US Mission Iraq: Twelve Things You Might Not Know About the Largest Embassy in the World

— By Domani Spero

State/OIG recently released its inspection report of U.S. Embassy Baghdad and its constituent posts  in Erbil and Basrah.  Here are a few things that you may not know about our largest embassy in the world.

Photo by state.gov/ds

Photo by state.gov/ds

#1.  Staffing Numbers:  Planned Reduction at over 50%

“The embassy is taking steps to reduce the mission’s headcount from over 11,500 in January 2013 to 5,500 by January 2014.”  

We’ll have to revisit this early next year to gauge how successful is that effort.

#2.  Housing: Social Workers Mediate Roommate Conflicts

“Housing remains the single largest morale issue, and the embassy employs two social workers to mediate roommate conflicts associated with a housing shortage that requires, at least temporarily, housing as many as four employees in apartments designed for one person. […] The roommate policy will continue as sites close and more personnel consolidate on the embassy compound in the 619 apartments.”  

Apparently, only employees ranked FS-01 or GS-15 and above occupy private quarters.  And two social workers will not be enough if you have to mediate roommate conflicts every new rotation cycle of 12 months.

#3.  Estimated Cost of Protective Security Movement for FY2013: $49.8 Million

“Embassy employees traveling outside the international zone in Baghdad require protective security escorts. The security office’s protective security teams averaged 370 movements per month in the first 5 months of FY 2013 for a total of 1,846 movements. FY 2013’s total estimated cost for protective security movements is approximately $49.8 million.”

#4.   Third-Country Nationals: Hiring TCNs Cheaper But Not Cheap

“Third country nationals, originally recruited from embassies worldwide as temporary experts, comprise 24 percent of the non-U.S. direct-hire staff in Baghdad and fill most of the embassy’s senior non-U.S. positions. The embassy employs 56 third country national employees at a cost of about $10 million annually . […] Support costs for third country national contractors and direct-hire staff, such as lodging, meals, and rest and recuperation travel, average $68,000 per person per year in addition to salaries, which often exceed locally employed staff salaries because of supplemental benefits packages.”

Some problems with hiring TCNs: with TCNs rotating as temp. experts, there may not be enough interest in growing Iraqi FSNs into a cadre of local experts; with American supervisors rotating every 12 months, who trains the Iraqi FSNs for more responsible roles?  Problems with local recruitment:  Mission does not have a pipeline of applicants; security vetting process has an overall average rejection rate of 47%. Almost half the applicants cannot work for the mission due to counterintel issues.

#5.  Iraq’s Service Recognition Package: No Longer The Most Attractive

“Last year, the Department filled about 92 percent of Iraq positions with volunteers. The Department is in the process of reducing selected employee benefits to reflect improvements in security and living conditions….The Department expects in coming months to offer service recognition package benefits to other missions, such as Libya and Yemen, which could be more attractive than the package for Iraq.” 

#6.  Embassy’s Airline — Embassy Air at $128.2 million in 2013

“Based in Amman, Jordan, Embassy Air carried 19,306 passengers to destinations around Iraq during a recent 6- month period. Embassy Air is the mission’s most secure lifeline to the outside world and the only means of medical evacuation countrywide. The combined cost of Afghanistan-Iraq air operations stands at $128.2 million this year.”

#7.  Embassy Hospitals: How Many by 2014?

“The Department is rapidly reducing the scope of its contracted medical services, estimated at $85 million for FY 2013, as activities at OSC-I locations around the country close by the end of the year. The embassy operates 11 hospitals and clinics throughout the country under contract with Comprehensive Health Services Middle East. Operations include four diplomatic field hospitals geared to trauma and mass casualty stabilization and clinics that deliver primary care, evacuation stabilization, and laboratory services.”

#8.  Largest IVP in the World

US Mission Iraq “manages the largest International Visitor Leadership Program in the world with 149 participants in FY 2012.”

#9.  Arabic Speakers: Only Three Can Conduct Interviews Unassisted 

“Consular Management The section’s effectiveness is hampered by a dearth of Arabic-language speakers, limited cultural insight, and an insufficient number of useful local contacts, largely due to the limited role the five Iraqi employees play in the overall operation. Fewer than half the consular employees—both U.S. and non-U.S. direct hires—speak Arabic and only three of the Arabic- speaking officers can conduct the full range of interviews unassisted.”  

This shortage of expertise is not confined to language.  Elsewhere in the report, the inspectors note that many Washington-based employees have more historical knowledge than some employees working in Iraq today.

#10.  Diplomatic Compounds:  Larger Than Normal

“The embassy and Consulate General Basrah occupy more than 100 acres each, while the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center site totals 350 acres. A typical new embassy compound sits on approximately 10 acres.”

So that’s ten times larger than normal. But then, no one ever said the U.S. Mission in Iraq was ever normal.

#11. Bleeding Green Bucks: Over $270 Million Down the Drain

At “[t]he Erbil Diplomatic Support Center, the Department canceled ongoing construction in February 2013, after expenditures of approximately $85 million, with the decision to cease Department operations at the location by July 2013. In September 2012, with the reduction of the Police Development Program, the U.S. Government turned over the unfinished Baghdad Police Academy to the Government of Iraq after investing an estimated $108 million in construction. In addition, the Department contributed $48 million in Police Development Program funds to the construction of the Basrah consulate general, because the Police Development Program intended to be a tenant in that facility. During the inspection, in preparation for turnover to the Government of Iraq, mission operations drew down at Embassy Annex Prosperity, where a $32 million construction project was halted. The final phase of the Prosperity site closure requires construction of a new $11.5 million heavy vehicle maintenance facility on the embassy compound.”

So that’s over $270 million down the drain for lack of appropriate planning, and $11.5M more for new construction, which may or may not be needed in a year or two.

#12.  Iraq Tax With No End in Sight Will Strain Diplomatic Facilities Worldwide

“Funding levels from multiple sources in support of Mission Iraq operations have been so substantial that the mission has not been subject to normal fiscal constraints, nor has it evaluated process and program priorities rigorously. The Department allotted $3.23 billion for Mission Iraq operations in FY 2012. The mission also oversaw $1.33 billion in foreign assistance in that same time frame.  Inevitably, the contingency funding that is a remnant of Iraq’s status as a war zone, and enabled so much of the mission’s growth and security programs, will dwindle. Even with the Department’s increased focus on protecting personnel and facilities in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack, the mission is considering ways to reduce its operational and security budgets, although the sheer size and scope of the physical plant, both in Baghdad and at the consulates,will require significant funding for years to come.”

So the reduction of USG footprint in Iraq does not mean the end of the Iraq tax on staffing, but going forward, you may now add resource allocation demands.  The OIG inspectors believe that as US Mission Iraq operates in a “traditional diplomatic environment” its maintenance and repair costs will come out of the regular budget.  The Vatican-size embassy even with “rightsizing” at 5,500 staff will still be the largest embassy in the world. Security and movement protection will still remain expensive. And as contingency funds end, and as US Mission Iraq starts to get funding from State’s regular budget, it will “strain  support for diplomatic facilities worldwide.”

Oh, there is no mention in this report of the alleged “underground drug ring” operating near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad; or a drug ring which allegedly supplied State Department security contractors with drugs.

This report only mentions “drug” in one instance: “The Department has approved continuing annual assistance for anti-corruption, the justice sector, drug demand reduction and police, with $23 million requested for FY 2014.” 

That’s expensive but not nearly as exciting news.  Now, let’s go invade another country so we can do this all over again.

(ú_ú)

-05/31/13   Inspection of Embassy Baghdad and Constituent Posts, Iraq (ISP-I-13-25A)  [617 Kb]  Posted online on June 3, 2013

Advertisements