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So who told Congress the real story about the deadly force incidents in Honduras in 2012? #OperationAnvil

Posted: 4:32 am ET

 

The joint report by State/OIG and DOJ/OIG concerns three deadly force incidents in Honduras that occurred in 2012.   Four people were killed (including two pregnant women) and four others were injured after a helicopter with DEA personnel confused cargo in a passenger boat for bales of drugs and opened fire.  No evidence of narcotics was ever found on the passenger boat. In a second incident, a suspect was killed in a firefight that did not actually happen, and in a third incident that involved a plane crash, a Honduran police officer planted a gun in evidence and reported it as a weapon found at the scene.

The 424-page report provides in great detail what happened during the three incidents and the response/actions made by DEA, State/INL, State/WHA, the US Embassy in Honduras, and the stories officials gave to the Congress and the public about the incidents.

The report says that “DEA officials also did not disclose the existence or results of the video enhancement and analysis by the DS video analyst who found no evidence indicative of gunfire from the passenger boat. Moreover, DEA continued to inaccurately and incompletely characterize its role in Operation Anvil as being supportive and advisory only.”

State Department briefers also “never informed Congress of the DS investigations, despite numerous questions from the Senate Appropriations staff regarding whether State planned to investigate the shooting incidents.”

State Department officials never informed Congress of the DS investigation, including the video analysis, which could have contradicted prior DEA assertions.

The US Embassy in Honduras had received a report from the TRT officer dated July 3, 2012 which stated that the pilot “died instantly.” But after the July 3 shooting, WHA and INL officials developed press guidance that did acknowledge that DEA agents “were involved with the shooting,” but stated that “both suspects were given first aid and transported via helicopter to a secure location.” This guidance was repeated verbatim by State’s spokesperson during the daily press briefing on July 9, 2012.

Chief of Mission Authority Undermined

It is notable that then U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske authorized State’s Diplomatic Security (DS) to investigate the three incidents “after she became frustrated by her inability to obtain information from DEA.” The report says that DEA refused to share information with DS or provide access to relevant personnel.  DEA operates at the US Embassy in Honduras under Chief of Mission authority and it refused to provide the ambassador the information she required.

The situation was “exacerbated by senior INL officials who told DS that DS had no authority to investigate the incidents and refused to provide the helicopter crews for DS to interview.”

That’s the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

A subheading in the report says:

INL Failed to Comply with Chief of Mission Authority and Undermined the Ambassador’s Exercise of Her Authority

The report states that within a day of the Ambassador authorizing DS to investigate the June and July shooting incidents this happened:

INL Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Carol Perez began to raise objections to DS involvement. She communicated these objections to both DS and DEA officials, and although she told the OIGs that she did not intend to obstruct the investigation of the shooting incidents, INL’s support bolstered DEA’s unwillingness to cooperate.

There’s more:

AS Brownfield also raised internal and external objections to DS involvement. Immediately following the Ambassador’s request for DS involvement, he e-mailed Deputy Administrator Harrigan and offered to push the investigation “back into the box.” Likewise, in the September 2012 meeting between DS, INL, and WHA, AS Brownfield minimized the failure of DEA to cooperate and ascribed partial blame to DS.

State/OIG notes the following:

DEA’s refusal to follow the Ambassador’s written request for information, supported by INL, not only violated their duties under the Foreign Service Act, but prevented a complete and comprehensive understanding of the three incidents.

Excerpt via State/OIG and DOJ/OIG:

Operation Anvil began in April 2012 as a 90-day pilot program designed to disrupt drug transportation flights from South America to Honduras. Members of DEA’s Foreign-deployed Advisory and Support Team (FAST) and officers from a vetted unit of Honduran National Police known as the Tactical Response Team (TRT) comprised the ground team on the interdiction missions. The stated role of the FAST team members was to train and advise the TRT officers and assist them on these missions. State Department-owned helicopters provided transport and armed air support on the missions. The Honduran Air Force provided door gunners and, on certain missions, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) aircraft provided detection and surveillance capabilities. In addition, State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) provided operational support from the command center in Honduras.

May 11 incident:

DEA conducted internal shooting reviews regarding all three incidents. DEA initially decided not to review the May 11 incident because early reporting was that no DEA agent fired a weapon and because the Hondurans who fired were foreign law enforcement officers (LEOs). DEA changed its mind after a local Honduran police report asserted four people were killed (including two pregnant women) and four others were injured after a helicopter with DEA personnel confused cargo in a passenger boat for bales of drugs and opened fire…..No evidence of narcotics was ever found on the passenger boat.

June 23 incident:

Following this interdiction, DEA officials reported that during a search for suspected drug traffickers, FAST and TRT officers encountered an armed suspect who failed to drop his weapon after being ordered to comply and was shot and killed by a FAST agent. Similarly, State officials reported that a FAST agent shot and killed an armed suspect after the suspect attempted to draw a gun. However, the TRT report did not mention FAST’s use of deadly force and instead stated that multiple suspects fired at the TRT, and the TRT returned fire for a few minutes. According to FAST, this reported firefight did not happen.

July 3 incident:

TRT submitted two reports describing the July 3 events. The first made no mention of FAST’s use of deadly force and stated that the second pilot died from injuries sustained as a result of the plane crash. The second stated this pilot had aimed and fired a handgun at the officers, and the officers responded with deadly force. Both reports made reference to a 9mm handgun found at the scene, but FAST personnel told the OIGs they never saw a handgun at the scene. DEA officials told us they were advised that following the incident, a Honduran police officer planted a gun in evidence and reported it as a weapon found at the scene.

U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske authorized State’s Diplomatic Security (DS) to investigate the three incidents after she became frustrated by her inability to obtain information from DEA and concerned the Honduran investigation would not satisfy those interested in the May 11 incident. DEA refused to share information with DS or provide access to relevant personnel. DS continued its own investigations, and issued reports on all three incidents stating it was unable to make definitive or conclusive findings because of DEA’s refusal to provide access to evidence and what it described as shortcomings in the Honduran investigations.

  • Embassy officials told the OIGs that in the days after May 11, the U.S. Embassy tried to address questions raised about the possibility that innocent Hondurans had been killed in the operation. However, DEA Headquarters instructed DEA personnel not to provide information about the May 11 incident, and later the June 23 and July 3 incidents, to those outside DEA while DEA’s own internal reviews were in progress. Frustrated by her inability to obtain information from DEA, and by conflicting findings of the various Honduran investigations, Ambassador Kubiske approved DS investigations into all three shooting incidents. However, DEA refused to participate in joint investigations with DS, to make FAST members available to DS for interviews, or to share with DS the evidence DEA collected as part of its own investigations. Within State, INL was not supportive of the DS investigations and suggested as an alternative that DEA share its final report with State. DEA eventually agreed to provide a summary of its findings to the Ambassador and DS upon completion of its investigations.
  • DS nevertheless continued with its own investigations and issued reports on all three incidents. DS’s investigation of the May 11 incident included a review of the video footage by a DS video analyst who found no contrasts of light, which would be indicative of gunfire, originating from the passenger boat. However, DS was unable to make any “definitive findings” regarding the shooting because of DEA’s refusal to provide access to evidence. In addition, because INL did not allow DS access to evidence regarding the INL helicopters, the DS report did not address actions taken on the helicopters, such as whether there was an instruction to fire. DS also reached “inconclusive” findings on the June 23 and July 3 incidents, citing the lack of access to DEA evidence and shortcomings in the Honduran investigations.
  • The DOJ OIG concluded that DEA’s withholding of information from the U.S. Ambassador was inappropriate and unjustified. DEA’s presence in Honduras was at the pleasure and discretion of the Ambassador, and requesting and receiving information about the results of law enforcement operations involving American personnel, which the Ambassador herself personally authorized, was clearly within her supervisory responsibilities and authority as Chief of Mission.
  • DOJ OIG found that DEA’s obligations to DS were less clearly defined, and that this likely contributed to the dispute between DEA and DS over investigative jurisdiction. Although DEA told us that they resolved this dispute through an “agreement” with DS, this agreement appears to have been more of a unilateral expression of the limited terms to which DEA would agree, namely that DEA would provide a presentation and short, summary report to the Ambassador and the Embassy’s Regional Security Officer at the conclusion of the DEA internal review.
  • DOJ OIG also found that even though State officials pressured Honduras to conduct an investigation into the May 11 incident, DEA – with State’s concurrence – did not grant Honduran requests for information other than allowing them to watch the video, and specifically refused to provide DEA’s investigative report and the opportunity to question DEA personnel involved in the operation. DEA officials provided us with several reasons why DEA refused GOH access to DEA personnel, including the desire to insulate U.S. personnel from host nation jurisdiction and that multiple witness statements could harm U.S. judicial proceedings against Anvil drug traffickers. Even assuming the validity of these reasons, it was inconsistent for DEA and State to assert to congressional staff that GOH should investigate the May 11 incident but not give Honduran authorities the information necessary to conduct a thorough investigation.
  • DOJ OIG found that the lack of cooperation between DEA, State, and GOH during their respective investigations was closely related to the deficiencies in pre- operation planning for what would happen in the event of a critical incident. And even under DEA’s construct that each entity would investigate its own personnel, there was no mechanism for ensuring access to relevant information across the entities or for resolving or even identifying conflicting evidentiary or investigative gaps created by such a division of responsibility. The result was that no one did a comprehensive and thorough review of the May 11 incident.
  • It also was concerning that, in some instances, DEA officials described information favorable to DEA’s positions while omitting unfavorable information, such as video evidence of TRT officers shooting at people who had fallen or jumped into the water, the inconsistent TRT reporting and TRT gun-planting incident, and the results of a preliminary report from the Honduran National Police (described in Chapter Six) that made findings critical of law enforcement actions on May 11. DEA officials also did not disclose the existence or results of the video enhancement and analysis by the DS video analyst who found no evidence indicative of gunfire from the passenger boat. Moreover, DEA continued to inaccurately and incompletely characterize its role in Operation Anvil as being supportive and advisory only.
  • In addition, DEA officials told us that following the July 3 interdiction, a Honduran officer planted a gun into evidence and reported it as a weapon found at the shooting scene. Although the gun-planting report reached senior DEA officials, no steps were taken to address it other than ensuring that DEA did not rely heavily on TRT information to support any U.S. prosecutions.

State/OIG:

State OIG concluded that DEA failed to comply with the Chief of Mission authority granted to Ambassador Kubiske. Longstanding executive orders direct executive branch employees in a host country to comply with the direction of the Ambassador, who is the President’s personal representative to the host nation government. However, DEA repeatedly refused to comply with the Ambassador’s instructions to provide her and DS with information regarding the three incidents. This conflict was exacerbated by senior INL officials who told DS that DS had no authority to investigate the incidents and refused to provide the helicopter crews for DS to interview.

State OIG also found that State officials made inaccurate and incomplete statements to Congress and the public regarding Operation Anvil, including representations that it was a Honduran-led operation, which these officials knew to be inconsistent with how the operation actually proceeded. In addition, State officials never informed Congress of the DS investigation, despite numerous questions about whether the United States would conduct an investigation of the deadly force incidents.

INL Failed to Comply with Chief of Mission Authority and Undermined the Ambassador’s Exercise of Her Authority

  • As a bureau within the Department of State, INL should understand the importance of Chief of Mission authority. However, INL senior officials repeatedly undermined Ambassador Kubiske’s authority and failed to cooperate with the investigations she authorized.
  • Within a day of the Ambassador authorizing DS to investigate the June and July shooting incidents, INL Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Carol Perez began to raise objections to DS involvement. She communicated these objections to both DS and DEA officials, and although she told the OIGs that she did not intend to obstruct the investigation of the shooting incidents, INL’s support bolstered DEA’s unwillingness to cooperate.
  • Likewise, AS Brownfield also raised internal and external objections to DS involvement. Immediately following the Ambassador’s request for DS involvement, he e-mailed Deputy Administrator Harrigan and offered to push the investigation “back into the box.” Likewise, in the September 2012 meeting between DS, INL, and WHA, AS Brownfield minimized the failure of DEA to cooperate and ascribed partial blame to DS.
  • In addition, INL failed to comply with Chief of Mission authority by refusing to assist DS in its attempt to interview the helicopter crews. As noted in Chapter Ten, the SID agent requested to speak with the pilots and gunners, but INL denied this request. The request was forwarded up to the highest levels of INL, and AS Brownfield instructed his staff not to cooperate. Although he recognized that the request fell under the Chief of Mission authority, he instructed that INL was not to produce the crew for DS to interview. Senior DS and INL officials also discussed the request at a September 2012 meeting, but AS Brownfield remained opposed to providing DS access to the crews. In fact, INL was not even focused on the circumstances of the helicopter opening fire on the passenger boat, because they believed the helicopter fire was suppressive only and not intended as a use of deadly force.
  • The failure of DEA and INL to provide any cooperation with the investigation requested by the Ambassador resulted in the inability of the SID Agent to complete his investigations and develop conclusive findings regarding the three shooting incidents. DEA’s refusal to follow the Ambassador’s written request for information, supported by INL, not only violated their duties under the Foreign Service Act, but prevented a complete and comprehensive understanding of the three incidents. Ambassador Kubiske and other State officials had grave concerns over the methodology and findings of the various Honduran investigations, so she requested the DS investigation to better understand what could quickly become a diplomatic problem. However, her intentions were never realized because of the failure of DEA and INL to abide by Chief of Mission authority.

Statements to Congress

State briefers also never informed Congress of the DS investigations, despite numerous questions from the Senate Appropriations staff regarding whether State planned to investigate the shooting incidents. According to Wells, he was reluctant to inform the staff of the DS investigation and did not offer DS officials to brief the staff because Congress may have come to realize the conflict between DS and DEA. Therefore, Congress was never informed of the investigative work performed by DS, including the video analysis, which seemed to challenge DEA’s previous statements to Congress that the passenger boat had fired upon the pipante.

Statements to the Public

  • On several occasions, State officials prepared press guidance to be used to discuss Operation Anvil and the shooting incidents with media and public audiences. However, these talking points contained information that was not accurate. For example, INL and WHA officials prepared press guidance immediately after the May 11 incident that repeatedly referred to DEA acting only in a “supporting” and “advisory” role with the “highly trained” Honduran law enforcement officers in the lead. These statements were repeated by State’s spokesperson in the daily press briefing on May 17, 2012. Similarly, Embassy officials prepared talking points for the Ambassador’s interview with the Associated Press on May 25, 2012 that stated that the DEA agents were involved in “a supporting, advisory role only” with “highly trained and vetted” Honduran officers “who operate with advice from U.S. Government law enforcement agents.” As noted above, both INL and WHA officials were aware of the limitations of the TRT and that they were not capable of leading such operations.
  • After the July 3 shooting, WHA and INL officials developed press guidance that did acknowledge that DEA agents “were involved with the shooting,” but stated that “both suspects were given first aid and transported via helicopter to a secure location.” This guidance was repeated verbatim by State’s spokesperson during the daily press briefing on July 9, 2012.  As noted in Chapter Eight, this statement was inaccurate. All three FAST medics told the OIGs that the pilot was already dead when they first assessed him at the scene and that they focused their attention to the other pilot who had significant injuries from the crash. This questionable statement may have originated from the INL Senior Aviation Advisor or the Delta Team Leader, and the INL and WHA officials who drafted and approved the press guidance may not have realized it was incorrect, although the Embassy had received a report from the TRT officer dated July 3, 2012 which stated that the pilot “died instantly.”
  • State officials failed on numerous occasions to provide accurate information to Congress and the public regarding Operation Anvil and the three shooting incidents. In an effort to avoid highlighting DEA’s failure to cooperate with the DS investigation, State officials never informed Congress of the DS investigation, including the video analysis, which could have contradicted prior DEA assertions. These incomplete and inaccurate statements have contributed to the continued uncertainty regarding what actually occurred during the three shooting incidents.

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Official Involved in Bush-Era Purge of Gay Employees Now in Trump Administration

by Justin Elliott,ProPublica
April 10, 2017, 2:27 p.m.

 

It was one of the uglier scandals of the Bush administration: Top officials at an agency dedicated to protecting whistleblowers launched a campaign against their own employees based on suspected sexual orientation, according to an inspector general report.

Staffers were abruptly reassigned from Washington, D.C., to a new office 500 miles away in Detroit in what the head of the office reportedly described as an effort to “ship [them] out.” Staffers who refused were fired.

Crude anti-gay emails were found in the agency chief’s account.

Now one of the major players in the scandal has a new assignment: He works in the Trump administration.

In December, James Renne was appointed to the Trump “landing team” at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as part of the transition effort between the election and the inauguration. He was then hired Jan. 30 in a senior role at the Department of Agriculture, though his exact job duties are not clear.

Renne was part of the wave of early political appointees on so-called “beachhead teams,” whose role is to lay the groundwork for the new administration’s policies. (We published details on hundreds of beachhead hires, obtained through public records requests.)

In the Bush administration, Renne was hired in 2004 as deputy special counsel of the Office of Special Counsel, the small federal agency that is supposed to protect employees across the government from retaliation for whistleblowing. The tenures of Renne and his boss, Special Counsel Scott Bloch, were almost immediately mired in controversy after career employees said they were improperly fired. Language stating that job discrimination protections extend to sexual orientation also disappeared from the agency website.

A little-noticed inspector general report, released in 2013, depicts Renne as a central player in the efforts. Bloch and Renne, it found, hatched the plan to abruptly open a new “Midwest Field Office” in Detroit and reassign career staff there. Employees who declined to move lost their jobs.

The report found that the employees were targeted for no legitimate reason, pointing to “facts which reflect that Mr. Bloch and Mr. Renne may have been motivated in their actions by a negative personal attitude toward homosexuality and individuals whose orientation is homosexual.”

One evening shortly after he was hired in 2004, Renne took the lead in removing the language from the agency’s website about how job protections cover sexual orientation, the report says.

From the report: “Mr. Renne was depicted as intently searching the OSC website with the assistance of a senior career official to identify passages which interpreted [the nondiscrimination law] as extending protection to employees on the basis of their sexual orientation. According to this account, Mr. Renne demanded that OSC’s information technology manager remove these materials from the website immediately.”

That change was later the subject of congressional hearings.

Renne did not respond to requests for comment. The Department of Agriculture, which hired him, declined to comment.

The scandal at the Office of Special Counsel dragged on for years, spawning congressional and criminal investigations.

In a formal complaint filed at the time, the employees who were reassigned to Detroit pointed to a “Concerned Catholic Attorneys” letter Renne had signed in 2000 that is a broadside against a range of gay rights efforts. It warns that the “homosexual lobby’s power has grown exponentially.”

The inspector general report found that Renne played a central role in the plan to open a Detroit office, noting that “the reorganization was formulated by Mr. Bloch and Mr. Renne very early in their tenure.” An outside consultant they hired to help with the plan told investigators that “it appeared that Mr. Bloch may have been heavily influenced by Mr. Renne.”

That consultant, retired Lt. Gen. Richard Trefry, told investigators:

Mr. Bloch indicated to General Trefry that there was a sizeable group of homosexuals employed by OSC, which had developed during the years prior to his taking office, that he “had a license” to get rid of homosexual employees, and that he intended to “ship them out.”

The report continues:

Further, in the portions of Mr. Bloch’s official e-mail account that were available to the investigative team, there were crude and vulgar messages containing anti-homosexual themes that appeared to have been forwarded from his personal email. 2026 Similarly, Mr. Bloch’s public media references to [his predecessor as Special Counsel, Elaine] Kaplan contained repeated, negatively-phrased assertions regarding her sexual orientation. For example, in interviews he granted during 2007, Mr. Bloch described her as a “lesbian activist,” a “public lesbian,” a “well-known gay activist”, and similar depictions.

Now in private practice, Bloch told ProPublica the report is “filled with untruth, outright falsehoods, and innuendo.” When the report was released, Bloch denied that he ever talked about targeting gay employees.

The inspector general report says it was based on interviews with more than 60 people and examination of over 100,000 emails.

The affected employees ultimately came to a settlement with the government. The terms were not released.

During the investigation into his tenure, Bloch’s home and office were raided by the FBI and he ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge arising from his hiring the company Geeks on Call to do a “seven-level wipe” on his government computers. Years later, Bloch later unsuccessfully sued the government over his firing.

There’s little public record of what Renne has been doing since his time working with Bloch. The Trump landing team announcement identified him as working for Renne Law. A fellow member of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence landing team said that Renne had worked at the ODNI inspector general office. And Bloch said he also heard that Renne had gotten a job in the intelligence community after their work together. An ODNI spokesman declined to comment.

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The OPM OIG report is available to read here — DS

@StateDept v. @USAID: Reconciling Interagency Priorities Remains a Top Management Challenge

Posted: 2:14 am ET

 

USAID/OIG reported on its Top Management Challenges for FY2017.  The following is an excerpt on one of its challenges, reconciling interagency priorities with examples from the Arab Spring and operations in Pakistan:

Contingency operations and other efforts require coordination with multiple U.S. Government agencies, yet USAID’s development priorities do not always align with other agencies’ priorities, making it difficult for USAID to achieve its core development mission. In particular, coordination with the State Department, which leads multiagency operations that respond to political and security crises, has presented challenges to USAID’s project planning and execution. Despite broad interagency guidance on State’s role in politically sensitive environments, USAID employees are sometimes unclear as to how to manage additional layers of review, respond to changing priorities, and balance short-term and long-term priorities. Lack of knowledge about other agencies’ processes exacerbates these challenges.

Arab Spring

To identify the challenges USAID faced during the early part of the protest movement that came to be known as the Arab Spring (December 2010-June 2014), we surveyed 70 USAID employees working on programs for Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen.1 According to USAID staff, the State Department’s influence over USAID programs increased after the Arab Spring began, creating additional challenges. For example, a USAID employee in Egypt noted that State’s control “severely constrains USAID’s ability to design and execute technically sound development projects,” stating that agreed-upon steps to design activities and select implementation mechanisms abruptly change. USAID staff pointed out that State’s added layer of review slowed operations, and USAID employees had to dedicate additional time to building consensus and gaining external parties’ approval. USAID employees also said State officials, unfamiliar with the Agency and its different types of procurement, made requests that were difficult to accommodate under USAID procedures.

In a more recent audit in Pakistan, we also found challenges in reconciling short-term political goals with long-term development goals.

Pakistan

Our audit of the $7.5 billion aid package authorized under the Enhanced Partnership for Pakistan Act (EPPA) found that USAID’s programs there have not achieved intended development objectives, in part because of competing priorities between State and USAID. The State Department has the lead role for assistance activities in Pakistan, making it responsible for budget and project decisions.2 At the outset, USAID/Pakistan followed State’s initial strategy, which lacked long-term development outcomes and goals. In 2013, USAID/Pakistan implemented a formal strategy that linked activities to a long-term development goal but lacked indicators to measure progress. The strategy also focused on repairing and upgrading Pakistan’s energy infrastructure—mirroring State’s focus on energy as key to long-term growth—but not on other priority areas, such as health, education, and economic growth. According to USAID staff, implementing a development strategy under State Department control was challenging.

As a result of our EPPA audit, we made recommendations to improve USAID’s development implementation in an interagency environment, including that USAID revise its policies to (1) clearly define USAID’s roles and responsibilities for designing and implementing development when it is subject to State Department control and (2) provide alternate development strategies when a country development cooperation strategy3 or a transitional country strategy is not an option. We also recommended that the Agency institute an interagency forum where USAID can better present its development per- spective in countries where the State Department takes the lead. In response, USAID’s Administrator has engaged the State Department leadership to discuss solutions, including better reconciling interests at the beginning of planning and programming, so that USAID and State leadership can help staff pursue both agencies’ objectives simultaneously.

USAID/OIG notes that USAID has begun actions to address OIG’s recommendations to address this challenge. However, until corrective actions are fully implemented and realized, reconciling interagency priorities to advance inter- national development will remain a top management challenge.

USAID/OIG indicates that it interviewed 31 USAID officials who worked on activities in these countries, and administered a questionnaire. In all, 70 employees from USAID either had interviews or responded to the questionnaire.

 

Related OIG items:

  • “Competing Priorities Have Complicated USAID/Pakistan’s Efforts to Achieve Long-Term Development Under EPPA” (G-391-16-003-P), September 8, 2016
  • “Most Serious Management and Performance Challenges for the U.S. Agency for International Development,” October 15, 2015
  • “Survey of USAID’s Arab Spring Challenges in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen” (8-000-15-001-S), April 30, 2015

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Peace Corps OIG: 53% of Rapes Perpetrated on Volunteers Not Reported, See Why

Posted: 2:18 am ET

 

The Inspector General for the Peace Corps released its final evaluation report of the Peace Corps’ Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response Program.  The report notes that there were 513 sexual assaults entered into the Peace Corps’ Consolidated Incident Reporting System between September 3, 2013 and September 29, 2015.

In 2014, Volunteers reported 251 sexual assaults and there were 241 sexual assaults in 2015. The assaults in 2015 included 52 rapes, 35 aggravated sexual assaults, and 154 non-aggravated sexual assaults.

The main findings are:

  • The Peace Corps largely complied with the requirements in the Kate Puzey Act.
  • Compared to our SARRR evaluation in 2013, the Peace Corps markedly improved how it supported Volunteers who had reported a sexual assault. However we found individual cases where the Peace Corps did not meet its standard to respond effectively and compassionately to victims of sexual assault, including a few instances of victim blaming and improperly sharing confidential details with staff.
  • Some applicants were either not aware of the crime and risks previous Volunteers had faced in their country of service or they did not understand the information that was provided to them.
  • The SARRR program did not fully utilize some staff with SARRR expertise. The SARRR program would also benefit from a risk reduction strategy that tailors training to the country of service, addresses the risks of sexual harassment, and identifies factors that make sites unsafe.
  • Finally, the SARRR training’s design and delivery may have detracted from Volunteer comprehension and learning.

The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 (the Kate Puzey Act) required the Peace Corps to undertake a number of reforms, including providing sexual assault risk reduction and response (SARRR) training for Volunteers, developing a comprehensive SARRR policy, and training overseas staff on that policy. The Act directed the Peace Corps OIG to evaluate the effectiveness and implementation of the training and policy, and to review a statistically significant number of sexual assault cases.

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Stats on Rapes and Sexual Assaults

Peace Corps Volunteers and trainees reported 251 sexual assaults in 2014 and 241 sexual assaults in 2015. The assaults in 2015 included 52 rapes, 35 aggravated sexual assaults, and 154 non-aggravated sexual assaults.  Female Volunteers reported the majority of these sexual assaults (228 cases). Male Volunteers reported 13 sexual assaults including 1 rape, 6 aggravated sexual assaults, and 6 non-aggravated sexual assaults.

Starting in 2014, the Peace Corps began surveying Volunteers at the close of their service regarding crimes they had experienced and not reported to the agency. Survey results indicated that the proportion of Peace Corps victims who did not report one or more rapes or aggravated sexual assaults was similar to the proportion of Peace Corps victims who did not report other crimes: roughly 50 percent of crimes against Volunteers were not reported. This Peace Corps analysis indicated that 53 percent of rapes and 49 percent of aggravated sexual assaults were not reported. It also showed that 85 percent of surveyed respondents who experienced at least one non-aggravated sexual assault had not reported one or more of them to the Peace Corps.

Available Help and Agency Reporting

The evaluation found that the agency had provided contact information for: the Peace Corps Inspector General, a 24-hour sexual assault hotline for Volunteers, the Peace Corps Office of Victim Advocacy, and the Sexual Assault Response Liaison in the Volunteer’s country of service as required by the Act.
[…]
The Kate Puzey Act required the Peace Corps to create a system “for restricted and unrestricted reporting of sexual assault.” Volunteers may file either a “restricted” or a “standard” report, depending on which response services they would like the agency to provide. According to MS 243 Procedures, the restricted reporting option “allows Volunteers to request certain specific services without dissemination of personally identifying information about the Volunteer or the details of the sexual assault beyond those who are directly providing the services, and without automatically triggering an official investigative process.” The agency treats all reports as restricted until the Volunteer decides to choose a standard report, and a Volunteer may elect to convert his or her restricted report to standard at any time.

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Some Volunteers had not learned important information in the sexual assault risk reduction and response sessions, including the difference between restricted and standard reporting, the services available to a victim of a sexual assault, how to report a sexual assault incident, and the identity and role of Sexual Assault Response Liaisons at post. The training was insufficiently tailored to the country of service (as required by the Act), was not responsive to the needs of diverse Volunteers, and did not address the problem of sexual harassment. In addition, some staff delivered the training inconsistently due to poor training skills. Furthermore, the Peace Corps’ approach to assessing the Volunteer training was incomplete and did not provide a useful measure of training effectiveness.
[…]
[T]he agency often accommodated Volunteers’ requests to change sites for safety and security reasons, in some cases Volunteers were separated from the Peace Corps rather than relocated to another site. Volunteers we interviewed felt disenfranchised from the discussions regarding their safety and continued service.[…]We found that staff and Volunteers had a mistaken belief that they were limited to six or fewer counseling sessions after a sexual assault. As a result, some Peace Corps Medical Officers provided incorrect information about the availability of counseling. We concluded that some Volunteer sexual assault survivors could have been deterred from reporting their need for counseling.

Non-Reporting Analysis

The analysis summarized the primary reasons Volunteers had not reported their sexual assaults, which included: embarrassment, self-blame, not perceiving the sexual assault as a crime or serious event, and believing that there was nothing the Peace Corps could do about the assault. For non-aggravated sexual assaults—which were both the most frequently reported type of assault, as well as the most under reported—surveyed Volunteers had not reported them for three main reasons: they did not think the incidents were serious or threatening; they perceived the incident as commonplace in the environment where they served; and they did not believe there was anything the Peace Corps could do to address it.

Other reasons that surveyed Volunteers said they had not reported their sexual assaults included concerns about how Peace Corps staff might respond, such as blaming the victim for their assault, failing to respect the victim’s privacy and confidentiality, or simply not responding to the victim in a timely and supportive manner. Volunteers also indicated in their survey responses that they had not reported a sexual assault because they anticipated adverse consequences, such as being required to change their site, sent home, or punished for having violated a Peace Corps policy. These concerns were significantly more pronounced for rape victims and aggravated sexual assault victims than for non-aggravated sexual assault victims.

Among surveyed Volunteers who had not reported their assaults to the Peace Corps because they were concerned about how staff would respond to them or the potential adverse consequences of reporting, a relatively high percentage had served at a small number of posts. Two of the 54 posts in the survey constituted almost 25 percent of the Volunteers who did not report their assaults because of these concerns. Nine posts represented nearly 50 percent of the Volunteers who had not reported an assault for similar reasons.

 

The PC/OIG review includes interviews with 127 staff, 72 Volunteers, visits to 6 countries, and review of 138 sexual assault cases.  The report also includes 36 recommendations for the Peace Corps.

The report is a crucial reference as the State Department task force works on FAM guidance for sexual assault in the Foreign Service. NSVRC also notes that supporting survivors means assisting them with financial burdens as well as physical & emotional ones. Read here: 

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Related posts:

 

 

State/OIG Issues 11-Page Inspection Report of U.S. Embassy Croatia: Nothing to See Here!

Posted: 2:21 am ET

 

 

FSprob_nothingtosee

 

Below is the 11-page report issued by State/OIG. The summary of the report says:

  • Embassy Zagreb operated well and pursued the Integrated Country Strategy’s major policy objectives.
  • The Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs had not funded an additional ambassadorial driver position. Ambassadorial drivers were regularly on duty more than 10 hours per day.
  • The embassy had not consistently completed risk assessments or developed monitoring plans for all federal assistance awards using Department-approved formats.

The report does not include discussion about public diplomacy grants.  On consular affairs, it says the programs are well-run but makes no discussion about workload, or services provided to how many Americans in country. There’s no discussion about property management or procurement, the Health Unit, Equal Employment Opportunity, overseas schools, family member employment, etc.  Does the embassy have armored vehicles, are they assessed annually? Yo! The previous inspection was in 2009. It’s all good?  On locally employed staff, the report says, “Complaints about the wage increase and position classification process, however, were beyond the control of the Human Resources Unit.”  Huh? There is also no real discussion about public affairs and post’s social media strategy except a passing mention that the Ambassador created a Twitter account in February 2016 and by the time of the inspection had posted more than 300 tweets and attracted almost 600 followers.

Folks, seriously?

OIG inspected Embassy Zagreb from May 31 through June 15, 2016.  The OIG Team Members are John Dinger, Team Leader, Leslie Gerson, Deputy Team Leader Paul Houge, Dolores Hylander, Richard Kaminski, Shawn O’Reilly and Timothy Wildy.

 

Here is the 47-page inspection report from August 2009. Enjoy!

 

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GAO Reviews @StateDept’s Efforts to Protect U.S. Diplomatic Personnel in Transit

Posted: 2:34 am ET

 

According tot he GAO, many of the worst attacks on U.S. diplomatic personnel—including 10 of the 19 attacks that prompted State to convene ARBs—occurred while victims were in transit.  It recently released its report on the State Department’s efforts to protect U.S. diplomatic personnel in transit overseas. See Diplomatic Security: State Should Enhance Its Management of Transportation-Related Risks to Overseas U.S. Personnel (GAO-17-124).  For this report, GAO evaluated the extent to which State, with regard to transportation security at overseas posts, has (1) established policies, guidance, and monitoring; (2) provided personnel with training; and (3) communicated time- sensitive information.

Summary:

The Department of State (State) has established policies related to transportation security for overseas U.S. personnel, but gaps exist in guidance and monitoring. GAO reviewed 26 posts and found that all 26 had issued transportation security and travel notification policies. However, policies at 22 of the 26 posts lacked elements required by State, due in part to fragmented implementation guidance on what such policies should include. State also lacks a clear armored vehicle policy for overseas posts and procedures for monitoring if posts are assessing their armored vehicle needs at least annually as required by State. These gaps limit State’s ability to ensure that posts develop clear policies that are consistent with State’s requirements and that vehicle needs for secure transit are met.

While State provides several types of training related to overseas transportation security, weaknesses exist in post-specific refresher training. Regional security officers (RSO) receive required training related to transportation security in special agent courses, and nonsecurity staff reported receiving relevant training before departing for posts—including on topics such as defensive driving and the importance of taking personal responsibility for one’s security—as well as new arrival briefings at posts. At most of the 9 posts GAO visited, however, staff had difficulty remembering key details covered in new arrival briefings or described the one-time briefings as inadequate. State’s requirements for providing refresher briefings are unclear, potentially putting staff at greater risk.

State uses various systems at overseas posts to communicate time-sensitive information related to transportation security, but several factors hinder its efforts. RSOs and other post officials are responsible for communicating threat information to post personnel. However, at 4 of the 9 posts it visited, GAO learned of instances in which staff did not receive important threat information in a timely manner for various reasons. In one case, this resulted in an embassy vehicle being attacked with rocks and seriously damaged while traveling through a prohibited area. In addition, while all 9 of the posts GAO visited require that personnel notify the RSO before traveling to certain locations, personnel at more than half of the 9 posts said they were unaware of these requirements or had difficulty accessing required travel notification systems.

State.gov Emails

We should note that family members who do not work for our embassies and consulates do not have state.gov emails. And by the way, they are the ones  who are driving around in their host countries — from homes to schools, to groceries, to playdates, etc — in their private vehicles with diplomatic plates. Excerpt from the GAO report:

RSOs at the nine posts we visited told us they communicated transportation-related threat information to post personnel through various methods, such as post-issued radios, personal and official e-mail, text messages to work and personal mobile phones, and phone trees. However, we learned of instances at four of the nine posts in which personnel did not receive important threat information in a timely manner.  For instance, at one of the posts we visited, the RSO sent a security notice restricting travel along a specific road and warning that recent violent protests in the area had resulted in injuries and even death, but because the notice was sent exclusively to state.gov e-mail addresses, some non-State personnel at the post did not receive it at the e-mail address they regularly used and were unaware of the restriction. The personnel subsequently traveled through the restricted area, resulting in an embassy vehicle being attacked with rocks while on unauthorized travel through the area. While no one was hurt, the vehicle’s front windshield was smashed. The RSO told us that to avoid similar situations in the future, he would add the personnel’s regularly used e-mail addresses to his distribution list for security notices. At another post, focus group participants stated that they did not receive any information from the RSO or other post officials about the security-related closure of a U.S. consulate in the same country and instead learned about the closure from media sources. Participants in focus groups at two other posts stated that threat information is often either obsolete by the time they receive it or may not reach staff in time for them to avoid the potential threats.

OpenNet Accounts

Personnel at more than half of the nine posts we visited cited difficulty using travel notification systems or were unaware or unsure of their post’s travel notification requirements. While three of the nine posts we visited permit personnel to use e-mail or other means to inform the RSO of their travel plans, the remaining six posts require personnel to complete an official travel notification form that is only accessible through a State information system called OpenNet. However, according to officials responsible for managing State’s information resources, including OpenNet, not all post personnel have OpenNet accounts. Specifically, all State personnel at overseas posts have OpenNet accounts, but some non-State agencies, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, typically only have a limited number of OpenNet account holders at each post; some smaller agencies, such as the Peace Corps, usually have none. One focus group participant from a non-State agency told us that because she does not have an OpenNet account, her ability to submit travel notifications as required depends on whether or not she is able to find one of the few individuals at the post from her agency that does have an OpenNet account. Similarly, the travel notification policy for another post requires that post personnel use an OpenNet-based travel notification system even though the policy explicitly acknowledges that not all post personnel have OpenNet accounts.

Armored Vehicles and the EAC

The FAH establishes a minimum requirement for the number of armored vehicles at each post. The FAH also states that post Emergency Action Committees (EAC) must meet at least annually to discuss post armored vehicle programs and requirements.21 According to the FAM, it is important that EACs provide information on posts’ armored vehicle requirements to ensure there is sufficient time to budget for the costs of such vehicles, including the extra costs associated with armoring them.22

We found that DS may not be meeting the first of these FAH requirements, and EACs are not meeting the second requirement at every post. With respect to the first requirement, DS officials initially explained that under the FAH, every embassy and consulate is required to have a certain number of armored vehicles, but we found that not every consulate met this requirement as of May 2016. These potential deficiencies exist in part because DS has not instituted effective monitoring procedures to ensure that every embassy or consulate is in compliance with the FAH’s armored vehicle policy.

The GAO recommend that the Secretary of State direct Diplomatic Security to take the following eight actions:

  1. Create consolidated guidance for RSOs that specifies required elements to include in post travel notification and transportation security policies. For example, as part of its current effort to develop standard templates for certain security directives, DS could develop templates for transportation security and travel notification policies that specify the elements required in all security directives as recommended by the February 2005 Iraq ARB as well as the standard transportation-related elements that DS requires in such policies.
  2. Create more comprehensive guidance for DS reviewers to use when evaluating posts’ transportation security and travel notification policies. For example, the checklist DS reviewers currently use could be modified to stipulate that reviewers should check all security directives for DS-required elements recommended by the February 2005 Iraq ARB. The checklist could also provide guidance on how to take the presence or absence of these required elements into account when assigning a score to a given policy.
  3. Clarify whether or not the FAH’s armored vehicle policy for overseas posts is that every post must have sufficient armored vehicles, and if DS determines that the policy does not apply to all posts, articulate the conditions under which it does not apply.
  4. Develop monitoring procedures to ensure that all posts comply with the FAH’s armored vehicle policy for overseas posts once the policy is clarified.
  1. Implement a mechanism, in coordination with other relevant State offices, to ensure that EACs discuss their posts’ armored vehicle needs at least once each year.
  2. Clarify existing guidance on refresher training, such as by delineating how often refresher training should be provided at posts facing different types and levels of threats, which personnel should receive refresher training, and how the completion of refresher training should be documented.
  3. Improve guidance for RSOs, in coordination with other relevant State offices and non-State agencies as appropriate, on how to promote timely communication of threat information to post personnel and timely receipt of such information by post personnel.
  4. Take steps, in coordination with other relevant State offices and non- State agencies as appropriate, to make travel notification systems easily accessible to post personnel who are required to submit such notifications, including both State and non-State personnel.

The GAO report notes that the State Department concurred with all its recommendations except one.  State did not concur with the sixth recommendation to clarify guidance on refresher training. In its response, State described a number of efforts that RSOs take to keep post personnel informed, such as sending security messages via e-mails and text messages, and therefore State did not believe additional formal training was necessary.  The GAO acknowledge the efforts but writes:

Nevertheless, participants in 10 of our 13 focus groups either had difficulty recalling certain security policies and requirements or described their security briefings as inadequate. Participants noted that this was, in part, because it can be challenging to remember the content of new arrival security briefings while they are simultaneously managing the process of moving and adjusting to a new post and because of the one-time nature of new arrival briefings. DS headquarters officials stated that most violations of post travel policies are due to personnel forgetting the information conveyed in the new arrival briefings.

This is the third in a series of GAO reports on diplomatic security. For GAO’s previous work on security at residences, schools, and other soft targets, see GAO-15-700 (http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-700) and for the review of security at embassies and consulates, see GAO-14-655 (http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-655).

 

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USDOJ Drops US Embassy Yemen Passport Revocation Case Sans Explanation

Posted: 2:16 am ET

 

On October 13, 2015, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California ordered the State Department to return the U.S. passport of Yemeni-American Mosed Shaye Omar which was revoked “based on the involuntary statement he provided at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a on January 23, 2013.” (See Court orders @StateDept to return Yemeni-American’s improperly revoked U.S.passport). In February 2016, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California issued a cross motions for summary judgment: “This lawsuit presents the question of whether the United States government may revoke a United States citizen’s passport based solely on a purported “confession” that the citizen did not write, dictate, read, or have read to him, but did in fact sign. On the record before the Court, the answer is no.” (see more Omar v. Kerry, et.al: Passport Revocation “Arbitrary and Capricious,” New Hearing Ordered Within 60 Days).

On October 5, 2016, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California asked to drop the case “without prejudice.”  We’re wondering how many more of these revocation cases would mow be dropped and sealed in court.

Via Politico:

Federal prosecutors — acting abruptly and without public explanation — have moved to drop a controversial criminal passport fraud case that critics alleged stemmed from coercive interrogations at the U.S. embassy in Yemen.

Earlier this year, a grand jury in San Francisco indicted Mosed Omar on passport fraud charges linked to a statement he signed during a 2012 visit to the U.S. diplomatic post in the unstable Middle Eastern nation.
[…]

Thursday afternoon, prosecutors submitted a brief court filing asking to drop the criminal case “without prejudice,” meaning it could be refiled. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer will need to approve the dismissal of the case.

Spokesmen for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco did not respond to messages seeking an explanation for the sudden move.
[…]
In response to a query Thursday from POLITICO, a spokesman for State Inspector General Steve Linick confirmed that an inquiry is underway into the allegations about improper passport revocations

“In June 2016, State OIG’s Office of Evaluations and Special Projects initiated a review of the Department’s processes of passport confiscations and revocations at the US Embassy Sanaa, Yemen,” spokesman Doug Welty said. He offered no additional details on the review.

If the case against Omar went forward, prosecutors might have been obligated to turn over to the defense some or all records of the IG review. That prospect may have contributed to the proposed dismissal, but there was no direct indication.

Read more:

 

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DS/Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate Gets Downy April Fresh OIG Treatment

Posted: 1:22 am ET

 

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security created its Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate  in March 2008 by combining the following offices under the TIA Directorate umbrella:

  • Office of Intelligence and Threat Analysis (ITA)
  • Diplomatic Security Command Center (DSCC)
  • Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
  • Office of Protective Intelligence Investigations (PII)

It has a staff of about 200 employees. Below is the current org chart but some of the names may already be outdated, via State/OIG:

Screen Shot

State/OIG inspected the TIA Directorate from February 5 to March 7, 2016. The report dated September 20, 2016 went online on September 30. The IG Inspection teams include Team Leader, Lisa Bobbie Schreiber Hughes; Deputy Team Leader, Paul Cantrell, and members, Ronald Deutch, Gary Herbst, Leo Hession, Vandana Patel, and Richard Sypher.

This is the first inspection of this DS directorate, the first ever in eighth years.  It is a fairly thin report with just 12 pages. Here is the quick summary and some details below:

  •   The Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate was accomplishing its stated mission “to protect life safety.”
  •   The Directorate’s decision to shift to a proactive approach to threat management expanded its mission and workload without a commensurate increase in human resources.
  •   Coordination and communication were effective at senior levels of the Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate, but senior managers did not communicate consistently with mid-level staff members, adversely affecting the Directorate’s ability to efficiently meet its defined objectives and goals.

Taskings Up Approx 300%

The IG report says that the directorate’s taskings were up approximately 300% since 2010 but that it remained effective in achieving its core objectives. But then immediately after that, the report says that in the absence of increased staffing, the office was in danger of not meeting its basic responsibility.

Folks, you can’t have this both ways.

Despite taking on new responsibilities without additional staff and facing a high turnover among existing personnel, the Directorate achieved its mission. It had, however, requested additional staff to alleviate the burden on its employees. ITA told OIG that since 2010, its taskings had increased by approximately 300 percent; PII stated its mission to provide more proactive security had increased the agent workload “exponentially;” DSCC stated that watch officer responsibilities had steadily increased, especially in the post-Benghazi period. Despite these challenges, the Directorate asserted—and OIG agreed, based on input from the Directorate’s customers and OIG’s review of its products—that it remained effective in achieving its core life safety objectives.

The Directorate requested additional staff in January 2016, when Directorate leadership told the Assistant Secretary that in the absence of increased staff, it was “in danger of not meeting our basic responsibility to analyze, assess, investigate and disseminate threat information and the myriad of other duties for which we are responsible.” This theme was repeated in memoranda prepared for OIG and in personal interviews OIG conducted throughout the Directorate.

Oops! Is it just us or does this look like there’s lots of word padding in this report? Can’t they put these citations of GAO standards, FAM, etc in the footnotes? A third to a half of these sample paragraphs below are just descriptions of what’s in the manual or guidance. C’mon, the folks drafting this report can do better than this, right? And by the way, this is not the only report that has these word paddings.  See below:

Management Challenges

OIG found that increased staffing alone would be insufficient to address the Directorate’s management challenges. For example, a lack of coordination and communication between its offices and officers was unrelated to staffing shortfalls. OIG learned that mid-level officers were unfamiliar with the work of other Directorate offices; they did not have a clear understanding of how their work related to that of the Directorate overall; and they did not understand how their functions complemented those of similarly situated staff in other Directorate offices. This lack of familiarity created a risk that staff members would miss opportunities to work more efficiently. Moreover, it was sometimes difficult for them to prioritize tasks and define their audiences in an organization where everything related to the broad mission of protecting life safety. Mid-level staff members also cited the need for greater top-down and lateral communication. Principle 14.02 of the Government Accountability Office Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government emphasizes that management should communicate quality information throughout an entity using established reporting lines and to communicate down, across, up, and around reporting lines to all levels of the entity.

Tone at the Top

The Directorate’s DAS retired on March 4, 2016, days before the end of this inspection. The DS front office chose the ITA office director to replace him. OIG did not evaluate how the new DAS set the tone at the top—leading by example and demonstrating the organization’s values, philosophy, and operating style—because he started the position at the close of the inspection. However, OIG expressed the concern that his direct and forceful communication style, as demonstrated during his tenure as ITA office director, risked inhibiting the free flow of communication in a directorate that was, as discussed above, already challenged by communications issues. OIG advised the new DAS of the importance of adhering to the Leadership and Management Principles for Department Employees outlined in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214 b(4). These address the need for leaders to express themselves clearly and effectively, offer and solicit constructive feedback from others, and anticipate varying points of view by soliciting input.

Top Managers Not Held Accountable for Internal Control Assurance Process

The Directorate’s DAS and office directors did not provide annual internal control assurance statements for the Department’s annual Management Control Assurance Process2. Although lower-level Directorate staff completed the survey questionnaires DS used to confirm compliance with internal control requirements, Directorate managers did not complete assurance statements—as required in 2 FAM 024 of all office directors and higher level officials—due to lack of understanding of the requirements. As a result, DS had no documentation showing that Directorate leaders confirmed adherence to internal control requirements. The Department’s FY 2015 annual Management Control Assurance Process memorandum advised that, “Just as the Secretary’s statement will rely on your assurance statement, your assurance statement must be supported by input from your managers reporting to you.”

If you read the report, you will note that the director of ITA, one of the components was promoted as the new head of the DS/TIA directorate. So we looked at the performance of that component. The report says that 1) ITA lack top-down communication, 2) the office cannot evaluate its products without customer feedback and 3) new program to assign Intelligence Analysts to embassies proves unworkable. Two striking things:

FSOs as Intel Analysts?

“An ITA initiative that sought to place Foreign Service officers trained by ITA as intelligence analysts at embassies in countries designated as high risk for terrorism. Directorate leaders told OIG that after considering lessons learned in this first year, they concluded that the program was unworkable for a variety of practical and logistical reasons. Among them were the difficulty the Directorate faced recruiting employees with the requisite intelligence experience and challenges in arranging for appropriate secure embassy workspaces.”

The notion that FSOs would work overseas as intel analysts for Diplomatic Security is head-shaking painful. If they’ve spent some serious planning on that, they would have known how unworkable that is.  Which career ladder are you going to be on as an intel analyst? Was DS thinking of intel analysis as a collateral duty for FSOs overseas? What career track would that be on? What posts are intel analysts going to be on? What kind of onward assignments can you expect? As for recruitment, why would people with requisite intel experience leave their agencies and join a small office that’s not even hooked up to the intel community? The report did not show how much this unworkable program costs, and what lessons were learned here. The inspectors did not seem interested in all that.

A keen observant told us:  “I don’t see much digging: poor planning associated with these pet projects: deployed analyst program and the new “everything but the kitchen sink” division within ITA.” 

Oh, we want to know more about this “everything but the kitchen sink” division. Then there’s this:

Nonmembership in US Intel Community?

“ITA analysts were unaware of leadership’s decision on membership in the U.S. Government Intelligence Community. Of the 23 ITA analysts interviewed, half cited advantages of membership, including the increased access to information and training that they believed it would bring. ITA leadership, however, told OIG that it had already concluded that it was more advantageous for ITA to not join the Intelligence Community but had not informed the staff of its decision.”

Did you hear the guffaws over there?

ITA is tasked with analyzing all-source intelligence on terrorist activities and threats directed against chief of mission personnel and U.S. diplomatic facilities overseas. The office also monitors threats against the Secretary of State, U.S. Government officials, foreign dignitaries visiting the United States, and U.S.- based foreign diplomats and missions.  ITA leadership told OIG that “it was more advantageous for ITA to not join the Intelligence Community.” More advantageous to be walled off from the IC? How? The report does not discuss what “membership” means and what it entails, nor the advantages/disadvantages from nonmembership. It just accepts the director’s assessment that “it was more advantageous.” Folks, that’s stenography!

Overheard: “DS seems to think that the Intelligence Community is a round wooden table in a sealed-off room – a skull and bones-type membership. They talk about it in the report like they are debating on whether to have a pizza party.” We think that’s a well-deserved criticism.

Another directorate component PII took on additional workload without increasing its staff. Further, the report offers no dicussion on the Rewards for Justice Program which is also under PII. State.gov says that the Rewards for Justice program continues to be one of the most valuable U.S. Government assets in the fight against international terrorism. Okay. But how effective is RJF? This OIG report doesn’t say.

PII also expanded its support of DS coverage of special events, such as the World Cup. OIG reviewed the number of hours agents (but not intelligence analysts) devoted to these duties during 2015 and found this additional travel took agents away from the office for approximately 3,380 person-days. This equated to roughly one- third of PII’s deployable agents, leaving the remaining agents to accomplish what a significantly larger staff had previously done.

Quick takes on the other three components of the TIA Directorate

Office of Protective Intelligence and Investigations (PII)
–Expanded Workload Strains Manpower
— Supervisors do Not Readily Know the Status of Investigative Cases
–Taskings are Not Coordinated

Diplomatic Security Command Center (DSCC)
–No Metrics for Gauging Customer Satisfaction
–Overuse of the Law Enforcement Sensitive Caveat Limits Dissemination of Information

Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
–Short-term Extensions for Third Party Contractor Employees Create Challenges

*

We’re Adding Our Thumbs Up for @OSAC!

On a positive side, we should add that we are end-users of OSAC’s products and have been happy to see some improvements in the service it provides with timely maps, responsiveness, and infographic of U.S. interests overseas like the one below. OSAC folks are quite responsive when asked for additional information; occasionally even relaying our requests for confirmation.  When events are breaking overseas, our first stop is @OSAC on Twitter.  Sometimes they have the security message up before posts could even post those messages on the embassy’s website.

One thing we think they can improve is having a handler on duty 24/7 managing its Twitter account. When news break overseas affecting U.S. citizens, posts are not always ready or able to provide updated information.  But OSAC can do that on posts’ behalf.  Now if you can actually remove the stovepipe between Diplomatic Security and Consular Affairs, and at least on social media have @OSAC and @TravelGov work together, that would not only make the most sense (together they can do 24/7 coverage) but could also generate the most timely, needed updates especially during these now frequent emergencies.

The report is originally posted here (PDF) or read it below (use arrow in lower right hand corner in box below to maximize reading space).

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Snapshot: US Embassy Kabul Operations and Maintenance Costs, April 2011-Sept 2016

Posted: 1:01 am ET

 

Via State/OIG

Screen Shot

 

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Oh Damn and Blast! @StateDept’s Administrative Leave Data Is One Hot Mess

Posted: 3:32 am ET

 

According to State/OIG, administrative leave is granted to employees as an authorized absence from duty without loss of pay or use of leave for various reasons unrelated to employee conduct, such as blood donations and weather-related closures. It may also be granted to employees who are under investigation for misconduct.  Senator Charles Grassley asked State/OIG for a description of the State Department’s administrative leave policies and the controls in place to prevent extensive use of administrative leave. On October 3, State/OIG posted online its report, Department of State Has Administrative Leave Policies but Lacks Complete and Accurate Data on the Use of Leave.

In response to the congressional request, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) evaluated the use of administrative leave at the Department of State (Department). The objectives of the evaluation were (1) to describe the Department’s administrative leave policies and (2) to determine the amount of administrative leave Department employees used from January 2011 to January 2015 and the circumstances surrounding the use of such leave.

State/OIG obtained data on administrative leave granted to Department employees from 2011 through 2015 from the Bureau of Human Resources (HR). For several of these employees, OIG also reviewed select records from the Time and Attendance Telecommunications Line (TATEL) system, the Department’s time and attendance tracking system.

Excerpt from OIG report:

  • At the Department of State, administrative leave can be authorized in 26 circumstances not related to conduct. Employees under investigation for misconduct may also be placed on administrative leave if their continued presence in the workplace may pose a threat to the employee or to others, may result in loss of or damage to government property, or may otherwise jeopardize legitimate government interests. Conduct- related administrative leave over 16 hours may only be granted by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Human Resources.
  • OIG intended to determine the amount of administrative leave used by Department employees from January 2011 to January 2015 and the circumstances surrounding the use of such leave. However, the Department did not provide OIG with sufficient data to make these determinations. Consequently, OIG is unable to make any assessments about the Department’s use of administrative leave. OIG identified two key deficiencies in the data the Department provided: (1) the Department lacks a centralized source of information regarding the justification for why administrative leave is granted and (2) HR data on the hours of administrative leave used conflicts with data from individual employing offices.

Administrative Leave Not Related to Conduct: 26 Circumstances

  • There are 26 circumstances not related to conduct where administrative leave can be authorized. These circumstances include Federal holidays, voting, hazardous weather conditions, packing.unpacking, blood/organ donation, funerals, time zone dislocation adjustment period to name a few and several miscellaneous reasons like group dismissals for a reasonable period due to extreme climatic conditions; civil disturbance; transportation failure; breakdown of heating/cooling systems; natural disaster, etc.; jury duty; and absence due to an injury incurred while serving abroad and resulting from war, insurgency, mob violence or hostile action.  The amount of time authorized by the FAM and the FAH for administrative leave in these circumstances varies from one hour to one year.
State/HR’s Unreliable Data
  • In response to OIG’s request for information on administrative leave granted to Department employees, HR provided a report created by CGFS using TATEL data transferred to the payroll system. According to this data, the Department recorded 8.36 million hours of administrative leave for 33,205 employees from January 2011 to January 2015; however, their data was unreliable. Specifically, OIG identified two key deficiencies in the data that the Department provided. […] Currently, the only way to determine the justification for an employee’s administrative leave is to review the timesheet, ask the employee, or ask the employing bureau. The Department is currently updating its payroll systems, including modernization of its time and attendance systems. Once this project is completed, there will be more information available on specific uses of administrative leave. However, there is no expected completion date for the project.
  • OIG selected the 100 employees with the most hours of recorded administrative leave based on HR’s data and requested the justification from the applicable employing bureaus.17 According to the data provided by HR, these 100 employees recorded over 320,000 hours of administrative leave during the period under evaluation. However, after reviewing the information the bureaus provided, OIG found that administrative leave hours reported by HR were incorrect for 84 of these 100 employees (84 percent). Four of the employees were on work-related travel as opposed to on administrative leave. The other 80 employees were at work on regular duty between January 2011 and January 2015—with the exception of holidays, scheduled sick and annual leave, and weather-related closures—and their time and attendance records maintained by their employing bureau did not support the large amounts of administrative leave indicated by the HR data. OIG interviews with several employees and supervisors corroborated this information.
  • Although HR officials told OIG that timekeeping error was the most likely source of the discrepancies between the HR data and the information provided by the employing bureaus,19 reports from TATEL reviewed by OIG demonstrated that timekeeper error does not explain the entirety of the large balances of the administrative leave indicated by the HR data.20

Administrative Leave Related to Conduct

  • OPM guidance states that administrative leave should be used only as “an immediate, temporary solution to the problem of an employee who should be kept away from the worksite.”13 OPM also recommends that administrative leave “should not be used for an extended or indefinite period or on a recurring basis” and agencies should “consider other options prior to use of administrative leave.”
  • Department policies follow this guidance and contain several controls to ensure that administrative leave is used only as a temporary solution for employees who should be kept out of the workplace. The FAM defines conduct-related administrative leave as leave authorized “when an investigation, inquiry, or disciplinary action regarding the employee’s conduct is pending, has been requested, or will be requested within 2 workdays, and the continued presence of the employee in the workplace may pose a threat to the employee or to others, or may result in loss of, or damage to, U.S. government property, or may otherwise jeopardize legitimate U.S. Government interests
  • The Deputy Assistant Secretary told OIG that he and his staff carefully scrutinize each request to ensure that there is sufficient documentation that an employee’s continued presence in the workplace poses an actual problem. They also encourage the bureau to explore other alternatives and have, in some cases, referred the issue to the Office of Civil Rights, the Office of the Ombudsman, or the Bureau of Medical Services. The Deputy Assistant Secretary has disapproved administrative leave requests when alternatives exist or when there is insufficient documentation of a problem.
  • Even when HR approves a request for administrative leave, leave is only authorized for a 30 day maximum. According to HR, this incremental approach ensures that it will reevaluate the employee’s status periodically to determine whether administrative leave continues to be necessary. HR identified three main justifications to place an employee on administrative leave for over 16 hours:
  1. loss of security clearance
  2. medical-related issues
  3. violence or threatening conduct

63,000 Hours in a 4-Year Period

  • Despite these deficiencies, OIG found that more complete information exists for employees on conduct-related administrative leave. For example, sixteen of the 100 employees OIG reviewed had accurately recorded administrative leave and 15 of these were conduct-related cases. For each of these cases, HR confirmed that it had followed Department policy in granting administrative leave to ensure that the employee’s continued presence in the workplace posed a serious problem. These employees represented approximately 63,000 hours of administrative leave in the four-year period
  • According to HR, one of the reasons for these large balances is the difficulty in finding alternative work assignments or locations for employees who are on administrative leave because their security clearances have been suspended. The nature of the Department’s work limits the number of positions for which a security clearance is not required. Department offices may have unclassified work that employees can perform, but those employees would have to be escorted and monitored because most offices are secure spaces. Furthermore, employees who have had their clearances suspended may pose a risk even in unclassified areas.

The original report is posted here (PDF), or read in full below (click on the arrow at the lower right hand side of the box below to maximize view).

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