Former State/OIG IT Contractor Pleads Guilty to Theft and Embezzlement of USG Computers

 

On March 7, 2019, USDOJ/U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia announced that a former IT contractor for the State Department’s Office of Inspector General pled guilty to theft and embezzlement.

A former federal contractor pleaded guilty today to theft and embezzlement of up to 16 government computers from the U.S. Department of State.

According to court documents, Andrew W. Cheveers, 31, of Bowie, Maryland, was an Information Technology contractor for the State Department’s Office of Inspector General. In this role, Cheveers held a security clearance that allowed him access to certain sensitive information, and he was responsible for configuring the computers prior to the devices being distributed to U.S. government personnel.

Through the course of his criminal conduct, Cheevers admitted to stealing up to 16 Microsoft Surface Pro laptop computers. Cheveers then sold the stolen computers on Internet websites such as Craigslist and eBay from approximately July 2016 through February 2017 in order to profit from his fraudulent scheme.

Cheveers faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison when sentenced on June 21. 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, and Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton accepted the plea.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Celeste 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 is 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-64.

The announcement is available here.

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Snapshot: @StateDept Workforce Distribution by Employment Category (February 2019)

Posted:12:52 am EST
Updated: 10:08 pm PST with link to full HR fact sheet

 

Via state.gov:

The Department relies on Locally Employed (LE) staff to support its global mission. LE Staff, which includes contractors overseas, accounts for 58 percent of the workforce. The Department’s American Government workforce, which includes career full-time FS and CS employees as well as temporary employees, constitutes approximately 31 percent of the workforce. The remaining 11 percent is composed of domestic contractors. Over the last few years, the workforce distribution has remained about the same. The State Department indicates that it employs a workforce of over 80,000 employees including contractors. 

 

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Sources: Major Personnel Cuts Coming For U.S. Mission Iraq

Posted: 4:28 am EST
Updated: 5:01 am EST

 

It looks like US Mission Iraq is in for another big round of staff reduction.  Sources indicate that staff cuts could be as much as a third. People reportedly are being told to return home. Like when?  Now? Like there’s no glide path here …  just pack up and go home now?

Update: We just learned that assigned personnel were notified last week to find other jobs.

If folks time this really well, Secretary Pompeo can then go talk to Congress about cost savings by the time he is up there in May for the State Department Budget Request for FY2020.

So we want to take a look at staffing numbers. We have two publicly available staffing numbers to work with, both a bit outdated so  our numbers are speculation at this time. One is from 2013 when Embassy Iraq told State/OIG that it planned to reduce staffing from 11,500 in January 2013 to 5,500 in January 2014. That’s over five years ago, and we don’t know if US Mission Iraq was successful with this reduction plan. Let’s say post was successful, and staffing was down to 5,500 in early 2014. A reduction by a third means moving out about 1,800 people out of Iraq, which presumably includes not just direct-hire employees but also contractors.

Our second staffing number is from a January 2016 solicitation posted on FedBiz for Medical Service Support Iraq II which indicates the following:  “The BDSC Large Diplomatic Support Hospital not only provides primary care to personnel at BDSC, but also may serve as the secondary and trauma care center for the patient population within U.S. Mission Iraq (4300 – 5800 personnel).”

If we take the lower end of that bracket at 4300, a reduction by a third means moving out approximately 1400 people out of Iraq and and back to domestic assignments/regular postings for direct-hire employees. Staff reduction could also means less protective security requirements, reduction in number of contractors providing various support functions, as wells as a reduction in the number of hospitals, air flights, food operations and logistics, laundry services, warehouse operation, vehicle maintenance services, and a long host of other support services.

Another way we’re looking at this is to go back to a 2010 State/OIG report that estimated a minimum of 15 and possibly up to 60 security and life support staff to support one substantive direct-hire position. For instance, if there are some 350 direct-hire employees and you slash a third of that staff, the corresponding security and life support staff could also be reduced by a third, which means a reduction of about 1700 security and life support staff (using the minimum 1:15 support ratio). 

We do not know at this time how many direct-hire personnel will actually be affected by these cuts, or how many assignments — onward assignments, linked assignments, or how many contractors — will be impacted. We will update if/when we know more. There’s also a nagging question in our noggin — after Iraq, where else?

Maybe time to do a trip down the blog’s memory lane. Back in 2010, we posted US Embassy Baghdad: The “civilianization” of the U.S. presence in Iraq and its peskiest details.  At that time, State/OIG notes:

The number of security and life support personnel required to maintain this limited substantive staff is huge: 82 management, 2,008 security, 157 aviation, and 1,085 life support personnel. In other words, depending on the definition of support staff, it takes a minimum of 15 and possibly up to 60 security and life support staff to support one substantive direct-hire position. To put this into perspective, a quick calculation of similar support ratios at three major embassies (Beijing, Cairo, and New Delhi) shows an average of four substantive officers to every three support staff (4:3) in contrast to 1:15 to 1:60 in Iraq.

The following year, the US Embassy in Baghdad made news on its planned staffing expansion from 8,000 to 17,000 (see US Embassy Iraq: From a staff of 8,000 to 17,000?).

In 2011, we did US Mission Iraq: Not DOD’s Giganotosaurus Footprint, But a Super Embassaurus For Real.  We  had a deep sense of humor then. That same year, we saw the opening of a new post in Iraq (see Newest US Consulate General Opens in Basrah, Iraq)

In 2012, US Mission Iraq made news again as news on a reduction in staffing by as much as as half was splashed on the headlines (see US Embassy Iraq Staffing: To Slash or Not to Slash, That is the Question).  There was also BLISS (US Mission Iraq: Get ready for BLISS… no, not perfect happiness — just Baghdad Life Support Services.

In 2013, we did a Twelve Things You Might Not Know About the Largest Embassy in the World.  That same year, there were various embassy closures (see Intel Signs of Al Qaeda Plot in the Making: U.S. Embassy Closures — Sunday, August 4.

In 2013, the State Department told the State/OIG: “The Embassy is taking steps to reduce the mission’s headcount from over 11,500 in January 2013 to 5,500 by January 2014.

The year 2014 saw the partial temporary relocation of embassy staff to Basra, Erbil, and Amman, Jordan (U.S. Relocates More Baghdad/Erbil Staff to Basrah and Amman (Jordan), Updates Aug. 8 Travel Warning  (2014); US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan)

In spring 2015, a bomb exploded outside the US Consulate in Erbil, an attack claimed by ISIS (see Bomb Explodes Outside US Consulate Erbil in Northern Iraq, ISIS Claims Attack (Updated).

In the fall of 2015, the State Department updated its regulations for danger pay. All posts in Iraq were designated danger pay post at the 35%, the highest bracket (see New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status)

A January 2016 FedBiz solicitation estimated U.S. Mission Iraq personnel as between 4300– 5800 people.

In 2016, we blogged about the new folks leading the various posts under US Mission Iraq (see @StateDept Summer Rotation Brings New Faces to the U.S. Mission in Iraq.  That same year, the US Embassy in Baghdad issued a warning on possible collapse of Iraq’s Mosul Dam. See also Failure of Iraq’s #Mosul Dam Would Likely Cause “A Catastrophe of Biblical Proportions”.  Whatever happened to that? See this.

In June 2017, we learned that the State Department under new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson planned to close down the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah (see U.S. Consulate General #Basrah, Iraq: Six-Year Old Diplomatic Outpost Faces Closure).

Also in June 2017, the State Department awarded a $422,470,379.00 contract for the construction of the New Consulate Compound in Erbil, Iraq (NCC Erbil). @StateDept Awards $422M Contract For New Consulate Compound in Erbil, Iraq.

In September 2018, fifteen months after we blogged about the planned closure of Consulate Basrah under Tillerson (at that time we were told the planned closure had no timeline), the State Department, under the new leadership of Mike Pompeo ordered the mandatory evacuation for US Consulate General Basrah in Southern Iraq. Secretary Pompeo blamed Iran, and cited “increasing and specific threats and incitements to attack our personnel and facilities in Iraq.”

On October 18, 2018, the Department of State ordered the temporary suspension of operations at the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah.

In November 2018, President Trump nominated career diplomat Matthew Tueller to be  the next U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.   The nomination has been resubmitted to the SFRC on January 16, 2019 where it remains pending as of this writing. It looks like the SRFC is not in any great hurry to hold a confirmation hearing.

That’s where we are. Still remains to be seen what kind of budget allocation we’re going to see in the FY2020 budget proposal  for US Mission Iraq, or what cost savings they’re looking at when this reduction is officially unveiled.  It would also be interesting to see if this is the start of the end of the Iraq tax on diplomatic personnel and facilities worldwide.

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Mental Health Resources, Staff Care, Counseling Assistance, Hotlines For Furloughed Employees

Posted: 3:06 am EST

 

+ State Department Mental Health Resources

Via STATE: MED’s Employee Consultation Services (ECS) office remains open with reduced staffing during the furlough. You can reach ECS at 703-812-2257 or email MEDECS@state.gov.  We emailed MEDECS and received the following auto-response email:

Thank you for contacting our office. During this lapse in appropriation period, Employee Consultation Services (ECS) continues to provide urgent short-term counseling services for domestic and overseas staff, Family Advocacy case management, urgent consultations, and referrals. Please provide a short narrative of ‎the nature of your urgent request and one of our clinicians will correspond as soon as possible or you can reach our office during DC working hours at 703-812-2257. For other urgent requests after working hours, please contact us at 202-320-7493.

Worklife4you is also available for consultations and referral services 24/7 at 866-552-4748, worklife4you.com.

WorkLife4You (WL4Y) is a comprehensive and confidential resource and referral for employees. WL4Y specialists are accessible 24/7 by phone (1-866-552-4748) and online to provide expert guidance and referrals for a wide variety of services to help employees balance the demands of their professional and personal lives. Employees can view the services by logging into the website, www.Worlklife4You.com, with the Screen name: statedepartment and Password: infoquest. Employees will need to register individually to use the services.

+ USAID Staff Care

Via USAID Administrator Mark Green: Our colleagues who are managing the email box shutdown_info@usaid.gov briefed me that they have received several questions about whether Staff Care remains open. Yes, it does. Staff Care is available to the USAID workforce throughout the funding lapse. Staff Care does great work, and we encourage you to reach out whenever necessary. As we have heard about some of the challenges our colleagues are facing at this time, we encourage you to share this message broadly.

We encourage you and your colleagues to reach out whenever necessary to Staff Care, which will remain available throughout the lapse in appropriations. The Staff Care Call Center is open 24/7 and can be accessed through the toll-free phone number below or the website. The Staff Care Services Center in Washington, D.C., at 601 13th Street, N.W., Suite 900 South, is open for walk-ins and appointments from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. You may make appointments for the Staff Care Services Center through the call-center line as well.

Staff Care Services 24 Hours a Day, 7 Days a Week, 365 Days a Year
Free Phone: 877-988-7243
Direct Dial: 919-645-4960
Reverse Charge Calling: +44-0-208-987-6200 (Call your international operator and request the charges be reversed to the number listed above.)
TTY: 888-262-7848
SMS: 314-910-7728
EMail: support@usaidstaffcarecenter.net

Website: staffcare.usaid.gov
Registration code: USAID

USAID Staff Care Services Center
601 13th Street, N.W.
Suite 900 South
Washington, D.C. 20005

+Peace Corps: Personal Counseling Assistance – Employee Assistance Program

The Employee Assistance Program remains available throughout the lapse.  Feel free to contact 1-888-993-7650.

+ Washington, D.C. Behavioral Health Community-based Service Providers

You can call or visit a provider to help you make a choice. And, you can talk with a mental health counselor at our 24/7 Access Helpline 1-888-7WE-HELP to help you select the most appropriate provider. Check link for list of providers and contact info.

  • Same Day Urgent Care
    You can walk into a clinic located at 35 K Street N and be seen the same day without an appointment from 8:30 am to 3 pm. Services include assessment, counseling, psychiatric evaluation and medication management. You may be referred to a community provider for ongoing care. If you have questions, please call (202) 442-4202.

+ Alexandria VA Emergency Hotlines

If you are in a crisis and need to talk to someone, call the CrisisLink Hotline at 703.527.4077 or text “connect” to 85511 (for TTY, dial 711), or the Department of Community & Human Services Emergency Services at 703.746.3401.

+ Montgomery County Crisis Center

The Crisis Center provides crisis mental health services 24 hours a day/365 days a year.  Services are provided by telephone (240-777-4000) or in person at 1301 Piccard Drive in Rockville (no appointment needed).  Visit https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/HHS-Program/Program.aspx?id=BHCS/BHCS24hrcrisiscenter-p204.html.

 

 

#TrumpShutdown Enters 18th Day, At Least $2.5B in Costs and Counting, With No End in Sight

Posted: 2:38 am PST

On January 3, the Democratic-led House passed spending bills with a handful of Republicans joining them to reopen the government without funds for the border wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said repeatedly that he won’t bring the measures up for a vote even if similar legislations made it through the Senate a couple of weeks ago. Those bills were indeed DOA in the Senate, which means, this shutdown will go on and on for now.

Three weeks ago when the shutdown started the State Department issued a notice that required the agency to “immediately commence shutdown procedures.”  The exceptions being those accounts that “initially have available balances” and the employees worldwide working in those funded entities supposedly were informed to continue to report to work.

Accounts subject to lapse in appropriation:

Diplomatic and Consular Programs
Office of the Inspector General
International Boundary and Water Commission Salary and Expenses
American Sections (Note: your blogger doesn’t know what this includes)

Accounts not subject to lapse in appropriation:

Worldwide Security Protection (Covers all DS and 90+ security positions in other bureaus)

Diplomatic Security
Bureau of Medical Services: Directorate of Operational Medicine
Bureau of Administration: Office of Emergency Management

Consular and Border Security Program (Covers all of CA and other consular support personnel)

International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS)

State Working Capital Fund services

Embassy, Security, Construction, and Maintenance (Covers all of OBO)

Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs

American Institute in Taiwan

Global Health (S/GAC & PEPFAR)

International Narcotics and Law Enforcement

Migration and Refugee Assistance

The announcement also notes that the employees excepted list is subject to change, which could lead to additional employees receiving furlough notices “if the lapse is expected to continue.” 

We understand that Diplomatic Security is already urging the “prudent use of overtime” to slow down the drawdown of its residual funding. No one is talking about it yet, but how long will the State Department continue to pay for its local employees including guards at 277 overseas posts without regular funding? How long will those “initial balances” last? State Department furlough guidelines says that standard procedures to process local employee staff payroll must be followed and that under no circumstances should alternate means be used to pay LE staff salaries, such as using petty cash. What are they going to do with contract guards? 

The State Department’s school, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI)is now closed to all students for the duration of the furlough period. The closure apparently also includes its online student portal. At least one small government contractor at FSI has laid off people just in the last 48 hours. Several dozen employees were affected. Family members working as contractors or subcontractors are affected. If this shutdown continues, married couples working for Uncle Sam and or government contractors will suffer a double whammy — one partner is laid off, and the other partner is working with no pay (this is not to say that single employees do not have bills and loans to pay, because they do, too).  There are also couples working for Uncle Sam as tandem, and both partners are considered “essential” with no pay. And what about one-income FS  families where a significant portion of spouses are not employed/could not get employed overseas?  This is not the first government shutdown, of course, but this is perhaps the most worrisome (until the next one) simply because of erratic pronouncements at the top, and a president who threatens to drag this out “for months or even years.”

The State Department’s Overseas Buildings Operations whose mission is “to provide safe, secure and functional facilities” for overseas mission is said to be running low on fuel. If OBO which typically has “no-year” funding is in trouble, that could mean a whole lot of the entities that initially had “available balances” may also be running into problems as the shutdown enters its third week. OBO has several ongoing projects overseas including 53 projects now in design or under construction. Furlough guidance states that OBO may “continue previously awarded construction and renovation projects for which adequate funds were obligated unless adequate supervision cannot be provided, in which case consider suspension of work if contractually permitted and practically feasible.” 

Diplomatic Post Offices are reportedly not affected by the shutdown at this time, but we’re hearing that the situation will not be the same if the shutdown is not lifted by the end of January. 

Remember the non-emergency personnel and family members evacuated from the US Embassy Kinshasa in December? The evacuees arrived in the DC area just before the shutdown and are now on furlough, too. Guess who’s processing their evacuation vouchers? Nobody. 

The agency shutdown guidelines also says that “Reassignment of personnel already planned may be continued, such as Permanent Changes of Station (PCS), only if funds have been previously obligated.” A host of nominees were just confirmed by the U.S. Senate recently but since no one knows for sure who will be confirmed, we don’t know how travel and relocation funds could have been appropriated ahead of time.Posts may see their new ambassadors soon, or they may not. One source told us that no one is getting orders or travel authorizations at this time. Can somebody please give us a confirmation on this?

We’re also now hearing talks about Consular Affairs’ funding issue, which is largely a self-funded operation, so help us out here — we’re perplexed about that. How is it running out of funds when its funding is not congressionally appropriated?  

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State/OIG: Sustained Failure of Leadership at the National Passport Center

The National Passport Center is located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. NPC opened in 1992 and this past November, it processed its 100 millionth passport application. Below excerpted from State/OIG’s report,  Targeted Review of Leadership and Management at the National Passport Center:

Backgrounder: NPC, the largest of 29 passport-processing agencies and twice the size of the next largest, issued 7.4 million passports in FY 2017, or 38 percent of all passports issued by the U.S. Government from October 2016 to September 2017. Located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the center was created in 1992, and it grew from 60 employees at its founding to approximately 900 following a 2007 surge in passport demand.

At the time of the inspection, NPC’s staff consisted of a GS-15 Director, 6 GS-14 Assistant Directors, 16 GS-13 Adjudication Managers, and 57 GS-12 Supervisory Passport Specialists who supervised approximately 350 Passport Specialists. Additional staff included Customer Service and Fraud
Prevention employees, Passport Operations Officers, and over 400 contractors who were responsible for passport production and other support services. NPC operates two flexible shifts, which together cover 22 hours per day Monday through Friday. In addition, depending on workload, NPC scheduled overtime shifts on Saturday and Sunday.

Work Environment and CA/PPT Leadership: Senior leaders in CA’s Office of Passport Services (CA/PPT) were aware of concerns regarding NPC’s work environment since at least 2013, when several NPC employees made allegations against NPC leadership. The employees alleged harassment, “bullying,” a lack of trust in leadership, favoritism, abusive behavior to employees, improper hiring procedures, and an overall lack of transparency in the operations of the organization. In response to the allegations, CA/PPT instructed the Director of the Northeast Regional Office, who oversees NPC and other passport agencies, to conduct an internal review of NPC, which he did in January and February 2014. […] To address the internal review’s findings, CA/PPT ordered extensive executive coaching and training for NPC’s Director and senior leaders. The training lasted approximately 2 years and ended in 2016.

How not to solve the problem: OIG also determined that CA/PPT and NPC senior leaders were disengaged and, based on OIG interviews, generally aware of concerns regarding harassment, abuse, and misconduct. During OIG’s review, CA/PPT senior leaders told OIG that they blamed some of the issues at NPC on the fact that employees have known each other for a long time, dismissing the allegations as grudges held from high school and referring to employees as “crusty New Englanders.” CA/PPT’s senior leaders moreover acknowledged inappropriate behavior at NPC, but hoped that “being really busy would solve the problem.”

Being really busy is their hopeful solution? Good lord, who are these people? Are they available to work their magic wand as WH chiefs of staff?

It works! OIG Hotline Complaints: Between February and May 2018, OIG received a series of hotline complaints alleging misconduct, harassment, retaliation, and unfair hiring practices at NPC. […] Hundreds of NPC employees reported to OIG that retaliation, harassment, and “bullying” pervaded the work environment at NPC. OIG found that the reported behavior was widespread and was either condoned or perpetrated by nearly all levels of NPC leadership. Seventeen percent (91) of NPC employees who responded to OIG’s survey reported that they had experienced or observed discrimination and harassment. Of the 156 NPC employees OIG interviewed, 54 (35 percent) stated that they had experienced or observed retaliation, 80 (51 percent) stated that they had experienced or observed harassment, and 61 (39 percent) stated that they had experienced or observed discrimination.

Employees reported to OIG multiple instances of perceived or possible retaliation by Assistant Directors, Adjudication Managers, and other Supervisory Passport Specialists in denying awards, promotions, and special assignments.

Multiple employees reported incidents of sexual and gender-based harassment to OIG, which in some cases, had been ongoing, widely known, and accepted as part of the center’s culture.

Holy Guacamole Alert! NPC’s already problematic workplace environment was exacerbated by the fact that communication was ineffective at all levels within NPC. […] One example of poor communication was the lack of a formal and effective process for explaining and interpreting new guidance with Passport Specialists. When CA/PPT Office of Adjudication (CA/PPT/A) issued new or updated adjudication-specific guidance, its implementation instructions to passport agencies stated that Adjudication Managers must meet with Passport Specialists to discuss the guidance, answer questions, and ensure everyone understands how to implement the new guidance.10 However, NPC’s Adjudication Managers consistently and affirmatively refused to meet with Passport Specialists. 

You read that part above and you think that’s just bonkers. If they’re not meeting regularly to discuss new passport guidance, how would they know if the guidance they have is already outdated?

Security Procedures: In the course of examining the leadership and communication issues described previously, OIG also learned that NPC did not comply with all required Department security procedures. Specifically […] NPC did not follow facility access control measures that govern employee entry and exit, creating an opportunity for individuals without approved access to enter the building.

Admonishment from CA/PPT senior leader and NPC managers: OIG also notes that, after its site visit, a CA/PPT senior leader visited NPC. According to an information memo CA prepared for the Deputy Secretary following the visit, the CA/PPT senior leader communicated  to NPC employees that the Department does not tolerate retaliation. However, OIG subsequently received complaints that CA/PPT senior leaders and NPC managers admonished staff for complaining to and speaking with OIG.

We should note that the OIG report does not include the names of the senior leaders at CA/PPT or the managers at NPC but they’re on LinkedIn, is that right? Please don’t make them lead the Consular Leadership Day festivities next year, hookay?

OBO’s Fire Protection Judgments and @StateDept’s Black Hole of Bureaucratic Shrugger-Swagger

 

We blogged previously about the State/OIG Management Assistance Report sounding the alarm over the fire alarm system at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul (see  U.S. Embassy Kabul: Fire Alarm System Needs Prompt Attention or #MustHaveNoFireBeforeMarch2019

We received a reaction about the OIG report basically saying “hey, I agree with all the violations listed by the OIG”. Our correspondent also thought the “funniest thing” included in the report is that OBO challenged the OIG qualifications. There appears to be serious concerns that sound fire protection engineering judgements are being overridden “on a regular basis.” There are also some questions/allegations about the qualifications of OBO folks making decisions concerning fire protection engineering — that if true, could potentially have serious consequences.

OPM says  that all Professional Engineering positions require a basic degree in engineering or a combination of education and experience — college-level education, training, and/or technical experience that furnished (1) a thorough knowledge of the physical and mathematical sciences underlying engineering, and (2) a good understanding, both theoretical and practical, of the engineering sciences and techniques and their applications to one of the branches of engineering. Also that the adequacy of such background must be demonstrated by one of the following: 1) Professional registration or licensure — Current registration as an Engineer Intern (EI), Engineer in Training (EIT)1, or licensure as a Professional Engineer (PE) by any State, the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico. 2) Written Test — Evidence of having successfully passed the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE)2 examination or any other written test required for professional registration by an engineering licensure board in the various States, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Read more here.

In any case, you know that State/PA refused to respond to us during Tillerson’s watch but with Pompeo’s new guards in, we thought we should try asking questions again from its media professionals, coz, why not, hey?

We did receive a PA response months ago that says “we’ll look into it but may not have anything over the weekend”.  Lordy, short weekends and long weekends have come and gone and we have not heard anything back via email, fax, sign language, or telephatic signal.  Our follow-up email appeared to have also ended up in a black hole of bureaucratic shrugger-swagger.

In any case, we’ve addressed the same questions to State/OIG, and those folks reliably read and respond to email inquiries, and we received the following:

Ensuring the safety and security of Department personnel is paramount for the OIG. We give careful consideration to allegations relating to safety and security issues, including the one involving the Office of Fire Protection. Additionally, if anyone becomes aware of something that jeopardizes the safety and security of Department employees, they should report it immediately to the OIG hotline at OIG.state.gov/HOTLINE or at 1-800-409-9926.

About that report, here are a couple of examples that we understand, requires some folks to wear brown paper bags over their heads when reading:

OBO’s Technical Comment 10 | OBO disagreed with OIG’s statement: “According to PAE, a secondary loop was installed. However, rather than being routed separately, the existing fiber optic cables run in a parallel path. Because the fiber optic cables run in the same direction (as opposed to opposite directions representing a redundant circuit), damage to one part of the network can render sections of the network inoperable.” OBO stated that “it is perfectly acceptable for cables to run in the same direction. They cannot run in the same conduit. Additionally, the secondary loop is, in fact, a redundant circuit since there are two paths of travel one from the original loop and one from the secondary loop.”

OIG’s Reply | OIG agrees that cables can run in the same direction but cannot run in the same conduit. OIG found, however, that a number of the runs currently installed at Embassy Kabul did, in fact, have fiber optic cables bundled together in the same conduit. The photo below shows the current configuration at Embassy Kabul in which fiber optic cables are bundled together in the same conduit. This is contrary to NFPA standards for a redundant path. OIG made no changes to the report on the basis of this comment.

TA-DAA! Somebody stop these wild cables from running in the same conduit!

 

OBO’s Technical Comment 13 | OBO disagreed with OIG’s conclusion that “the improper installation of key components of Embassy Kabul’s fire alarm system needs immediate attention because of the potential safety risk to personnel and property.” OBO stated that it disagreed with OIG’s underlying assumptions and that OIG’s scope contained flaws.

OIG’s Reply | As set forth in this report, OBO is not in compliance with NFPA 72 regarding the requirement for a redundant path. In addition, a number of the runs currently installed at Embassy Kabul have fiber optic cables bundled together in the same conduit, which similarly fails to comply with NFPA 72. The NFPA codes and standards are designed to minimize the risk and effects of fire by establishing criteria for building, processing, design, service, and installation around the world. Failure to adhere to these requirements thus presents potential risk to embassy personnel and property. Therefore, the improper installation of key components of Embassy Kabul’s fire alarm system requires immediate attention. OIG made no changes to the report on the basis of this comment.

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@StateDept’s Aviation Program Down to Just 206 Aircraft, Also Spends $72M on Unnecessary Services

Per 2 FAM 800: INL/A serves as the Departments aviation service provider (with the exception of aircraft charters managed by A/LM/OPS for logistics support of nonrecurring and unpredictable requirements like oddly-sized shipments, evacuations and other emergency assistance to Posts) and is coordinator of all aviation related to AGB [Aviation Governing Board] approved acquisitions.  INL/A is responsible for complying with the provisions of this chapter as well as OMB Circulars A-126, A-76, A-11, and A-94 and Federal Management Regulation 10233. Additionally, as part of the Departments Management Control Plan (see 2 FAM 020), INL/A must establish cost-effective management control systems to ensure that aviation programs are managed effectively, efficiently, economically, and with integrity.

Excerpt below via State/OIG:  Audit of the Department of State’s Administration of its Aviation Program (Sept 2018).

The Department is not consistently administering its aviation program in accordance with Federal requirements or Department guidelines. Specifically, OIG found instances in which significant aviation operations were undertaken without the knowledge or approval of the AGB, which is required by Department policy. In addition, the AGB is not fulfilling its responsibilities to evaluate the usage and cost effectiveness of aircraft services, as required by Office of Management and Budget Circulars and Department guidance. Furthermore, INL administer ed country-specific aviation programs differently depending on whether a post used the worldwide aviation support services contract. As a result of limited AGB oversight and the absence of evaluations to determine the appropriate usage and cost effectiveness of the Department’s aircraft operations worldwide, the Department is not optimally managing aviation resources and spent $72 million on unnecessary services from September 2013 to August 2017.

Snapshot: The Department’s aviation program was created in 1976 to support narcotics interdiction and drug crop eradication programs. The aviation program has since grown to a fleet of 206 aircraft and aviation operations that extend from South America to Asia and include transportation services for chief of mission personnel. In 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the Department owned more aircraft than any other non-military agency and was one of three agencies with the most “non-operational” aircraft. At the time of GAO’s analysis, the Department had 248 aircraft; the Department has since decreased that number to 206. As shown in Figure 1, as of January 2018, the aircraft inventory included airplanes (fixed-wing), helicopters (rotary-wing), and unmanned aircraft.

As of January 2018, the Department had aviation operating bases overseas in five countries —Colombia, Peru, Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq —and a support base at Patrick Air Force Base located in Melbourne, FL. The Department closed aviation programs in Cyprus and Pakistan during 2017. The Department plans to re-open an operating base in Guatemala. In addition, the Department has two dedicated chartered aircraft located in Cartersville,GA, and Nairobi, Kenya.

The Department’s Aviation Governing Board (AGB) is responsible for providing oversight of aviation activities, including approving policies, budgets, and strategic plans. The AGB was established in 2011. It is chaired by the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and has three other voting members—the Assistant Secretaries (or designees) from the Bureaus of Diplomatic Security, South and Central Asian Affairs, and Near Eastern Affairs.

INL/A consists of approximately 60 Civil Service personnel and 13 personal services contractors. To carry out the Department’s aircraft operations, maintenance, and logistics for the country-specific aviation programs, INL/A administers and oversees a worldwide aviation support services contract that provides a contract workforce of more than 1,500 personnel. According to an INL/A official, starting November 1, 2017, DynCorp International began its fifth extension of a $4.9 billion worldwide aviation services contract.

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US Embassy Costa Rica Sub-Contractor Gets 30 Months For Stealing USG Funds #VisaFees

This past July, we blogged about US Embassy Costa Rica’s sub-contractor who leaded guilty to the theft of visa fees (see What did we miss?).  On September 7, USDOJ announced that the contractor, Mauricio Andulo Hidalgo, age 43, of Costa Rica was sentenced to 30 months in prison for theft of government funds.

Via USDOJ:

Charleston, South Carolina —- United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon announced today that Mauricio Andulo Hidalgo, age 43, of Costa Rica, was sentenced to a term of 30 months in prison by the United States District Court in Charleston for stealing from the United States Government.

Hidalgo previously pled guilty to Theft of Government Funds, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 641.  United States District Judge Patrick Michael Duffy, of Charleston, imposed the sentence, which also includes three years of supervised release and mandatory restitution.

Evidence presented at a change of plea hearing established that Hidalgo used his position as President of SafetyPay-Central America to steal over $293,832 of government funds that were supposed to be transferred to a bank account maintained by the Department of State’s Global Financial Services Center in Charleston.  SafetyPay-Central America had been hired as a subcontractor to handle the processing of visa application fees for the United States Embassy in Costa Rica.  As part of the scheme, Hidalgo diverted the funds from a SafetyPay bank account in Costa Rica to another Costa Rican account under his sole control.

The case was investigated by special agent Katherine Kovacek of the Department of State/Office of Inspector General, which is led by Inspector General Steve A. Linick.  Assistant United States Attorneys Marshall “Matt” Austin and Nathan Williams both of the Charleston Office prosecuted the case.

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What did we miss?

 

Ambassador Steve Mull Back in Foggy Bottom

In June, former Ambassador Steve Mull was appointed Acting Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P) at the State Department. Until this appointment, he was a Resident Senior Fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.  Props to Secretary Pompeo for bringing him back to Foggy Bottom. Unless.  a new crop of career ambassadors were nominated and confirmed while we were gone, Ambassador Mull is the last remaining career ambassador in active service as of this writing.

EAP’s Susan Thornton to Retire After 27 Years in the Foreign Service

EAP’s Acting Assistant Secretary Susan Thornton is set to retire at the end of July after a 27-year career with the U.S. Foreign Service. The retirement was reported by Reuters on June 30.  (see Career Diplomat Susan A. Thornton to be Asst Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP)Tillerson Signals No Career Nominees For Regional Bureaus? #FoggyBottomBlues). Senator Rubio was reportedly prepared to place a hold on the Thornton nomination.

Still No Nominee for Director General of the Foreign Service?

So hey, it’s now July, and the U.S. Foreign Service still does not have a nominee for Director General. U.S. law dictates the nominee must be a member of the career Foreign Service.

US Ambassador to Estonia James Melville Pens Resignation on FB Over Trump Policies

On June 29, U.S. Ambassador to Estonia, Jim Melville, announced on Facebook his intent to retire from the Foreign Service after 33 years of public service. Ambassador James Desmond Melville, Jr., of New Jersey, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor was nominated by President Obama as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Estonia in the spring of 2015. He was  confirmed by voice vote on August 5, 2015. Prior to his appointment in Estonia, Ambassador Melville was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Germany.  Previous to that, he served as Executive Director of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and the Bureau of International Organization Affairs from 2010 to 2012. Ambassador Melville also served at the U.S. Embassies in London, Moscow, Paris, and at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels.  His earlier positions with the Department of State include service as a Foreign Service Examiner, Senior Watch Officer in the Executive Secretariat Operations Center, and Legislative Management Officer in the Bureau of Legislative Affairs.  Ambassador Melville received a B.A. from Boston University and a J.D. from Rutgers University. He joined the Foreign Service in 1985 during the Reagan Administration. Below via Eesti Ekspress:

 

Confirmations

On June 28, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following nominees:

  • Robin S. Bernstein, of Florida, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Dominican Republic.
  • Joseph N. Mondello, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Gordon D. Sondland, of Washington, to be Representative of the United States of America to the European Union, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.
  • Harry B. Harris, Jr., of Florida, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Korea
  • Ronald Gidwitz, of Illinois, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Belgium
  • Brian A. Nichols, of Rhode Island, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Zimbabwe
  • Tibor Peter Nagy, Jr., of Texas, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (African Affairs)
  • Francis R. Fannon, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Energy Resources)

On May 24, U.S. Senate confirmed the following :

  • James Randolph Evans, of Georgia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Luxembourg
  • Jonathan R. Cohen, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be the Deputy Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, and the Deputy Representative of the United States of America in the Security Council of the United Nations.
  • David B. Cornstein, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Hungary

On April 26, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following nominees:

  • Andrea L. Thompson, of South Dakota, to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security
  • Yleem D. S. Poblete, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Verification and Compliance)
  • Kirsten Dawn Madison, of Florida, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs).
  • Thomas J. Hushek, of Wisconsin, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of South Sudan
  • Richard Grenell, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Federal Republic of Germany.

 

US Embassy Germany: New Ambassador’s Rocky Start

On June 25, Politico Magazine did a lengthy piece on the new U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and his rocky start. “It is hard to overstate just how brashly he has charged onto the Berlin political scene during his first month in town.” Read Letter From Berlin: “‘He Does Not Understand What the Role of an Ambassador Should Be’

 

State/FSI’s Digital Media Administrator Pleads Guilty of Child Pornography Production

On July 2, Skydance MacMahon, 44, of Alexandria, Virginia, pleaded guilty to production of child pornography. During the time he committed these offenses, MacMahon was a Digital Media Administrator at the Foreign Services Institute of the U.S. Department of State in Arlington.  According to court documents, over at least a two year period, MacMahon, 44, conspired with an adult in Canada to produce over a thousand sexually explicit images and videos of minor children in Canada. These images and videos were produced at the direction of MacMahon using Skype and hidden cameras. MacMahon distributed these image and video files to other users and consumers of child pornography by providing access to the files on his cloud storage services and also by directly sending the files to other users.  In addition to the child pornography images and videos MacMahon himself created, he also received and possessed thousands of images and videos of child pornography. See more State Department Employee Pleads Guilty to Producing Child Pornography.

US Embassy London’s Inside the American Embassy Airs on Channel 4

The American Embassy, the previous TV series set at the U.S. Embassy in London in 2002 had six episodes but the show was canceled by Fox after only 4 episodes being broadcast.

It looks like the new show is only up for three episodes. Radio Times reports that Channel 4 has roughly 300 hours of behind-the-scenes footage and says in part: “Perhaps the most surreal part of the documentary comes when the cameras follow various British MPs attempting to garner Johnson’s attention, apparently unaware of the small mic attached to the ambassador’s lapel.” Whatthewhat?!

One TV review says: “Woody’s big problem, like everybody else’s, is the mad badger in the White House”. HIDE EVERYTHING!

US Embassy Costa Rica Sub-Contractor Pleads Guilty to Theft of $2Million Visa Fees

On June 14, a Department of State contractor pleads guilty to theft of government funds after evidence established that he stole more than $2 million of government funds that were supposed to be transferred to a bank account maintained by the Department of State’s Global Financial Services Center in Charleston. Evidence presented at the change of plea hearing established that Mauricio Andulo Hidalgo, age 43, of Costa Rica used his position as President of SafetyPay-Central America to steal over $2,000,000 of government funds.  SafetyPay-Central America had been hired as a subcontractor to handle the processing of visa application fees for the United States Embassy in Costa Rica.  As part of the scheme, Hidalgo diverted the funds from a SafetyPay bank account in Costa Rica to another Costa Rican account under his sole control. See more Department of State Contractor Pleads Guilty to Theft of Government Funds.

 

USCG Guangzhou Security Engineering Officer Mark Lenzi Disputes State Department Statement on Mystery Illness

On June 6, WaPo wrote about Mark Lenzi and his family who  started noticing noises in April 2017 at the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou, China. “A few months later, the headaches started — pain that lasted for days at a time. Lenzi and his wife experienced the same symptoms, which soon included chronic sleeplessness as well. Lenzi says he asked his superiors for help but they dismissed his concerns. Consulate doctors prescribed painkillers and Ambien, which did nothing to address the underlying causes of the problem. And then, last month, Lenzi was shocked to learn another neighbor, a fellow Foreign Service officer, had been evacuated from their building and flown back to the United States for a thorough medical assessment, which soon determined that the person in question was suffering from “mild traumatic brain injury.”  

They gave him painkillers and Ambien but medevaced the FSO next door?

The State Department reportedly issued a statement but said it is unaware of any other cases — a point “strongly disputed by Lenzi, who insists he had repeatedly informed both the embassy in Beijing and State Department headquarters in Washington of his family’s predicament.”  Lenzi, who has reportedly called for the resignation of the US Ambassador to Beijing  told WaPo that the State Department “restricted his access to the building where he normally worked after he began to speak up more forcefully about the treatment of his family, essentially neutralizing his capacity to continue his work at the consulate”.

We understand that Mark Lenzi is a specialist who was assigned as a Security Engineering Officer (SEO) in Guangzhou until he and his family were evacuated from post. Given the reported restriction to post access for speaking out about this incident, this is a case that bears watching.

State/ECA Official Pleads Guilty to Theft of Government Funds in Sports Visitors Program

On May 25,  Kelli R. Davis, 48, of Bowie, Maryland, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit theft of public funds and engage in honest services wire fraud before U.S. Senior District Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia.  Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 24.

According to admissions made in connection with her plea, Davis was a Program Specialist for the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges.  She also served as the Program Manager and Grants Officer Representative for the Sports Visitors Program, which sponsored foreign exchanges for emerging youth athletes and coaches from various countries.  The exchange program was managed by George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, through a federal grant and cooperative agreement with the State Department.  See State Department Official Pleads Guilty to Honest Services Wire Fraud and Theft of Federal Funds

Forced Repayment of Previously Approved Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA)?

There were lots of talk some weeks back about people being forced to pay back special needs funding for their children that was already previously authorized and paid.  Folks were wondering if MED’s Office of Child and Family Programs (MED/CFP) previously highlighted by media reporting is responsible in getting this rolling. Anybody got some special insights on the whys and hows of this?

 

Who owns your medical and mental health records?

It has come to our attention that the State Department’s Medical Bureau can deny/restrict employees and family members overseas assignments over erroneous entries in their medical/mental health records. Of particular note is access to mental health records.  Employees can ask for an amendment to their records but how does one go about doing that without access to those records?

Apparently, State’s internal guidance doesn’t say that employees have the right to have inaccurate information removed – just that they can make the request to have it removed: “If you believe that the information we have about you is incorrect or incomplete, you may request an amendment to your protected health information as long as we maintain this information. While we will accept requests for amendment, we are not required to agree to the amendment.”

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