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@StateDept Deputy Secretary of State Nominee John Sullivan Gets a Senate Hearing

Posted: 2:11 am ET

 

On April 11, the White House officially announced President Trump’s intent to nominate Mr. Sullivan not only as the State Department’s Deputy Secretary of State (D) but to also serve concurrently as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources (D/MR). )see Trump to nominate John J. Sullivan to be @StateDept’s No.2 and to also serve as No.3 and Previously Announced DOD Nominee John J. Sullivan Now Slated to be @StateDept’s No. 2).

On May 9. Mr. Sullivan appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing. NPR reported that the deputy secretary of state nominee said during the confirmation hearing that there have been no decisions on job cuts despite reports that 2,300 positions are on the chopping block. Sullivan says that the secretary of state has only just begun to solicit input from staff around the globe.

The nominee is a nephew of the late Ambassador William Healy Sullivan (October 12, 1922 – October 11, 2013), a career FSO who served as Ambassador to Laos from 1964–1969, the Philippines from 1973–1977, and Iran from 1977–1979.  Barring any late minute issue, we expect that Mr. Sullivan will be confirmed as the next “D.”

Excerpt from his prepared testimony:

A small number of public servants are accepted into the Foreign Service, which I know well. My uncle Bill Sullivan was a Foreign Service Officer for 32 years. He was the last U.S. Ambassador to Iran in the late 1970s. It was his staff in Tehran that was taken hostage on November 4, 1979—a few months after the President had recalled him.

It is an earlier date from 1979, however, that sticks out in my mind: February 14, Valentine’s Day. The U.S. Embassy in Tehran was overrun by a mob, and my uncle and his staff were seized. After a few hours, the Americans were released and the embassy reopened. My uncle appeared in a picture on the cover of the next issue of Newsweek. He was surrounded by Iranians carrying assault weapons, one of whom was brandishing a bayonet in his face.

That day in 1979 is significant to me not merely because of the drama in Iran, but also because of a tragedy in Afghanistan. Our Ambassador, Spike Dubs, was kidnapped and assassinated in Kabul. Like my uncle, Ambassador Dubs was a U.S. Navy World War II veteran and a career Foreign Service Officer.

The assassination of Ambassador Dubs and the seizure of our embassy in Tehran on February 14, 1979, made a huge impression on me. I have remained in awe of our Foreign Service Officers who venture into such dangerous places on our behalf.

If confirmed, it would be my highest honor to work with the Foreign Service, the Civil Service, and the Department’s locally employed staff in the conduct of American diplomacy. In a world in which we face significant and enduring threats, these challenging times require leadership from the United States. As Secretary Tillerson said when he came before this committee, “to achieve the stability that is foundational to peace and security in the 21st century, American leadership must not only be renewed, it must be asserted.”

Read in full here (PDF). Clips below:

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SFRC Hearing: Terry Branstad to be Ambasador to The People’s Republic Of China (Updated)

Posted: 2:53 am ET
Updated: 2:02 pm ET

 

Date: Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Time: 10:00 AM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Corker

Nominee

The Honorable Terry Branstad Of Iowa, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The People’s Republic Of China

Live hearing and prepared testimony are posted here. Excerpt below from prepared statement:

If confirmed, as Ambassador, I will work every day to represent American values to the leadership of China and the Chinese people at large; values that include upholding human rights for all, a free and open market, a rules-based order in the oceans surrounding China, and the importance of a free press.

I look forward to joining the impressive and committed team of public servants and their families from the U.S. State Department and many other U.S. government agencies at our embassy in Beijing and consulates across China. Leading this team of dedicated professionals, who are working as we speak to promote America’s interests in China, would be a great honor and a responsibility that I would not take lightly.
[…]
If confirmed, I hope to use my unique position as an “old friend” of President Xi and a trusted confidant of President Trump to positively influence the U.S.-China relationship. As the Governor of Iowa, I saw first-hand the importance of a positive and healthy trade relationship between our two countries. Nearly, one out of every two rows of Iowa soybeans is sent to China, as well as $33.5 million in pork in 2016. The importance of trade extends well beyond agriculture too. Aviation products, manufactured goods, chemicals, electronics, and many other products and services are exported to China daily and help support and sustain the American economy.

Updated: 2:02 pm ET

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SFRC Hearings: Mushingi (Senegal/Guinea-Bissau), Haskell (Republic Of The Congo)

Posted: 12:46 am ET

 

We missed this one last week, but the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) finally held confirmation hearings for career diplomats Ambassador Tulinabo Mushingi, nominated for Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, and Todd Haskell who was nominated for the Republic Of The Congo. The links to the video of the hearings and to their prepared testimonies are provided below.

Date: Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Time: 01:30 PM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Flake

Video available to watch here: https://www.foreign.senate.gov/hearings/nominations-042617

The Honorable Tulinabo Salama Mushingi

Of Virginia, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Counselor, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Republic Of Senegal, And To Serve Concurrently And Without Additional Compensation As Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Republic Of Guinea-Bissau

 

Mr. Todd Philip Haskell

Of Florida, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Counselor, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Republic Of The Congo
Download Testimony

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Five Ex-U.S. Ambassadors to Israel Tell Senate Trump Pick David Friedman “Unqualified” For Post

Posted: 1:31 am  ET

 

On December 15,  Trump named David Friedman, a two-state solution critic as the next Ambassador to Israel. On Thursday, February 16, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) will hold his confirmation hearing (see SFRC Hearing 2/16/17: David Friedman to be U.S. Ambassador to Israel).

We understand that a letter signed by five former U.S. Ambassadors to Israel during Republican and Democratic administrations (Thomas Pickering, William Harrop, Edward Walker, Daniel Kurtzer and James Cunningham) was delivered on February 15 to the senior staffers of all members of the SFRC to be passed to their principals. The letter quickly leaked to the press.

“We believe him to be unqualified for the position,” the former ambassadors wrote.

The letter also urged the Senators to examine whether Friedman “has the balance and the temperament required to represent the United States as ambassador to Israel.”

“The American ambassador must be dedicated to advancing our country’s longstanding bipartisan goals in the region: strengthening the security of the United States and our ally Israel, and advancing the prospects for peace between Israel and its neighbors, in particular the Palestinians,” the former ambassadors wrote. “If Israel is to carry on as a democratic, Jewish nation, respected internationally, we see no alternative to a two-state solution.”

Read more below:

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SFRC Hearing 2/16/17: David Friedman to be U.S. Ambassador to Israel

Posted: 2:51 am  ET

 

We’ve previously posted about the Trump nominee to be the U.S. Ambassador to Israel (see Trump Names David Friedman, Two-State Solution Critic as Next Ambassador to Israel. On Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) will hold its confirmation hearing on Mr. Friedman’s nomination.

Date: Thursday, February 16, 2017
Time: 10:00 AM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Corker

Nominee: Mr. David Friedman
Of New York, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To Israel

The prepared testimony and live video will be posted here when available.

The following Certificate of Demonstrated Competence per Foreign Service Act, Section 304(a)(4) requirement was submitted to the SFRC and made available publicly by the State Department:

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POST: State of Israel
CANDIDATE: David M. Friedman

David M. Friedman, a nationally top-ranked attorney, is a founding partner of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman of New York, New York, where, since 1994, he has chaired Kasowitz’s Creditors’ Rights and Bankruptcy Practice Group. He frequently represents high-profile clients in large and significant cases, and has published articles and lectured on novel and complex areas of bankruptcy law. Mr. Friedman has played a lead role in negotiating multilateral disputes in some of the nation’s most complex business and financial restructurings. Well known for his excellent public speaking, negotiating and interpersonal skills, Mr. Friedman has been active for decades in U.S. policy as it relates to Israel and the Middle East. He speaks and reads Hebrew and travels to Israel frequently. His skills, knowledge of Israel and the Middle East, language capability and extensive contacts in the region make him well qualified to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

Previously, Mr. Friedman was a Partner in Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander & Ferdon, New York, New York (1990-1994), a Partner in Gordon Hurwitz Butowsky, New York, New York (1987-1990), an Associate in Finley Kumble, New York, New York (1986-1997), an Associate in O’Sullivan Graev & Karabell, New York, New York (1985-1986) and an Associate in Finley Kumble, New York, New York (1981-1985).

Mr. Friedman earned a B.A from Columbia University in New York, New York in 1978 and a J.D. from New York University School of Law, in New York, New York in 1981. He is the recipient of the Sir Harold Acton Medal from New York University for endowing the David Friedman Fellowship at the Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law & Justice and has received numerous recognitions from Chambers, Lawdragon, Law 360, and other publications for excellence in the legal field.

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If confirmed, Mr. Friedman would succeed Daniel B. Shapiro who was appointed by President Obama and served at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv from  July 2011 to January 2017. Previous appointees to Tel Aviv include Ambassadors Thomas R. Pickering, Bill Harrop, and Martin Indyk.

According to Open Secrets, Mr. Friedman made political contributions to both Democrats and Republicans going back to 1998, with the latter receiving 70% of his donations. The largest contributions occurred in the 2004 cycle (almost split between Democrats and Republicans) and in the 2016 cycle (100% went to Republicans).  He has made modest contributions to five senators, four of whom will be voting on his confirmation (Schumer, Menendez, McCain, McConnell; Reid, retired). To see more, click on the Trump Appointee Giving – David Friedman page by Open Secrets.

Some clips to read:

 

Related posts:

 

#Benghazi News: What did the ARB and Benghazi Committee know about Alamir, Eclipse and Xpand?

Posted: 3:53 am ET

 

Via HuffPo:

A middleman the State Department relied on to hire unarmed guards at the U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, previously worked with a company that’s now at the center of a massive international bribery scandal.

The FBI and law enforcement agencies in at least four other countries are investigating allegations ― first published by The Huffington Post and Fairfax Media ― that a Monaco-based company called Unaoil bribed public officials to secure contracts for major corporations in corruption-prone regions. In Libya, Unaoil partnered with a Tripoli-based businessman named Muhannad Alamir. A former Unaoil employee who served as a confidential source for the FBI told investigators that Unaoil and Alamir bribed Libyan officials. Unaoil and Alamir deny they bribed anyone.

Alamir started working with the State Department in early 2012, less than three years after cutting ties with Unaoil. He provided Blue Mountain Group, the small British security firm that won the Benghazi guard contract, with the license it needed to legally operate in Libya.
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Despite the damning internal review and seven prior congressional probes, House Republicans voted overwhelmingly in 2014 to establish a special committee to further investigate the 2012 attack. Two years and $7 million later, the committee released an 800-page report. Democrats dismissed it as a partisan attack on Clinton, by then their expected presidential nominee.

The report echoed earlier criticisms of security lapses, but revealed little substantive information about the contracting process that contributed to the problem. The Benghazi committee report mentioned Blue Mountain 12 times. Alamir, Eclipse and Xpand weren’t mentioned once.

 

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Congress “Examines” @StateDept FOIA Compliance, Talks Hillary, Hillarrry, Hillarrrrry

Posted: 4:20 pm ET

 

On September 8, the House Oversight and Reform Committee (HOGR) held a hearing Examining FOIA Compliance at the State Department. The hearing has four State Department officials as witnesses starting with Patrick Kennedy, the Under Secretary for Management and Janice Jacobs, the agency’s Transparency Coordinator. It also includes two staffers from the Executive Secretariat. Some members expressed appreciation for the work these officials have done, one referring to them as “clean-up” people at State.

For the most part, it’s the kind of theater that we’ve come to expect from the Congress. One member asked about the Yemen War and the arm sales to Saudi Arabia. In an FOIA hearing.  More than a couple members used the hearing to throw darts at the absent Hillary Clinton. No, no response required from any of the witnesses in those segments. Another member wants the State Department to go get Colin Powell’s emails from his tenure at the State Department. A member brought up Colin Powell’s role in the lead up to the Iraq War. There was a bit of discussion on retroactive classification and Foreign Government Information (FGI). Another member wanted to know the names of the people who are processing and redacting FOIA requests. We stopped watching when Chaffetz did a quiz show on what Congress should not be able to see.  We include the links below to the prepared statements of the State Department officials as well as the hearing page here, if you want to watch the video.

Oh, get ready, apparently over the next few days, the Committee will hold a couple more hearings like this. On September 12, it will hold a hearing on classification and redactions in FBI’s investigative file. On September 13, it will hold a hearing on the preservation of records at the State Department. This last one is also called an “examination.” By October, we might see hearings focusing on an Examination of the State Department’s Cafeteria Selection.  It remains to be seen if the next hearings will result in any findings at all, or if perhaps this is nothing but a roundabout way of getting folks an audition for spoken entertainment with Audible.

 

The Honorable Patrick F. Kennedy Under Secretary for Management U.S. Department of State Document
The Honorable Janice Jacobs Transparency Coordinator U.S. Department of State Document
Ms. Karin Lang Director, Executive Secretariat U.S. Department of State Document
Mr. Clarence N. Finney, Jr. Deputy Director for Correspondence, Records, and Staffing Division, Executive Secretariat U.S. Department of State Document

Here’s the GOP side talking about putting the “e” at the end of potato and Hilary Clinton.

Here’s the Dems talking about the GOP and Hillary Clinton.

Welcome to the next 60 days of depressing nightmare on the Hill, in addition to the other one unfolding on teeve. Excuse us now, we’ll just go find us some cats for therapy.

 

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Snapshot: Investor EB-5 Visa Program (FY2013 – FY2015)

Posted: 12:18 am EDT

 

Excerpted from the prepared statement of Nicholas Colucci, the Chief of the Immigrant Investor Program Office for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at the House Judiciary Committee Hearing, “Is the Investor Visa Program an Underperforming Asset?”, February 11, 2016:

Congress created the EB-5 visa program in 1990 as a tool to stimulate the U.S. economy by encouraging foreign capital investments and job creation. The EB-5 program makes immigrant visas and subsequent “green cards” available to foreign nationals who invest at least $1,000,000in a new commercial enterprise (NCE) that will create or preserve at least ten full- time jobs in the United States. A foreign national may invest $500,000 if the investment is in a targeted employment area (TEA), defined to include certain rural areas and areas of high unemployment.

The regional center program which has been in the news lately was first enacted in 1992, and provides an allocation of EB-5 visas to be set aside for investors in regional centers designated by USCIS. According to Mr. Colucci, there are currently 796 regional centers. This is up from about 588 at the end of fiscal year (FY) 2014, and 11 at the end of 2007.

 STATISTICS

In FY 2013, USCIS approved a total of:
• 3,699 Form I-526 petitions (Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur)
• 844 Form I-829 petitions (Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions)
• 118 Form I-924 applications (Application for Regional Center Under the Immigrant Investor Program)

In FY 2014, USCIS approved a total of:
• 4,925 I-526 petitions
• 1,603 I-829 petitions
• 294 I-924 applications

In FY 2015, USCIS approved a total of:
• 8,756 I-526 petitions
• 1,067 I-829 petitions
• 262 I-924 applications

Note: Form I-526, Petition for Immigrant Investor, is filed by all immigrant investors. Approval classifies the investor under section 203(b)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act so that he or she (and derivative beneficiaries) can apply for an immigrant visa or for adjustment of status to conditional permanent resident. If admitted as an immigrant or adjustment of status is approved, the immigrant investor generally must then file Form I-829, Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions, within 90 days of the two year anniversary of his or her admission or adjustment as a conditional permanent resident. Other EB-5-specific forms include Form I-924, Application For Regional Center Under the Immigrant Investor Pilot Program, which is used to apply for regional center designation, and Form I-924A, Supplement to Form I-924, which approved regional centers file annually to demonstrate continued eligibility for the designation.

 

Related items:

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New London Embassy: Design Passed the Full Mockup Blast, So Why the “Augmentation Option” For $2 Million?

Posted: 2:58 am EDT

 

Back in July last year, we wrote about the New London Embassy (NLE) project. Our trusted source told us that the project “went into construction before its glass facade design was tested to confirm it will meet blast standards.” Our source further explained that  the testing was needed only because the New London Embassy does not use known, familiar, window systems. The curtain wall apparently has no frames to ‘bite’ the glass and retain it under blast. That is a new technique for OBO we’re told, so the bureau reportedly had no basis to analyze the design (see New Embassy Construction Hearing: Witnesses Not Invited, and What About the Blast-Proof Glass?).

On December 8, the House Oversight Committee held a hearing on the New London Embassy Project. Below is an excerpt from State/OIG Steve Linick’s prepared statement (PDF):

In July 2015, OIG published the findings of its performance audit of the London NEC construction project.1 During this audit, OIG reviewed the Department’s evaluation and approval of the project design, including the design of the outer façade of the Chancery building,2 which comprises two layers. The outermost layer consists of a scrim stretched over a network of thin aluminum components. The scrim wraps the building to the east, west, and south, acting as a screen. Underneath the scrim, a glass curtain wall with an aluminum frame forms the inner layer of the building’s envelope.

OIG’s first objective was to determine whether the Department resolved security issues with the curtain wall design before allowing construction to begin. The Department’s physical security standards require all new office buildings such as the Chancery at the London NEC to provide blast protection to keep people and property safe from an attack. Moreover, by law and Department policy, the Department must certify to Congress that the project design will meet security standards prior to initiating construction.

OIG found that the Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) and Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) did not obtain blast-testing results for the Chancery’s curtain wall design before the Department certified the project and authorized initiation of construction. As discussed in more detail below, initiating construction prior to security certification and blast testing increased the financial risk to the Department and taxpayers, and was contrary to the Department’s policy.

A second objective for OIG was to determine whether the Department adhered to Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) requirements in negotiating a price for the NEC. OIG found that the contracting officer responsible for the NEC construction contract awarded the construction portion of the contract without requiring the contractor to provide an explanation of approximately $42 million in cost differences between the initial proposal and the final proposal. Because the contracting officer did not obtain sufficient information when negotiating the final price for the construction portion of the contract as required by the FAR, OBO was unable to assess fully the contents of the construction proposal that the contracting officer ultimately accepted and used as the basis for the firm-fixed-price award.

A practice that does not comply with 12 FAM 361.1

Since at least 2003, the Department has followed the practice of issuing limited notices to proceed, as set forth in the 2003 draft agreement, thereby authorizing construction contractors to begin limited tasks (not including foundation work) prior to certification. This practice, however, does not comply with 12 FAM 361.1, which states that “no contract should be awarded or construction undertaken until the proponent of a project has been notified by the Department that the appropriate certification action has been completed.” Notwithstanding the prohibition in 12 FAM 361.1, DS approved OBO’s request for early site work and construction of the piling foundation of the London NEC in November 2012, more than a year before certification and blast testing.

Concerns with the security of the curtain wall

The London NEC’s outer façade design was new and was never previously evaluated or tested by DS. The glass curtain wall design used in the NEC needed to meet a variety of security criteria, including forced-entry/ballistic resistant (FE/BR) and blast-protection requirements. As early as November 2012, DS notified OBO of its concerns with the curtain-wall design. DS informed OBO that there were substantial omissions and deficiencies of essential information related to FE/BR testing, curtain-wall sound mitigation, and blast-design methodology. This meant that DS would not accept computer modeling of the curtain wall to certify whether it would meet blast requirements and thus would require field validation as a condition to certify the project. CSE also expressed concerns with the security of the curtain wall and notified DS that its concerns would “need to be resolved by either a follow-on design or a written agreement” from OBO.

An “alternate curtain wall system” – just in case

Based on that written assurance and prior to any blast testing, the Under Secretary of State for Management certified to Congress on December 16, 2013, that the London NEC would be constructed in a secure manner and would provide adequate and appropriate security for sensitive activities and personnel. During this timeframe, OBO tasked the design firm for the NEC to develop solutions in the event the curtain wall failed the blast test. Specifically, OBO worked with the contractor to develop an “alternate curtain wall system” that was acceptable to DS for certification without blast testing.

An “augmentation option”— for an additional cost of $2 million

DS oversaw two series of component-level blast tests in February and April 2014. According to DS, the tests were necessary to determine the viability of employing structural silicone for the curtain wall. However, because the test results were mixed and inconclusive, OBO and DS agreed that the full mockup blast test would be the only valid test of the design. The full mockup blast test occurred on May 28, 2014, and according to DS, the design passed. Nevertheless, DS and OBO reached an agreement incorporating what became known as an “augmentation option”— for an additional cost of $2 million. Employing this option, although not necessary to meet standards, was intended to provide an added measure of security.

As noted in our audit, OIG recognizes that the Department’s decision to initiate construction of the London NEC prior to completing the required blast testing was driven by a schedule to complete construction by 2017. However, by initiating construction without first completing blast testing, the Department committed itself to the construction of a building that could have required significant redesign, potentially placing millions of dollars at risk.

 

The House Oversight Committee hearing page is here with the rest of the video clips and the prepared statements of the witnesses from OIG, OBO, and Diplomatic Security.

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