill set to do so, they have not been keen to take on the additional workload without adjustments to their regular responsibilities. In addition, both the front office and the Department have concerns regarding the control of the message in these new media products. The Department recently issued a telegram raising the complicated issue of using and managing social media for public diplomacy. Balancing the desire to control the message against the speed at which content changes on these networks is difficult. Some proponents of social networking fear that tilting the balance too much in favor of control will render its use too sluggish.”

US Embassy London has gone back to Facebook and is also on Flickr & Twitter. It is running five Blogs:

In addition, the mission has Podcasts & Multimedia, WebTV (video-casts, no update since 2008) and a YouTube channel.

QDDR: Transforming State/USAID for the 21st Century?

The Art of Transformation album coverImage via Wikipedia

Deputy Secretary Jacob J. Lew delivered his Remarks on the QDDR at an event hosted by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition last week. His prepared statement has now been posted online here. You can also read the transcript of the panel discussion here (Panel participants: Jack
Lew, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Director of Policy and Planning, Department of State, Alonzo Fulgham, Acting USAID Administrator and moderator, Judy Woodruff). Quick excerpt below from D/S Lew:

[…] I am the first to acknowledge that resources are only a beginning. The world has changed, and we at the State Department and USAID have not done enough to change along with it. We use outdated tools and our organization was not designed to meet today’s challenges — the rise of new powers and non-state actors, increasing interdependence, the dangers of transnational challenges and weak, impoverished states.
We have an excellent QDDR leadership team with veterans of State and USAID as well as the private sector and the nonprofit community.

Five working groups led by key stakeholders from State, USAID, and other relevant agencies will drive the details. They will work quickly and pragmatically to produce both analysis and solutions. There is a lot of fine work to draw on, which will make it easier to work quickly. The goal is full engagement of senior leadership informed by the people who can make bottom-up transformation a reality.

Here are the working groups’ goals:

First, we are examining the kinds of capabilities needed to develop a new architecture of global cooperation.

Second, we are looking at how we can reform ourselves to both lead and support a whole-of-government approach to foreign policy.

Third, we are considering what capabilities we need to help contribute to the building blocks of strong societies.

Fourth, we are looking at ways to build a strong civilian capacity to respond to crisis and instability.

Finally, we are evaluating how the State Department and USAID should be organized to maintain core capabilities and execute them effectively.

I note that the fifth goal also says, “This group is considering how we recruit, train, and promote our own diplomats and development professionals, and how we can better equip them to meet these challenges. They are also reviewing how we manage our own resources, including how we work with outside partners.”

Read the whole thing here.

You might remember that “transformation” was a buzz word during a certain former Secretary’s tenure at the 7th Floor. Transformational diplomacy shifted resources from one end of the world to another, there was whole lot of commotion and a lot of ink spent on it. It was transformation this, transformation that without new staffing or funding. It was done quickly and on the cheap with great results if you believe everything you read.

Transforming an old, traditional bureaucracy such as the State Department has never been easy. Just about every administration, Democratic or Republican have tried stretching that rubber band only to see it slap back into place. It is a journey littered with good intention but also with disappointments …

Organizational transformation starts with the people and its internal culture. A strong leader with a vision is necessary to drive change to fruition. The people who sit at the base of the pyramid must be willing to trust and follow that leader, even if the outcome is not totally clear.

Jack Lew is probably the one great hope at the moment to shepherd that State/USAID transformation into the 21st century. Let’s wish him the best.

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The Diplomatic Wives: Tribute and Thanks

Mary Wortley MontagueImage via Wikipedia

In their swearing in, you see the spouses holding the book; when they retire and if they get lucky, the spouses may get a special mention at the ceremony. It does not seem to matter whether it’s the Foreign Service or the FCO. Most days, the spouse is just a spouse, doing all things unofficially, that is.

In 1971, when the Foreign Service issued a directive saying that “participation by a Foreign Service wife in the work of a post is a voluntary act of a private person, not a legal obligation which can be imposed by any Foreign Service official or his wife,” it also said: We believe it would be a serious loss if the feelings of common effort and cooperation of our Foreign Service personnel and their wives were somehow lost.”

‘Frankly, if a wife chooses to be involved in the embassy work, it’s an unpaid benefit for us.’
That’s from the FCO spokesman in 1986.

They were no longer obligated to do anything for the mission, but that did not mean the end of such things. The British Ambassadors in their valedictories recognized that when they pay tribute to their wives (with names never mentioned) even as one puts it, an “empty gesture through it is.”

Sir David Gore-Booth
, the British Ambassador to India (Valedictory Despatch: Delhi, 1999) writes:

“So how does the “blustering buffoon” of Francis Wheen’s imagination sign off for the last time? Not without thanking my wives: the first for giving up under the strain after only a few years; the second for making the last 21 years a joy above and below deck. And scores of colleagues, whether UK based or locally engaged, who have helped keep this particular show on the road. I have hugely enjoyed a career that has always been colorful and times controversial. But now it is time to go home.”

Sir Michael Weir
, the British Ambassador to Egypt (Valedictory Despatch: Cairo, 1985) writes:

“I must end with the customary tribute to spouse and Service, empty gesture through it is to include a sentence or two of compliments in a dispatch which will be read mainly by colleagues. In my case, I have two wives to thank both of whom have been a great support but the first of whom decided that diplomatic life was crippling to the spirit. The second had joined the Service before we met, and has no excuse. I am therefore not taking my leave the same way as other valedictorians, and look forward to several further years service below stairs while my wife pursues her career.”

Then there’s Lord Moran who was
High Commissioner to Canada (1981-1984) (Valedictory Despatch: Lord Moran, Ottowa, 1984):

“I pay tribute, as I have done in some of my speeches, to the incalculable contribution made to our efforts by a good many of our wives, unpaid but often making all the difference between success and failure. And in this, my last dispatch, I should like to say thank you to my own wife. For thirty five years, at home and in eight countries overseas, we have done everything together. Mine has been an easier job than hers. But her contribution has been enormous. Doing it all together has made it fun. Indeed to have done it without her would have been inconceivable.”

And that’s that. The Foreign Service, of course, does not have the tradition of the valedictories. Occasionally, you hear the tribute to the wife in the public sphere like this one below from Craig Stapleton, former US Ambassador to France and the Czech Republic. His wife, Dorothy Walker Stapleton, is a first cousin of George H.W. Bush.

“Having served for seven years in a U.S. Embassy, I must say it would be impossible for an Ambassador to fill all the demands of the job, including managing and running the residence staff and events without a wife. Nancy Brinker, an Ambassador to Hungary, often told Debbie and me, “I need a wife.” Luckily, Debbie was a willing partner, who made the visit of all who came warm and special. The spouse of an Ambassador has no direct staff, is unpaid, yet the success of the Mission in improving the relations between our respective countries falls equally on the couple.”