GAO Cites Gaps in @StateDept’s Crisis and Evacuation Preparedness for Overseas Posts

Posted: 3:11 am ET
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The GAO recently released its review of the State Department policies and procedures for evacuating overseas posts. The report notes that from October 2012 to September 2016, the State Department evacuated overseas post staff and family members from 23 overseas posts.  The evacuation was in response to various threats, such as terrorism, civil unrest, and natural disasters. Overseas posts undergoing evacuations generally have three types of movement: authorized departure (voluntary), ordered departure (mandatory) of specific post staff or family members, and suspended operations (closure).

The report also note that in fiscal years 2010 through 2016, State’s reported costs associated with evacuating from posts on 53 occasions were roughly $25.5 million.

“According to State officials, costs associated with evacuations varied due to several factors, including the number of post staff and family members evacuated. In fiscal year 2014, costs associated with evacuating Embassy Maseru in Lesotho were roughly $20,000, while in the same year, costs associated with evacuating Embassy Sana’a in Yemen were roughly $1.9 million.”

Certainly, a big chunk of that cost has to come from security and transportation. Below are the significant gaps cited by the GAO in the State Department’s crisis and evac preparedness:

U.S. personnel working at overseas posts, along with the family members who accompany them, face a range of threats to their safety and security—such as terrorism, civil unrest, and natural disasters. To help protect them, State has established processes to prepare overseas posts for crises and to conduct evacuations. However, State has significant gaps in implementation of its preparedness processes for crises and evacuations at overseas posts.

➥Overseas posts are not completing required annual Emergency Action Plans (EAP) updates

➥ Diplomatic Security is not identifying incomplete updates in its Emergency Action Plan (EAP) reviews

➥ The EAPs themselves are not readily usable during emergency situations

➥ Although regular drilling is a critical crisis preparedness task, very few overseas posts have completed all required annual drills

➥ Because overseas posts are not submitting required after-action reports containing lessons learned following evacuations, the State Department is missing important opportunities to identify challenges and best practices and to make changes to prepare for future evacuations from overseas posts.

The report concludes that “while State has taken initial actions— including some actions in response to our ongoing work—to improve implementation of its preparedness processes for crises and evacuations, significant shortcomings exist.” It also says that “while each of these gaps is of concern, taken together, they increase the risk that post staff are not sufficiently prepared to handle crisis and emergency situations.”

 Other details excerpted from the report:

Late Annual Updates:

In fiscal year 2016, about 1 in 12 overseas posts were late in completing required annual updates. On average, these posts were about 6 months late in completing their EAP updates. For fiscal year 2016, the list of posts that were late in completing their annual EAP updates included 7 posts rated high or critical in political violence or terrorism.

DS Does Not Fully Review Key Sections of EAPs Submitted by Overseas Posts

The FAH directs DS to review each EAP submitted by an overseas post during the annual EAP review cycle to ensure that EAPs include updated information needed by State headquarters and other agencies to monitor or assist in responding to emergency situations at posts.22 To conduct these annual reviews, DS Emergency Plans Review Officers in Washington use a list of 27 key EAP sections that the Emergency Plans Review Office has determined should be updated each year.23 According to DS officials, Emergency Plans Review Officers spot check these 27 key EAP sections to review and approve each EAP. In addition, DS officials told us that Review Officers consider forms included in key EAP sections that they spot check to meet the annual update requirement if the forms were updated up to 3 years prior to the check.24

DS does not document its annual EAP review process. We requested the results of the Emergency Plans Review Officer reviews, including data on who conducted them and what deficiencies, if any, were found. Federal internal control standards call for agency management to evaluate performance and hold individuals accountable for their internal control responsibilities.25 However, DS was unable to provide copies of the reviews completed because the Emergency Plans Review Officers do not document these results.

Emergency Action Plans Are Viewed As Lengthy and Cumbersome Documents That Are Not Readily Usable in Emergency Situations

While officials from State headquarters and all six posts we met with told us that EAPs are not readily usable in emergency situations, officials at five of the six posts we met with also said there is value for post staff to participate in the process of updating EAPs to prepare for emergencies. The process of updating the EAP, they noted, includes reviewing applicable checklists and contact lists before an emergency occurs, which can help post staff be better prepared in the event of an emergency. Officials at two of the six posts we met with also observed that EAPs contain large amounts of guidance because it is easier for responsible staff at post to complete required updates to their specific sections if all the guidance they need is directly written into each EAP.

The GAO reviewers were told that EAPs are often more than 800 pages long. “Our review of a nongeneralizable sample of 20 EAPs confirmed this; the 20 EAPs in our sample ranged from 913 to 1,356 pages long,” the report said.

One other footnote says that “while each major section, annex, and appendix of an EAP had its own table of contents, the full EAP lacked a single, comprehensive table of contents or index.”

A new system sometime this year?

The State Department is reportedly in the process of developing a new electronic system for overseas posts to draft and update their EAPs to address issues with the current system, according to State headquarters officials. According to the report, the State Department plans to launch the new system in the second half of 2017.

Absent a functioning lessons learned process …

The GAO reviewers talk about lessons not learned:

We learned of several challenges that posts faced in different evacuations in discussions with officials from the six posts with whom we met. Different posts mentioned various challenges, including disorganized evacuation logistics and transportation, unclear communication with local staff, confusion surrounding the policy for evacuating pets, problems with shipment and delivery of personal effects, difficulty tracking the destination of staff who were relocated, poor communication with senior State leadership regarding the post’s evacuation status, difficulties getting reimbursement for lodging or personal expenses related to the evacuation, and other similar challenges.

Absent a functioning lessons learned process, State’s ability to identify lessons learned and to share best practices from staff that have experienced evacuations may be constrained.

Back in 2009, Rep Howard Berman sponsored H.R. 2410 during the 111th Congress to provide for the establishment of a Lessons Learned Center for the State Department and USAID under the Under Secretary for Management.  That bill made no specific provision as to staff composition of the Center or its funding, and it also died in committee (H.R. 2410: Lessons Learned Center, Coming Soon?).

In 2016, the State Department and the Foreign Service Institute marked the opening (reportedly after two years of preparation) of its Center for the Study of the Conduct of Diplomacy. Then D/Secretary Tony Blinken said that the Center ensures “that we apply the lessons of the past to our conduct and actions in the future.” Some media outlet called it a ‘lessons learned’ center but its aim is on the study and analysis of diplomatic best practices to study how to effectively apply policy.

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Open Forum Furor: An Attempt to Neuter Retiree Complaints About AFSA?

Posted: 1:44 am ET
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AFSA’s Open Forum enables Foreign Service retirees to stay in touch with their Foreign Service colleagues on FS issues and maintain their FS legacy. Out of some 16,000 paying members, a sub-group of retiree-members use the online forum, and they are pretty vocal and not always complimentary to AFSA or its leadership. AFSA previously opted-in all members to the forum in 2014 so everyone gets to read the online conversation.

An Open Forum user said that all those who get the Open Forum digest daily benefits from being part of a dynamic discussion/debate of Foreign Service topics of interest, whether or not they chose to post in the forum themselves.

AFSA Director of Communications Asgeir Sigfusson recently told members that “We have heard from members asking us to do our best to stem the flow of emails and help with inbox clutter. In response, we are now opting everyone out of that daily email, which will reduce the number of weekly AFSA emails by up to seven.”

We were informed by our sources that “When asked, AFSA staff indicated they have no knowledge of any complaints about the Forum.”

AFSA’s President and State VP, and their communication shop are notoriously unresponsive to our inquiries, so um … pardon us if we no longer waste our time over there.  

The Open Forum mechanism to opt-in is reportedly not onerous, and we can certainly understand decluttering the inbox but some AFSA members are outrage, especially as the change was announced just a few days before it took effect.  More importantly, there is a strong suspicion that trimming access to the forum (or what members read even passively from the forum) and the requirement to opt-in are just ways to trim the unfavorable views expressed by the retired members.

Former AFSA Vice President for Retirees Larry Cohen who oversaw the creation of the forum did not minced words and said, “This as an attempt of AFSA leadership to neuter retiree complaints about AFSA.”

Ouch! What are they talking about in there, do tell!

A close AFSA observer notes that changes at AFSA that could have lead to this kerfuffle includes communication issues like Governing Board meeting agendas and approved minutes that should be available on the AFSA website for any interested member but are not.

“Overall AFSA leadership seems to want a tight control on information.  They do not share enough or ask enough.  The current communications policy divides up the Service by not sharing communications across all constituencies so that  all interested, whether active or retired, can be better informed.  Boards and staff continue to ignore the bylaw provision for constituency Standing Committees.  Now is a time to enlarge the tent, not restrict it.  Standing committees have an advisory function and allow for a broader range of perspectives.  The results or main themes or take-always from the  “focused conversations” organized by rank cohort are not shared with the membership with the degree of specificity needed to be useful.  It is not clear how focus group conversations are announced or participants selected.  What about retirees – are they included?”

That sounds almost as bad as the information control generated by the 7th Floor.

The AFSA observer also notes that elected representatives are accountable to members and every member deserves a respectful and timely response to any request for information.

Just yesterday, an Open Forum user complained that the three items he/she submitted have not been published nor acknowledged and asked, “What in the name of AFSA openness is going on?”

The AFSA election results for the 2017-2019 AFSA Governing Board had a total of 4,130 valid ballots cast or 25% of the eligible voting membership (note that the new Governing Board was seated last week, so old Prez but new State VP). That’s the same percentage of voters who participated in the 2015-2017 elections. A few years back, we sliced and diced the AFSA voting numbers and at that time, we noted that active-duty employees were the largest voting bloc in AFSA at over 60% of the total membership, but only about 16% of this constituency vote. Foreign Service retirees on the other hand, the second largest constituents of AFSA make up something like 26% of the total membership but almost half the total AFSA retiree members cast their votes (2016 membership is currently 10,792 active employees and 3,710 retired employees). The retirees also bring in about $260K in AFSA dues annually.

As a side note, did you hear about the ruling from the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB) about Foreign Service retirement and witholding of union dues? (Separate post to follow).

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July 20 SFRC Hearing: Kay Bailey Hutchison to be U.S. Ambassador to NATO

Posted: 1:22 am ET
Updated: 11:48 am PT
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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) is holding a confirmation hearing on the nomination of former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to be the next U.S. Ambassador to NATO.

Date: Thursday, July 20, 2017
Time: 09:30 AM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Corker

A live video of the hearing and the prepared testimony will be posted here when available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Per Section 712 of the Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017, the State Department is required to post the Certificates of Competency online within seven days of transmittal to the Senate.  As of this writing, there is no report available online for Senator Hutchison.

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July 20 SFRC Hearing: Kathleen Troia McFarland to be U.S. Ambassador to Singapore

Posted: 1:14 am ET
Updated: 11:50 am PT
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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) is holding a confirmation hearing on the nomination of K.T. McFarland to be U.S. Ambassador to Singapore.

Date: Thursday, July 20, 2017
Time: 09:30 AM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Corker

A live video of the hearing and the prepared testimony will be posted here when available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below is the Certificate of Demonstrated Competence report made available online by the State Department per Section 712 of the Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017:

SUBJECT: Ambassadorial Nomination: Certificate of Demonstrated Competence — Foreign Service Act, Section 304(a)(4)

POST: Republic of Singapore

CANDIDATE: Kathleen Troia McFarland

Kathleen Troia McFarland, a prominent national security analyst, television commentator, political nominee and former senior U.S. Government official, has served as the Deputy National Security Advisor in the National Security Council at the White House since the advent of the Trump Administration. Ms. McFarland has a strong background in foreign policy, government service and political engagement. She was a Candidate for the U.S. Senate in New York in 2006 and for the U.S. House of Representatives, 12th District of New York in 2005. Her demonstrated ability to lead large, complex government institutions, engage effectively in high-level political endeavors, tackle numerous challenges with great intellectual acumen and clearly articulate U.S. government policy make her an excellent candidate for U.S. Ambassador to Singapore.

Previously, Ms. McFarland was a freelance national security commentator on Fox News in New York City and the District of Columbia (2013-2016) and occasionally made public appearances as a guest on other television networks (2007-2013). She served as a staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (1991), on the staff of the National Security Council (1970-1976), both in Washington, District of Columbia, and as a Senior Speechwriter and Assistant to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense, Department of Defense, Arlington, Virginia (1982-1985). In the interims, she raised her family of five children.

Ms. McFarland earned a Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, a B.A./M.A. from the University of Oxford, Oxford, England and a B.A. from George Washington University, Washington, District of Columbia. She received a Distinguished Civilian Service Award from the Department of Defense. She is a Member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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July 20 SFRC Hearing: Lewis M. Eisenberg to be U.S. Ambassador to Italy and San Marino

Posted: 1:05 am ET
Updated: 11:49 am PT
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Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) is holding a confirmation hearing on the nomination of Lewis M. Eisenberg to be U.S. Ambassador to Italy and San Marino.

Date: Thursday, July 20, 2017
Time: 09:30 AM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Corker

A live video of the hearing and the prepared testimony will be posted here when available.

Below is the Certificate of Demonstrated Competence report made available online by the State Department per Section 712 of the Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017:

SUBJECT: Ambassadorial Nomination:  Certificate of Demonstrated Competence — Foreign Service Act, Section 304(a)(4)

POST: Italian Republic and the Republic of San Marino

CANDIDATE: Lewis M. Eisenberg

Lewis M. Eisenberg is a prominent American financier and investor. He is a co-founder and managing partner of Ironhill Investments in New York. From 1995-2001 Mr. Eisenberg was the Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, responsible for overseeing the region’s international airports and seaports, bridges, tunnels and the World Trade Center. He was named a Founding Board Member of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, formed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and he chaired its Victims’ Families and Transportation Advisory Councils (2001-2003). Mr. Eisenberg is an Emeritus Member of Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management Advisory Council and Life Member of the Cornell University Council. Mr. Eisenberg’s demonstrated business acumen and engaged leadership in philanthropy as well as partnering with state and local governments on complex issues, make him well-qualified to serve as Ambassador to the Italian Republic.

Mr. Eisenberg was Senior Advisor for Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (2009-2015), Co-Chairman of Granite Capital International Group, both in New York (1990-2011), and spent 23 years at Goldman Sachs, where he served as General Partner and Co-head of the Equity Division. He has served on numerous boards over four decades, including ITC and Granum Communications LLC, as well as the Boards of St. Barnabas Health Care System, Monmouth Medical Center and New York Service for the Handicapped.

Mr. Eisenberg earned a B.A. from Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire in 1964 and an M.B.A. from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York in 1966.  He is the recipient of numerous awards and has been honored by the American Jewish Committee, the National Conference for Community and Justice, Monmouth University, Liberty Science Center, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Newark, New Jersey, and the New Jersey Alliance for Action.

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July 20 SFRC Hearing: Robert W. Johnson IV for United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Posted: 1:01 am ET
Updated: 11:47 am PT
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Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) is holding a confirmation hearing on the nomination of Robert W. Johnson IV to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Date: Thursday, July 20, 2017
Time: 09:30 AM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Corker

A live video of the hearing and the prepared testimony will be posted here when available.

Below is the Certificate of Demonstrated Competence report made available online by the State Department per Section 712 of the Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017:

SUBJECT: Ambassadorial Nomination: Certificate of Demonstrated Competence — Foreign Service Act, Section 304(a)(4)

POST: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

CANDIDATE: Robert Wood Johnson IV

Robert Wood Johnson IV, a prominent businessman, committed civic leader and compassionate philanthropist, has been, for more than thirty years, the Chairman and CEO of The Johnson Company, New York, NY, a private asset management firm. Since 2000, he has also been Chairman and CEO of the New York Jets, an NFL franchise team and the Chairman and CEO of the New York Jets Foundation, New York. Mr. Johnson is also the Founding Chairman of Lupus Research Alliance, the largest non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention, treatment and cure of lupus. Mr. Johnson served on the President’s Export Council (1989-93) and the President’s Commission on White House Fellows (2001-02). His demonstrated commitment to a culture of success and his wide-ranging engagement in business, community and government make him well-qualified to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Mr. Johnson serves as Trustee Emeritus of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropic organization devoted exclusively to promoting health and advancing healthcare. He has been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, New York since 1993 and is serving as a board member of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center. He also lends his time and talents to The Peregrine Fund, Boise, Idaho.

Mr. Johnson earned his B.A. degree in 1972 from the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona. He also attended the Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration and completed the Smaller Company Management Program in Boston, Massachusetts in 1982.

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July 20 SFRC Hearing: Kelly Craft to be U.S. Ambassador to Canada

Posted: 12:54 am ET
Updated: 11:50 am PT
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Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) is holding a confirmation hearing on the nomination of Kelly Craft to be the U.S. Ambassador to Canada.

Date: Thursday, July 20, 2017
Time: 09:30 AM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Corker

A live video of the hearing and the prepared testimony will be posted here when available.

Below is the Certificate of Demonstrated Competence report made available online by the State Department per Section 712 of the Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017:

SUBJECT: Ambassadorial Nomination: Certificate of Demonstrated Competence — Foreign Service Act, Section 304(a)(4)

POST: Canada

CANDIDATE: Kelly Craft

Kelly Craft is a leader in civic engagement in Kentucky and also a successful businesswoman who is actively engaged in support of the Republican Party at the state and national levels. While raising two children, Mrs. Craft not only ran her own marketing and management consulting firm, Kelly G. Knight LLC, but also found the time to make community engagement a focus of her personal endeavors. She has served in leadership roles with numerous civic organizations, including the Salvation Army of Lexington and the Center for Rural Development, a nonprofit dedicated to economic development in rural Kentucky. Mrs. Craft also has a deep commitment to improving education, serving on the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees and co-founding the Morehead State University Craft Academy for Excellence in Science and Mathematics. Her demonstrated leadership skills in civic matters, her management experience and business acumen, and her deep understanding of critical social and political issues, make Mrs. Craft well qualified to serve as the United States Ambassador to Canada.

Mrs. Craft has previously served in a variety of roles in the political context, including as an Executive Committee Member of the Republican Governors Association (2015-Present) and as the Kentucky Finance Chair (2005-Present) and National Finance Vice Chair (2015-2016) of the Republican National Committee. In 2007, under President George W. Bush, Mrs. Craft also served in a significant public policy position as the U.S. alternate delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. In a civic engagement capacity, she has also been a Member of the Board for the Kentucky Arts Council, the YMCA of Central Kentucky, and the United Way of the Bluegrass.

Mrs. Craft received her B.A. from the University of Kentucky. She is being awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Morehead State University in May 2017.

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July 19 SFRC Hearing: Krishna R. Urs to be U.S. Ambassador to Peru

Posted: 12:40 am ET
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Yesterday, the SFRC held a confirmation hearing for three nominees.  The nomination of career diplomat Krishna R. Urs to be the U.S. Ambassador to Peru was a late addition to the panel, so this is a catch-up post.

Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Time: 02:00 PM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Rubio

The live video and the prepared testimony is available here.

Below is the report submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

SUBJECT:  Ambassadorial Nomination:  Certificate o Demonstrated Competence — Foreign Service Act, Section 304(a)(4)

POST: Republic of Peru

CANDIDATE:  Krishna Raj Urs

Krishna Urs, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, is the Charge d’Affaires at the US Embassy, Madrid, Spain (2017) where he was also the Deputy Chief of Mission (2014-2017).  In his three decades of service in the State Department Mr. Urs has specialized in economic issues and has extensive policy experience in the Andean region of South America.  He also has considerable knowledge of the workings of the U.S. government and served as the Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs (2013-2014) and as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Transportation Affairs (2010-2013).   As a three- time Deputy Chief of Mission, and as Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy, La Paz, Bolivia (2008).  Mr. Urs honed his well-regarded skills as a leader of diverse interagency teams, as a manager of complex programs, and as a mentor and role model. These skills, coupled with his experience as a policy maker, his considerable expertise on economic and trade issues, and his impressive substantive knowledge of Peru and of the Andean region make him an excellent candidate for U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Peru.

Among his overseas assignments, Mr. Urs served as Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy La Paz, Bolivia (2006-2009,  Acting Deputy Chief of Mission and Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (2000-2003) and Counselor for Economic Affairs, U.S. Embassy, Lima Peru.  In the State Department in Washington, D.C., Mr. Urs’ positions included assignments as Director of the Office of Aviation Negotiations, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (2009-2010), and Director of the Office of Economic Policy and Summit Coordination, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (2003-2006).

Mr. Urs earned a M.S. from the University of Texas in 1984 and a B.S. from Georgetown University in 1980.  He has been the recipient of thirteen notable senior State Department awards, including a Presidential Meritorious Service Award.  Mr. Urs speaks fluent Spanish as well as some Hindi and Telegu.

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