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@StateDept Survey Report Recommends Moving Issuance of Visas, Passports, Travel Docs to DHS

Posted: 3:01 am ET

 

The State Department spent at least $1,086,250 for the “listening tour” that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered in late April. On Wednesday, the report was made available internally to State and USAID employees. As of this writing, the State Department has not made the report publicly available. A State Department spokesperson told one media outlet that “Unfortunately, the results of the survey will not be available.”  

The 110-page report is copyrighted by Insigniam and marked “confidential and proprietary” (see more about that here: @StateDept Says It’s “Unfortunate” That It Withholds Employee Survey Results From Public 😢 Hu-Hu!).

The report which includes seven recommendations has a chapter on methodology, and a chapter on what employees want to tell Secretary Tillerson. There were 27,837 respondents from State, and 6,142 respondents from USAID. Some 17,600 overseas employees from the two agencies participated.

The largest category of respondents from State is Locally Employed Staff numbering at 6,735  (followed by 6,331 Generalists/FSOs, and 6,009 Civil Service employees). Mid-level rank employees across FS, CS and LE staff occupy the largest count of responders. The largest survey respondents in terms of tenure have served the State Department 6 to 10 years.

The highest number of respondents by regional bureau came from Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) at 3,131. The highest number of respondents by functional bureau came from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) with 2,524 respondents, followed by the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) with 2,142.

The “listening tour” report has multiple parts but we’d like to go straight to the recommendations it provides, which includes crafting a mission; alignment of purpose and mission; serving the frontline first; treasuring the talent; build a shared services model; duration of assignments and overlap transition time; and the removal of the uncertainty of cuts as soon as possible.

Of special note is Recommendation #5 which is “Build a Shared Services Model” which includes 1) security clearances, 2) human resources, 3) IT, 4) planning, budgeting, finance, procurement, and administrative functions, and  5), Move issuance of passports,visas,and other travel documents to Homeland Security.

Folks, ever heard of ICASS? There are already 13 agencies, in addition to State and USAID who are ICASS shared services participating agencies.  State doesn’t have to build a shared services model, it already has one; and that it can expand. Agencies pay their share of post administrative costs based on usage. “Department of State management personnel currently provide most ICASS services, the post ICASS Council can select other U.S. Government agencies or commercial firms to provide services if it can be demonstrated that they have a competitive advantage in improving services or cutting costs.”  As of August 1, 2016 update, participation in services offered through ICASS is voluntary for agencies except for Basic Package, Community Liaison Office Services, Health Services, and Security Services which are mandatory.

The International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS) system is the principal means that the U.S. Government provides and shares the cost of common administrative support needed to ensure effective operations at its more than 200 diplomatic and consular posts abroad.  In the spirit of the Government Performance and Results Act, the ICASS system seeks to provide quality services at the lowest cost, while attempting to ensure that each agency bears the cost of its presence abroad.  ICASS, through which over 300 Government entities receive bills for shared services, is a break-even system; the charge to the customer agencies equals the cost of services.

The ICASS program provides a full range of administrative services.  These include motor pool operations and vehicle maintenance, travel services, reproduction services, mail and messenger services, information systems management, reception and telephone system services, purchasing and contracting, human resources management, cashiering, vouchering, accounting, budget preparation, residential and nonresidential security guard services, and building operations.  In addition to the services delivered at the post level, the ICASS system also provides service at the regional level.  An example of regional service delivery is the regional finance centers.  ICASS also delivers services at the headquarters level.  Examples of headquarters level services are the shared expenses of the overseas medical program and the grant program managed by Office of Overseas Schools (A/OPR/OS).  The cost of regional and headquarters level programs are added to the cost of post administrative support and distributed to customer agencies as part of the headquarters-level bill.

The recommendation talks about “creating, at minimum a DOS/USAID and optimally, a federal shared services model that includes these functions:”

Item 1: “Security clearances: eliminate the need to apply for a new security clearance for each new federal agency someone is hired by.”

That sounds awkward. Anyway, right now every agency has its own security clearance process. For instance, if an EFM (diplomatic spouse) were hired by DEA at post, his/her security clearance would be done by the DEA. We understand that whichever agency is doing the hiring also does the security clearance. The smart folks who explained this to us said that having a clearance from one agency might speed up your ability to get a clearance from another agency, but the clearances are not reciprocal from one agency to another. For example, if a Secret Service agent is hired by Diplomatic Security, his/her security clearance from the Secret Service doesn’t transfer to the State Department.

So if you’re talking about “eliminating” the need to apply for a new clearance once hired into a new federal agency — well, that’s not at all within the control of the State Department or USAID. Every agency has its own rules.  You want to make those security clearance rules reciprocal across agencies, you want employees to be able to carry their security clearance across agencies, neither the State Department nor USAID have authorities to do that.

A law enforcement pal told us that the only way this recommendation would work is if ALL background investigations were done by a national agency and all executive agencies are required to accept the security clearance issued by that national agency.  There is the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB), housed at OPM (oh, dear), responsible for conducting background investigations for over 100 Federal agencies – reportedly approximately 95 percent of the total background investigations government-wide.  As of October 1, 2016, the NBIB was established as the primary service provider of government-wide background investigations for the Federal Government with the mission of “delivering efficient and effective background investigations to ensure the integrity and trustworthiness of the Federal workforce.” On paper, Executive Order 13764 of January 17, 2017 already provides for the reciprocity of background investigations and adjudications conducted by other authorized agencies. But we don’t know how NBIB works in real life.

So —  if you really want to make the process more efficient and effective, you want not just the portability of a security clearance across agencies, you also want the revalidation process for security clearance to move faster. For that to happen, you need people to process and approve the revalidation. You can’t do that if people are rotating out of positions, and/or if you can’t hire even temporary help because of a self-imposed hiring freeze. So …

Item 4: Other planning, budgeting, finance, procurement, and administrative functions: “…one of the initial areas of focus must also be a comprehensive audit of all reports. This will be followed by an aggressive initiative to streamline and consolidate the cacophony reports and the large amount of people-hours invested in writing them.”

Back in 2010, State/OIG determined that the Bureau of Legislative Affairs (State/H) tracked 310 congressionally mandated reports that needed to be submitted in FY 2010. The Bureau of Administration (State/A) on the other hand separately tracked 108 recurring reports required by the Department. If you want to streamline or consolidate those reports, the State Department could start with the A bureau, but would obviously require congressional approval for those 310 reports. The Bureau of Legislative Affairs (State/H) could certainly tackle that, except wait, we don’t have a Senate confirmed Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, or a Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary. My gosh, that bureau is like a ghost town!

Finally item 5 under the report’s “Build Shared Services Model” may prove to be the most controversial:

Item 5: “Move issuance of passports, visas, and other travel documents to Homeland Security: we heard enough comments (combined with our own expertise in organization design and patterns to conclude) that there may be an opportunity to elevate efficiency and reduce cost by this change. Indications are that doing so would elevate security at our borders and remove a source of dissatisfaction and frustration.”

Folks, the entire report contains three references to visas …

#1 –  an acknowledgement of the men and women behind the scenes who helped the contractors obtained visas during the listening tour;

#2 – a comment from one of the respondents who said, “Focus the Department’s mission and rein in the mission creep. Too much goobly-gook has crept in. We should protect American citizens and businesses, vet visas, and encourage democratic rule of law and good governance. Full stop;”

#3 – Under Recommendation 5 “Move issuance of passports,visas,and other travel documents to Homeland Security.

The report does NOT/NOT  include any discussion or justification presented on how moving the issuance of passports, visas and other travel documents may elevate efficiency, and reduce cost, or how it would elevate security at our borders. The contractors heard “enough comments” but those comments do not appear to be in the report.

By the way, what’s the upside of cost reduction if you actually lose $2.45 billion of annual revenue in the process?

We should note that Consular Affairs (CA), the bureau responsible for the issuance of passports and visas has over 12,000 employees at 28 domestic passport facilities, 2 domestic visa centers, 8 headquarters offices, and more than 240 consular sections at embassies and consulates around the world.  In FY2012, the Bureau also generated approximately $3.14 billion in consular fee revenue, of which 78% ($2.45 billion) was retained by the State Department and shared among its regional and functional bureaus.

We will write a separate post about this recommendation because it deserves a longer post. It is also worth noting that the Trump Administration’s nominee to lead Consular Affairs is publicly on record in support of moving the visa function to DHS (see Ex-FSO Who Once Advocated Moving Visas to DHS May be the Next Asst Secretary For Consular Affairs).

 

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One response

  1. Something fishy and loony about this process. Not sure I understand the connection between the survey “results” and the recommendations. Especially about moving consular functions to DHS. .

    Ugh.

    Sent from my iPhone

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