Help! State/OBO’s Office of Fire Protection Is On Fire!

13 Going on 14 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

State/OIG released its inspection report of the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations/Office of Fire Protection (FIRE). Here is a quick summary:
Background

The Department of State (Department) is required to establish and maintain an effective fire protection program for its overseas operations under 29 Code of Federal Regulations Parts 1910, 1926, and 1960.The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), Directorate of Operations, Office of Fire Protection (FIRE) manages and directs this program …

FIRE is led by an Office Director and the office’s staff consists of 43 Civil Service employees, 1 personal services contractor, and 11 thirdparty contractors.2 The office has three divisions: Fire Protection Analysis and Field Engineering (FPA) Division, Fire Protection Engineering (FPE) Division, and Fire Protection Systems and Engineering (FPS) Division. The FPA Division conducts fire and life safety evaluations, fire investigations,training, and fire as a weapon analysis.3 The division also evaluates local and contract fire services,oversees the emergency incident management and disaster response oversight,and administers the fire and life safety equipment logistics program for overseas posts.

Office Director Did Not Fully Model the Department’s Leadership and Management Principles

OIG found that the FIRE Office Director did not fully model the Department’s leadership and management principles outlined in 3 FAM 1214,6 especially with regards to communication, selfawareness, and managing conflict. In OIG interviews, 42 percent of FIRE staff interviewed described the director’s leadership style as difficult, specifically“autocratic” or “micromanaging” because he preferred to retain control over decisions with little input from his staff and he often involved himself in administrative activities that would be better handled by firstline supervisors. Staff also told OIG that the Office Director had a propensity for favoritism toward some FIRE employees. Some staff also said FIRE had low morale because of the Office Director’s stance on administrative issues such as not allowing overtime in situations where employees felt it was warranted to meet the office’s mission and his failure to address concerns about the accuracy of FPE Division’s engineer position descriptions and grade levels, which they believed were inaccurate.

The Office Director acknowledged to OIG that his leadership style was difficult for some FIRE employees. He noted that a longstanding dispute about the accuracy of the FPE Division’s engineer position descriptions and grade levels had a detrimental effect on morale.7 In addition, at OBO’s request,8 the Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM) conducted an organizational assessment in 2019.9The organizational assessment focused on FIRE leadership issues,including communication, technical expert participation in the decision-making process, and collaboration among FIRE divisions. It also focused on a range of administrative issues, including the accuracy of the FPE Division’s engineer position descriptions, standard operating procedures for overtime, and service passports for third-party contractors. During the inspection, FIRE began implementing the recommendations in GTM’s organizational assessment report. However, based on FIRE’s lack of progress on standard operating procedures for overtime and obtaining service passports for third-party contractors at the time of the inspection, OIG made recommendations to address these issues, as described in the Operational Effectiveness and Program Implementation and Resource Management sections of this report. Additionally, OIG suggested to the Office Director that he contact the Foreign Service Institute’s Leadership and Management School to engage a neutral third-party facilitator to address the leadership, morale, and administrative issues reported by FIRE staff. He agreed to use these Foreign Service Institute Leadership and Management School resources to address the issues described above.

Wait, the director told the OIG that his leadership style was difficult for some FIRE employees?”  That’s some 42 percent of the staff who gave him a thumbs down.  Does it need to be 51 percent?
The same individual who does not seem to acknowledged a deficient leadership style is now asked to call FSI’s Leadership and Management School for a third party facilitator “to address the leadership, morale, and administrative issues reported by the staff?” And this was made as a “suggestion” and not even included in the formal recommendations? A suggestion by its nature may be accepted or rejected.  So there will be no follow-up required, hey?
C’mon, folks, 2035 is tad far off for a status update on these issues; your poor blogger may be living in a colony in Mars by then with spotty wifi or in the midst of a zombie apocalypse!
The good news is — the directors of the three divisions of Fire Protection Analysis and Field Engineering (FPA), Fire Protection Engineering (FPE), and Fire Protection Systems and Engineering (FPS) received positive ratings in OIG’s survey and in employee interviews.5  Apparently, the OIG survey respondents rated the three Division Directors very good to excellent for all the 10 leadership and management principles found in 3 FAM 1214, “Leadership and Management Principles for Department Employees.”
We can’t tell from the report when was the last time this office was reviewed by the OIG. It is possible that it may not been inspected for many, many years; we have not been able to find any previous reports. The current report talks about “the past 14 years” and six fiscal years, so there’s that.
Fire Casualties/Fatalities

Over the past 14 years, FIRE reported three fatalities and five injuries.10 Although the number of firerelated fatalities and injuries remained low, the number of fire incidents and the associated monetary loss fluctuated over the past 6 fiscal years, ranging from 95 to 154 incidents per fiscal year, with associated annual losses from $358,206 to $37,291,962.11 Overall, OIG found that FIRE carried out its mission to prevent firerelated fatalities and injuries and generally met its performance objectives.

Footnote 10 notes that OBO/FIRE reported three fatalities over the last 14 years:
— one locally employed staff in Islamabad in 2006,
— one Foreign Service officer in Moscow in 2014 (Also see US Embassy Moscow: FS Employee Hurt in Apartment Building Gas Explosion Dies); Death in the Foreign Service: Why we said “no” to an Embassy Information Sanitation Dude
— one local contractor in Addis Ababa in 2017
FIRE also reported five injuries:
— one locally employed staff in Islamabad in 2006
— one Foreign Service officer and one locally employed staff in Dhaka in 2007
— one locally employed staff in Addis Ababa in 2015
— one Foreign Service officer in Quito in 2019.
Footnote 11 notes that “Of the $37,291,962 total loss, which occurred in FY 2020, $35million was attributable to a fire at Embassy Baghdad following a terrorist attack.”
Other notable items:

— OIG found no requirement for COMs to attest or certify in the annual SOAthat their postshad an effective fire protection program. In addition, the templates in Annex 1o f the SOA required COMs to attest to the effectiveness of eight facility management programs but none were related to the fire protection program.

— OIG found that low participation in fire prevention training at overseas posts hindered the effectiveness of FIRE’s fire protection program. According to a cable sent to all overseas posts,14 often fewer than 20 percent of personnel assigned to post attend fire prevention training15 provided by fire marshals during their visits.

— OIG found that a lack of service passports19 for FIRE’s 11 thirdparty contractors, which would allow them to carry work tools and fire system repair parts through foreign customs,affected operational effectiveness.20FIRE’s thirdparty contractors sometimes were subjected to increased scrutiny from local customs and immigration officials when traveling on their tourist passports.For example, one of FIRE’s thirdparty contractors was detained for several hours when host government authorities discovered hand tools and electronic detection and testing equipment in his luggage, while in another instance, some of his equipment was seized. FIRE reported that obtaining a business visa from the host country has not prevented these issues.CA recommends that most thirdparty contractors should continue to travel on tourist passports. FIRE first tried to obtain a service passport for a thirdparty contractor in 2017, but CA denied the request because it determined that FIRE’s justification was insufficient.

— OIG found FIRE had an inefficient manual system for tracking overseas posts’ compliance with its fire safety inspection recommendations. Specifically, FIRE used spreadsheets to track compliance with its recommendations for more than 90 overseas post inspections.

— FIRE’s overtime policy did not fully comply with Department standards in 3 FAM 3133.1, 3 FAM 3133.2,and 3 FAM 3133.3governing regularly and irregularly scheduled overtime.22 Although FIRE’s overtime policy addressed irregularly scheduled overtime, it did not include guidelines for regularly scheduled overtime that must be scheduled in advance of a workweek. Additionally, OIG reviewed statements from supervisors in FIRE documents instructing employees that the office does not pay overtime, that employees should not submit requests for paid overtime, and that FIRE has had for many years an unwritten policy that overtime is and shall be unscheduled and therefore paid by compensatory time and not overtime pay.

Related posts:

State/OIG Reports to Congress: Investigations Into Mrs P’s Travels, Ambassadors, Senior Advisors, FSOs and More

13 Going on 14 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

On June 1, 2021, State/OIG published online its Semiannual Report to the Congress (October 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021).
On  accountability and independence, the OIG reports:
“OIG did not encounter any attempts to interfere with Inspector General independence—whether through budgetary constraints designed to limit its capabilities, resistance or objection to oversight activities, or restrictions on or significant delays in access to information—for the reporting period from October 1, 2020, through March 31, 2021.
OIG encountered a three-month delay in scheduling an interview with Secretary Michael Pompeo as part of its review of allegations of misuse of Department resources. OIG initially requested an interview on September 11, 2020, but then-Secretary Pompeo did not agree to the interview (which was scheduled for December 23, 2020) until December 16, 2020.
During a mandated review of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs’ (INL) reporting related to National Drug Control Program activities, INL was not sufficiently responsive to OIG’s requests for information. At the conclusion of fieldwork, OIG determined that it could not complete its review because it did not have sufficient, appropriate evidence to be able to draw a conclusion about whether the Department’s management assertions in its Accounting and Authentication of FY 2020 Drug Control Funds and Related Performance Report were fairly stated.”
The Office of Evaluations and Special Projects (ESP):
“From October 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, ESP issued one unclassified report on Department programs and operations. Management Assistance Report: Representational Travel by the Spouse of the Secretary of State (ESP-21-01, 12/2020) In 2019, OIG received a whistleblower complaint related to travel by the spouse of the Secretary of State that the Department considered official travel. To investigate this complaint, OIG requested and reviewed documentation related to official representational family travel by Susan Pompeo from April 2018 to April 2020. Generally, Department policy permits such travel by relatives of Department officials for appropriate representational purposes. However, both Department guidance and principles of internal control require documentation of both the official purpose and the approval of the travel. The Secretary’s spouse took eight trips that were declared official from April 2018 to April 2020. Of the eight trips, OIG found documentation of an authorized purpose for all eight trips, but only found written approval for two of the trips.
OIG recommended that the Office of the Secretary seek and gain written approval for all representational travel, and that the Under Secretary for Management or other authorizing official document in writing the approval for all representational trips by any family members. The Department concurred with these recommendations.”
ESP Substantiation of Allegations of Non-Criminal Misconduct Involving Senior Government Employees, 10/1/2020–3/31/2021
— A case closed in January 2021 involved a U.S. Ambassador. “OIG found that the official committed several violations of Department policy, including involving a household member in official duties, using personal social media accounts for official activities, and failing to comply with 3 FAM 1214.1 “Leadership and Management Principles for Department Employees” and “The Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch,” issued by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. OIG referred its findings to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs and the Bureau of African Affairs. Shortly after OIG issued its findings, the Ambassador left office as part of the presidential transition.”
— A case closed in March 2021 involved a USAGM Senior Advisor.  “OIG found that the official violated Federal recordkeeping regulations by instructing employees to communicate with her on official matters using a mobile messaging application and then deleting the messages without properly preserving them in agency recordkeeping systems. OIG referred its findings to USAGM, which reviewed the matter and notified the National Archives and Records Administration of the improper disposal of Federal records.”
The Office of Investigations conducts worldwide investigations of criminal, civil, and administrative misconduct related to programs and operations of the Department. During the reporting period, OIG conducted a number of investigations involving senior Government employees.
Investigations Involving Senior Government Employees Where Allegations Were Substantiated, 10/1/2020–3/31/2021
— On June 12, 2015, OIG opened an investigation based on information that a senior Administrative Officer and two of her subordinates violated procurement rules and regulations related to the use of U.S. Government purchase cards. The investigation substantiated the allegation and revealed the officer instructed her employees to engage in the practice of split purchasing. As there was no violation of criminal law, the case was not referred to DOJ. However, the officer resigned from the Department while under investigation. The case was closed in January 2021.
— On October 28, 2019, OIG opened an investigation based on information that the senior advisor to a U.S. Ambassador serving overseas may have received supplemental compensation from a private company while serving as a U.S. Government employee. The investigation revealed the advisor transmitted Sensitive But Unclassified information to non-U.S. Government personnel and received gifts of airfare and a gift card valued over $8,000 from a private business entity. As there was no violation of criminal law, the case was not referred to DOJ. However, the officer resigned from the Department while under investigation. The case was closed in February 2021.
— On May 29, 2019, OIG opened an investigation regarding multiple allegations of misconduct by a U.S. Ambassador. The investigation revealed the Ambassador inappropriately used his position to try to influence the move of a professional sporting event to a different venue. He also knowingly allowed his special assistant to conduct personal matters that fell outside of her scope of official duties, and while using non-Department email accounts, he did not courtesy copy or forward to his official Department email account at least 62 official emails in the span of approximately 6 months.As there was no violation of criminal law, the case was not referred to DOJ. However, the Ambassador resigned from the Department while under investigation. The case was closed in February 2021.
Under notable resolutions, State/OIG/INV’s list includes the following:
— In March 2021,  two Foreign Service Officers agreed to pay more than $13,033 to the U.S. Government to resolve issues related to fraud allegations regarding Department travel vouchers. OIG special agents determined that the married couple engaged in a scheme to defraud the Department by filing four travel vouchers that claimed lodging expenses they were not entitled to under Federal Travel Regulations. The fraud was committed from approximately September 2014 through April 2019. OIG’s Office of General Counsel coordinated the Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act action that resulted in the settlement.
–In October 2020, three individuals were indicted for using a business email compromise scheme, or BEC, to defraud the Department. OIG and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agents determined the individuals tricked the Department and a nonprofit agency into wiring at least $575,000 into bank accounts they controlled for the purpose of enriching themselves and their co-conspirators.
Under employee misconduct:
— In November 2020, former Seabee Martin Huizar was sentenced to 109 months’ incarceration and ordered to pay $40,100 in fines and $10,000 in restitution, along with serving a 10-year term of supervised release, for transportation of images of child sexual abuse on his phones and tablet computer. The OIG Special Assistant United States Attorney assigned to the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case.
 

###

SDNY Charges @StateDept Contractor in Multimillion-Dollar Fraud Schemes, Then There’s “Insider-1” at OBO

13 Going on 14 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

On May 28, 2021, USDOJ/Southern District of New York announced the arrest of SINA MOAYEDI, the owner of a construction company on charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and one count of bribery of a public official. According to the announcement, “Sina Moayedi allegedly paid lucrative bribes to a State Department insider in exchange for confidential bidding information, and fraudulently induced the State Department to pay his company approximately $100 million.” Excerpt from the announcement:

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “As alleged, Sina Moayedi made misrepresentations about his employees’ qualifications and his company’s ownership in order to induce the State Department into awarding approximately $100 million in lucrative construction contracts to Moayedi’s company, Montage, Inc.  Moayedi also allegedly cultivated a State Department insider, and paid the insider lucrative bribes in exchange for confidential State Department bidding information.  Moayedi must now be held accountable for his alleged brazen fraud on the government.”

Special Agent in Charge Michael Speckhardt said:  “As alleged, the defendant’s scheme to undermine the Department’s procurement process for personal gain caught up with him today and he will now be held accountable.  His alleged actions not only hurt other legitimate businesses competing for awards, but also damage the public’s trust in the effective and efficient utilization of taxpayer money.”

According to allegations in the Complaint[1]:

Montage, Inc. (“Montage”) is a U.S.-based business that is primarily involved in worldwide Government construction projects, including embassies, military posts, consulates, and similar overseas properties owned and operated by the United States Government.  Montage has performed over $220 million in contracting work for the U.S. Government, including for the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice/Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Since 2014, Montage appears to have focused primarily on competing for and obtaining contracts with the State Department.  During that period, the State Department has awarded Montage approximately six overseas U.S. Embassy/Consulate construction project contracts totaling $100 million, in locales such as Ecuador, Spain, Sudan, the Czech Republic, and Bermuda.  The founder of Montage is SINA MOAYEDI.

Montage engaged in at least two fraud schemes.  The first scheme alleges that, from approximately 2014 to September 2020, MOAYEDI and Montage lied that it was a female-owned business in order to secure unmerited advantages in the bidding process.  By way of context, it is advantageous to a company, when bidding for federal government contracts, to be majority-owned by an individual from a socially or economically disadvantaged community.  In fact, certain contracts (or portions of contracts) are “set aside” for – i.e., only available to – such companies.  MOAYEDI and Montage repeatedly represented falsely in submissions to the State Department that Montage was female-owned, or female-owned and minority-owned, in order falsely to induce the State Department to award Montage lucrative construction contracts.  In actuality, MOAYEDI repeatedly lied about Montage being a female-owned business, and indeed, MOAYEDI controls Montage and makes all material decisions on Montage’s behalf.  As MOAYEDI revealed to a bank that inquired about Montage’s ownership status, “I am the sole owner and president of Montage and have always been.”  Montage and MOAYEDI also repeatedly misrepresented, and significantly overstated, the qualifications of Montage employees.  MOAYEDI made these misrepresentations in order to, among other things, meet State Department and contractual requirements for minimum experience in certain key positions.

The second scheme charged in the Complaint is a bribery scheme during at least 2016 and 2017.  Insider-1 is employed in the State Department’s Overseas Building Operations (“OBO”), which, according to OBO’s website, “directs the worldwide overseas building program for the Department of State and the U.S. Government community serving abroad.”  Specifically, Insider-1 works for the State Department’s OBO Project Development and Coordination Division, European division.  
[…]
MOAYEDI, 66, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, is charged with one count of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum potential prison sentence of 20 years, and one count of bribery of a public official, which carries a maximum potential prison sentence of 15 years.  
[…]
[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint and the description of the Complaint set forth below constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Download U.S. v Sina Moayedi complaint (21 mag 5598).pdf
Excerpt from complaint:

15. Based on my review of State Department records, I am aware that between approximately 2014 and 2017, Montage was awarded six U.S. embassy/consulate construction projects with the State Department, worth a total of approximately $100 million.
[…]
26. Based on information derived from witness interviews, I reviewed resumes submitted by Montage for various State Department projects. Department requirements referenced in the contract specify certain levels of experience in order to serve as “key personnel” (i.e., personnel whom the State Department has deemed critical to the safe, successful, and timely completion of a project).
[…]
In the course of my review, I identified numerous deficiencies regarding the resumes of key personnel submitted to the State Department for the Guayaquil, Ecuador project.

a. For example, Montage submitted an individual for the key role of Project Controls Engineer and Site Health Project Manager. In the claimed experience for this individual, it stated that he was employed at Montage since 2008 and had “inspected emergency egress and life/safety issues” and conducted “inspections of asbestos containment.” In fact, this individual had only been employed at Montage for approximately one year, and served in an office staff capacity, performing none of those duties.
[…]
[O]ne Montage employee’s resume claimed that he had earned a bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering and also claimed years of full-time complex work in the construction field in various capacities over several years. Neither representation was true. In fact, this individual testified at a deposition that they did not graduate; and this individual’s SF-86 security clearance application noted that this individual had actually sold meat as a door-to-door salesman, was a landscaper, and built swimming pools for several years during the period that they had claimed years of full-time complex work in the construction field.
[…]
39. I am aware, from my personal participation, that a judicially authorized search warrant was executed at the residence of Insider-1, on or about May 20, 2021. On that date, Insider-1 was informed, in substance, that she was not in custody, she was free to go, and she was not required to speak with law enforcement agents. She then participated in a voluntary interview with myself and an SDNY Special Agent on her back porch, and she made the following statements, in substance and part:

a. At first, Insider-1 claimed to have sold a large green rug to SINA MOAYEDI, the defendant, for about $60,000, but she said that the payment for the rug came from MOAYEDI’s friend.

Read more here.
The Daily Beast has identified the OBO insider in their May 27 report as well as provided the link to the Salehi Search Warrant; she has not been charged.
The document is 145 pages, the allegations spans many years and the government appears to be looking at multiple embassy projects.  The project in Guayaquil, Ecuador gets top mention. The search warrant executed includes “Records and information relating to forged submittals for the Guayaquil Consulate Project in Ecuador, and other State Department or other Government construction projects” and “Records and information that constitute evidence concerning persons who either (i) collaborated, conspired, or assisted (knowingly or unknowingly) the commission of the criminal activity under investigation; or (ii) communicated with MOAYEDI or other MONTAGE employees about matters relating to the criminal activity under investigation, including records that help reveal their whereabouts.”

Related news:

###

Indictments For Alleged Large-Scale Visa Fraud Employment Scheme

The fundraising campaign is closer to its goal today than yesterday, but it’s not quite there yet. We are grateful to the more than 450 donors who have supported our annual fundraising to-date. We will not run an indefinite campaign, just a few weeks out of the year.  Help us meet our goal so we can get back to our regular blogging programming. If you are able to help, you may pitch in at GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27. Thanks – DS

 

On April 20, USDOJ announced the indictment of two businesses and nine of their officers and managers for an alleged large-scale visa fraud employment scheme. Excerpt from the announcement:

An indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Georgia has been unsealed charging two businesses and nine of their officers and managers located across the country for their roles in an alleged conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and commit various fraud and criminal immigration offenses for profit.

According to court documents, Regal Hospitality Solutions, LLC; Educational World, Inc.; Karen Makaryan, 42, Sargis Makaryan, 42, and Samvel Nikoghosyan, 40, of Destrehan, La.; Artur Grigoryan, 38, of Biloxi, Miss.; Armen Ayrapetyan, 37, of Duluth, Ga.; Jason Hill, 28, of Virginia Beach, Va.; Fremie Balbastro, 49, of Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and Larisa Khariton, 73, and Jon Clark, 71, of North Port, Fla., were charged in a 36-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury on April 8. Each defendant was charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud and commit offenses against the United States, including encouraging and inducing an alien to reside in the United States, alien harboring, transporting aliens, and visa fraud.  Each defendant also was charged with substantive counts of encouraging and inducing an alien to reside in the United States, alien harboring, and transportation of aliens. In addition, Regal Hospitality Solutions, LLC; Karen Makaryan; Sargis Makaryan; Samvel Nikoghosyan; Artur Grigoryan; Armen Ayrapetyan; Fremie Balbastro; and Jason Hill were also charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud.

“The defendants in this case allegedly engaged in an expansive conspiracy to enrich themselves by exploiting both the immigration system and noncitizen workers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Systemic fraud and abuse of U.S. visa programs and processes designed to protect American workers and businesses will not be tolerated, and offenders will be held accountable.”
[…]
“The Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs aims to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange,” said Acting Assistant Inspector General for Investigations Robert Smolich of the U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations. “When bad actors corrupt these programs for personal gain, it not only diminishes an important tool of diplomacy, it harms the thousands of individuals who participate in these programs hoping to gain skills and experience to make a better life. Today we took a step forward in restoring integrity back to those programs.”

“These defendants’ alleged scheme to game the immigration system and defraud the government has backfired and they will now be held accountable,” said Special Agent in Charge Katrina W. Berger of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Georgia and Alabama. “Schemes like this not only exploit the noncitizen workers involved, they also damage the other legitimate businesses in the community. Protecting the integrity of the visa program and immigration system is vital to the security of our nation.”
[…]
Individual defendants have made their initial court appearances and the arraignment of all defendants will be scheduled before U.S. Magistrate Judge Benjamin W. Cheesbro of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. If convicted, the individual defendants face maximum potential statutory penalties of five years in prison on the count of conspiracy to defraud and commit offenses against the United States; 10 years in prison on the counts of encouraging and inducing an alien to reside in the United States, alien harboring, and transportation of aliens; and 20 years in prison on the counts of wire fraud conspiracy and substantive wire fraud. The organizational defendants are subject to a maximum fine on each count of conviction of $500,000 or twice the gross amount of gain or loss resulting from the offense. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector General is investigating the case with assistance provided by HSI and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Trial Attorneys Frank Rangoussis and John-Alex Romano of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Alejandro V. Pascual IV of the Southern District of Georgia are prosecuting the case.

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Read the full announcement here.

###

 

#HavanaSyndrome: Directed-Energy Attacks Now Reported in D.C.

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

On April 28, NBC’s Josh Lederman reported that a group of Canadian diplomats have accessed Canada’s government of withholding information about new cases of brain injury resulting from “Havana Syndrome”.  The report also says that the diplomats are citing “unacceptable delays” on coordinating care for Canadians affected, including numerous children who were accompanying their parents in Cuba. “Who knows what the long-term impacts will be?” the diplomats wrote.
Who knows what the long-term effect will be for the employees affected and the family members who were at these posts? For the State Department, the magic number appears to remain at 41 for those officially diagnosed. We do not have the number of employees who were not officially counted but whose lives and health were upended by the Department’s botched response to these attacks. We do not even know how many Foreign Service kids were similarly affected by these attacks.  Given the Department’s poor track record of handing these incidents going back to Moscow in the 1970’s, we need to keep asking questions.  Congress needs to step up in its oversight.
Back in early April, one of the questions we asked the State Department is to confirm that the mystery illness has been reported domestically (WH staffer in Arlington, a couple at UPENN)?  The State Department refused to answer that question and all our other questions.  See the rest of the questions here: Havana Syndrome Questions @StateDept Refuses to Answer.  We added a submitted question: #17. Why not expand the mandate of Ambassador Spratlen to include instances of previous microwave attacks, since those episodes were handled so badly by the State Department? Here is a little background: https://shoeone.blogspot.com/2013/09/moscow-microwaves.html
CNN is now reporting that “federal agencies are investigating at least two possible incidents on US soil, including one near the White House in November of last year, that appear similar to mysterious, invisible attacks that have led to debilitating symptoms for dozens of US personnel abroad. Multiple sources familiar with the matter tell CNN that while the Pentagon and other agencies probing the matter have reached no clear conclusions on what happened, the fact that such an attack might have taken place so close to the White House is particularly alarming.”
So there. Now that this has become “particularly alarming,” maybe we’ll learn some more?
Pardon me, what do you mean  …. “NO”!?
Recent related posts:

Related posts:

Foggy Bottom’s Humongous Professional Ethos Poster Board Deserves a New Life

We are starting Week #6 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020.  If you think what we do here is useful, we could use your help. Please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

Related posts:

###

State/OIG Releases Report on Pompeos Personal Use of USG Resources During Foggy Bottom Tenure

We are starting Week #6 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020.  If you think what we do here is useful, we could use your help. Please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

It’s a wonder they did not create an Office of the First Lady of the State Department in Foggy Bottom.

###

@StateDept Updated Assignment Restrictions Regs in 2020, Also Where’s the Preclusion Data?

13 GoingOn 14: Help Keep the Blog Going For 2021 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

Last week, Politico published a piece about hundreds of people of color at the State Department handed “assignment restrictions” due to concerns over split loyalties or being susceptible to foreign influence. See Foreigners in their own country: Asian Americans at State Department confront discrimination. In 2017, The Foreign Service Journal published In Pursuit of Transparency in Assignment Restriction Policies by FSOs Christina T. Le and Thomas T. Wong who at that time were the current and past presidents of the Asian American Foreign Affairs Association (AAFAA). Excerpt below:

Employees’ concerns regarding the assignment restrictions process were plentiful: it was unfair, lacked transparency and was based on ethnic origin or family heritage. Our advocacy to the State Department on the issue began in 2009 and continued in earnest through 2016.

The case was framed by input from countless numbers of employees who came to us expressing real frustration, disillusionment and anger over the lack of transparency and accountability in the process. In some cases, the department had prioritized hiring these officers because of their language skills, only to turn around and preclude them from using those valued language skills overseas.

While assignment restrictions affect many State department employees of different backgrounds, we accumulated substantial anecdotal evidence that it has disproportionately affected employees of AAPI descent. Our data suggested assignment restrictions were levied with race as a factor, with disregard for mitigating circumstances and even based on incorrect facts.

According to the authors, the efforts to confront these issues went back many years: “Mariju Bofill first raised the issue with the Secretary of State in 2009, after consultations with the department’s legal advisor, and continued to raise it during the following three years. Cecilia Choi took the baton in 2012, working with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to try to come to a fair solution. In 2013, The Washington Post featured an article on the subject, “At the State Department, Diversity Can Count Against You,” highlighting the perspectives of several Foreign Service officers.”
In May 2017, AFSA issued guidance on new provisions governing assignment limitations as negotiated with the State Department; these were reportedly implemented on October 21, 2017 and can be found in 12 FAM 233.5.  The latest update were done on June  24, 2020:

Per FAM, assignment restrictions are conditions placed on a security clearance.  They are used to prevent potential targeting and harassment by foreign intelligence services as well as to lessen foreign influence and/or foreign preference security concerns; for example, if an employee and/or his or her close family members maintain citizenship or dual citizenship with that country or have substantial financial interests or foreign contacts there.  Foreign influence and preference are two of the U.S. Government’s Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information.

Assignment restrictions may be determined when the initial clearance determination is made, during periodic reinvestigation, or when an individual’s personal situation changes; i.e., marriage, cohabitation, etc. (see 12 FAM 270).  An individual may be restricted from permanent assignment to a particular country or countries, or in some cases, a desk and/or program where that country or countries are the primary focus.  Desks or other positions may present vulnerabilities for targeting when there is frequent official contact with foreign individuals.  Individuals with an assignment restriction to a country may not serve temporary duty (TDY) in that country for more than a total of 60 days during any 365 day period.

The 2020 FAM update allows for a review within 30 days of receiving the assignment restrictions at an employee’s request, on exceptional circumstances the employee/applicant may also request an additional 15 days review, and there us a review on the assignment restrictions by DS/SI/PSS each time an individual’s continued eligibility for access to classified information is re-adjudicated, typically every five years.
The thing that’s clear in the regs is that the initial assignment restriction is conducted by Diplomatic Security. The  reviewer is also Diplomatic Security. After that review, the decision by DS/DSS becomes final. There is no appeal authority above Diplomatic Security. The State Department’s personnel chief, yes, the DGHR said in a congressional hearing that she “does not know enough about the process to answer the question” (see video below).
The updated regs also do not indicate who tracks, and keep the data about these assignment restrictions. The report on Politico points out that the State Department is required by law to provide to Congress “the number and nature of assignment restrictions and preclusions for the previous three years”. This was part of the Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017 dated December 16, 2016 (see 22 USC 2734c: Employee assignment restrictions).  Which means Tillerson in 2017 or Pompeo in 2018 would have been required to submit preclusion data to Congress dating back at least three years.  And yet, the Politico report said that a State Department spokesperson was unable to say how many diplomats across the department are currently subject to restrictions.
Well, now.  So either the State Department ignored a congressional reporting requirement or the information is available but in a lock box?  Who wants to share?
Congressional representatives like Andy Kim of NJ who previously worked for the State Department has publicly voiced a demand that “we fix this problem.”

Below is the top official in charged of personnel including assignments at the State Department told by the congressman from California to “Maybe you might want to find more about this process since you’re Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Global Talent and this is affecting your State Department employees … “

 


 

 

WhatTheWhat? State/OIG Reviewed But Did Not/Not Evaluate @StateDept’s COVID-19 Response

13 GoingOn 14: Help Keep the Blog Going For 2021 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

“The scope of this review was the Department’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic and its plans and procedures for returning employees to offices. As part of this review, OIG did not evaluate whether the Department’s implementation of its plans and procedures effectively safeguarded Department personnel health and safety. In addition, OIG did not include the Department’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution or new policies, such as President Biden’s executive order on required mask wearing, as these occurred subsequent to fieldwork completion. OIG completed this review in Washington, DC, and virtually with officials from U.S. Embassy Baghdad, Iraq; U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan; and Consulate General Frankfurt, Germany. These posts were selected due to OIG’s onsite presence at each post, as well as the varying local responses to the global COVID-19 pandemic, which influenced how the Department’s reopening plans were executed by post management.”

 


 

 

GAP and VOA Whistleblowers Call For Investigation of Ex-USAGM Chief Michael Pack

13 GoingOn 14: Help Keep the Blog Going For 2021 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

On March 18, Government Accountability Project on behalf of federal whistleblowers called for an investigation of the former head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) Michael Pack who reportedly spent nearly $2 million in federal funds investigating Voice of America employees. Excerpt below:
…On behalf of anonymous whistleblowers, alerted Congress and federal whistleblower agencies to new details about sole source, no bid contracts awarded to two law firms by Michael Pack to investigate the employees at the agency he headed, the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM). USAGM is the parent agency of Voice of America (VOA). Until ordered to resign by President Biden on Inauguration Day, Mr. Pack—a Trump administration political appointee—was Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of USAGM.
[…]
After alerting the Congress and the federal whistleblower agencies (the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and the State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) to Mr. Pack’s misconduct, Government Accountability Project used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain additional details about the sole source, no-bid law firm contracts.
GAP provided a link to USAGM materials released via the latter’s FOIA, available here. Government Accountability Project also sent a supplemental analysis to Congress, OSC, and State/OIG.
Cited among its findings:
  • The total value of all services rendered by McGuireWoods and Caplin & Drysdale (billed and unbilled) was approximately $1.776 million.
  • Over four months, McGuireWoods billed approximately $1.625 million in fees and disbursements based on 5,093 billable hours, an average of approximately $320 for each billable hour.
  • The three activities responsible for over 90 percent of McGuireWoods’ billable hours were: “Document Production” (2,998.10 hours); “Analysis/Strategy” (1,053.40 hours); and “Fact Investigation/Development” (655.80 hours).
  • Over four months, Caplin & Drysdale billed approximately $66,000 in fees and disbursements based on 84.4 billable hours, an average of over $780 for each billable hour.
GAP urge the Foreign Affairs and Appropriations Committees in the House and the Senate, State/OIG and the Office of Special Counsel “to specifically investigate the authority invoked and the representations made by Mr. Pack and others in order to pay these law firms, and any other contractors Mr. Pack hired during his brief and controversial tenure.”
The letter is available to read here.