What’s up at OPM — why the immediate changes to login access to Employee Express?

 

The message reportedly went out from the Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services (CGFS) Global Compensation Communications Team on Wednesday, September 22, 2021, 08:50:00 AM PDT.The subject line says: “Immediate Changes to Login Access to Employee Express.”
Last Friday, September 17, 2021, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) informed the Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services (CGFS) that the Employee Express (EEX) and Annuitant Employee Express (AEEX) user accounts will no longer be accessible by logging in with a username and password.
OPM is the agency that manages both the EEX and AEEX systems and suspended non-Personal Identification Card (PIV) and Common Access Card (CAC) access to EEX and AEEX as of 7:00 PM EST Friday, September 17.
OPM suspended it on Friday, and folks were notified the following Wednesday?
— Users will only be able to access their accounts using their agency-issued PIV Smartcard. This modification impacts both employee and annuitant customers.
— Customers who do not currently have a PIV Smartcard and need immediate assistance to access or modify payroll or benefits information that would typically be performed by EEX, should contact the following offices:
— For assistance with modifying Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) information, contact Employee and Annuitant Services (EAS) at HRSC@state.gov or 1-866-300-7419.
— For PIV issues, please contact your bureau Information Technology department.
— For all other inquiries, please contact Payroll Customer Support by emailing Payhelp@state.gov.
OPM apparently has notified the State Department that they are working on an alternative solution for individuals who do not have a PIV Smartcard and plan to have this in place by November 1, 2021.
Oh, goody! That’s some five weeks away.
Now we want to know why the immediate urgency on these changes? Worth a question. Given it’s not too long ago when this happened — OPM Hack Compromises Federal Employee Records, Not Just PII But Security Clearance Info.

###

 

Brett M. Holmgren Assumes Charge as Asst Secretary For Intelligence and Research (State/INR)

 

@StateDept’s Deferred Maintenance Backlog For Overseas Properties Estimated at $3Billion

 

The GAO recently released its review of the State Department’s overseas real property assets:
State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations operates and maintains over 8,500 owned and leased real property assets, including both buildings and structures. According to State, at least 60 percent of a building’s total lifecycle cost stems from operations and maintenance costs. GAO has reported that deferring maintenance and repairs can lead to higher costs in the long term and pose risks to agencies’ missions.
GAO was asked to review State’s efforts to manage its operations and maintenance needs. This report examines (1) how operations and maintenance funding for overseas assets changed from fiscal years 2016 through 2020, (2) the condition and maintenance needs of State’s overseas assets, and (3) the extent to which State has followed leading practices to address its deferred maintenance backlog.
Officials said they had not found it necessary to specifically request such funding because they only determined that the backlog had substantially increased from $96 million in fiscal year 2019 to $3 billion in fiscal year 2020 after using a new methodology for estimating deferred maintenance and repair. In addition, State does not have a plan to address the backlog, but officials estimated it could take 30 to 40 years to eliminate the backlog with current funding levels.
Dear, lord! What is this going to be like by 2050?

Excerpts from the report:

Assets/Operations Up, Maintenance Funding Nearly Unchanged

–The Department of State’s portfolio of overseas assets and expenditures to operate them have grown, but State-allocated funding for maintenance has stayed nearly the same. For fiscal years 2015 through 2019, both the number and square footage of State’s assets increased 11 percent and operations expenditures grew 24 percent. However, maintenance and repair funding has remained nearly unchanged.

— State’s allocation for Maintenance Cost Sharing—for projects collectively funded by State and tenant agencies overseas—was $399 million in fiscal year 2016 and $400 million in 2020.

From fiscal years 2016 through 2020, building operating expenditures for State and other agencies that work at overseas assets increased by 24
percent, from $530 million to $656 million annually. State’s allocated funding for maintenance and repairs for overseas assets has remained about the same in recent years, averaging $505 million from fiscal years 2016 through 2020.

That $3 Billion Could be Higher

— State set a single acceptable condition standard of “fair” for all assets and did not consider whether some assets, like chancery office buildings, were more critical to State’s mission when estimating its $3 billion deferred maintenance backlog. Had State set a higher condition standard for critical assets, its backlog would be higher.

It All Adds Up Over Time

Older chancery office buildings tend to be in poor condition and are a challenge to maintain. As shown earlier in table 4, we found that 72 of
216 (or 33 percent) chancery buildings—that OBO identifies as mission
condition due to a large amount of deferred maintenance that has built up
over time.

Ambassadorial Residences Take Note

In discussing the condition of ambassadorial residences with State, OBO officials said they have taken steps to evaluate and rank State’s
ambassadorial residences that are in need of major rehabs. OBO officials told us that State has preliminarily identified the need to rehabilitate or
replace ambassadors’ residences in Beijing, China; Kathmandu, Nepal; Nairobi, Kenya; Ottawa, Canada; Paris, France; Sarajevo, Bosnia and
Herzegovina; and Tegucigalpa, Honduras. However, OBO officials said there is no formal schedule for rehabilitating ambassadorial residences
because there is no predictable annual funding for rehabilitating State-only occupied assets.

More than a Quarter of Properties in “Poor Condition”

— More than a quarter of the State Department’s overseas buildings and other real properties are in poor condition by State’s condition standards, including almost 400 buildings and other assets that State considers critical to its mission.

FY21 $100 Million Request: Specific But Not Really

According to OBO officials, they outlined specific funding requested for maintenance and repair, including minor construction and improvement, in an appendix to State’s congressional budget requests. State’s fiscal year 2021 budget requested $100 million to address DM&R for State’s non–cost shared facilities. However, OBO officials noted that this funding was for the minor construction and improvement program (or modernization
budget), which does not specifically address the DM&R backlog.

GAO made five recommendations to the State Department:

The Secretary of State should ensure that that the Director of OBO reassess State’s acceptable condition standard for all asset types and
mission dependencies, to include whether mission criticality justifies a different standard among assets. (Recommendation 1)

The Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of OBO incorporates the mission criticality of its assets when deciding how to target maintenance and repair investments. (Recommendation 2)

The Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of OBO monitors posts’ completion of annual condition assessments that use a standardized inspection methodology, so that State has complete and consistent data to address its deferred maintenance and repair backlog. (Recommendation 3)

The Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of OBO develops a plan to address State’s deferred maintenance and repair backlog, and specifically identifies the funding and time frames needed to reduce it in congressional budget requests, related reports to decision makers, or
both. (Recommendation 4)

The Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of OBO employs models for predicting the outcome of investments, analyzing tradeoffs,
and optimizing among competing investments. (Recommendation 5)

 

Click to access gao-21-497.pdf

Confirmations: Donald Lu (SCA), Brian Nichols (WHA), Brett M. Holmgren (INR)

The U.S. Senate confirmed by voice vote two nominees for the State Department’s geographic bureau and one nominee for the functional bureau.
2021-09-13 PN551 Department of State | Donald Lu, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs (SCA).
2021-09-13 PN268 Department of State | Brian A. Nichols, of Rhode Island, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Western Hemisphere Affairs).
2021-09-13 PN273 Department of State | Brett M. Holmgren, of Minnesota, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Intelligence and Research).

 

###

Biden to Nominate @ColumbiaLaw’s Sarah H. Cleveland to be @StateDept Legal Adviser

 

President Biden recently announced his intent to nominate Sarah H. Cleveland to be the next Legal Adviser of the State Department. The WH released the following brief bio:

Sarah H. Cleveland, Nominee for Legal Adviser of the Department of State

Sarah H. Cleveland is an American law professor and expert in international law and the constitutional law of U.S. foreign relations.  A native of Alabama, she holds the Louis Henkin Chair in Human and Constitutional Rights and is Faculty Co-Director of the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School. She previously served as the Co-Coordinating Reporter of the American Law Institute’s Restatement (Fourth) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States (2018), and as Counselor on International Law to the Legal Adviser of the U.S. Department of State.  She was nominated by the U.S. government and served as an independent expert on the United Nations Human Rights Committee (2015-18) and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe (2013-19). Cleveland began her career as a Skadden Fellow representing migrant farmworkers with Florida Legal Services, and then joined the faculty at the University of Texas School of Law. The author of numerous publications, she also has taught at Oxford, Harvard, Michigan, Sciences Po Paris, Paris II Panthéon-Assas, and the European University Institute, Florence.  She earned a Bachelor’s Degree with honors at Brown University (Junior Phi Beta Kappa); a Master’s Degree at Oxford University, where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar; and a J.D. at Yale University Law School.  She clerked for Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, and then for Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun.

Related posts:

State/OIG Audits CA’s Official and Diplomatic Passport Records

 

 

Via State/OIG:
(U) Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Concerns

(U) In September 2020, OIG received a referral from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). According to the referral, in 2019, during an audit of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) passport management and security controls,19 TIGTA requested from CA information associated with diplomatic and official passports issued to IRS employees and appointees for the last 20 years, as of March 31, 2019. Specifically, for each passport issued, TIGTA requested the applicant’s name, passport number, passport type, issuance date, and passport status (e.g., cancelled, lost, or stolen).

(U) According to TIGTA officials, TIGTA received three separate passport datasets from CA. However, TIGTA found that the data provided in each dataset were incomplete. For example, some passport records had blank issuance and expiration date fields. Furthermore, the data identified onlyfive passports that were issued in 2016 and indicated that no passports were issued to IRS employees from 2017 through 2019. However, IRS records indicated that more than 200 official or diplomatic passports were issued to employees between 2016 and 2019. Lastly, one dataset included only Department of Treasury employees and not IRS employees. According to TIGTA officials, CA officials could not explain why the database was providing incomplete data. Based on the missing records and data fields, TIGTA deemed CA’s information as unreliable for use in its audit.
[…]
(U) In response to TIGTA’s concerns about receiving incomplete data from CA, OIG reviewed the  847,880 official and diplomatic passport records provided to OIG by CA and found that none of  the passport records had blank issuance or expiration date fields. Furthermore, the records  showed that CA issued 652 official and diplomatic passports to IRS employees and their family  members from FY 2017 through FY 2019 as opposed to the data provided to TIGTA, which showed that no passports were issued to IRS employees from FY 2017 through FY 2019.

The Special Issuance Agency (SIA) did not review the data!

(U) When asked about TIGTA’s concerns, CA officials stated that CA’s Office of Consular Systems and Technology ran a query in TDIS using sponsor codes28 that are associated with IRS to obtain the data requested by TIGTA. CA’s Office of Legal Affairs and Law Enforcement Liaison and the  Office of Passport Integrity and Internal Controls reviewed the data before the data were  released to TIGTA. SIA did not review the data. If SIA employees had reviewed the data, they  would have recognized that it was incomplete. SIA employees would know, because of  reimbursement data, the number of passports issued to IRS employees. CA officials also stated  that, although there are processes in place for reviewing and clearing data prior to release to Federal customers, there is not a formal written policy or standard operating procedures. CA officials are formalizing procedures to address this deficiency.

(U) CA officials indicated that requests for passport information from other agencies are infrequent—there have been none since TIGTA’s request in 2019. However, it is important that CA have effective internal control activities in place to ensure that quality data are provided to other Government agencies. Internal control is a process effected by an entity’s management that provides reasonable assurance that the objectives of an entity will be achieved.29 Management should establish control activities through policies and procedures to achieve objectives.30 Because CA had not implemented effective internal control activities to ensure that the data provided to TIGTA in response to its request were properly reviewed and validated, it failed to meet its objective of delivering a high level of customer service and earning customer trust, which consequently impacted TIGTA’s ability to conduct an audit of passport management and security at the IRS. Although OIG acknowledges that CA is developing internal control activities and associated procedures to help ensure that the incident with TIGTA is not repeated, OIG is making the following recommendation and will track its implementation through the audit compliance process to confirm that the identified deficiency has been fully addressed.

(U) Prior Office of Inspector General Reports

(U) During this audit, OIG was alerted that a former Department of State employee had  allegedly not surrendered their diplomatic passport upon separation from the Department.  Department employees’ entitlement to an official or diplomatic passport, in most instances,  ends when they separate from the Department, and the passport must be surrendered for  cancellation.

(U) OIG found that CA had not electronically cancelled one of the former employee’s diplomatic  passports. Based on that information, OIG performed additional steps to determine whether CA  had cancelled other diplomatic or official passports once an employee had separated from the  Department of State. OIG found that CA had not electronically cancelled 57 of 134 (43 percent)  passports tested.5 In addition, of these 57 passports, 47 (82 percent) had not expired as of  February 1, 2021, meaning they could still be valid. One reason for the deficiencies identified is  that bureaus and offices did not always maintain proper accountability of passports and could  not confirm whether separating employees had surrendered their passports for cancellation.  OIG made one recommendation that is intended to improve the accountability of official and  diplomatic passports of separating employees. As of June 2021, OIG considers the  recommendation resolved, pending further action.