Why an FS-02 rating another FS-02 is nuts

[T]he front office could inject itself more into the management, as opposed to the substantive work, of this combined political-economic section whose supervisor does not routinely pass along guidance or input from the front office. Also, the section head is the same rank as several of the officers he supervises and had been the designated rater prior to the OIG inspection. The OIG team noted to embassy management that it is an inherent conflict of interest for an FS-02 political cone officer to rate another political or economic officer of the same rank as they will be reviewed by the same promotion board. It is in the supervising FS-02’s interest to downplay the efforts and achievements of an officer of equal rank, especially a subordinate considered by others to be highly competent (DS-italics added). When the OIG team pointed out these problems to the Ambassador and DCM, they agreed to assume rating and reviewing responsibilities for the section’s three subordinate FS-O2 officers respectively.

OIG | Embassy Guatemala City, Guatemala (ISP-I-09-11A) Dec 08 | Note: this report became available online on 2/2010.  

Quickie: Iraq Lessons Ignored at Kabul Power Plant

This one via IPS:  A diesel-fueled power plant, nearing completion just outside Kabul, demonstrates that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its contractors have failed to learn lessons from identical mistakes in Iraq, despite clearly signposted advice from oversight agencies. (See AFGHANISTAN: Iraq Lessons Ignored at Kabul Power Plant by Pratap Chatterjee). Excerpt below:   

In May 2007, USAID signed an agreement with the Afghan government to build a 105 megawatt plant at Tarakhil, just a couple of kilometres from the Kabul airport. The contract was awarded to a joint venture of Louis Berger, a construction company from New Jersey, and Black & Veatch, another construction company from Kansas.

This venture was guaranteed a profit based on the amount of money spent to complete the project (known as cost-plus contracting).

Black & Veatch sub-contracted on a fixed price basis to Symbion Power from Washington DC, which has completed six fixed-price projects for the U.S. government in some of Iraq’s most conflicted areas in the last four years, including two 400 kilovolt transmission lines from Haditha in Anbar province to Al Qaim near the Syrian border and to Baiji in northern Iraq.

Typically the cost of building a diesel plant in the Middle East and Asia is about one million dollars per megawatt or less. For example, Wartsila, a Finnish company, is completing a 200-megawatt project in neighbouring Pakistan for 180 million dollars.

In fact, some says they can do it for less. “I built a 22-megawatt plant in Kandahar (in 2008) for 550,000 dollars a megawatt,” says Abdul Ghaffar, an Afghan engineer who runs his own power plant construction company in Dubai.

By the time the project started, the price tag for the fast-track turbines and multiple layers of contractors was 259 million dollars, two-and-a-half times that of similar projects.

Nine months later, some 60 percent of the project was complete. By this time, the 260-million-dollar price tag was looking unrealistic – it would eventually exceed 300 million dollars.

In March 2007, two months before USAID signed an agreement with the Afghan government to build the power plant, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) released its final report on programme and project management during the U.S.-led reconstruction mission in Iraq that specifically pointed out the perils of poor planning and supervision.

In fact, a January 2006 report by SIGIR faulted U.S. government planners and some of the very same contractors – namely Black & Veatch – for supplying turbines to a combined cycle gas turbine facility at Qudas outside of Baghdad that were unsuitable for the available fuel supply in Iraq, and for failing to provide adequate training and maintenance for the plant.

Thus it may seem ironic that on Jan. 20, 2010, exactly four years later, an audit of the Tarakhil power plant conducted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) would question the wisdom of building a diesel and heavy fuel plant that has a “technically sophisticated fueling operation that [the Afghans] may not have the capacity to sustain.”

The report also noted that 40 million dollars of the cost escalation was “directly linked to project delays.”

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US Consulate General Curaçao: New Vice Consul?

Amigoe.com based in the Netherlands Antilles had a brief report on the new American Vice Consul at the US Consulate General in Curaçao in late January:   

WILLEMSTAD — Winifred Hofstetter is the new vice-consul for the American Consulate. Since the last two weeks, she succeeds James Hogan, who had mysteriously disappeared on September 25th, last year. Hofstetter was previously employed with the American Consulate in Abudja, Nigeria. The investigation into the disappearance of Hogan is still in progress and in the hands of the local authorities. The American FBI-officials had already left a long time ago.
Cannot confirm this independently since the Department’s Background Notes still has James Hogan listed as post’s Vice Consul  and the Key Officers Directory dated December 2, 2009 still has him as CON/POL/ECO officer for the US mission in the Netherlands Antilles.     
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Confirmed: INR’s Philip Goldberg

The US Senate yesterday confirmed the nomination of Philip S. Goldberg as Assistant Secretary for the Department’s INR Bureau:

Philip S. Goldberg, of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Intelligence and Research).
CONFIRMATIONS — (Senate – February 09, 2010)
[Page: S543]  GPO’s PDF
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