State Dept’s Bureau of Counterterrorism Writes to “Correct the Record” on GAO Report That Needs No Correction

Posted: 9:45 am PDT
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On July 23, we blogged about the GAO report on the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism (GAO-15-684 | pdf – State Should Evaluate Its Countering Violent Extremism Program and Set Time Frames for Addressing Evaluation Recommendations). You may read the blogpost here: Bureau Tasks With Countering Violent Extremism: 96 Authorized Employees, Running on 17-23% Vacancies.

At mid-day on July 23, we received the following email from Rhonda Shore, the Spokesperson for the Bureau of Counterterrorism (published in full):

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The Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT) at the State Department would like to respond to the 7/23 Diplopundit article by Domani Spero about the GAO report on the CT Bureau.  The article was incorrect in its assessment of CT Bureau staffing and we would like to correct the record. (We would also like to suggest that you contact us in the future when writing about our bureau and/or programs so we can assist with the latest information. You can reach us by email at CT_PublicAffairs@state.gov)

Regarding full-time employees (FTEs), as of today (July 23, 2015), the CT Bureau is authorized 83 Civil Service FTEs and 18 Foreign Service FTEs (101 total FTEs). We have 13 civil service vacancies; of those 13, 10 have been selected from various vacancy announcements and all 10 are in the process of obtaining clearances to be officially appointed. Once on board, the CT vacancy rate will be less than four percent. In addition, CT is in the process of having the remaining three civil service positions classified and will advertise to fill those vacancies in the next 30-60 days.

As far as evaluating the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program, the CT Bureau has robust procedures in place to ensure the monitoring all of assistance programs, including CVE. While we have conducted evaluations of select CVE projects, State agrees with the recommendation to undertake a more comprehensive evaluation.  We are currently assessing what programs would most benefit from third-party evaluation during the upcoming fiscal year and expect CVE to be included in our final determination. As GAO rightly notes, previous consideration of conducting a comprehensive evaluation of CT Bureau CVE programming had resulted in a determination that the programs had not been underway for a sufficient amount of time. The CVE Program in CT was established in 2010, and CT Bureau received only limited funding for CVE activities the first several fiscal years. At this stage, we now have a number of programs that have been underway for a sufficient amount of time to benefit from an assessment of cross-cutting lessons learned.

It is also important to recognize that CT builds monitoring and evaluation (M&E) into each of our projects systematically; in fact, we require each implementing partner to elaborate an M&E plan for each project and dedicate a percentage of the project budget to implementing its respective M&E plan.  CT has also developed standardized CVE results indicators that it shares with embassies and implementing partners.

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The report we cited and linked to in this blog is a written product publicly released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) dated July 2015. The report also says in part, the following:

“The Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism testified before Congress on June 2, 2015 that the CT Bureau had reduced its FTE vacancies to 11 positions. However, we have been unable to verify that 4 of the reportedly filled positions have been filled because State has not provided sufficient documentation.”

We note that State/CT’s “correction” says it is authorized 101 FTEs (83 Civil Service FTEs and 18 Foreign Service FTEs) whereas the GAO says the  bureau is authorized 96 FTE positions. So we asked Ms. Shore about that. We wanted to know if the additional numbers, happened after the GAO finalized its report this month and the bureau responded, “yes.”

Further we note that even as the bureau is in the process of filling in those vacancies, the GAO illustrates the number of vacancies from FY2011-FY2015 between 17-23%.  The bureau is telling us that our blogpost is “incorrect in its assessment of CT Bureau staffing” so we asked if it is contesting that those GAO staffing numbers are incorrect since we are only passing on the GAO data?

After 4pm, we received a response from the bureau spox saying she’s not sure if her colleagues who can answer our questions are still there and and would get back to us if not on July 23, early the next day.

Early on July 24, the bureau spox sent us the following response:

Those figures are an incomplete representation of the issue.  The GAO did not properly put the staffing increases and the CT Bureau’s process to fill vacancies into the context of receiving an approximately 35 percent increase in FTE, as a result of being established as a Bureau (in 2012).  This unprecedented increase in staff has been rapid and intensive over this period, and among the functions established as a result, was the creation of an Executive Office that processed much of the new hires.  As an illustrative example of the ongoing rate of hiring in CT, during the time GAO was onsite, CT filled 10 vacancies (some of which are currently pending security clearances before being registered in an officially “hired” status).

The fact that the bureau is in the process of filing in the vacant positions cited by the GAO report does not eliminate the fact that some 10 weeks before the end of the fiscal year, those vacancies are just about to be filled.  Well, once the candidates’ security clearances are obtained, those vacancies will be filled.

The bureau is contesting the assessment and proffering an anticipated 4% vacancy rate into the future; quite possibly into the next fiscal year.  This is like counting ships currently under construction; they’re not floating around and moving people and stuff around, but counted still the same as ships.

The bureau has offered an explanation to help us understand its staffing challenges but while we publish its “correction for the record” here, we are not convinced a correction is required. We do think that the GAO is correct in assessing these positions as vacancies. Since these positions are currently not officially filled, they are factually vacant authorized positions.

Perhaps, the GAO might have called these vacancies “unfilled positions?” The bureaucracies battling it out on semantics?  In any case, this appears to be an attempt by the CT bureau to correct the language used by the GAO on its reporting. If the GAO has a response (we don’t think it will), we’ll print that, too.

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Joint IGs Statement on NYT Report: IG did not make a criminal referral, only security referral

Posted: 4:52 pm EDT
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Related to The New York Times report of July 24, Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account, the inspectors generals of the State Department Steve Linick and Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough, III, have just released a joint statement below:

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Related items:

Statement of the ICIG and OIG Regarding Review of Clinton’s Emails_July 24, 2015 (pdf)

23 July 2015_CN_Summary of IC IG support to State Department IG (pdf)

Clinton Email Challenge Now a Sharknado, and Secretary Kerry Is Right to be “Concerned”

Posted: 2:13  pm PDT
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This happened Thursday night. We drafted this post early morning but waited for a piece of information we wanted to see. So yup, overtaken by events.  In any case, you may now read the inspector generals memos referenced to in the NYT report here. See NYT: Criminal Inquiry Sought Over Clinton Emails? Read the Inspector Generals Memos.  We’re also waiting for the OIG to issue a clarification on the DOJ referral the NYT reported.

The memos went possibly from two IG offices — State Department Steve Linick and Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough, III — to the Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. The IGs memos are also cc’ed to one of the State Department’s deputy secretaries. It looks like, the memos or contents/snippets of it were shared with DOJ, as a DOJ official appears to be the NYT’s source for this story (see tweets below).

Here are the tweets from July 24:

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The report from the NYT includes the following:

— 1.  The memos were provided to The New York Times by a senior government official.

— 2.  The inspectors general also criticized the State Department for its handling of sensitive information, particularly its reliance on retired senior Foreign Service officers to decide if information should be classified, and for not consulting with the intelligence agencies about its determinations.

— 3.  The revelations about how Mrs. Clinton handled her email have been an embarrassment for the State Department, which has been repeatedly criticized over its handling of documents related to Mrs. Clinton and her advisers.

— 4.  Some State Department officials said they believe many senior officials did not initially take the House committee seriously, which slowed document production and created an appearance of stonewalling.

— 5.  State Department officials also said that Mr. Kerry is concerned about the toll the criticism has had on the department and has urged his deputies to comply with the requests quickly.

Today:

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On this whole email debacle at the State Department, it must be said that this might not have happened if not enabled by senior bureaucrats in the agency. We do not believe for a moment that senior officials were not aware about the email practices of then Secretary Clinton or the record retention requirement. But hey, if the practice was done for four years over the protests and dissent of officials at “M”, “A”, the Legal Adviser or the CIO, we’d like to see that email trail.

By the way, this NYT report follows a July 20 Politico report about a contentious hearing where U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon demanded explanations for why some of the Associated Press’ FOIA requests received no reply for four years or more before the wire service filed suit in March.

“The State Department’s not going to have the luxury of saying, because we’re focusing on Hillary’s emails, we’re doing so at the cost and expense of four-year-old requests. So, that’s not going to be an excuse,” the judge said. “In my judgment, a four-year-old request gets a priority over a recent request.”

On Mr. Kerry’s concern about the toll the criticism has had on the department … the secretary is right to be concerned. Senior officials did not take Congress seriously?  Even if senior bureaucrats do not agree or approve of the conduct of the Select Committee, even if they think this is a sideshow seeking to derail a presidential campaign, the required document production is still part of their jobs. In my view, the most serious consequence on the appearance of stonewalling is it also gives the appearance that bureaucrats are picking sides in this political shitstorm.

This can potentially undermine the expectation of the State Department as an impartial and non-political entity. The perception, right or wrong, that this impartiality is compromised, will not serve it or its employees well in the long run.

You might like to read a couple previous posts on FOIA personnel, costs and the “persistent neglect of fundamental leadership responsibilities” that made this the Clinton email debacle a challenge of Sharknado proportion for the agency. (see Snapshot: State Dept FY2014 FOIA Personnel and Costs and State Dept FOIA Requests: Agency Ranks Second in Highest Backlog and Here’s Why).

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NYT: Criminal Inquiry Sought Over Clinton Emails? Read the Inspector Generals Memos

Posted: 9:45 am PDT
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Related to The New York Times report Thursday night, Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account, here are the memos from the inspectors generals of the State Department Steve Linick and Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough, III.  The memos include the response from Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. The memos from the IGs are cc’ed to Heather Higginbottom, the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (D/MR). The response from U/S Management contains no courtesy copies. Trying to read as fast as I could to find that section where the IGs have requested a criminal inquiry.

ESP-15-04-05 | Potential Issues Identified by the Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community Concerning the Department of State’s Process for the Review of Former Secretary Clinton’s Emails under the Freedom of Information Act (pdf)

Summary:

Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) staff conducted a preliminary assessment of the Department’s ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process for the Clinton emails, including 296 emails publicly released by the Department on May 22, 2015. This preliminary assessment identified four areas that require immediate attention by Department leadership.

  • Attachment #A contains OIG’s and ICIG’s Memorandum, dated June 19, 2015, which makes four recommendations related to these areas.
  • Attachment #B contains U/S Patrick Kennedy’s June 25, 2015, and July 14, 2015, responses. Based on these responses, OIG and ICIG consider two of these recommendations to be closed, whereas the other two remain unresolved.
  • Attachment #C contains more detailed information about the status of each recommendation.

On June 29, 2015, OIG and ICIG sent U/S Patrick Kennedy a follow-up memorandum providing additional information supporting their concerns about the FOIA process used for the Clinton emails (see Attachment #D). Since then, ICIG has received confirmation from lC FOIA officials that several of these emails contained classified IC information, though they were not marked as classified. In addition, at least one of these emails has been released to the public and can be accessed on the Department’s FOIA website.

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Burn Bag: WAE looking for a job gets “radio silence” … does not have large wart on nose

Via Burn Bag:

“Your posting about vacancies in the CT Bureau is interesting for retirees trying to land WAE gigs.  I have been in the central HR WAE register for nearly a year and haven’t heard a peep from anyone needing help.  I wrote letters to many bureau HR Specialists and individuals, and so far, “radio silence.”  I do not have a large wart on my nose, either.

Most bureau HR Specialists seem to know nothing about the central HR WAE register, continuing to maintain their own lists of retirees, and using the same few WAEers over and over.  While actively employed as an FSO, I experienced serious understaffing throughout the Department.  DOS urgently needs to work on a better plan for a contingent workforce that includes retirees and EFMs — a system that provides more transparency and encourages bureaus to use retirees and EFMs to fill more gaps and to work on special projects — to get things done and to relieve crushing workloads on many FSOs.  Many FSOs need to adapt an attitude that employees cannot “leap into the breach” and cover two, three, four positions for a sustained period of time.  The prevalent philosophy of masochism within the FSO ranks must change.”

via tumblr.com

via tumblr.com

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*WAE | The term WAE (When Actually Employed) is used in the State Department to describe a reemployed annuitant who works on an intermittent basis for no more than 1040 hours during each service year and whose appointment is not to exceed one year. Bureaus utilize WAEs to fill staffing gaps and peak workload periods. While the acronym WAE is currently well-known inside State, new employees understandably find it confusing. According to state.gov, in order to transition out of using the term WAE, the program has been renamed the Reemployed Annuitant (REA) Program. REA/WAE appointments are temporary, and do not exceed one year; a reemployed annuitant is not eligible to receive any other benefits.

Required Reading on Hostage Cases: And when not/not to write, “Please enjoy your day!”

Posted: 3:39 am EDT
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Lawrence Wright is an author, screenwriter, playwright, and a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. He is the author of eight books, including The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, which spent eight weeks on The New York Times best seller list and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.  Last month, he wrote a piece about the civilian effort to save the five ISIS hostages.

Excerpt:

The State Department appointed Carrie Greene, in the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, to be a liaison with the families. She seemed impatient with their independent investigations. “You really shouldn’t be talking to these terrorists,” she warned. “It’s against the law.” Viva Hardigg responded, “Excuse me, Carrie, but we are well acquainted with U.S. laws, and if someone you love is being held by terrorists, with whom else should you talk?” Greene ended her e-mails with “Please enjoy your day!”

When Peter Kassig was kidnapped, his parents got a call from a State Department official. Paula recalls, “She basically said, ‘We know your son has been taken in Syria. We don’t have an embassy in Syria. We don’t have people on the ground in Syria. We don’t have a diplomatic relationship with them, so we can’t do anything to help you.’ ” In May, 2014, the families had a joint meeting with Daniel Rubinstein, a special envoy appointed to handle affairs in Syria. “He was nice, but when we asked how to contact him we were told not to e-mail or phone him,” Diane Foley says. In order to talk with him on the phone, the families had to travel to a local F.B.I. office, so an agent could dial Rubinstein’s number for them.

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