State/OIG: Accountability of Official and Diplomatic Passports Needs Improvement

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State/OIG issued its Management Assistance Report: Accountability of Official and Diplomatic Passports of Separating Employees Needs Improvement this week.
According to the OIG, in December 2020, after it announced an audit of official and diplomatic passport records, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) was alerted that a former Department of State employee, a political appointee, allegedly kept their diplomatic passport after separating from the Department and wanted to use it in their new role with another U.S. Government organization.

Specifically: “A politically appointed Senior Advisor separated from the Department in November 2019. In 2020, President Trump appointed the former advisor to a role with another U.S. government organization. A representative from the new organization contacted the appointee’s former Department bureau because the political appointee was in possession of a diplomatic passport. The representative wanted to know whether the appointee could travel on behalf of the new organization using this diplomatic passport. The representative was informed by a bureau official that the appointee should not use the diplomatic passport.”

Excerpt from the MAR:

(U) During an audit of CA’s official and diplomatic passport records, OIG was alerted that a former Department employee had allegedly not surrendered their diplomatic passport upon separation from the Department and wanted to use it in a new role with another U.S. Government organization.24 According to the FAM, entitlement to an official or diplomatic passport ends when the employee separates from the Department, and the passport must be surrendered for cancellation.25

U) OIG found that the former employee’s diplomatic passport was listed as “issued” in ACRQ and had not been electronically cancelled by SIA. Based on that information, OIG performed additional steps to determine whether SIA had cancelled other employees’ official and diplomatic passports once separated from the Department. Specifically, OIG selected a sample of 134 official and diplomatic passports issued to employees who subsequently separated from the Department between November 2017 and September 2020. OIG found that 57 of 134 (43 percent) passports had not been electronically cancelled by SIA after the employee separated. Moreover, of the 57 that had not been electronically cancelled, 47 (82 percent) of the passports had not expired as of February 1, 2021, meaning they could still be valid.

(U) One reason for the deficiencies identified is that Department bureaus and offices did not always maintain proper accountability of passports and could not confirm whether separating employees had surrendered their passports for cancellation. When an employee’s entitlement to an official or diplomatic passport ends, but the passport is not surrendered or cancelled, the individual could misuse the passport, such as misrepresenting themselves as a representative of the U.S. Government. Doing so is a criminal offense.26

(U) Separated Employees’ Official and Diplomatic Passports

(U) Based upon a Bureau of Global Talent Management list of employees who had separated from the Department between November 2017 and September 2020, OIG identified 4,714 official and diplomatic passports associated with those employees. OIG selected a sample of 134 passports to test. 27 OIG found that 57 of 134 (43 percent) passports had not been electronically cancelled by SIA. In addition, of those 57 passports, 47 (82 percent) had not expired, as of February 1, 2021, meaning they could stil l be valid. 28 For example, one employee separated from the Department in December 2017, but the employee’s diplomatic passport was not scheduled to expire until April 2022- more than 4 years after separating from the Department.

OIG apparently followed up with 3 bureaus and 1 office to determine whether 17 former Department employees had surrendered their passport(s) and whether the bureaus or office had requested that SIA cancel the passports in accordance with the FAM. The follow-up revealed the following:

Two former CA employees:  “OIG identified two former CA employees who had diplomatic passports listed as “issued” in ACRQ. According to CA’s employee check-out list, employees are required to return special-issuance passports to SIA that were issued to them and to their family members upon separation and obtain the signature of an SIA staff member. SIA has no record of either of these two passports being returned for cancellation after the employees separated.”

Two former Office of the Secretary employees: “OIG identified two former Office of the Secretary employees who had diplomatic passports listed as “issued” in ACRQ. These two individuals had four passports issued to them. The Office of the Secretary’s employee check-out form requires departing employees to return their special-issuance passports and have the form initialed by the Office of the Secretary’s budget and travel office staff. An Office of the Secretary official stated that the office would have been in possession of three of the identified passports because the office maintains the diplomatic passports of people who travel with the Secretary of State. Because the three passports could not be found in the office, the official assumed that they were physically cancelled and returned to the individual. The Office of the Secretary could not provide information on the fourth passport. The Office of the Secretary official stated that a memorandum would have accompanied each passport to SIA for cancellation, but copies of the memoranda were not maintained .”(what the what? italics added).

Eleven former DS employees:  “OIG identified 11 former Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) employees who had diplomatic passports listed as “issued” in ACRQ. These 11 individuals had 16 passports issued to them, including 2 that were issued to a former Assistant Secretary. DS’s employee check-out form requires employees to return to the Employee Services Center or contact SIA about special-issuance passports that were issued to them and to their family members upon separation. A DS official stated that the two passports issued to the former Assistant Secretary were collected before he separated from the Department, but DS had not returned them to SIA. The DS official stated that a former employee, who returned as a PSC, claimed to have lost one passport but there was no comment on her second passport and another employee’s passport had been returned to CA. Three former DS employees had returned four passports in total to their DS offices; however, DS could not locate an additional passport for one of these individuals and an additional two passports for another of these individuals. The DS official further stated that DS did not have records for two of the people associated with two passports. DS may have facilitated the issuance of these passports, but they were not DS employees. DS did not provide information on the remaining 2 of 16 passports.”

OIG recommends that the Bureau of Consular Affairs “improve accountability over special-issuance passports by updating the Foreign Affairs Manual and any other relevant policy documents to require that (a) all Department of State bureaus and offices that participate in the Special Issuance Passport Program either (1) physically cancel special-issuance passports (including secondary passports) issued to a separating employee and email the Special Issuance Agency (SIA) a copy of the physically cancelled data page requesting that the passport(s) be electronically cancelled (along with returning the passport to SIA for destruction if not returned to the separating employee) or (2) if appropriate, file the special-issuance passport with SIA and (b) the Special Issuance Agency confirm that all special-issuance passports issued to the separating employee have been included in the cancellation request and electronically cancel all additional passport(s) as appropriate.”
Consular Affairs concurred with the recommendation, stating that it “will propose updates to the FAM and to the Special Issuance Passport Program.”  The bureau will also “update SIA’s cancellation and destruction SOP to confirm that all special-issuance passports issued to a separating employee have been included in the cancellation request and electronically cancel all additional passports as appropriate.”

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