Welcome Back, State/OIG, We’ve Missed You!

— By Domani Spero

On September 30, Mr. Linick’s first day in office, we posted this:  Senate Confirms Steve Linick; State Dept Finally Gets an Inspector General After 2,066 Days.

One day later, he lost 65% of his entire staff. State Dept Declares Inspector General Office “Non-Essential”, Furloughs All Staffers Except a Handful (Corrected).

In one of its six offices (Inspection, Audit, Investigation, General Counsel, Public Affairs and EX) four out of approximately 50 employees were declared “excepted.”  The rest were given letters notifying them that they had been furloughed. So on Tuesday, the first day of the shutdown, the State/OIG employees worked no more than four hours to “shutdown” then went home for an undetermined period of time.  They’re back at work today but we fear that the 16-day furlough will have a demoralizing impact.

Besides the IG office, the International Water Boundary Commission was also furloughed. The total number of employees furloughed by State, a number hard to come by, was reportedly in the low hundreds.

The Cable’s John Hudson who puts the number at about 340 employees, reports that this “disproportionate furlough allotment has led critics to accuse the department of undervaluing the watchdog office, though the department strongly disputes that.”

“On day one, they sent home the IG’s office without knowing how long the shutdown would last,” a Congressional staffer familiar with State’s shutdown planning told The Cable. “I think the Department’s action speaks for itself about its commitment to transparency, accountability, and oversight.”

But State’s IG spokesman Douglas Welty denied the allegation. “OIG does not feel ‘targeted’ or ‘undervalued’ at all,” he said. “While there was certainly a significant impact on OIG operations with about 65% of our staff furloughed due to the government shutdown, work on several priority issues and projects continued.”

That may be, but as The Cable notes, “the optics of OIG taking a disproportionate share of the furloughs isn’t great for an office with a history of being marginalized.”

We were told that while it was “a challenge” to have about 65% of OIG staff furloughed one day after Mr. Linick started as the Inspector General, some critical work did continue.  For instance, the Office of Audits excepted staff did continue work on financial statement audits, as well as those working on projects and investigations in the Middle East Region Office (MERO).  The MERO Directorate is responsible for performing engagements within the Middle East and South and Central Asia, in addition to the general operation of overseas offices in Kabul Afghanistan; Islamabad, Pakistan; and Baghdad, Iraq.  However, several overseas and domestic inspections have been delayed.  The exceptions were two overseas inspections that did continue despite the shutdown because they were already in the field.

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If you want the upside here, it is probably that while Mr. Linick’s transition has not been smooth, the last two weeks did give him time to meet with his senior staff (at least those not furloughed) and get a thorough briefings on OIG’s structure, operations and priority issues.  The downside, of course, is — the new kid in the block was in no position to make the case for continued operation when he just got there. And what a reception!    On a related note, Emilia Disanto has been appointed Acting Deputy Inspector General as of October 1. Karen Ouzts is the new Assistant Inspector General for Administration, with appointment date of  September 4, 2013. And  Norman P. Brown, the Acting Assistant Inspector General for Audits was appointed to his position on September 13, 2013.

Now —  we understand that the reason why the OIG was furloughed was due to its annual fiscal year funding, as opposed to multi-year or no-year funding for the rest of the State Department.  Of all the many offices at State, OIG is one of the very few offices with one-year funding.  But since the OIG is tasked with investigating fraud, waste and mismanagement of an agency with multi-year/no-year funds, wouldn’t it make sense that its funding corresponds/mirrors with the designated Federal entity’s funding to which the Inspector General reports? So if State has multi-year funding, shouldn’t State/OIG ought to have multi-year funding, too?

Something to watch out for when State/OIG, a statutorily created independent entity, makes its 2015 Congressional Budget Justification. For now we just want to say —

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Welcome back folks, we’ve missed you!

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US Embassy Uganda Issues Security Message of Possible Westgate-Style Attack in Kampala

— By Domani Spero

On October 15, the U.S. Embassy in Uganda issued a security message concerning a “possible Westgate-style attack” in the capital city of Kampala.  The mission says it is assessing “reports” that such an attack “may soon occur” in Kampala but also says there is “no further information” on timing or location of this attack.

Below is an excerpt from the security message:

Possible Westgate-style Attack in Kampala

October 15, 2013 | U.S. Embassy Kampala, Uganda

The U.S. Embassy in Kampala continues to assess reports that a Westgate-style attack may soon occur in Kampala. Embassy officials are sharing all information with the Ugandan authorities. At this time, there is no further information on timing and/or location of this attack.

The Embassy will continue to alert U.S. citizens to any credible, specific information about this and any other potential threats. We again take this opportunity to remind the community to exercise vigilance and to avoid public venues that attract large crowds.

Following the deadly attack in Kenya, Uganda Police have reportedly taken over security at key public places, especially shopping malls in  Kampala.  Presumably, Somalia’s alShabab responsible for the Westgate attack also read the news.  In early October, local news reported that Police has received “credible information indicating that wanted terrorist Andreas Martin Mueller alias Ahmed Khaled,” of German origin and reportedly connected with Al-Shabab have entered the country.  Uganda has a large expatriate population so there are potentially other soft targets in the country besides shopping malls.

This made the Daily Press Briefing, of course:

QUESTION: It doesn’t seem to be particularly well-written; at least, it leads one to the conclusion that – the last sentence is something like, “There is no further information about the time or venue of the attack.” Does the United States actually have credible and specific information that some group is plotting a Westgate Mall-style attack in Kampala? Or is this just kind of you’re aware of that there is a general buzz about the possibility that it could happen?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to spell out the specifics of it and its meaning. Obviously, we put out the statement because —

QUESTION: Well —

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, no.

MS. PSAKI: We put out the statement because of our concern and because of information available, but in terms of the specificity of that, I’m not going to outline that.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, the last line of – the last line of before it gets into the —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — the basically the B matter about registering and stuff, do you have it there?

MS. PSAKI: I thought I did. I don’t think – I can’t find it right now, but I thought I had it.

QUESTION: All right. Well, it —

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: — speaks of not a threat, but it speaks of an actual attack. And I’m just curious as to – was that poorly written, or is it just a – is this is a threat that you’re aware of, or is there an attack that you know is going to happen?

MS. PSAKI: I will see if there’s more we can provide. These things are written very specifically for reasons, so —

QUESTION: Yeah. Except that since there wasn’t – hasn’t been an attack yet, it seems to be not written well.

MS. PSAKI: Clearly, when there’s a concern we provide information to American citizens.

QUESTION: But I’m not even sure that there is a concern. It doesn’t say that you are concerned by information. It just talks about the possibility, as if it erupted from thin air – as if it erupted from thin air. So I’m just wondering if there is more to it; and if there is, could you tell us what it is?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

The full DPB is here.

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U.S. Senate Confirms Nisha Desai Biswal for South Asian Affairs Bureau

— By Domani Spero

On October 16, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Nisha Desai Biswal – to be Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs.

The WH released the following brief bio when President Obama announced his nomination on July 18, 2013:

Nisha Desai Biswal is Assistant Administrator for Asia at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a position she has held since September 2010.  From 2005 to 2010, Ms. Biswal was the Majority Clerk for the State Department and Foreign Operations Subcommittee on the Committee on Appropriations in the U.S. House of Representatives.  From 2002 to 2005, she served as the Policy and Advocacy Director at InterAction.  Previously, she served on the professional staff of the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee from 1999 to 2002.  She served at USAID from 1995 to 1999 in a number of capacities including: Special Assistant to the Administrator, Chief of Staff in the Management Bureau, and in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Office of Transition Initiatives.  Ms. Biswal worked at the American Red Cross from 1993 to 1995 in the Washington D.C. headquarters and as an overseas delegate in Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.  She is also a member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on the People’s Republic of China since March 2011. Ms. Biswal received a B.A. from the University of Virginia.

Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (State/SCA) deals with U.S. foreign policy and U.S. relations with the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.  Ms. Biswal succeeds Ambassador Robert O. Blake, Jr. who was recently nominated to be ambassador to the Republic of Indonesia.

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