State Dept to SIGIR: Son of a donkey, you have no bizness checking on our private army!

Special Inspector General for Iraq ReconstructionImage via WikipediaSpencer Ackerman of Danger Room has a recent exclusive on the pissing contest currently unfolding between Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) and Patrick Kennedy, the State Department’s Under Secretary for Management. What are they fighting over? Apparently for starters, the oversight of private security contractors in Iraq. Excerpts:

For months, Bowen’s team has tried to get basic information out of the State Department about how it will command its assembled army of about 5,500 private security contractors. How many State contracting officials will oversee how many hired guns? What are the rules of engagement for the guards? What’s the system for reporting a security danger, and for directing the guards’ response?

And for months, the State Department’s management chief, former Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, has given Bowen a clear response: That’s not your jurisdiction. You just deal with reconstruction, not security. Never mind that Bowen has audited over $1.2 billion worth of security contracts over seven years.
So far, the Department has awarded three security contracts for Iraq worth nearly $2.9 billion over five years. Bowen can’t even say for sure how much the department actually intends to spend on mercs in total. State won’t let it see those totals.

About as much information as the department has disclosed about its incipient private army comes from a little-noticed Senate hearing in February. There, the top U.S. military and civilian officials in Iraq said that they’d station the hired guard force at Basra, Irbil, Mosul and Kirkuk, with the majority — over 3,000 — protecting the mega-embassy in Baghdad. They’ll ferry diplomats around in armored convoys and a State-run helicopter fleet, the first in the department’s history.

I wonder if the State Department would relent if SIGIR’s name gets tweaked to Special Security Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. We would all still call it SIGIR, right?

Continue reading U.S. Blocks Oversight of Its Mercenary Army in Iraq.

SIGIR was created in October 2004 by a congressional amendment to Public Law 108-106 triggered by the June 28, 2004, dissolution of the CPA.  The amendment allowed SIGIR to continue the oversight that CPA-IG (Coalition Provisional Authority Office of Inspector General) established for Iraq reconstruction programs and operations. Specifically, SIGIR is mandated with the oversight responsibility of the use, and potential misuse, of the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF) and all obligations, expenditures, and revenues associated with reconstruction and rehabilitation activities in Iraq.

Not sure when is SIGIR actually gets terminated but its website indicates that an amendment to a public law puts it “ten months after 80% of the IRRF has been expended.” Since DOD is leaving Iraq, and since the PRTs are closing shop or transitioning into diplomatic posts, I imagine that the 80% had been reached and presumably SIGIR will be disbanded “soon.”

But SIGIR still wants to look under the rocks, particularly those related to the State Department’s expanded private army in Iraq. And frankly, I don’t think its a bad idea.

Reportedly, staffing in Iraq will grow from 8,000 to 17,000, most of them presumably will be private security contractors.  The State Department will be running its own hospitals and its own air fleet, also by contractors. I have been following this closely but have no idea what the logistics would be like for life support – food, fuel, water, etc. This is the first time the State Department is undertaking a gargantuan mission in what is still hostile territory. 

I suspect that the State Dept would like to have its own IG conduct the Iraq reviews. But given that SIGIR has at least seven years experience in Iraq, the State Dept’s resistance on this issue does not look good.

A draft bill in Congress addresses the SIGIR issue with the State Dept including the following:

(b) COOPERATION WITH SIGIR.—The Secretary of State shall fully and unreservedly cooperate with audits conducted by the SIGIR and with any information requests which in the opinion of the SIGIR are required to comply with requirements imposed on the SIGIR by law.

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US Diplomat in Mexico Writes Salon Advice Columnist About Her Foreign Service Blues

American Blues 'Is Here'Image via WikipediaI totally missed this one on diplomatic blues until I was alerted by one of DP’s readers. Below is an excerpt from advice columnist Carey Tennis of Salon’s Since You Asked column. Apparently written by a US diplomat posted in Mexico with “Diplomat Adrift” as signoff:

I am a 31-year-old woman. I am Foreign Service officer (read: diplomat) with the Department of State posted to my second assignment, in Mexico. I have experienced profound professional development in this unorthodox career, for which I am unequivocally grateful. As a prospective grad student of 25 I agreed to a fellowship that committed me to a minimum of three years of service (I’m now at nearly four years) after grad school as a diplomat.
In the past nearly four years, I’ve exited an engagement (by my choice, months after entering the Foreign Service, to a wonderful man not enthused by the Service and the complications his life would have undergone) and have had a series of at best minor relationships with people of equal transience and of otherwise committed situations. These are dating compromises I would not have otherwise made had my situation not been circumscribed (by regulation and a limited dating pool).

Being a typical, generalist diplomat whose life is dictated by “the needs of the Service,” my life is mostly governed by external forces. Admittedly, the work is rewarding. But the personal sacrifices are proving unbearable.

I am quintessentially American. As much as I revel in and love foreign cultures, I identify essentially as American. And in as much, I want an American male companion. I have no interest in having children and am honest enough to not expect — of myself or a companion — a lifelong relationship. What I want is a viable, nurturing, fun, loving and intellectual relationship with a like-minded adult. Thus far, this has been somewhat elusive since I entered into this weird, transient world of the Foreign Service. For example, the only meaningful relationship I have had in four years was for five months with a married military representative who recently returned to his wife and son after spending years apart. Dysfunction and awkward compromises abound in government work done abroad. We all need intimacy, will seek it out, and act upon it no matter the violations of integrity.
So, my question is: How do I transit into life as a civilian? I have skills (government program coordinator of a $37 million portfolio, grants warrant officer, government contracts representative, diplomat, bilingualist, M.A. in international policy and nonproliferation, etc.), but I do not know the path ahead and it scares me to leave government employment without a strategy.

Mr. Tennis writes a response here. Also, apparently the Mexican company Grupo Bimbo is now the biggest baker in the U.S. and he notes that “And any company that names itself Bimbo could use some diplomatic skills…” Well, I think he’s right on that one.

Read the whole letter and advice here. Just as interesting, read the comments section – 52 comments and counting.

A Salon commenter who uses the name —roadlesstraveled makes a good point:

[G]iven your life of diplomacy, tact and discretion, what prompted you to provide so many identifying characteristics about yourself?

Happy to be told that the foreign service office(s) in Mexico are big enough that you can’t be as easily identifiable as it seemed to me you would be.

Perhaps the good news is that US Mission Mexico has the largest consular operations in the world. That’s where a good chunk of entry level officers spend their first and some second tours. The mission adjudicated almost 1.1 million  temporary visas to the United States in 2010. Its consular staffing in 2009 indicated a complement of 154 consular officers and 484 consular Locally Engaged staff. Yes, it is that big.

But just how many second tour officers are working in Mexico and how many are women who are 31 years old? No idea, but you can bet that in the small pond of the Foreign Service, folks may be counting them off already and trying to figure out the writer’s identity. Not only because she’s suffering from angst and sharing a personal fork in the road publicly (her self-disclosure and candor took some guts, I think), but also because of the other details in her letter, particularly her “meaningful relationship.” I suspect that the latter more than the former will generate disapproval inside the very traditional big house.      

The thing that I find most sad about this is – here is a 31-year old diplomat who is on her second tour, and she had to write to an advice columnist for “mentorship and guidance?” Where are her friends? Where are her official mentors?