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Sharon Weinberger: The Imagineers of War (Excerpt)

Posted: 12:25 am ET

 

We mentioned Sharon Wienberger’s book a couple days ago in 16 USG Employees in “Sonic Attack” and More on The Secret History of Diplomats and Invisible Weapons.  For readers who may be interested, below is an excerpt courtesy of Kindle Preview:

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If @StateDept Refuses to Spend $80M Appropriated Funds, Could It End Up in Court? #GAO

Posted: 3:48 pm PT

 

Last month, we wrote about the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act; the Act  inspired by then President Nixon’s refusal to disburse nearly $12 billion of appropriated funds by Congress.

Today, Politico is reporting that Secretary Tillerson is resisting the pleas of State Department officials to spend nearly $80 million allocated by Congress for fighting terrorist propaganda and Russian disinformation.

“It is highly unusual for a Cabinet secretary to turn down money for his department. But more than five months into his tenure, Tillerson has not issued a simple request for the money earmarked for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, $60 million of which is now parked at the Pentagon. Another$19.8 million sits untouched at the State Department as Tillerson’s aides reject calls from career diplomats and members of Congress to put the money to work against America’s adversaries.”

The $60 million will expire on Sept. 30 if not transferred to State by then, current and former State Department officials told POLITICO.
[…]
Last month, Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio pressed Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan on whether Tillerson considers the Global Engagement Center a priority and urged that hiring caps be lifted so the center can expand.

We anticipate that Congress could allocate more funds for the State Department than requested by the Trump Administration.  Given that the Administration has proposed some 30% cuts in its own request, it will be worth watching what Tillerson will do with the bulk of appropriated funds that the Administration did not ask for. The reported $80 million for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center that the State Department has not released could be the first test.

The State Department could violate the 1974 Impoundment Control Act (ICA) if it refuses to obligate funds for policy reasons without President Trump sending a special message to both Houses of Congress.  It is also considered a violation is if it sets aside funds or intentionally slows down spending, or if it proposes a deferral but the timing is such that funds could be expected to lapse before they could be obligated.

Under ICA, an impoundment is any action or inaction by an officer or employee of the federal government that precludes obligation or expenditure of budget authority.  The Act applies to salaries and expenses appropriations as well as program appropriations.

The Impoundment Control Act of 1974 (ICA) provides authority for agencies to “impound” or withhold the obligation of funds in certain circumstances. There are two ways for withholding funds, through a deferral or through proposed rescission. In both both cases, the President is required to send a “special message” to the House and the Senate specifying the following:

(1) the amount of budget authority which he proposes to be rescinded or which is to be so reserved;
(2) any account, department, or establishment of the Government to which such budget authority is available for obligation, and the specific project or governmental functions involved;
(3) the reasons why the budget authority should be rescinded or is to be so reserved;
(4) to the maximum extent practicable, the estimated fiscal, economic, and budgetary effect of the proposed rescission or of the reservation; and
(5) all facts, circumstances, and considerations relating to or bearing upon the proposed rescission or the reservation and the decision to effect the proposed rescission or the reservation, and to the maximum extent practicable, the estimated effect of the pro- posed rescission or the reservation upon the objects, purposes, and programs for which the budget authority is provided.

A deferral is used if the President wants to temporarily withhold obligation of funds (but not beyond the end of the fiscal year). A rescission is used if the President wants to permanently withhold funds from obligation and for Congress to cancel the budget authority (before that authority would otherwise expire). The latter can be accomplished only through legislation.

The GAO’s Principles of Federal Appropriations Law notes that “The President is authorized to withhold budget authority that is the subject of a rescission proposal for a period of 45 days of continuous session following receipt of the proposal. Unless Congress acts to approve the proposed rescission within that time, the budget authority must be made available for obligation.”

Since Congress is on break in August, and the fiscal year ends on Sept 30, we don’t think there’s enough time to notify Congress of the rescission if that’s something the State Department is considering for the $80 million GEC funds.

So what happens if an agency withholds appropriated funds, and refuses to spend it?

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Former U.S. Naval Attaché to US Embassy Manila Michael Brooks Sentenced in Navy Scandal

Posted: 2:35 am ET

 

On June 16, 2017, USDOJ announced that a former U.S. Naval Attaché and Military Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador in the Philippines was sentenced for taking bribes in a massive U.S. Navy corruption scandal.

A Retired U.S. Navy Captain was sentenced in federal court today to 41 months in prison for his role in a massive bribery and fraud scheme involving foreign defense contractor Leonard Glenn Francis and his firm, Singapore-based, Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA).

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Alana W. Robinson Southern District of California, Director Dermot O’Reilly of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and Director Andrew Traver of the NCIS made the announcement.

In addition to the 41-month prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Janis L. Sammartino ordered Michael Brooks, 59, of Fairfax Station, Virginia, to pay a $41,000 fine and $31,000 in restitution to the U.S. Navy.  Brooks pleaded guilty in November 2016 to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.

Brooks, who served as the U.S. Naval Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines, from 2006 to 2008, has admitted accepting bribes of travel and entertainment expenses, hotel rooms and the services of prostitutes. In return, Brooks admitted that he used his power and influence to benefit GDMA and Francis, including by securing quarterly clearances for GDMA vessels, which allowed GDMA vessels to transit into and out of the Philippines under the diplomatic imprimatur of the U.S. Embassy. Neither GDMA nor any other defense contractor has ever been granted such unfettered clearances.

Brooks admitted that he also allowed Francis to ghostwrite official U.S. Navy documents and correspondence, which Brooks submitted as his own. For example, Brooks admitted allowing GDMA to complete its own contractor performance evaluations. A November 2007 evaluation, drafted by GDMA and submitted by Brooks, described the company’s performance as “phenomenal,” “unsurpassed,” “exceptional” and “world class.” Brooks also admitted providing Francis with sensitive, internal U.S. Navy information, including U.S. Navy ship schedules and billing information belonging to a GDMA competitor, at times using a private Yahoo! e-mail account to mask his illicit acts.

Twenty-one current and former Navy officials have been charged so far in the fraud and bribery investigation; 10 have pleaded guilty and 10 cases are pending. In addition, five GDMA executives and GDMA the corporation have pleaded guilty.

NCIS, DCIS and DCAA are conducting the ongoing investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark W. Pletcher and Patrick Hovakimian of the Southern District of California and Assistant Chief Brian R. Young of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.

Anyone with information relating to fraud, corruption or waste in government contracting should contact the NCIS anonymous tip line at www.ncis.navy.mil or the DOD Hotline at www.dodig.mil/hotline, or call (800) 424-9098.

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U.S. Embassy Doha Issues Security Message Amidst #Qatar Diplomatic Crisis

Posted: 2:45 am ET

 

On June 5, the U.S. Embassy in Doha issued a security message over the break in diplomatic relations between Qatar and other Gulf countries.

On June 5, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt announced the cessation of diplomatic and consular ties with the State of Qatar. Qatar Airways and other airlines in the region have announced the suspension of certain flights to and from Qatar. The U.S. Embassy takes this opportunity to remind all U.S. citizens residing in or visiting Qatar to check directly with your travel providers for any potential impact on your personal travel arrangements and remain alert to additional developments. The embassy is monitoring the situation closely and is working with the Government of Qatar to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens in the country.

We should note that the U.S. Ambassador to Qatar is concluding her assignment, and the NEA Bureau‘s Acting Assistant Secretary is retiring. No successors have been announced to-date for both positions.

A 2010 OIG report notes that Embassy Doha is a mid-size embassy, with a staff of 82 U.S. direct-hire person­nel, 113 foreign national staff, and 11 locally hired American personnel. No Qatari citizens are employed by the mission. Operations under chief of mission authority include representatives from the Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Foreign Commercial Service. Operating budgets for U.S. Government agencies under chief of mission authority total approximately $13.7 million. A key element of the U.S. Qatari strategic partnership is the use of Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base, one of the most important military bases in the Middle East.

Amb.Peter Bodde and AFRICOM Gen. Thomas Waldhauser Make First Libya Visit Since 2014

Posted: 3:03 am ET

 

The U.S. ambassador to Libya Peter Bodde (based in Tunisia) and AFRICOM’s General Thomas Waldhauser (based in Germany) flew into Tripoli for two hours to meet with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. This is reportedly the first visit by a U.S. diplomat since post closure in July 2014 (see State Dept Suspends All Embassy Operations in Libya, Relocates Staff Under Armed EscortsUS Embassy Libya Evacuation of July 26, 2014 – In Photos).

Ambassador Bodde reiterated U.S. support for Libya “as a unified, secure, and prosperous state under a government that can serve the Libyan people”  and “applaud the ongoing Libyan dialogue on how to form a government that has broad acceptance across Libya, within the framework of the Skhirat Agreement.”   Ambassador Bodde also thanked Prime Minister al-Sarraj for “his ongoing strong partnership in combating ISIS and other UN-designated terrorist groups, and we stand with all Libyans in combating terrorism anywhere in Libya.”

 

Related posts:

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Trump Bombs Syria While Hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russia Demands UNSC Meeting

Posted: 4:23 am ET

 

Meanwhile in Mar-a-Lago, where President Trump is hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping:

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Tillerson Responds to North Korean Missile Launch With a 23-Word Statement 👀

Posted: 12:49 am ET

 

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Hopeless But Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in #Afghanistan (Excerpt)

Posted: 2:24 am ET

 

Douglas Wissing previously wrote a book entitled, Funding the Enemy: How US Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban.  He’s back with a new book, Hopeless but Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in Afghanistan. Kirkus Review calls it “a scathing dispatch” with “pungent, embittered, eye-opening observations of a conflict involving lessons still unlearned.”

As he gets into Kabul to embed with the military, the author notes “a USAID (United States Agency for International Development) billboard proclaiming women’s rights in English and Dari that few Afghan females can read, because almost 90 percent of them are still illiterate after more than a decade and $100 billion spent on grotesquely mismanaged US aid programs.”

That Ring Road?  Wissing writes, “During his frantic reelection push after the botched Iraq invasion, President George W. Bush decided that refurbishing the Ring Road on a yeehaw schedule in 2003 would show Afghans how things were done the American way. Well, it did. The highway is infamous for its poor construction and extravagant price.”

It’s that kind of book. It reminds us of Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well book on Iraq.

A couple of notes, Chapter 35 titled Embassy includes a nugget about Embassy Kabul refusing to allow the author to meet with SIGAR John Sopko who was also at post, without a minder. Sopko, according to Wissing was furious, demanding a private meeting without embassy handlers but “the diplomats won’t budge.”

Chapter 36 talks about Loss.  A cynical USAID financial officer earlier told the author that “given the amount of money the United States was pushing on the Afghan insiders who were “bankers,” he didn’t blame them for stealing it.” This is in relation to the Bank of Kabul scandal that involved an almost $900 million Ponzi scheme of fraudulent loans. The chapter also talks about Anne Smedinghoff and four other Americans, including three soldiers and an interpreter lost during a suicide attack in Qalat. The author previously meet Smedinghoff during a visit to the embassy compound in Kabul where the latter acted as his minder, assigned to escort him for an interview with a Justice Department official who was working the Afghan Threat Finance Cell (ATFC).

The author told us that he find audiences in the U.S. are often surprised to learn that Afghanistan remains our largest foreign military engagement–$44 billion requested for FY 2017 (vs $5 billion for Syria) “to add to the trillion dollars already wasted.” He also notes that around 10,000 US troops are still there, along with up to 26,000 defense contractors.

We’re posting an excerpt of the book courtesy of Amazon Kindle/Preview:

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“The Secretary” Writes FY18 Budget Love Letter to Foggy Bottom, But What’s This About Post Closures?

Posted: 2:21 pm ET

 

Earlier, we posted about Trump’s “skinny budget” which guts the State Department and USAID funding by 28%. (see WH/OMB Releases FY2018 Budget Blueprint – @StateDept/@USAID Hit With 28% Funding Cuts).  We understand that the actual cut is closer to 36% once the Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) is factored in. In early March, media reports indicate that the proposed cuts for the international affairs budget would be 37% (see In Disaster News, Trump Budget Seeks 37% Funding Cut For @StateDept and @USAID). If there was push back from the Tillerson State Department in the weeks before OMB released the “America First” budget blueprint, T-Rex’s diplomatic nudge appears to result in a 36% funding reduction instead of the first reported 37% funding cut.

Yesterday morning, as folks were waking up to the OMB release, a letter sent from Secretary Tillerson’s office arrived in the inboxes of State Department employees:

THE SECRETARY OF STATE
WASHINGTON

Today the Office of Management and Budget released a preview of the President’s budget request for 2018.  It is an unmistakable restatement of the needs the country faces and the priorities we must establish.  The State Department’s budget request addresses the challenges to American leadership abroad and the importance of defending American interests and the American people.  It acknowledges that U.S. engagement must be more efficient, that our aid be more effective, and that advocating the national interests of our country always be our primary mission. Additionally, the budget is an acknowledgment that development needs are a global challenge to be met not just by contributions from the United States, but through greater partnership with and contributions from our allies and others.

Over the coming weeks, we will work together to draw a new budget blueprint that will allow us to shape a Department ready to meet the challenges that we will face in the coming decades.  We will do this by reviewing and selecting our priorities, using the available resources, and putting our people in a position to succeed.

We have a genuine opportunity to set a new course.  Together, we are going to advance America’s national security and its economic security.  I am motivated to tackle this challenge and am eager to realize what we will achieve together.

We understand that this letter did not get very good reviews in Foggy Bottom. We really do think that Secretary Tillerson needs to have a town hall meeting with his employees as soon as he gets back from his travel. Before perceptions become realities.  We already know the why, now folks need to understand the where and how.  And it doesn’t help to just tell one bureau it’s zeroed out in funds, and then come back another day and say how about a 50% cut? As if the 7th floor taskmasters got off the wrong side of bed one morning and on the right side the next day.

During his stop in Japan, Secretary Tillerson finally took a few questions during press availability with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. The State Department budget was one of the questions asked during the presser. Below is a transcript from state.gov:

QUESTION: Secretary Tillerson, today the White House is revealing its blueprint for the federal budget that will include deep cuts to your department. Do you support efforts to make such drastic cuts to diplomacy and development funding at this time? And are you confident that you will be able to continue to represent U.S. interests with such reduced room to maneuver?

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Secretary Tillerson, please.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I think in terms of the proposed budget that has been put forth by President Trump, it’s important from the State Department perspective, I think, a little context, to recognize that the State Department is coming off of an historically high level of budgetary resources in the 2017 budget, and this is reflective of a number of decisions that have been taken over the past few years, in part driven by the level of conflicts that the U.S. has been engaged in around the world as well as disaster assistance that’s been needed.

I think clearly, the level of spending that the State Department has been undertaking in the past – and particularly in this past year – is simply not sustainable. So on a go-forward basis, what the President is asking the State Department to do is, I think, reflective of a couple of expectations. One is that as time goes by, there will be fewer military conflicts that the U.S. will be directly engaged in; and second, that as we become more effective in our aid programs, that we will also be attracting resources from other countries, allies, and other sources as well to contribute in our development aid and our disaster assistance.

I think as I look at our ability to meet the mission of the State Department, I am quite confident. The men and women in the State Department are there for one reason. They’re not there for the glory. They’re not there for the money, obviously. They’re there because they’re extraordinarily dedicated to the mission and dedicated to ensuring America’s national security, economic security. We are going to be undertaking a very comprehensive examination of how programs are executed, a very comprehensive examination of how we are structured, and I’m confident that with the input of the men and women of the State Department, we are going to construct a way forward that allows us to be much more effective, much more efficient, and be able to do a lot with fewer dollars.

So it’s challenging. We understand the challenge. I take the challenge that the President has given us on willingly and with great expectation that with everyone in the State Department’s assistance, we’re going to deliver a much better result for the American people in the future.

Secretary Tillerson talking about “historically high level of budgetary resources in the 2017 budget” for the State Department made us look up the budget request for the last five fiscal years. The largest funding request was five years ago for FY2013 at $51.6 billion.

FY2017:  $50.1 billion.  The State Department $50.1 billion request includes a base of $35.2 billion and $14.9 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) request. (SAO: For FY16 and ’17, we will be using OCO to support countries and programs that require assistance to prevent, address, or recover from human-caused crises and natural disasters, as well as to secure State and USAID’s operations from hostile acts and potential terrorism. OCO will be providing about 50 to 100 percent of the funding for some countries and programs, including a range of ongoing assistance operations and treaty commitments).

FY2016:  $50.3 billion. The State and USAID budget request totals $50.3 billion.  The base budget request is $43.2 billion plus $7 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funds  — to respond to immediate and extraordinary national security requirements. OCO funds supports critical programs and operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, as well as exceptional costs related to efforts to fight ISIL, respond to the conflict in Syria, and support Ukraine.

FY2015: $46.2 billion. The overall State and USAID Budget Request is $46.2 billion, plus $5.9 billion request for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) which funds key programs in — Iraq and Pakistan helps sustain hard-fought gains in Afghanistan through the 2014 transition.

FY2014: $47.8 billion. The overall request is $47.8 billion, includes $44 billion as part of base budget or enduring budget, and $3.8 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, (OCO)  which — largely covers the extraordinary costs of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

FY2013: $51.6 billion. The Department of State/USAID budget totals $51.6 billion which includes $43.4 billion for the core budget,  which funds the long-term national security mission of the Department and USAID and $8.2 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) to support the extraordinary and temporary costs of civilian-led programs and missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

The second thing we’d like to note is Secretary Tillerson’s assertion that “there will be fewer military conflicts that the U.S. will be directly engaged in.” If that’s really the expectation, why is Trump’s budget giving DOD $54billion more in funds as it guts the State Department and USAID? As we write this, we are mindful that the United States is still in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Syria, in Yemen, and a host of other places that are not front page news.

By the way, what’s this we’re hearing about the transition folks looking to close some US embassies in Africa?  Apparently there are now people at State who think we should close our embassy in country X for instance because — hey, AFRICOM is already there so why do we need an embassy?  Argh!  These folks realize that 3/4 of AFRICOM actually works at the command’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, right?  AFRICOM’s HQ is not the point, of course, but if there are transition folks thinking about AFRICOM (just one of the six geographic combatant commands) as an excuse for post closures overseas, where else might they be thinking of playing their game of disengagement?

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Snapshot: Discretionary spending by the federal government, FY2016

Posted: 2:38 am  ET

 

Via the Congressional Budget Office, February 2017:

Discretionary Spending is spending that lawmakers control through annual appropriation acts. Below is a breakdown of discretionary spending for FY2016 (October 1, 2015 – September 30, 2016).

  • $1.2 Trillion | Discretionary spending by the federal government in 2016
  • $584 Billion ($0.6 Trillion) | Spending on national defense, which accounted for nearly half of the discretionary total, in 2016
  • $52 Billion | International Affairs, which accounted for the smallest nondefense spending
Via CBO

Via CBO

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