GAO to @StateDept: Psst! Leadership Attention and Focus, Please!

 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report  on Tillerson’s redesign projects (although those projects were no longer called that).  GAO looked into the status of the reform efforts that the State Department reported to Congress in February 2018 and also looked at the extent to which State addressed key practices critical to the successful implementation of agency reform efforts.
GAO has determined that “State leadership has not provided the focus necessary to support the officials responsible for implementing all these reform projects.”
Uh-oh! Some excerpts below.

Remember the Listening Tour?

In response to the March 2017 Executive Order 13781 and the ensuing OMB memo, State launched a “listening tour” intended to gather ideas and feedback from State and USAID employees. As a key component of this outreach effort, State hired a contractor to design and administer a confidential online survey, which was sent to all State and USAID employees in May 2017. According to the contractor’s report, the survey had a 43 percent response rate, with 27,837 State employees and 6,142 USAID employees responding to the survey. The contractor also conducted in-person interviews with a randomly selected cross section of personnel, which included 175 employees from State and 94 from USAID.

17 Reform Projects Plus

The planning teams developed specific reform projects, listed below in table 2 (17 reform projects, see page7-8 of report), which State described in the fiscal year 2019 budget justification it submitted to Congress in February 2018.9  According to implementing officials, all these projects predated the Executive Order and OMB memo issued in the spring of 2017. They also noted, however, that the administration’s reform-related directives helped advance State’s preexisting efforts by focusing management attention and agency resources on these projects.  (9 In addition to these reform projects, State’s Congressional Budget Justification also reported seven changes related to its reform efforts that are complete or underway. State reported that it is (1) expanding employment opportunities for eligible family members; (2) implementing cloud-based email and collaboration; (3) increasing flexibilities for employees on medical evacuations; (4) streamlining the security clearance process; (5) simplifying the permanent change-of-station travel process; (6) improving temporary duty travel options and experience; and (7) integrating USAID and State global address lists.

Status: Completed-1, Continuing-13, Stalled-2, Discontinued-1

As of April 2019, according to State officials and status reports, State had completed one of its 17 reform projects; 13 projects were continuing; two projects were stalled pending future decisions or actions; and one project was discontinued.
[…]
According to State officials, as of April 2019, although 13 of the reform projects described in the fiscal year 2019 Congressional Budget Justification were considered by State to be continuing, some had been scaled back, slowed down, or both as a result of senior leadership’s shifting priorities and attention.

Leadership Focus and Attention

In February 2018, State reported to  Congress in its fiscal year 2019 budget justification that it was pursuing the reform projects we described above. In March 2018, the first transition affecting the implementation of those projects occurred when the President removed the then Secretary of State and nominated the then CIA director to replace him; in April 2018, the Senate confirmed the current Secretary. According to senior State officials, when the new Secretary took office, his top priority was ending the hiring freeze and restarting a concerted recruitment effort because vacancies in key positions and a general staffing shortfall would otherwise have led to what one senior official described as a “cataclysmic failure” at State. These senior officials noted that the new Secretary decided some of the existing reform projects were not well designed and that he wanted greater emphasis on cybersecurity and data analytics. They said he also wanted to pursue other initiatives, including a new proposal to create a Global Public Affairs Bureau by merging two existing bureaus. The senior officials told us that the Secretary authorized responsible bureaus and offices to determine whether to continue, revise, or terminate existing reform efforts or launch new initiatives. However, State did not formally communicate other changes in its reform priorities to Congress, such as its plan to no longer combine State and USAID’s real property offices.
[…]
State initiated another transition in leadership of the reform efforts in April 2018 when it disbanded the dedicated planning teams overseeing the reform efforts and delegated responsibility for implementing the reform projects to relevant bureaus and offices. As the planning teams finished working on their particular reform efforts and prepared to transfer these projects to the bureaus, some planning teams provided memos and reports on the status of their efforts and offered recommendations for the bureaus to consider when determining next steps in implementing the projects. Some implementing officials, however, reported that they received little or no direction regarding their projects or any other indication of continued interest in their project from department or bureau leadership aside from the initial notification that the project had been assigned to them.
[…]
Various State officials noted that the prolonged absence of Senate confirmed leadership in key positions posed additional challenges. We have previously testified that it is more difficult to obtain buy-in on longterm plans and efforts that are underway when an agency has leaders in acting positions because federal employees are historically skeptical of whether the latest efforts to make improvements are going to be sustained over a period of time

Leadership Transition Effects:

Taken together, the leadership transitions at State had two significant effects on State’s reform efforts. First, the transition of departmental leadership and lack of direction and communication about subsequent changes in leadership’s priorities contributed to uncertainty among implementing officials about the future of individual reform projects. Second, according to implementing officials, the transition of project responsibility from dedicated teams to bureau-level implementing officials resulted in fewer resources and a lack of senior leadership involvement and attention for some projects. Absent leadership decisions, implementing officials will continue to struggle with understanding leadership priorities with regard to State’s reform efforts. Similarly, for any projects that are determined to be leadership priorities, day-to-day implementation activities will continue to be hampered by the lack of a dedicated team to guide and manage the agency’s overall reform effort.

Don’t Forget USAID: Continuing Projects? Where? What?
GAO has not made any recommendations to USAID and yet, the agency has submitted a written response to highlight the State Department’s unwillingness to coordinate with them. What’s this about? (see Appendix III-Comments from the U.S. Agency for International Development – PDF/page25-26):

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Congratulations to AFSA’s 2019 Awardees for Exemplary Performance

 

Via afsa.org:

 

Award for Achievement and Contributions to the Association:

F. Allen ‘Tex’ Harris
Widely referred to as “Mr. AFSA,” Mr. Harris has made enormous contributions to AFSA over five decades. In 1970, he was instrumental in AFSA’s efforts to become a union. He was a principal drafter of the 1976 legislation that created the Foreign Service grievance system. He served two terms as AFSA president, leading efforts to improve working conditions and to end ethnic, gender and racial discrimination within the State Department.

Nelson B. Delavan Award for an Office Management Specialist:

Katherine Elizabeth Kohler, Embassy Addis Ababa
In addition to her full-time role as an office management specialist, Ms. Koehler simultaneously served as U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa’s de facto full-time staff assistant, and was instrumental in tracking and coordinating multifaceted efforts to support Ethiopia’s reforms. Ms. Koehler led an interagency project to survey Ethiopia’s population to learn how they feel about the U.S. and their country’s reform agenda. As an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor, she trained more than 100 local staff members in EEO rules.

Avis Bohlen Award for an Eligible Family Member:

Laurent Charbonnet, Consulate Frankfurt
Mr. Charbonnet is honored for his “Diplomacy Through Bicycles” program through the consulate community’s Frankfurt Refugee Outreach Committee. Mr. Charbonnet volunteered weekly as a bicycle mechanic at a refugee center in Frankfurt’s Bonames district. This center is home to thousands of recently arrived refugees who rely on volunteers like Mr. Charbonnet to develop survival and self-sufficiency skills.

M. Juanita Guess Award for a Community Liaison Officer:

Michelle Ross, Embassy Caracas
Ms. Ross is recognized for her extraordinary efforts to assist embassy personnel and family members who were evacuated after the Venezuelan government broke diplomatic ties with the United States in January. Ms. Ross, who joined the Caracas Community Liaison Office team in 2018, was a key ally to evacuees during the difficult transition that followed. Ms. Ross worked with all management sections and the Family Liaison Office to facilitate the swift evacuation of 79 Americans and 22 pets.

Mark Palmer Award for the Advancement of Democracy:

Christopher Gooch, Embassy Baghdad and Nora Brito, Embassy Caracas
Two Palmer awards are given this year due to an excellent pool of nominees.

Christopher Gooch is a forceful advocate for U.S. and universal values who made bold and imaginative efforts to expand democracy, freedom, and good governance during assignments in Iraq and Nepal. In Baghdad, he protected women civil society activists, persuaded the Iraqi government to take action to protect trafficking victims, and helped launch an initiative aimed at resolving the Kirkuk dispute. In Nepal, he crafted a transitional justice strategy triggering the first movement on the issue in four years.

Nora Brito created an informal group of 12 young members of the Venezuelan National Assembly. This group included members from all sectors of the Venezuelan opposition. Ms. Brito used her impeccable language ability, strong relationship-building skills and substantive knowledge of Venezuelan politics to build honest, long-lasting relationships with the group. These interactions provided her, Embassy Caracas and Washington a fresh perspective on the Venezuelan political situation.

AFSA Post Representative of the Year Award:

Lawrence Fields, Consulate Frankfurt
Mr. Fields is recognized for his work at one of the largest posts in the world. Frankfurt had gone without a post representative for an extended period. Mr. Fields revived AFSA’s presence and recruited a USAID post representative and a State alternate representative to serve members’ needs. He created an AFSA email group to keep our members informed of developments throughout the year and launched an “AFSA Corner” column in the CLO weekly newsletter. Remarkably, this is Larry’s second time receiving this award.

 

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State Department Official Patricia DeLaughter Pleads Guilty to Procurement Fraud

 

On August 9, 2019, USDOJ announced that State Department employee, Patricia DeLaughter pled guilty to disclosing confidential State Department bid proposals n an effort to help a furniture company executive win a lucrative government contract. Sentencing is scheduled for November 8, 2019.

Photo via State Magazine, April 2009

Via USDOJ: State Department Official Pleads Guilty to Procurement Fraud

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Washington, D.C., woman pleaded guilty today to disclosing confidential State Department bid proposals in an effort to help a furniture company executive win a lucrative government contract to provide furniture to a United States embassy abroad.

According to court documents, Patricia DeLaughter, 69, was a State Department official who was responsible for procuring furniture for United States embassies. In or around December 2016, the State Department was constructing a new embassy in a foreign nation. DeLaughter and another Department official participated in the process of soliciting bid proposals from contractors for the procurement of furniture for the new embassy’s offices.

From in or around December 2016 to in or around March 2017, DeLaughter and the other State Department official knowingly disclosed to Steven Anstine, the vice president of sales for an American furniture manufacturer, the confidential bid prices and design plans of at least three of Anstine’s competitors. DeLaughter knowingly disclosed this information in order to give Anstine—with whom DeLaughter had a social relationship—a competitive advantage in securing the procurement contract for the new embassy. The information that DeLaughter and her coworker gave Anstine enabled him and his company to win the contract with a bid of approximately $1.56 million.

According to DeLaughter’s admissions, DeLaughter made intentionally false statements to agents investigating her conduct. She falsely told State Department Office of Inspector General special agents that she had nothing to do with the embassy furniture project. She also falsely told the agents that she did not have a social relationship with Anstine. In fact, DeLaughter and Anstine had a social relationship and attended dinners, sporting events, and concerts together. Anstine paid at least a portion of DeLaughter’s expenses for these events.

In June 2019, Anstine pleaded guilty to one count of illegally obtaining contractor bid or proposal information in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

DeLaughter pleaded guilty to one count of illegally disclosing contractor bid or proposal information and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison when sentenced on November 8. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Brian A. Benczkowski, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. accepted the plea. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell L. Carlberg, Deputy Chief Robert J. Heberle and Trial Attorney John P. Taddei of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section are prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:19-cr-205.

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Mike Pompeo’s Kansas Run: He’s Running, He’s Not …He’s Running, He’s … He’s …

 

We don’t usually post about politics but since it’s about Secretary Pompeo, we’ll make an exception. Bloomberg is reporting that “Republican political donors have been told to hold off contributing to the 2020 U.S. Senate race in Kansas in the expectation that Secretary of State Michael Pompeo may decide to run, according to two people familiar with the matter.” 
The Kansas run was reportedly ruled out in late winter, but by mid-summer, it appeared to have been re-opened.
Bloomberg adds that “While Pompeo has been equivocal about a possible run, his actions and speeches have only fueled speculation that he’s laying the groundwork for a Senate bid — and possibly a presidential run in 2024.”

U.S. Secretary of State MIchael R. Pompeo and Mrs. Susan Pompeo wave as they depart, Brasila, Brazil, January 2, 2019. Secretary Pompeo is on travel to Brasilia, Brazil, and Cartagena, Colombia, from December 31, 2018, to January 2, 2019. [State Department photo by Ron Pryzsucha/ Public Domain]

Ballotpedia says that voters in Kansas will elect one member to the U.S. Senate in the election on November 3, 2020.  The election will fill the Class II Senate seat held by Pat Roberts (R). Roberts was first elected in 1996.  Apparently, some folks in the GOP are concerned that former Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius will run — and win — if Kobach is the GOP Senate nominee.” Yeah, that guy.
Senator Roberts was reelected in 2014 with 53.1% of the votes.  Senator Jerry Moran, the junior senator from Kansas was re-elected in 2016 with 62.2% of the votes.  Roberts has held his seat for 22 years, Moran for 8 years. So.
Basically Mr. Pompeo has two glaring choices: stay and face the possibility of firing by a tweet, by a volatile, thin-skinned president, or run for an almost sure seat with a 6-year term extending from January 3, 2021 until January 3, 2027.  If elected to the U.S. Senate, could he run for president in 2024?  Well, he could. We don’t know if he’d win but sixteen senators went on to become presidents. Four of them served just three years in the U.S. Senate before running for president: Obama, Barack (2005-2008); Nixon, Richard M. (1950-1953); Harrison, William Henry 1825-1828; and Jackson, Andrew  1797-1798; 1823-1825. Senate.gov says that G. Harding, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Obama moved directly from the U.S. Senate to the White House.
On the other hand, only six secretaries of state went on to become presidents (Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Van Buren, Buchanan).  The last one elected president was sooo long ago, the 17th Secretary of State  James Buchanan. He served at the State Department from 1845–1849 and eight years later became the 15th President of the United States and served one term from 1857 – 1861. So.
The candidate filing deadline is June 1, 2020 with the primary election scheduled for August 4, 2020. Let us know when he’s make up his mind, will ya?