And you’re wondering why the State Dept does a reeeally poor job overseeing contracts? Please Read Exhibit A

State/OIG visited the housing for embassy janitors in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E..  The embassy contractor there showed the IG team housing that had been converted from office space and appeared to violate safety codes for fire prevention.  Workers bunk 8-10 people in 12×18 foot rooms. Four bathrooms on each floor are locked for supervisors’ exclusive use. In total, there are 15-20 toilets and 15-20 washing facilities for a camp of over 450 people.

The team was also shown kitchen facilities that consist of an open shed with approximately 100 gas burn­ers lining the walls. No refrigerators were observed. Figure 6 shows the kitchen at accommodations purported by the contractor to be occupied by janitors.

The OIG team later learned that Embassy Abu Dhabi’s janitors did not actually live at the facil­ity presented by the contractor at the time of the site visit. As a result, OIG and the GSO made a second, unannounced site inspection to nearby apartment blocks with unsafe and unsanitary kitchens and bathrooms. The GSO in Abu Dhabi followed up with the contractor to ensure that workers were transferred to satisfactory accom­modations as soon as possible. Below is a photo of the kitchen at the actual janitors’ accommodations in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.provided by the Embassy contractor.

That bit of misrepresentation is probably not going to get any write-up because it’s not like its written in the contract that they should show the IG what’s real …

Holy mother of goat and all her nutty nephews!

The inspection above is part of the six contracts for janito­rial, gardening, and local guard services examined by the OIG in determining: (1) whether State Department-funded contractors or subcontractors are engaged, knowingly or unknowingly, in acts related to trafficking in persons; and (2) whether U.S. embassies are following Federal guidelines to effectively monitor Department-funded contractors and subcontractors for engagement in acts related to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA).  Field work was conducted from January to March 2010 at four embassies in Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E., and at two consulates general in Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.

Here’s the good news, sort of:

“OIG found no direct evidence that contractors violated the provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) or the FAR mandatory clause 52.222-50 (Combating Trafficking in Persons) for the six contracts evaluated at U.S. missions in Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E. OIG found no evidence that contractors were engaged in sex trafficking or illicit activities related to invol­untary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery as defined by U.S. law.6 All 75 workers interviewed stated they came to the host country voluntarily and were not in direct bondage to their employer through force, fraud, or coercion. However, using ILO indicators for trafficking, OIG found several contractor practices that increase the risk of TIP. These practices include coercion at recruitment and destination (through debt bondage and confiscation of documents), exploitative conditions of work (including payment and wage issues and bad living conditions), and abuse of vulnerability (including abuse of lack of education and lack of information).”

The not so good news?

OIG found housing problems at all six missions. Workers’ housing facilities range from shared apartments with common areas to labor camps in converted commercial lots. Contractors maintain these facilities with varying degrees of adherence to safety and sanitation standards for residential dwellings. More than 70 percent of foreign contract workers live in overcrowded, unsafe, or unsanitary conditions, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. Moreover, only female workers and supervisors with family in the host country are able to choose their housing. \
In all four countries, workers had limited personal space, ranging from 24 square feet for the janitors in Abu Dhabi to 68 square feet for the local guards in Dubai. To put the size of these living quarters in context, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (U.S. Department of Justice) allots between 45-60 square feet per individual detained in a federal minimum security prison. Two-thirds of the housing observed fell within the space parameters of a U.S. mini­mum security prison cell. Twenty foreign contract workers occupying the quarters OIG visited had less personal space than a U.S. minimum security prison cell.

Yes, they are not American citizens but these are the embassy’s janito­rs, gardeners, and local guards.  Is it too much to ask that they be treated decently by their employers who are paid quite a chunk by USG taxpayers money? And mind you, these are not mom and pops small business contractors.

Despite almost three years covering Foggy Bottom and the “worldwide available universe,” we are still shocked reading the non-response from the State Department’s Office of the Procurement Executive in the Bureau of Administration.  The A/OPE response was sent under Corey Rindner’s name. Here is what the OIG says after taking into account Mr. Rindner’s response: 

A/OPE stated it was concerned that contractors would rely on missions to interpret local laws on passport retention, and that it is beyond the current capabilities of CORs to identify host country labor laws and monitor contractor compliance. The intention of recommendations 1 and 2 is to ensure missions are fully cognizant of host country regulations and labor laws. OIG determined during the course of field work that embassy officials’ lack of knowl­edge of these laws increase the risk that employees servicing U.S. overseas missions may be victims of TIP. OIG does not view obtaining this information as burdensome or beyond the capabilities of CORs, especially since embassy political and economic officers at the missions visited were already collecting this information. Therefore, OIG believes both recommendations 1 and 2 have merit and are retained.
Finally, A/OPE did not concur with recommendations 5, 6, and 7 stating there is no legal basis to prescribe a supplemental clause enforcing a statutory socioeconomic requirement that is already covered by a mandatory FAR clause. During the course of OIG’s evaluation, officials at all of the missions requested assistance from the Depart­ment on how to monitor for TIP violations, as well as information from other mis­sions on best practices shown to be effective in detecting and preventing TIP. OIG finds A/OPE’s response to recommendations 5, 6, and 7 unclear and unresponsive.

It should be noted that A/OPE did not concur with any of the OIG recommendations.

Are Mr. Rindner and the good folks at “A/OPE” really washing their hands on this?  Um, excuse us, how can we possibly think that?  They are simply citing the Department’s legal counsel advise that “A/OPE has no legal basis to prescribe a supple­mental clause enforcing a statutory socioeconomic requirement.”

That by the way is Mr. Rindner’s response to the OIG recommendation that “contractors provide workers with standard contracts in English and their native language that include policies on wages, overtime rates, allowances, salary increases, the contract term, leave accrual, and other personnel matters.”

How hard is that to do, really?

Oh, look, the State Department’s visa sections even distribute a pamphlet on the rights and protections of temporary workers in the US.

Mr. Rindner also says in his response that “Department of State contracts require contractors to comply with local laws and regulations” and in another response points out that “monitoring methods and resources are limited.”

Okay, just how limited are we talking about here? From zero to nothing?

Can’t we just call these “self-monitoring contractors” in simple English and save us all from the embarrassment and agony of pretense?

It should be in the best interest of the State Department that it’s house is Squeky clean when it comes to the labor and hiring practices of its contractors at its foreign missions. After all, just like employees, contractors reflect favorably or unfavorably on the hiring agency. Surely no one has forgotten the Kabul guards that quickly?

And by the way, if there is no legal basis for this, how about we try for the humane?

Related item:

OIG Report No. MERO-I-11-06 – Performance Evaluation of Dept. of State Contracts to Assess Risk of TIP Violations in Gulf States – Jan. 2011


Ex-Ambassador to Luxembourg Cynthia Stroum, Mum … Until After DC Lawyers Talk

Last week, columnist Patti Payne of the Puget Sound Business Journal wrote that she called Ambassador Stroum, a Seattle philanthropist, at home, and “found her hesitant to speak out about her side of the story,” in the aftermath of that scathing report from the Office of the Inspector General about the US Embassy in Luxembourg.  Excerpt below:

Stroum says she is not going to shrink from comment in the future. “There is much more to this story,” she insists. “And,” she adds, “I am more than willing to tell my side of it, but not now. Let me just say I’ve gotten huge and amazing support from the government of Luxembourg.” She says she is receiving a stream of calls from supportive friends as well.

More here

Additional details from the columnist appeared over the weekend in Stroum, envoy under fire, counters

Stroum says her formal, detailed rebuttal was filed with the Office of the Inspector General, the same office which issued the report.

Stroum, who resigned her post just days before the State Department report was made public, says, of what information has been released: “They chose to put in what they wanted to. … They chose not to publish the rebuttal.”

While she won’t say much more at this time, until her D.C. lawyers confer with her this coming week, she does say that she is hearing from an increasing number of people who are sympathetic to her. 

Ms. Payne also republished in full the emailed statement from Ambassador Stroum; also cited by AP/Seattle Times:

“For me personally, serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg has been a true privilege. I have new found respect for the hard work done by the diplomatic corps around the world and applaud all of those who serve their country. During my 14 months at Post, I have developed a great admiration for the people of Luxembourg, their government officials and the Grand Ducal family. The initiatives that I chose to focus on were what I believed to be in the best interest of the relationship between Luxembourg and the United States and I’m proud of the links connected especially with businesses here in my home state of Washington. The circumstances of my departure from Luxembourg were unfortunate, but I am glad to be back home in Seattle with family and friends. As to the OIG (Office of the Inspector General) report specifically, I have responded and filed my rebuttal through the proper State Department channels.”

We’d be interested in reading that rebuttal, too.

US Embassy Kabul: Anticipated Steady Staffing of 1,830 from 2011-2016, a Low Guesstimate

Snow Mountains of Kabul (Photo made by: Joe Bu...Image via WikipediaThe State Dept OIG report reviewing the performance of PA&E Government Services, a Lockheed Martin Company has the following snapshot of the US Embassy Kabul staffing and accompanying expansion for 2011 and the next 5 years:

“Embassy Kabul is scheduled to increase its staffing to 1,572 by the end of 2010, an increase of 778 percent from 179 staff members in 2005. Staffing is anticipated to grow another 16 percent in 2011 to 1,830 and then remain steady for the next 5 years. This increase includes personnel from a number of other U.S. Government agencies and a high volume of visitors. This “civilian uplift” has resulted in shortages of housing and office space. To remedy this situation, the embassy is expanding the east compound to include more single trailers, one 7-story and two 8-story apartment buildings, and additional non-permanent residences, and office space on a newly developed 7.5 acre area of the compound; converting single apartments to doubles; and building new facilities to increase office space on the west compound. This expansion will impact the capacity of the embassy’s physical infrastructure, resulting in an increased need for electricity and waste disposal.”

In a US mission with one year assignments, that’s 1,800 personnel give and take every year. So by 2016, a total of 10,800 employees can be expected to have rotated in and out of Kabul, Mazar, Herat and wherever else that might be. 

Which is mind boggling if you stop to consider that the entire United States Foreign Service has only about 11,500 professionals. Granted that some personnel at post are from other agencies, majority of them are actually coming from State, USAID and USDA.

Of course, with the military drawdown looming large in 2012 in Afghanistan, this number may not even be near any real number.

We learned recently that the US Embassy Baghdad is going from a staff of 8,000 to 17,000.  Presumably a large number of this would be security contractors, but they are still there to guard non-security personnel and USG facilities. Since US Embassy Kabul seems to be taking a page from US Embassy Baghdad, we can anticipate that staffing in Kabul at 1,800 is at best, a low guesstimate.

In any case, unemployment rate is still around 9% in the United States.  Perhaps we should brush up that resume and head off to Afghanistan, where employability prospects is looking more than great for the next 6, 12, oh, ___ (fill in the blank) years?  


Related item:
OIG Report No. MERO-I-11-05, PAE Operations and Maintenance Support at Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan | Dec. 2010