Statements of Support For Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch

 

Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was previously scheduled to appear for a deposition in Congress on Wednesday, October 2. Reports indicate that she is now scheduled to appear before the oversight body on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019.
In the meantime, the American Academy of Diplomacy has issued a joint statement signed by AAD Chairman Thomas R. Pickering  and AAD President Ronald E. Neumann supporting Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch Must Be Supported

Washington, D.C. – The American Academy of Diplomacy calls on the Administration to make clear that it will not act against career diplomat Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch for doing her duty and working to support long established US policies and values. The Administration removed Ambassador Yovanovitch from her post in Ukraine prematurely. Now, we note with great concern the statement by President Donald Trump in the recently released memorandum of conversation with Ukraine’s president, in which the President said of Ambassador Yovanovitch, “Well, she’s going to go through some things.” The threatening tone of this statement is deeply troubling. It suggests actions outside of and contrary to the procedures and standards of a professional service whose officers, like their military counterparts, take an oath to uphold the Constitution. Whatever views the Administration has of Ambassador Yovanovitch’s performance, we call on the Administration to make clear that retaliation for political reasons will not be tolerated.

The Academy is a non-partisan organization of former senior U.S. diplomats, career and political appointees, who have served over decades. Our mission is strengthening American diplomacy. In our careers, we have worked around the world and under Republican and Democratic administrations alike and frequently acted publicly and privately against foreign corruption. Speaking out against foreign corruption is consistent also with the Foreign Anti-Corruption Act that binds U.S. business.

The American Foreign Service Association, the “voice of the Foreign Service” has also issued a statement on The Importance of a Non-Partisan Career Foreign Service but made no specific mention of Ambassador Yovanovitch’s case.
On October 1, NBC News reports that more than 50 former female U.S. ambassadors are calling on President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a letter to protect foreign service officers from political retaliation in the wake of the ousting of the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.  The signatories of the letter are members of an organization of current and former ambassadors, Women Ambassadors Serving America.
The report notes that “Only one current U.S. ambassador signed the letter: Catherine Ebert-Gray, a career foreign service officers who serves as the U.S. envoy to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Her signature comes with a notable caveat; She adds that “The views expressed are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. government. Signing a public letter critical of the Trump administration could put current ambassadors at professional risk, which likely explains why Ebert-Gray is the only one to sign the letter.”

 

 

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@StateDept’s “New Camp Sullivan” in Afghanistan Four Years On: A Lovely $103.2 Million Flat Dirt

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State/OIG’s Office of Evaluation and Special Projects has released its Evaluation of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Aegis Construction Contract at Camp Eggers in Afghanistan (PDF). Well, nothing good to read in this report, but the flat dirt is lovely, and makes us want to pull our hair out in  frustration. We bring you some GIFs to make us all feel better.

Camp Eggers Afghanistan, Photo by State/OIG

Things of note excerpted from the IG report:
The Department awarded Task Order 10 in July 2011 to Aegis (GardaWorld)  to provide and manage an armed and unarmed guard force known as the Kabul Embassy Security Force (KESF) for Embassy Kabul and other U.S. diplomatic facilities within Kabul, Afghanistan. On September 30, 2014, the Department modified Task Order 10 held by Aegis to allow for the renovation of Camp Eggers in its entirety and to erect a new facility known as the “New Camp Sullivan.” […]Modification 43 was issued to Aegis under a firm fixed price for the design-build of the Camp Eggers construction project. The task order modification was valued at about $173.2 million with an estimated completion date of March 31, 2016.
[…] An Aegis official told OIG he did not believe the company had undertaken any construction projects other than building a shooting range at Camp Sullivan. An OBO official noted that Aegis lacked the “institutional expertise” to build to OBO standards, and several Department officials told OIG that they had doubts about Aegis’s ability to carry out major construction work.

 

On January 10, 2014, AQM awarded a contract to the management consulting firm, Markon, on behalf of DS to perform professional engineering services.[..] Markon […] warned the Department in August 2014—a month before the task order was modified—that the project would not likely be finished on time or on budget. The Department nonetheless chose to move forward with this fundamentally unsuitable construction mechanism because of what it viewed as exigent need and a lack of alternatives.

 

Multiple Department officials, as well as an Aegis official, told OIG that they viewed the initial 18-month project timeline as unreasonable. An official from AQM expressed skepticism that such an extensive project could ever be completed so quickly in a construction environment as logistically complex as Afghanistan.[…]The renovation of Camp Eggers entailed extensive demolition and redevelopment, including [snip] the construction of new facilities. The “New Camp Sullivan” facility was intended to become a self-supporting, multi-use facility, which included life support for up to 900 personnel (expandable to house up to 1,500 personnel) all within a secure perimeter.

 

Aegis, through its subcontractor, CWI, purchased materials costing approximately $19.4 million for Camp Eggers. However, roughly 23 percent of these materials ($4.5 million) were obtained without submitting proper documentation or receiving proper Department approval.[…]The materials had to be stored due to numerous project delays, which prevented CWI from using the materials as they were delivered. The storage continued throughout the life of the contract until all of the materials were disposed of by May 2018. Over the life of the task order, the Department wasted about $22 million on materials that were never used and then paid to store them

 

Although Aegis continuously missed project milestones and failed to adhere to contract requirements, the Department still did not take meaningful corrective action against Aegis beyond issuing LOCs. As noted, these were primarily issued by DS. The Department also held a number of meetings with Aegis personnel to discuss the lack of progress made on the project, but no further corrective action was taken.

 

The Department reached a settlement with Aegis in March 2019 whereby the Department agreed to pay Aegis a total of $94.6 million. Based on this figure, in addition to three separate contracts with Markon Solutions, Incorporated for professional engineering and design review services, OIG identified a total of $103.2 million in questioned costs related to the Camp Eggers project.[…] the “New Camp Sullivan” remained flat dirt after more than four years of effort. The Department estimated that approximately 10 percent of the construction work was completed, and the 100 percent design—the final design—remained unfinished.

After the termination of the Camp Eggers project, the Department transferred materials stored in Kabul to fill other U.S. Government needs in the area. Regarding the materials in Dubai, Red Sea Housing Services Company FZE (Red Sea), the company with whom the Department ordered CHUs, reached a final termination settlement valued at about $2.5 million with Aegis and the Department under which Red Sea would keep all the materials and equipment they procured on behalf of the Department. The remaining materials in Sterling, VA were disposed of through the General Services Administration’s excess property program and some were scrapped.

Via reactiongif.com

 

OIG’s conclusion: [T]he Department’s sense of urgency, the selection of a non-construction contractor, the assignment of officials inexperienced in construction to oversee the project, and the failure to hold the contractor accountable for particular instances of poor performance led to the expenditure of more than $100 million without any discernible benefit to the Department or the people it intended to protect. OIG also notes that, more generally, this project illustrates many of the broader concerns that arise when the Department pursues construction projects in contingency or otherwise challenging environments. The Camp Eggers project again highlights the importance of making well-informed, thoughtful choices regarding the most appropriate contract vehicle; careful, consistent oversight; and development of a process for construction work in contingency zones that is sufficiently nimble to address urgent security needs but also considers the resources and capabilities of all relevant Department bureaus.

Amb. Hoekstra Apologizes For Netherlands Comment: “It Was Wrong”

Posted: 4:42 am ET

 

We previously blogged about the new U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands here:

On January 12, two weeks after he first issued his ‘non-apology’ apology, Ambassador Hoekstra finally admitted during an interview with De Telegraaf that what he said about the Netherlands “was wrong.” The apology came after headlines calling the top American representative in the Netherlands “Lying Pete Hoekstra” and the lying Dutchman, and after the State Department “made clear to the ambassador that – that he must move to get this behind him.”

On January 11, U/S Goldstein told members of the press that they “should turn into that interview tomorrow” in reference to the long-form interview that turned out to be one with De Telegraaf.  As of this writing, we have searched but have not been able to locate a transcript of Ambassador Hoekstra’s interview where he offered his apology.  There also is no mention of this interview nor the transcript of the interview on the website of U.S. Embassy The Hague.

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The Peter Hoekstra Fall Out Continues, Long-Form Interview With a Dutch Outlet Coming Soon

Posted: 2:47 am ET

 

The last year, we’ve seen the State Department officially distanced itself from public comments made by its official representative in Israel.  On September 11, 2017, the State Department had to distance itself from a comment made by its top representative in Israel (see @StateDept: Ambassador Friedman’s comment “does not represent a shift in U.S. policy”.  And on September 28, State Department spox Heather Nauert, once more from the podium, said that it’s ambassador’s two percent comment “should not be read as a change in U.S. policy (see @StateDept on Amb. Friedman’s comment (again): “should not be read as a change in U.S. policy”).

The latest addition to this disturbing trend is the new U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands Peter Hoekstra.  In December, we blogged about the then Ambassador-Designate’s double whoppers during an interview with a Dutch journalist (see New U.S. Ambassador Peter Hoekstra Makes Splash With Whoppers on Dutch TV). On December 23, the newest representative of the United States Government to the Netherlands issued a non apology-apology (see Amb. Designate Hoekstra Issues an “Apology,” Gets Roasted on Twitter). On January 10, his first day in office as the United States Ambassador to The Hague, social media noted his grilling by the Dutch press over his controversial claims (see Amb. Hoesktra Presents His Credentials to the King, Then Gets Properly Grilled By the Dutch Press).

On January 11, during the State Department’s On-the-Record-Briefing with the new Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein, the top official was similarly grilled by the press about the ambassador’s statements.

So for a third time now, two political ambassadors have caused more work for the building because of their public statements. The top State Department public affairs official went on to disavow Ambassador Hoekstra’s statements saying, “The State Department does not agree with those statements. That is not the language that we would use.” U/S Goldstein also told the press corps that there is now a plan for Ambassador Hoekstra to have long-form interview with a Dutch outlet on January 12. Mr. Goldstein said that Ambassador Hoesktra “also plans over the weekend to be available within many of the communities in the capital, including Muslim communities” and that the State Department has “made clear to the ambassador that – that he must move to get this behind him.”

Also FYI, the United States ambassador serve the people of the United States, and not the people of his/her host country. When junior diplomats completing their training at the Foreign Service Institute are asked where is their country, you expect them to point to their country, the United States of America, and not their country of assignment. Both Ambassador Hoekstra and U/S Goldstein appears to seek to endear themselves to the Dutch and make this controversy go away by talking about “loving” the Netherlands, and commitment to “serving the people of the Netherlands.”

Stop that, please. We can see what you’re trying to do.

If Ambassador Hoekstra is interested in putting this behind him, he should own up to his mistake and make a real apology because people watching are not dimwits. A retraction would be a good place to start. And then maybe the local press will allow him to put this behind him.

Via state.gov, Jan 11:

QUESTION: Ambassador Pete Hoekstra in the Netherlands had his debut for the Dutch media. It didn’t go real well. Just to start off, does the State Department agree with his earlier comments that politicians have been burned as a result of Islamist movements and that there are no-go zones in the Netherlands?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: No. The State Department does not agree with those statements. That is not the language that we would use.

QUESTION: Would you like the ambassador to maybe retract those given all of the controversy it seems to be causing?

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EEOC Case: Investigators Find False Accusations, Agency Refuses to Help Clear His Name

Posted: 3:01 am ET

 

This is an EEOC case about a complainant who was the Consul General at the U.S. Consulate General in Naples, Italy.  The name used here is a pseudonym as in eeoc practice but the details are similar to the ugly, nasty case a few years back that made the news.  Most notable lesson here about the Privacy Act, and the limits of  Diplomatic Security’s willingness to clear somebody’s name when needed.

Via eeoc.gov

Believing that the Agency subjected him to unlawful discrimination, Complainant filed an equal employment opportunity (EEO) claim with the Agency. On November 26, 2013, Complainant and the Agency entered into a settlement agreement to resolve the matter. This decision on the breached settlement was issued in November 2016. Excerpt below:

Background:

The record reflects that a subordinate of Complainant (Subordinate 1), who resigned in May 2012, and to a lesser extent her spouse made highly charged allegations against Complainant, i.e., entertaining prostitutes, escorts, and married women in his residence during work hours, engaging in fraud or mismanagement of funds, permitting his driver to be fired so his job could go to someone else and as a form of retaliation, throwing metal umbrella pots from his sixth floor residence down to the parking lot below and then jumping on and crushing them, and this was captured on CCTV and in front of the security guards, and so forth. By April 2013, the U.S. Embassy Rome, in consultation with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Special Investigation Division initiated an investigation. The investigation was conducted by two Special Agents with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and involved 20 individual interviews with Consulate Staff. It concluded that the accusation that Complainant threw metal pots was “false,” and the three other allegations specified above were completely false. The investigation found that the remaining allegations were variously false, completely false, unsubstantiated, not supported by evidence, and one, in essence, grossly exaggerated.

On June 16, 2013, the New York Post and Fox News published highly negative stories about Complainant, writing for example that Subordinate 1, a whistleblower, said Complainant had trysts with hookers, and this was the latest black eye for the scandal-ridden State Department. On June 17, 2013, Complainant was copied on an Agency email chain regarding the New York Post reporting Subordinate 1’s allegation that Complainant insisted a staffer have an abortion and the staffer said she got her “tubes tied” at his instruction. It was indicated in the email chain that the staffer said the article was “all lies” and felt strongly that she should respond to the article by saying something. The above DCM advised that it would be much better for the staffer not to say anything for now – that this could all blow over quickly.

In his EEO claim, according to Complainant, he alleged discrimination when he was denied assignments in line with his experience, ability, and professional background, the DCM knew that allegations against him by Subordinate 1, her spouse and two others were false and failed to take appropriate action, and management held him accountable for the false accusations and denied him support.

By letters to the Agency dated February 1, 2016 and May 10, 2016, Complainant alleged that the Agency misled him into entering into the settlement agreement and breached it. Specifically, he alleged that when he signed the settlement agreement, the Agency knew Subordinate 1’s EEO complaint had been investigated with a finding of no wrongdoing on his part, that she would likely continue to litigate in federal court, and he could have used the EEO decision to exonerate himself. Complainant wrote that after the settlement agreement, Subordinate 1 continued to attack him in the press, with articles appearing in prominent news outlets such as Newsweek and the New York Post. He pointed to a proposed June 2013 Agency press release recounting that the Diplomatic Security Service investigated the allegations and found no violations of U.S. or Italian law, and contended that had the press release been issued this would have rebutted the articles or they would not have been published. He argues that the Agency allowed employees and family members to utilize the EEO process to raise false allegations against him despite the Agency’s conclusion that they were baseless, and in failing to clear his name breached the settlement agreement and made it ineffective and unenforceable.

The Agency found that it complied with the settlement agreement. Regarding term 9.d, the Agency found that Complainant’s submittal of proposed changes to his 2012 EER was a condition precedent to the former DCM reviewing them and considering making changes, and Complainant admitted he did not submit proposed changes because he was too disheartened and depressed. On appeal, Complainant, who is represented by counsel, confirms this, but adds another reason was that he lacked the necessary facts, particularly the EEO decision on Subordinate 1’s complaint.

Regarding term 9.g, the Agency recounted that Complainant stated it was breached because (1) the Agency simply wrote a one page memorandum simply listing the allegations against him and stating they were found to be unsubstantiated rather than discussing things in context to show how his accusers seized on scandal to defame him and hinder his career, (2) the memorandum was only based on facts until October 2013, failing to fulfill its purpose of summarizing the Diplomatic Security investigation,3 and (3) the Agency, in response to his inquiries, could not give him a clear answer on whether he could share the memorandum with family, colleagues, friends, and his Italian attorney, preventing him from doing so. On appeal, Complainant confirms that he raised reasons (1) and (3). He argues that not being able to share the memorandum makes it useless and his reason for entering into settlement negotiations was to restore his reputation.

In determining that it complied with term 9.g, the Agency found that it met its obligation to provide a summary of the investigation, and that there is no evidence the parties agreed to any specific format in or upon the use of the memorandum.

In determining that it did not negotiate the settlement agreement in bad faith, the Agency found that Complainant cited no authority for the proposition that it was obligated to divulge the outcome of Subordinate 1’s EEO case, and there was no evidence it negotiated in bad faith.

On appeal, Complainant adds that he would not have bargained for a memorandum summarizing the results of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s investigation had he known he could not use it, this is common sense, and the Agency’s failure to authorize its use is a breach of the settlement agreement. Complainant argues that the Agency breached the settlement agreement by failing to live up to the spirit of the document. He argues that the Agency’s failure, upon his request, to allow the issuance of the proposed press release in the Agency’s name violates the settlement agreement.

In opposition to the appeal, the Agency argues that disclosing Subordinate 1’s employment discrimination investigation would violate privacy right protected information, and it did not negotiate the settlement agreement in bad faith.

Decision

In June 2013, after the New York Post reported highly charged accusations by Subordinate 1 about the way Complainant treated a staffer, an Agency email string on which Complainant was copied showed the staffer wanted to say something rebutting what was reported, but the former DCM opined it would be much better if the staffer did not say anything now – this could blow over quickly. Further, Complainant strongly suggests that he was aware the Bureau of Diplomatic Security investigation was favorable and he certainly knew the Agency had done nothing to publically clear his name. While Complainant wanted the Agency to publically clear his name, he agreed to a settlement agreement that did not have a term explicitly doing this. Instead, the Agency agreed to issue to a summary of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to Complainant – not the public.

Complainant’s contention that the Agency bargained for the settlement agreement in bad faith is not persuasive. First, as argued by the Agency, it had reason to believe the administrative decision on Subordinate 1’s complaint was protected by the Privacy Act, since administrative EEO records are generally within the scope of the Act. Further, Complainant has not shown he did not already have sufficient information to make a fair bargain when negotiating the settlement agreement.

The FAD is AFFIRMED.

Read the full case here via eeoc.gov.

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Question of the Day: Do you personally agree with the President’s decision?

Posted: 3:27 am ET

 

Via Special Briefing with David M. Satterfield
Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
December 7, 2017

QUESTION: As a veteran diplomat and representative of NEA, do you personally agree with the President’s decision?

AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD: Oh, now. I am an employee of the U.S. Government. I am a Foreign Service officer. We all – and I speak of my boss, the Secretary, and the other principals in the U.S. Government – we are all part of this team. This is a decision which we will work our best to execute and advance.

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@StateDept Dismisses EEO Complaint For Following Wabbit Into a Hole, EEOC Reverses

Posted: 1:45 am ET
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Here is an EEO case with a reminder that the Commission has previously held that an agency may not dismiss a complaint based on a complainant’s untimeliness, if that untimeliness is caused by the agency’s action in misleading or misinforming complainant.

Quick summary of case via eeoc.gov:

At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as a Human Resources Specialist at the Agency’s Department of State facility in Washington, DC. Complainant contacted an EEO Counselor alleging that she was subjected to discrimination and a hostile work environment. When the matter was not resolved informally, the EEO Counselor emailed Complainant a Notice of Right to File (“NRF”), which Complainant received and signed on January 25, 2017. However, in that same email, the EEO Counselor conflated the EEO filing requirements, misinforming Complaisant that she had to file her signed NRF, rather than her formal complaint, within 15 days. On that same date, Complainant attempted to file her signed NRF with her EEO Counselor, who informed Complainant that the signed NRF had to be filed with the Agency’s Office of Civil Rights, and that filing the signed NRF with that office would initiate the formal EEO complaint process.

Complainant filed her signed NRF, rather than a formal complaint, to the Office of Civil Rights on January 25, 2017, and the Office of Civil Rights confirmed its receipt on January 27, 2017. Complainant therefore filed her signed NRF within the 15-day period that she was supposed to file her formal complaint. However, it was not until February 21, 2017, which was beyond the 15-day filing period, when the Office of Civil Rights informed Complainant that she had submitted the wrong form to initiate the formal EEO process, and that Complainant needed to file a formal complaint rather than her signed NRF.

On March 6, 2017, which was within 15 days of being informed that she had filed the wrong form, Complainant filed a formal complaint alleging that the Agency subjected her to discrimination on the bases of sex, disability, and reprisal for prior protected EEO activity under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 when:

1. On 10/11/2016, she was denied the ability to telework;
2. On 11/10/2016, she was subjected to an environment of uncertainty and arbitrary decision making regarding her accommodation requests; and
3. She was subjected to a hostile working environment characterized by repeated acts of disparate treatment, unpleasant social interactions with management, and retracted support for locally negotiated reasonable accommodations.

The Agency dismissed Complainant’s complaint, pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.107(a)(2), for failing to file her formal complaint within 15 days of receiving her Notice of Right to File.

On appeal, Complainant contends that the Agency’s dismissal of her complaint should be reversed because her EEO Counselor mistakenly advised her to file her signed NRF, rather than a formal complaint, within 15 days of receiving her NRF, causing her to miss the filing period for her formal complaint.

The decision notes the following:

EEOC Regulation 29 C.F.R. §1614.106(b) requires the filing of a written complaint with an appropriate agency official within fifteen (15) calendar days after the date of receipt of the notice of the right to file a complaint required by 29 C.F.R. §1614.105(d), (e) or (f).

On June 28, 2017, the EEOC reversed the State Department’s decision to dismiss the complaint and remanded the case to the agency for further processing in accordance with its order as follows:

The Agency is ordered to process the remanded claims in accordance with 29 C.F.R. § 1614.108. The Agency shall acknowledge to the Complainant that it has received the remanded claims within thirty (30) calendar days of the date this decision was issued. The Agency shall issue to Complainant a copy of the investigative file and also shall notify Complainant of the appropriate rights within one hundred fifty (150) calendar days of the date this decision was issued, unless the matter is otherwise resolved prior to that time. If the Complainant requests a final decision without a hearing, the Agency shall issue a final decision within sixty (60) days of receipt of Complainant’s request.

Compliance with the Commission’s corrective action is mandatory. Read the full decision here.

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GAO Cites Gaps in @StateDept’s Crisis and Evacuation Preparedness for Overseas Posts

Posted: 3:11 am ET
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The GAO recently released its review of the State Department policies and procedures for evacuating overseas posts. The report notes that from October 2012 to September 2016, the State Department evacuated overseas post staff and family members from 23 overseas posts.  The evacuation was in response to various threats, such as terrorism, civil unrest, and natural disasters. Overseas posts undergoing evacuations generally have three types of movement: authorized departure (voluntary), ordered departure (mandatory) of specific post staff or family members, and suspended operations (closure).

The report also note that in fiscal years 2010 through 2016, State’s reported costs associated with evacuating from posts on 53 occasions were roughly $25.5 million.

“According to State officials, costs associated with evacuations varied due to several factors, including the number of post staff and family members evacuated. In fiscal year 2014, costs associated with evacuating Embassy Maseru in Lesotho were roughly $20,000, while in the same year, costs associated with evacuating Embassy Sana’a in Yemen were roughly $1.9 million.”

Certainly, a big chunk of that cost has to come from security and transportation. Below are the significant gaps cited by the GAO in the State Department’s crisis and evac preparedness:

U.S. personnel working at overseas posts, along with the family members who accompany them, face a range of threats to their safety and security—such as terrorism, civil unrest, and natural disasters. To help protect them, State has established processes to prepare overseas posts for crises and to conduct evacuations. However, State has significant gaps in implementation of its preparedness processes for crises and evacuations at overseas posts.

➥Overseas posts are not completing required annual Emergency Action Plans (EAP) updates

➥ Diplomatic Security is not identifying incomplete updates in its Emergency Action Plan (EAP) reviews

➥ The EAPs themselves are not readily usable during emergency situations

➥ Although regular drilling is a critical crisis preparedness task, very few overseas posts have completed all required annual drills

➥ Because overseas posts are not submitting required after-action reports containing lessons learned following evacuations, the State Department is missing important opportunities to identify challenges and best practices and to make changes to prepare for future evacuations from overseas posts.

The report concludes that “while State has taken initial actions— including some actions in response to our ongoing work—to improve implementation of its preparedness processes for crises and evacuations, significant shortcomings exist.” It also says that “while each of these gaps is of concern, taken together, they increase the risk that post staff are not sufficiently prepared to handle crisis and emergency situations.”

 Other details excerpted from the report:

Late Annual Updates:

In fiscal year 2016, about 1 in 12 overseas posts were late in completing required annual updates. On average, these posts were about 6 months late in completing their EAP updates. For fiscal year 2016, the list of posts that were late in completing their annual EAP updates included 7 posts rated high or critical in political violence or terrorism.

DS Does Not Fully Review Key Sections of EAPs Submitted by Overseas Posts

The FAH directs DS to review each EAP submitted by an overseas post during the annual EAP review cycle to ensure that EAPs include updated information needed by State headquarters and other agencies to monitor or assist in responding to emergency situations at posts.22 To conduct these annual reviews, DS Emergency Plans Review Officers in Washington use a list of 27 key EAP sections that the Emergency Plans Review Office has determined should be updated each year.23 According to DS officials, Emergency Plans Review Officers spot check these 27 key EAP sections to review and approve each EAP. In addition, DS officials told us that Review Officers consider forms included in key EAP sections that they spot check to meet the annual update requirement if the forms were updated up to 3 years prior to the check.24

DS does not document its annual EAP review process. We requested the results of the Emergency Plans Review Officer reviews, including data on who conducted them and what deficiencies, if any, were found. Federal internal control standards call for agency management to evaluate performance and hold individuals accountable for their internal control responsibilities.25 However, DS was unable to provide copies of the reviews completed because the Emergency Plans Review Officers do not document these results.

Emergency Action Plans Are Viewed As Lengthy and Cumbersome Documents That Are Not Readily Usable in Emergency Situations

While officials from State headquarters and all six posts we met with told us that EAPs are not readily usable in emergency situations, officials at five of the six posts we met with also said there is value for post staff to participate in the process of updating EAPs to prepare for emergencies. The process of updating the EAP, they noted, includes reviewing applicable checklists and contact lists before an emergency occurs, which can help post staff be better prepared in the event of an emergency. Officials at two of the six posts we met with also observed that EAPs contain large amounts of guidance because it is easier for responsible staff at post to complete required updates to their specific sections if all the guidance they need is directly written into each EAP.

The GAO reviewers were told that EAPs are often more than 800 pages long. “Our review of a nongeneralizable sample of 20 EAPs confirmed this; the 20 EAPs in our sample ranged from 913 to 1,356 pages long,” the report said.

One other footnote says that “while each major section, annex, and appendix of an EAP had its own table of contents, the full EAP lacked a single, comprehensive table of contents or index.”

A new system sometime this year?

The State Department is reportedly in the process of developing a new electronic system for overseas posts to draft and update their EAPs to address issues with the current system, according to State headquarters officials. According to the report, the State Department plans to launch the new system in the second half of 2017.

Absent a functioning lessons learned process …

The GAO reviewers talk about lessons not learned:

We learned of several challenges that posts faced in different evacuations in discussions with officials from the six posts with whom we met. Different posts mentioned various challenges, including disorganized evacuation logistics and transportation, unclear communication with local staff, confusion surrounding the policy for evacuating pets, problems with shipment and delivery of personal effects, difficulty tracking the destination of staff who were relocated, poor communication with senior State leadership regarding the post’s evacuation status, difficulties getting reimbursement for lodging or personal expenses related to the evacuation, and other similar challenges.

Absent a functioning lessons learned process, State’s ability to identify lessons learned and to share best practices from staff that have experienced evacuations may be constrained.

Back in 2009, Rep Howard Berman sponsored H.R. 2410 during the 111th Congress to provide for the establishment of a Lessons Learned Center for the State Department and USAID under the Under Secretary for Management.  That bill made no specific provision as to staff composition of the Center or its funding, and it also died in committee (H.R. 2410: Lessons Learned Center, Coming Soon?).

In 2016, the State Department and the Foreign Service Institute marked the opening (reportedly after two years of preparation) of its Center for the Study of the Conduct of Diplomacy. Then D/Secretary Tony Blinken said that the Center ensures “that we apply the lessons of the past to our conduct and actions in the future.” Some media outlet called it a ‘lessons learned’ center but its aim is on the study and analysis of diplomatic best practices to study how to effectively apply policy.

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