Senate “Nuclear” Fallout Snares State Department Nominees

— Domani Spero

CNN reports that the partisan battle over presidential nominations is heating up again and threatens to dominate the remaining days before the winter recess.  The Senate Republicans, reportedly are still angry over filibuster changes Democrats made last month, and have blocked “a series of largely non-controversial nominations Democrats tried to clear.”

On December 9, 2013, Senator Harry Reid asked for unanimous consent to confirm all Executive and Judicial nominations on the Executive Calendar. Senator Lamar Alexander objected to the request.

We can’t say how long long or how intense this battle is going to be. What we know is it has already snared dozens of State Department nominees.  Senator Reid filed cloture on 10 executive nominations.  Under the rule, the first cloture vote will occur one hour after the Senate convenes on Wednesday, December 11th. Among the 10 nominees are Heather Anne Higginbottom, of the District of Columbia, to be Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources and Anne W. Patterson, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Ambassador, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Near Eastern Affairs).  

Below is a list of nominees for State, Peace Corps, Ex-Import Bank submitted by Senator Reid for unanimous consent:

STATE DEPARTMENT

#403 Frank A. Rose – to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Verification and Compliance)

#404 Tomasz P. Malinowski – to be Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

#406 Anne W. Patterson – to be an Assistant Secretary of State (NearEastern Affairs)

#407 Rose Eilene Gottemoeller – to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security

#408 Crystal Nix-Hines – for the rank of Ambassador during her tenure of service as the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization

#409 Pamela K. Hamamoto – to be Representative of the United States of America to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, with the rank of Ambassador

#410 Adam M. Scheinman – to be Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation, with the rank of Ambassador

#412 Brian A. Nichols – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Peru

#413 Mark Bradley Childress – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the United Republic of Tanzania

#414 Carlos Roberto Moreno – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Belize

#415 John Hoover – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Sierra Leone

#416 Timothy M. Broas – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of the Netherlands

#417 Donald Lu, of California – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Albania

#418 Robert A. Sherman – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Portuguese Republic

#420 Thomas Frederick Daughton – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Namibia

#422 Michael Stephen Hoza – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Cameroon

#423 Eunice S. Reddick – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Niger

#424 Karen Clark Stanton – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste

#425 Matthew T. Harrington – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Lesotho

#426 Dwight L. Bush, Sr. – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Morocco

#440 Daniel W. Yohannes – to be Representative of the United States of America to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with the rank of Ambassador

#441 Elizabeth Frawley Bagley – to be an Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the Sixty-eighth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations

#442 Theodore Strickland – to be an Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the Sixty-eighth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations

#443 Stephen N. Zack – to be an Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the Sixty-eighth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations

#444 Heather Anne Higginbottom – to be Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources

#445 Sarah Sewall – to be an Under Secretary of State (Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights)

#446 Richard Stengel – to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy

#448 Anthony Luzzatto Gardner – to be Representative of the United States of America to the European Union, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

#449 Amy Jane Hyatt – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Palau

PEACE CORPS

#447 Carolyn Hessler Radelet – to be Director of the Peace Corps

EXPORT-IMPORT BANK OF THE UNITED STATES

#388 Wanda Felton – to be First Vice President of the Export-Import Bank of the United States for a term expiring January 20, 2017 (Reappointment)

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Dear Future D/MR Heather Higginbottom — Your Third Priority Up Close With Prospective Savings

— Domani Spero

We would guess from the kind of email we get that a good number of our readers are not newbies or prospective employees of the State Department.  But every now and then, we’d hear from folks interested in joining the Foreign Service.  Recently, we heard from a prospective employee informing us that there are 600 individuals currently waiting on the State Department “Register.”

“Some have even lost their jobs after having Diplomatic Security show up to interview their supervisors and coworkers, only to be timed off the register for lack of hiring.”

Of course, being on the Register does not guarantee that you will be given a firm offer of employment.  But it means that 600 people have taken and passed the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT), have submitted their Personal Narratives, have passed the QEP and taken the Oral Assessment, have completed the required clearances: Medical and Security, have gone through the  Final Review Panel and are waiting on The Register, the rank-ordered list of successful candidates, sorted by career track.

Here is careers.state.gov:

“You should be aware that your placement on the Register does not guarantee an appointment as a Foreign Service Officer, for the number of appointments depends on the needs of the Foreign Service. Your rank-order on the Register is dynamic. People with higher scores will be placed above you regardless of when they are placed on the Register. Likewise, you will be placed above candidates with lower scores, regardless of how long they have been on the Register. Your name may stay in the Register for a maximum of 18 months. After that, your name will be removed. You may decline the first offer of employment. If you decline a second offer, your name will be removed from the Register. “

Screen Shot 2013-12-08

But … but… the State Department makes no mention that invitation to join the Foreign Service not only depends on the “needs of the Foreign Service” it also depends on funding from Congress.

Below is an extract from FY2014 State and Foreign Operations Budget Request:

The Administration’s FY2014 request seeks to grow its Human Resources account (under Diplomatic & Consular Programs) by 5% over its FY2012 level, to a total of $2.60 billion. While the Administration’s FY2014 request indicates that it plans 186 new positions at the Department of State altogether, 151 of these would be funded by consular fees and devoted to meeting increasing visa demand. The remaining 35 new positions (30 Foreign Service, 5 Civil Service) for which State seeks appropriated funding would be focused on the high priorities of the “rebalance” to Asia, and to staffing the Secretary’s Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues. As a point of comparison, the State Department requested appropriated funding for 121 new positions in its FY2013 request, and for 133 in its FY2012 request.

It is not clear from the justification above if the 186 new positions are FSOs or Limited Career Appointees (LNAs) tasked to handle visa work in selected places around the globe (Brazil, China, Mexico).  But what is clear is given the budget constraints, officials at the State Department know that their authority to hire new employees is severely restricted.

And yet, the FSOT continue to be administered multiple times a year.  Interviews continue to be conducted. The selection process continue to chug along as usual resulting in a glut of candidates waiting on the Register.  A good number of these individuals will most probably time out after 18 months.

So we asked a former State Department official who previously worked at BEX if this makes sense.  And got a royal scolding. Like, “what planet are you living in, girl?” Apparently, it’s what they do “free from reality” according to our source.

“It means little if there are 10 or 10,000 on the register. Also, all those people in HR and DS have to be kept busy, so they march on.”

That’s a little harsh, right?

But look,  if 600 people are sitting on the Register, that’s 600 candidates ready to hire.  Which also means the State Department had already paid for the medical examination of these individuals.  In addition, it had already conducted “a comprehensive background investigation, in cooperation with other federal, state, and local agencies, and has determined each candidate’s suitability for appointment to the Foreign Service and for a Top Secret security clearance.”

According to the GAO, the fiscal year 2012 base price for a top secret clearance investigation conducted by OPM is $4,005 and the periodic reinvestigation is $2,711.  For the State Department, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Personnel Security and Suitability, conducts all national agency and credit history checks in support of their investigations. Diplomatic Security investigators located worldwide also conduct all other investigative leads, which includes local law enforcement checks. While there is no readily available data on the TS clearance adjudications for State, it has been suggested elsewhere that the the average cost to process a TS clearance is between $3,000 and about $15,000, depending upon individual factors.

If we take the lower figure, $6,700 X 600 = $4,020,000.

If we take the upper figure, $15,000 X = $9,000,000.

The actual cost of processing the TS clearance for 600 candidates sitting on the Register is probably somewhere in the middle.  Add the medical clearance cost for the candidates and family members and you got quite a pile of money there.

If we only hire a third from that pool of candidates, how much money have we wasted?

President Obama recently 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. During her November confirmation hearing, Ms. Higginbottom told the Senate that her third priority, if confirmed, will be management, reform, and innovation.

Well, here’s one place to start.

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Couple in State Dept $53 Million Contract Fraud Gets 18-24 Months in Prison

— Domani Spero

In May and September 2013 we blogged about this case (See State Dept Contract Employee/Husband Indicted For Alleged Secret Scheme to Steer More Than $60 Million Contracts to Their Company and Ex-State Dept Contract Employee And Husband Plead Guilty To $53 Million Fraud. The Daily Caller broke this story in July 19, 2013.  The contractor, Kathleen McGrade was reportedly fired the day after.

Last week, the same couple at the center of this contracting fraud was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady in the Eastern District of Virginia.  Kathleen D. McGrade, age 64, and Brian C. Collinsworth, age 47, of Stafford, Va., were sentenced to 24 and 18 months incarceration, respectively.  Given that each defendant faced a maximum penalty of 360 months or 30 years imprisonment, the 18-24 months incarceration is a bargain.

WaPo reports additional details during the sentencing:

In a lengthy speech before she was sentenced, McGrade offered various explanations for her misdeeds and told a federal judge in Alexandria that she was in court only because she had “been told that somehow the procurements that took place were illegal.”
[…]

As O’Grady handed down the two-year sentence — far short of the five years and 10 months that federal sentencing guidelines had called for as a minimum — he said McGrade had nearly persuaded him to impose a stiffer penalty.

“That was almost a delusional recitation of what has occurred here,” O’Grady said. “To convince yourself that it’s everybody else’s fault is astonishing, given the facts of this case.”

Via USDOJ:

Former State Department Contract Employee And Husband Sentenced For $53 Million Fraud | December 6, 2013

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Kathleen D. McGrade, age 64, and Brian C. Collinsworth, age 47, of Stafford, Va., were sentenced today to 24 and 18 months incarceration, respectively, by U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady in the Eastern District of Virginia for committing major fraud against the government, conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.

Dana J. Boente, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State; and Thomas J. Kelly, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Section, Washington, D.C. Field Office, made the announcement following the sentencing hearing.

According to Court records, McGrade and Collinsworth admitted that McGrade was a contract employee for the Department of State and performed the role of a contract specialist for an office that awarded construction contracts for work done at U.S. embassies worldwide.  Collinsworth worked at one of the companies that received contracts.  In 2006, the defendants married, but did not tell others at the Department of State.  The defendants started a company, the Sterling Royale Group, or SRG, with McGrade being the president and Collinsworth the vice-president and project manager.

In late 2007, McGrade caused a State Department contracting officer to sign a contract between the Department of State and SRG, when McGrade failed to disclose her role in SRG, her marriage, or that proper contracting competitive procedures had not been followed.  The contract made SRG eligible to receive task orders for work to be done at embassies and McGrade  began steering work to the company.  She acted as the contract negotiator between the Department of State engineers responsible for getting the jobs done, on the one hand, and Collinsworth, who was acting on behalf of SRG and the subcontractors, on the other.  Between 2008 and 2011, McGrade caused  Department of State contracting officers to sign 17 task orders awarding work worth almost $53 million.  In 2010, the defendants also lied about their marriage to investigators conducting McGrade’s background investigation regarding renewal of her security clearance.

In the summer of 2011 a news article disclosed the defendants’ marriage, and the Department of State terminated her employment.  The Department of State, however, had paid SRG about $39 million, and after the defendants had paid their subcontractors, they still had millions of dollars.  Among other things, they bought houses, a condominium, a yacht, a Lexus automobile, jewelry, and a Steinway piano with the fraudulently obtained money.  The defendants were ordered to forfeit all of those items in the amount of $7,864,795.

This case was investigated by the Department of State, Office of Inspector General, and the Global Illicit Financial Team, a task force led by the Criminal Investigation Section of the Internal Revenue Service.  Assistant United States Attorneys Jack Hanly and Mark D. Lytle are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.justice.gov/usao/vae. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.vaed.uscourts.gov or on https://pcl.uscourts.gov.

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