Senate Confirms Steve Linick; State Dept Finally Gets an Inspector General After 2,066 Days

— By Domani Spero

President Obama nominated Steve A. Linick as State Department Inspector General back in June filling a 1,989-day vacancy. (After 1,989 Day-Vacancy — President Obama Nominates Steve Linick as State Dept Inspector General). He will succeed Howard J. Krongard who announced his resignation on December 7, 2007.   Mr. Linick went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 30, 2013 (see video here).  During his confirmation hearing, he made the following pledges:

From a strategic and leadership perspective, I understand that the responsibilities of the position to which I have been nominated are great. Based on the significant issues facing the Department of State, it is clear to me that assuming the leadership role of Inspector General will be challenging and rewarding. I look forward to this task, if confirmed.

If confirmed, I pledge to: 

  • Ensure that the Department of State Office of Inspector General (OIG) is an independent and objective organization that provides timely, robust, fact-based oversight, transparency, and accountability to the programs and operations of the Department of State; 
  • Consult stakeholders regularly (including the Government Accountability Office and affected communities)
  • Efficiently and effectively deploy OIG resources to those areas that present the highest risk to the Department of State; 
  • Collaborate with other inspectors general who have potentially overlapping interests, jurisdiction, and programs; 
  • Ensure whistleblowers have a safe forum to voice grievances and are protected from retaliation; and
  • Aggressively protect taxpayer funds against fraud, waste, and abuse.

 

On September 17, after a wait of almost three months, the Senate finally confirmed Mr. Linick. So for the first time in 2,066 days, the State Department has a Senate-confirmed watchdog.

Today, September 30, will reportedly be Mr. Linick’s first day at work as Inspector General of the oldest executive department in the union.

While we have not been following his work as IG for the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), we understand that he was not shy in questioning publicly the large compensation packages for executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He also told them off the bat that he would be no ordinary Washington regulator.  We are pleased with this appointment as State/OIG primarily because of that and because he is from outside The Building with limited Foreign Service connections.  With him as new watchdog in Foggy Bottom, we hope to see some changes in the way the OIG conducts its business.  We think our wishlist below is pretty reasonable.

1.  Redactions

One of our pet peeves, especially in the last several years is the redaction of OIG inspectors names from publicly available reports posted online.  The controversial OIG report on the IIP Bureau (Inspection of the Bureau of International Information Programs (ISP-I-13-28), similarly was stripped of names on who conducted the inspection.  The copy we were furnished did include the names of the team leader and deputy team leader but the rest of the names of the inspection team members were redacted.

When we inquired from State/OIG about this, we were told:

“It is marked as FOIA Exemption (b)(6) – “exempts from disclosure records or information which if disclosed would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Now, that there alone gave us a terrible headache. The OIG inspectors are conducting official business in the name of the American public. Why would it be an invasion of privacy if their names are revealed?

So we asked “Why”? And this is what we were told by State/OIG:

“There is recent case law that specifically protects inspectors and investigators from having their information disseminated. However, there is concomitant protection for auditors – so, we continue to release their names.”

Protects them from having their “information disseminated” — as if we were asking for their home address.  We just want the names public. So we tried again asking State/OIG for the case law and date that their official FOIA lawyer is citing.

State/OIG who is actually quite good with response time sent us a disappointing reply:

“I’m afraid I don’t have it – and today was her last day.”

Look, there is a a reason why the inspectors’ names should not/not be redacted.  Retired and active FS officers are part of the OIG staff.  Active FS officers who become IG staff eventually has to bid for other rotational Foreign Service jobs.  Since 1978, the Government Accountability has questioned the use of FSOs detailed to the OIG  office since they bid and return to regular FS assignments.

  • In 1978, GAO reviewed the IG’s inspection reports and questioned the independence of Foreign Service officers who were temporarily detailed to the IG’s office and recommended the elimination of this requirement.
  • In 1979, the GAO noted that Foreign Service officers detailed as inspectors for temporary tours of two years and then reassigned to activities which they may recently have evaluated has negative as well as positive aspects.
  • In 1982  GAO continued to question the use of Foreign Service officers and other persons from operational units within the department to staff the IG office. It told Congress that it believes the IG’s extensive use of temporary or rotational staff affects the IG office’s independence because (1) these staff members routinely rotate between the IG office and management positions within the organizations they review, and (2) major decisions affecting their careers are determined by the State Department rather than by the IG office.
  • In 1991, GAO examined whether the Department of State’s Office of Inspector General (OIG): (1) omitted references to itself in an annual oversight report to Congress in a deliberate attempt to conceal internal problems; and (2) inappropriately hired and paid experts and consultants.
  • In 2007 GAO reported to Congress that it continue to identify concerns regarding the independence of the State IG that are similar to concerns they reported almost three decades ago. GAO concerns include (1) the appointment of line management officials to head the State IG in an acting capacity for extended periods, and (2) the use of ambassador-level Foreign Service staff to lead inspections of the department’s bureaus and posts even though they may have conflicts of interest resulting from their roles in the Foreign Service.
  • In 2011, the GAO noted some improvements, specifically noting that while State/OIG continues to assign Foreign Service officers at the ambassador level as team leaders for inspections, four of the six officers are rehired annuitants unlikely to rotate to State Department Foreign Service positions. GAO remains concerned, however, about the OIG’s use of Foreign Service officers and the State Department’s need to rely on acting IGs for extended periods of time.

In 1986, Congress made the State IG a presidentially appointed inspector general subject to the Inspector General Act and prohibited a career member of the Foreign Service from being appointed as the State IG. That change did not prohibit the appointment of a career member of the FS as acting IG or deputy IG.  According to the GAO in 2011, State/OIG implemented a change to the succession planning for acting IG positions to exclude Foreign Service officers.

We have yet to see that in action.

While we have not been able to confirm the relevant case law that State/OIG cited in withholding the identities of inspectors, we were told that this “doesn’t sound implausible.”  Steven Aftergood (@saftergood on Twitter) who runs Secrecy News for the Federation of American Scientists posits that even if such an exemption from disclosure exists (which it probably does), then it would be discretionary, not mandatory.  It means that State/OIG would be “at liberty to disclose it even if there was no compelling legal obligation to do so.”

Given the nature of the assignments/rotations in the Foreign Service, and the persistent questions of potential impairments to independence, we look on Mr. Linick to lean on the side of disclosure. Mr. Aftergood suggests that “such disclosure would be a good practice to adopt, particularly in light of the variability of State OIG career tracks and the potential for subsequent conflicts of interest.” 

2.  Recusals

The GAO report dated April 2011 indicates that to address independence impairments the State/OIG relies on “a recusal policy where Foreign Service officers must self-report whether they have worked in a post or embassy that is subject to an inspection and therefore presents a possible impairment.”  The GAO insist that they “continue to believe that the State OIG’s use of management staff who have the possibility of returning to management positions, even if they are rehired annuitants or currently report to civil service employees in the OIG, presents at least an appearance of impaired independence.”

We have never seen any of the published OIG reports indicate whether any recusal was filed related to an inspection or audit.  We would like to see that information included in State/OIG reports and audits.

3.  A Note on Black Sharpies 

Remember the hard-hitting OIG reports on Luxembourg, Kenya, Malta? All made the news. All also have one other thing in common — the chiefs of mission at these three posts were all political appointees.  Then there were two other OIG reports on Pakistan and Lebanon that caught our attention, both under career diplomats, and both severely redacted, including one that talks about the leadership shortcomings in the front office. (State Dept OIG Reports: Oh, Redactions, Is Double Standard Thy True Name?).  We were told that the redactions in one case had to do with the “geopolitical situation” at one post.  Our main concern about this as we have said here in the past is two-fold: 1) the appearance of a double standard and 2) recycling FSOs with problematic leadership and management skills is not going to make another embassy greener or healthier nor make for better FSOs.  Without effective intervention, they’re just going to make another post as miserable as the last one and impairs the embassy mission and operation. We would like to see State/OIG apply one standard on its reviews of chiefs of mission performance. Not whether they are effective political appointees or effective career appointees but whether they are effective representatives of the President regardless of their appointment authorities.

4. Cobwebs Over Troubled OIG Memo

Finally – remember this past summer when there was a big kaboom in Foggy Bottom ? (See CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal.  The Cable’s John Hudson had an exclusive with Aurelia Fedenisn, a former State Department inspector general investigator Exclusive: Whistleblower Says State Department Trying to Bully Her Into Silence.  Some real serious allegations were made about cases that were reportedly “influenced, manipulated, or simply called off” in the State Department.  State/OIG released a statement to CBS News here.

On June 10, 2013, the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki was on the podium answering questions about the CBS report:

QUESTION: First, what – I guess we can begin most broadly simply by asking what comments you have about the report that aired on CBS News this morning concerning State Department OIG Office.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, the Department of State employs more than 70,000 dedicated men and women serving in some of the most challenging environments working on behalf of the American people at 275 posts around the world. We hold all employees to the highest standards. We take allegations of misconduct seriously and we investigate thoroughly. All cases mentioned in the CBS report were thoroughly investigated or under investigation, and the Department continues to take action.

[…]

QUESTION: — to borrow a phrase. You stated at one point early in your answer just now that all cases mentioned in the CBS News report were thoroughly investigated but that the State Department continues to take action on them. Did I understand you correctly?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. I did not mean to imply they were – the investigations were completed. Some are in process.

QUESTION: And when you talk about those cases being in process or in progress and action continuing to be taken on them, is that separate from the hiring of outside personnel that you also just referenced?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not a hiring. It’s – it would be an investigation being done by the Inspector General’s Office working with outside law enforcement officers. So I would refer you them for any more specifics on that or how that would work. That’s a decision, of course, they make.

The back and forth went on and on to a point of total uselessness.  But the official spokesperson of the State Department did confirm that all the cases mentioned in the CBS report were “thoroughly investigated or under investigation.”

So imagine our confusion when the State/OIG submitted its Semiannual Report to the Congress October 1, 2012, to March 31, 2013 which was posted online on June 19, 2013?   We could not find any of the eight cases alleged in the CBS news report. None are listed as either an ongoing or a completed investigation in this semi-annual report; they’re not in the report submitted six months earlier either. What happened to them?

The report to Congress ending on March 31, 2013 lists investigations on bribery, theft and embezzlement, false claims, and grant fraud. It includes four investigations under employee misconduct: 1) a DCM repeatedly used his government resources for non-official purposes; 2)  a passport specialist used her official position to access personal information of personal acquaintances from official passport databases; 3) a Foreign Service officer responsible for award and oversight of the grants failed to follow grant policy; and 4) a Department employee who was overpaid for workers’ compensation leave (WCL) after a work-related injury.

Any of that remotely resembles the cases described in the October 2012 memo reported on the news?

The report did include under Congressional Mandates and Requests the following item which also made the news at around the same time as the CBS news:

“On November 2, 2012, OIG received a request from Senator Rand Paul to investigate allegations of staff misconduct at the U.S. Consulate General in Naples, Italy. In its response, OIG noted that the complaints were referred to the appropriate offices in the Department and that the complainants were provided contact information for the offices to which the complaints were referred.”

So —

We would like to suggest that among Mr. Linick’s first order of business, and we expect that he will have a full plate, is to personally look into what happened to these eight cases alleged to have been deep-sixed.  If these cases had been “thoroughly” investigated as claimed, then there should be records.   If the individuals were cleared, there should also be records.  If these allegations were never investigated, or there are no records, then one needs to ask why. Of course, there is another “why” that we are interested in. Why would a retired investigator of the Service turn against her old office in the most public way?

How aggressively Mr. Linick tackle these cobwebs and get some answers would help tell us what kind of junkyard dog he is going to be.

Whew! That’s sorta long. We’ll stop here and get some sleep and see what happens, okay?

(o_o)

Related reports:

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Foreign Service Grievance Board: Out With The Old, In With The New — Website

— By Domani Spero

This is a topic almost as old as this blog. In 2008, we wrote that the Foreign Service Grievance Board website was like a relic from an Internet cold war. All the documents were still posted in MS Word, the search function was not terribly helpful and there was no option to search/browse its pending or resolved cases.

Related posts:

Last week, one of our readers gave us a heads-up that fsgb.gov website has gone missing and the web search is returning an error message. It was.  We found the one below from the Wayback Machine:

Screen Shot 2013-09-27

Screen grab of fsgb.gov from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine

About 48 hours later when we look again, we found this!

Screen Shot 2013-09-27

The new website is certainly an improvement from its ancient version.  Some of the more apparent changes:

  • “Browse Grievances” is now available by year. By far, 1996 was a banner year for grievances with 175 cases listed.
  • The posted cases from 2012 are available mostly in pdf files, making it accessible to read even without MS Word installed.
  • New decisions issued by the FSGB now include the names/signatures of the panel members hearing the cases.  Previous cases did not always have the names of the FSGB members or their signatures.
  • The Annual Reports have been updated to include the 2012 report which was submitted to Congress in March 2013, but did not make it online till now (2012 report will be in a separate post)
  • The contact page includes two email addresses and the Executive Secretary’s telephone number.  Have yet to test if either or both respond to inquiries.

The FSGB told Congress on its 2012 report that the Board was “not able to advance to an acceptable stage in the refurbishing of our outdated and overburdened website, but we have managed to continue to post grievance decisions and other essential information both for the public and for use by the members.”  Apparently, at the beginning of 2013, the FSGB finally entered into an agreement with State Department’s IRM which made the website changes possible. Not sure why it took so long but —

Bravo!

The one thing that still needs attention on the FSGB website is the “Search Grievance” function which does not appear to work as well as it should. You can search by year and by specific Record of Proceeding (ROP) and it will return the appropriate records. But if you do the “Document Search” field for instance, on records pertaining to “EER,” “discipline,” “financial,” or “separation” — the top cases filed within the Board, the new website returns a “no match” result.  We’ve used “OR”, “AND”, double quotes, and a wildcard “*” with the same “no match” results.

We suspect that providing a better end-user search experience was among the top justifications for migrating the old website to this new Sharepoint site.  But the FSGB cases do not use meaningful file names and titles, so while browsing the cases is available, it does not make locating the files any more easier or quicker.   It also does not look like the cases have been tagged or use metadata; both if used would help tremendously in improving the “findability” of the cases in the new website.

*(^O^)*

USDOJ: AmCit Binh Vo, Alleged Co-Conspirator in Michael Sestak Visa Scandal Arrested at Dulles Airport

— By Domani Spero

We have previously blogged about the visa fraud allegations at the Consulate General in Ho Chi Min City involving FSO Michael T. Sestak and four other alleged co-conspirators.  Court records indicate that an arraignment and motion hearing were held on September 13, 2013 with a status conference scheduled for all three defendants (Sestak, Truc Thanh Huynh and  Hong Chau Vo) for October 18, 2013 at 10:30 AM in Courtroom 30A before Judge John D. Bates.

Related posts:

Meanwhile, on September 24, 2013, US authorities arrested Binh Vo, a U.S. citizen and another of the remaining alleged co-conspirators at the Washington Dulles International Airport.  At this time, only one of the alleged co-conspirators, Anhdao Thuy Nguyen, 30, a Vietnamese citizen, and Bihn Vo’s wife remains at large.  According to USDOJ, a warrant has been issued for her arrest.  Thanh Nien News describes Anhdao Thuy Nguyen as a “bright Vietnamese beauty queen” who “studied for an MBA at the University of Texas in Austin.”  

 

Via USDOJ:

American Citizen Arrested and Charged With Bribery, Visa Fraud and Conspiracy -Scheme Allegedly Yielded Millions of Dollars in Bribes

WASHINGTON Binh Vo, 39, an American citizen living in Vietnam, has been arrested and charged with bribery, visa fraud and conspiracy to commit those offenses as well as to defraud the United States, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Director Gregory B. Starr announced today.

Vo appeared this afternoon before the Honorable Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where a criminal indictment was pending against him. He was arrested on Sept. 24, 2013, at Washington Dulles International Airport. Magistrate Judge Facciola ordered that he remain in custody pending further court proceedings.

According to the indictment, Vo conspired with co-defendant Michael Sestak and others to obtain visas to the United States for Vietnamese citizens.  Sestak, 42, was the Non-Immigrant Visa Chief in the Consular Section of the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from August 2010 to September 2012.

According to the indictment, Vo and Sestak conspired with other U.S. citizens and Vietnamese citizens who worked to recruit customers – or to recruit other recruiters – to the visa scheme. Co-conspirators reached out to people in Vietnam and the United States and advertised the scheme by creating a website and by spreading the word through emails and telephone calls.

According to the indictment, co-conspirators assisted visa applicants with their applications and prepared them for their consular interviews.  Upon submitting an application, the applicants would receive an appointment at the Consulate, be interviewed by Sestak, and approved for a visa. Applicants or their families paid Vo between $20,000 and $70,000 per visa.

Applicants paid for their visas in Vietnam, or by routing money to co-conspirators in the United States.  According to affidavits filed in this case, Vo received millions of dollars for arranging for Sestak to approve the visas.  He ultimately moved some of the money out of Vietnam by using money launderers through off-shore banks.  Co-conspirators also had money laundered through off-shore banks to bank accounts in the United States.

To date, the investigation has seized over $2 million from conspirators’ accounts in the United States.

Three others have been charged in the scheme.They are Hong Vo, 27, an American citizen, Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, a Vietnamese citizen, and Anhdao Dao Nguyen, 30, a Vietnamese citizen, all of whom are charged with conspiring with Sestak and Binh Vo.  Hong Vo is Binh Vo’s sister.  She allegedly assisted with the recruitment of visa applicants and communicated with others about the payment for the fraudulent visas.

According to charging documents, fraudulent visas granted by Sestak were connected to an Internet Protocol (“IP”) address controlled by Hong Vo. Huynh allegedly participated in the visa scheme by obtaining documents necessary for the visa applications, collecting money and providing model questions and answers for visa applicants.  Sestak also allegedly approved a visa for Huynh to the United States, the application for which was submitted by the IP address controlled by Hong Vo.  Anhdao Thuy Nguyen is Binh Vo’s wife.  She allegedly assisted with recruiting applicants and laundering funds during the course of the conspiracy.

Sestak and Hong Vo were arrested in May 2013 and Huynh was arrested the following month. All remain held without bond pending further proceedings.  Nguyen remains at large, and a warrant has been issued for her arrest.

An indictment is merely an allegation that a defendant has committed a violation of criminal laws and every defendant is presumed innocent until, and unless, proven guilty.

The case is being investigated by the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brenda J. Johnson, Christopher Kavanaugh, and Mona N. Sahaf of the National Security Section and Catherine K. Connelly of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

\(*O*)/

Diplomatic Security Wiki: All Things DS — Deaths, Heroism, Authors, Videos and Black Dragons

— By Domani Spero

 

One of our readers pointed us to a new wiki on all things Diplomatic Security.  DS Wikipedia is described as “an unofficial, non-US government affiliated wiki for both the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Diplomatic Security service – more commonly known as DS.”

Updated on 10/1 at 10:02 am – The site’s name has been changed to Diplomatic Security Wiki – http://www.diplomaticsecuritywiki.com; a contact page has also been added for the wiki administrator.

Why was it created?  “This Wiki was created to provide a common location to put information that would not meet Wikipedia normal submission guidelines. Specifically, it was originally created to hold a page for DS affiliated personnel who were killed in the line of duty. Although originally on Wikipedia, the page was deleted by editors because it was considered to be a memorial page.

Its Bureau of Diplomatic Security Personnel Killed in Action page includes not just direct-hire employees, but also local guard force (LGF) casualties and security contractors killed in the line of duty. An overwhelming number of casualties are local guards and security contractors. It includes the names of local guards killed in the attack of US Embassy Lebanon in 1983, and those who perished in the East Africa embassy bombings in 1998.  The last few entries include Mustafa Akarsu, a local guard killed during a suicide bombing at US Embassy Ankara this year, Qassim Aqlan, a local RSO investigator assassinated in Sana’a, Yemen in 2011, and three yet unnamed contract security guards killed during a rocket attack at the US Embassy Iraq compound in 2010.

The wiki’s Host Country Police Killed in Action Defending US Facilities includes the identities of the three Turkish National Police who died during a shootout with attackers at the US Consulate in Istanbul on July 9, 2008. It also includes the names of the two Uzbek National Police who died defending the US Embassy during a suicide attack on July 30, 2004. Unfortunately, with the attack on the US Consulate in Herat on September 13, 2013, this site’s volunteers will need to add one more name on this list and eight names to the KIA page. (US Consulate Herat Casualties: One Afghan Police, Eight Local Guards Killed).

The wiki also has a list of Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent Heroism Award Recipients.  And there’s a link to Diplomatic Security Service Agents Turned Author.  Another section in the wiki includes links to Videos of Diplomatic Security Mentions in Film and TV.  Below is George Clooney playing Jim Byrd who claims to be working for the Diplomatic Security Service while recruiting Chuck Barris in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002).

And long before FS bloggers discovered the “tigers” who occasionally go after them, Diplomatic Security has its own “black dragons.”

The DS Wiki has an entire page dedicated just for Black Dragons – Slang For Anti-Security Department of State Management

As referred to by DS personnel, “Black Dragons” are senior Department of State personnel with the ability to influence Diplomatic Security programs and personnel. Black Dragons view security as the antithesis of diplomacy. In the history of Diplomatic Security, Black Dragons have reduced personnel ranks whenever possible, gave away protective responsibilities for Heads of State/Heads of Government to the USSS in 1971[1] and formally considered shutting down DS field offices and giving the investigative role of DS to the FBI.[2][3][4]

The investigation into the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens during the 2013 Benghazi attack highlights the negative effects of the black dragons on security. Security support was minimized or eliminated in Libya despite repeated requests from the US Mission to maintain additional security personnel.

We have never seen a State Department public list of  non-American employees/US contractors killed in the line of duty.  While the names of US contractors sometimes make the news, non-US casualties typically do not.  This wiki page does not include the name or names of its administrator or volunteers so there’s no easy way to contact them.  But whoever thought to create this wiki and put in the hours of labor deserves our thanks for trying to account for the individuals who gave their lives protecting our posts overseas.

(*-*)

Today at the SFRC: AM – Gottemoeller, Rose, Scheinman; PM – Broas, Lu, Sherman

— By Domani Spero

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee today will hold confirmation hearings on the nominees to three posts related to arms control  (T Bureau) and nonproliferation. The afternoon hearings will consider the nominations for the ambassadorial posts to Morocco, Albania and Portugal.

Morning Hearings

Presiding: Senator Menendez
Date: Thursday, September 26, 2013
Time: 10:00 AM
Location:Senate Dirksen 419

Nominees:

  • The Honorable Rose Eilene Gottemoeller of Virginia, to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security
  • Mr. Frank A. Rose of Massachusetts, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance
  • Mr. Adam M. Scheinman of Virginia, to be Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation, with the Rank of Ambassador

 

This hearing is scheduled to be live webcast. Click here http://www.foreign.senate.gov/hearings/nomination-09-26-2013  to view the hearing live or read the prepared statements.

 

Afternoon Hearings:

Presiding: Senator Murphy
Date: Thursday, September 26, 2013
Time: 02:00 PM
Location: Senate Dirksen 419

Nominees:

  • Mr. Timothy Broas of Maryland, to be Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands
  • Mr. Donald Lu of California, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Albania
  • Mr. Robert A. Sherman of Massachusetts, to be Ambassador to the Portuguese Republic

This hearing is scheduled to be live webcast. Click here http://www.foreign.senate.gov/hearings/nomination-09-26-2013-pm  to watch video or read the nominees’ prepared statements.

 

(O_O)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

State/OIG Releases Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process

— By Domani Spero

The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General released its Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process.  [See Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process (ISP-I-13-44A)  [491 Kb]  Posted on September 25, 2013].  The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between April 15 and August 13, 2013. The names of the inspectors have been redacted per [FOIA Exemption (b) (6)]  which “exempts from disclosure records or information which if disclosed would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” (Argh!!!)

The OIG report in short form says “The Accountability Review Board process operates as intended—independently and without bias—to identify vulnerabilities in the Department of State’s security programs.”

Among its key judgments are 1) the implementation of Accountability Review Board recommendations works best when the Secretary of State and other Department of State principals take full ownership and oversight of the implementation process; 2) per Benghazi ARB recommendation to enable future Boards to recommend that the Department of State take disciplinary action in cases of unsatisfactory leadership performance related to a security incident, State “plans to revise the Foreign Affairs Manual and request that Congress amend the applicable statute to incorporate this change.”

According to the report, the OIG team interviewed the four secretaries who held office between 1998 and 2012. “All stated that the ARB process was an effective tool that could provide the Department with important lessons for enhancing the security and safety of U.S. diplomatic facilities and employees. The interviews revealed that the secretaries had engaged actively in the ARB process and had taken the ARB and the resulting recommendations with utmost seriousness.”

The report does not include the names of the interviewees but the four SecState would have been Madeleine Albright (1997-2001), Colin Powell (2001-2005), Condoleezza Rice (2005-2009), and Hillary Rodham Clinton (2009-2013)

The very same report notes that the “OIG team was not able to identify an institutionalized process by which the Secretary or Deputy Secretary engaged beyond the drafting and submission of the Secretary’s legislated report to Congress.”

Two former secretaries “raised questions as to whether the process is sufficiently robust for handling investigations of major, complex incidents, especially those in which the interests and actions of several agencies were involved.”

The report further noted that all four former secretaries described the inherent tug of war between risks and rewards as the Department conducts its business in dangerous places around the world:

Typically, the strong preference among those responsible for advancing U.S. policy objectives is to keep posts open whenever possible, even in dangerous places, while those officials responsible for security give priority to the risks and the possibilities for harm. Within the Department, these sometimes contradictory positions tend to be represented respectively by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and the Under Secretary of State for Management. For that reason, two former secretaries were strongly of the view that responsibility for reconciling these perspectives should be vested at the deputy secretary level. Indeed, one former Secretary told the OIG team that this concern was at the heart of the original proposal to create a second deputy secretary position, one that would have as a principal responsibility overseeing and reconciling these competing interests of policy and security on a daily basis.

The second deputy secretary position was first filled in 2009 during Secretary Clinton’s tenure.  The State Department describes the position as the Chief Operating Officer of the Department, but the official title is Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (D/MR).   The position “serves as principal adviser to the Secretary on overall supervision and direction of resource allocation and management activities of the Department.” The job summary posted online makes no special mention of this position as the arbiter when the competing interests between policy and security comes to the fore.

From 2009-2010, Jacob J. Lew was D/MR and oversaw the civilian surge in Afghanistan. From 2011-2013, Thomas R. Nides was D/MR and delivered State’s first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR).  Most recently, President Obama announced the nomination of Heather Higginbottom, the new Counselor in the Office of the Secretary of State to be the third Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.

We hope to do a follow-up post on the ARB Permanent Coordinating Committee and how come no ARB was convened following the attack at the US Embassy in Tunis in September 2012 despite “significant destruction of property.”

 (O_O)

Snapshot: Accountability Review Boards 1998-2012

— By Domani Spero

Extracted from State/OIG report

Extracted from State/OIG report

We’ve listed 18 since 1986 when the ARB was first mandated under the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986. See 18 State Dept Accountability Review Boards Convened Since 1986 – Only Two Publicly Available.

(O_O)

Today at the SFRC: Goldberg, Blake, Jr., Stanton, Hyatt

— By Domani Spero

On September 25, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) will consider the nominees to four ambassadorial posts in East Asia and the Pacific (EAP).

 

Presiding: Senator Cardin
Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Time: 02:30 PM
Location: Senate Dirksen 419

Nominees:

  • The Honorable Philip S. Goldberg of the District of Columbia, to be Ambassador to the Republic of the Philippines
  • The Honorable Robert O. Blake, Jr. of Maryland, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Indonesia
  • Ms. Karen Clark Stanton of Michigan, to be Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
  • Ms. Amy Jane Hyatt of California, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Palau

 

For Ambassador Goldberg, until recently A/S to State/INR, the Philippines will be his second ambassadorial posting after Bolivia. You might recall that he was appointed to Bolivia in 2006 and in 2008, Evo Knievel’s government gave him 72 hours to leave the country, after declaring him persona non grata.

For Ambassador Blake, Jr., son of retired Ambassador Robert O. Blake, and until recently A/S to State/SCA, Indonesia will be his second ambassadorial posting after  Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

If confirmed, this will be Ms. Stanton’s first ambassadorial appointment.  Prior to this appointment, she was the Executive Director at State/EAP where a recent OIG report says: “The executive director is respected throughout the Department and the bureau for competence, leadership, innovation, and hard work but is also seen as being unnecessarily direct on occasion. Inspectors advised the director to be mindful of the tone used in conveying decisions or responses to requests.”

If confirmed, this will also be Ms. Hyatt’s first ambassadorial appointment. Prior to this appointment, Ms. Hyatt was the Management Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.  

This hearing is scheduled to be live webcast. Click here: http://www.foreign.senate.gov/hearings/nomination-09-25-2013 for video and prepared statements of the nominees.

 

(O_O)

Photo of the Day: US Embassy Manila Hosts First “Eco-Fashion” Show

Via US Embassy Manila

Photo via US Embassy Manila/FB

Photo via US Embassy Manila/FB

“U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. hosted “Forward Fashion,” U.S. Embassy’s first eco-fashion show on September 17, 2013 at his residence. The event was a celebration of U.S.-Filipino collaboration in eco-fashion and design, corporate social responsibility, and sustainable development under the creative direction of Aristeo Tengco and showcasing eco-fashion designs of Dita Sandico-Ong and Paul Cabral. Some of the celebrities who donned the designs for the runway were Anne Curtis, Dennis Trillo, Matteo Guidicelli and Venus Raj.”

(O_O)

Today at the SFRC: AM – Bush, Childress, Daughton, Harrington, Reddick, Hoover, Hoza; PM – Malinowski, Harper, Nix-Hines, Hamamoto

— By Domani Spero

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has a packed schedule this week. This morning, the Senate will consider seven nominations for ambassadorial posts to Africa. In the afternoon, the SFRC will consider the nominees for State/DRL and three other UN-related nominations.   With a schedule like this, how much time will the Senators have to listen and ask questions?  Or maybe the question might be, how many Senators will actually show up for these hearings?

Morning Hearings – 10:00 AM

Presiding: Senator Coons
Date: Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Time: 10:00 AM
Location: Senate Dirksen 419

Panel One:

  • Mr. Dwight L. Bush, Sr. of the District of Columbia, to be Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco
  • Mr. Mark Bradley Childress of Virginia, to be Ambassador to the United Republic of Tanzania
  • Mr. Thomas F. Daughton of Arizona, to be Ambassador to Namibia
  • Mr. Matthew Harrington of Virginia, to be Ambassador to Lesotho

Panel Two:

  • The Honorable Eunice S. Reddick of the District of Columbia, to be Ambassador to Niger
  • Mr. John Hoover of Massachusetts, to be Ambassador to Sierra Leone
  • Mr. Michael S. Hoza of Washington, to be Ambassador to Cameroon
Live webcast of the hearings as well as the prepared statements of the nominees will be posted at
(._.)

Afternoon Hearings:

Presiding: Senator Boxer
Date: Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Time: 02:30 PM
Location: Senate Dirksen 419

  • Mr. Tomasz P. Malinowski of the District of Columbia, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
  • Mr. Keith M. Harper of Maryland, to be the United States Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council
  • Ms. Crystal Nix-Hines of California, to be the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization
  • Ms. Pamela K. Hamamoto of Hawaii, to be Representative of the United States of America to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva
Live webcast of the hearings as well as the prepared statements of the nominees will be posted at
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