@StateDept Cancels Ongoing #DiversityVisa Registration, Launches New Registration Oct.18-Nov.22

Posted: 3:14 pm PT
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On October 12, we blogged that the diversity visa website (https://www.dvlottery.state.gov/) has been down for maintenance since at least Sunday, October 8 (see Diversity Visa Lottery Registration Opens 10/3-11/7 – Site Now Down For Maintenance!). The Bureau of Consular Affairs which runs the program has now put up a new announcement:

With the exception of the notice posted on https://www.dvlottery.state.gov there are no FAQs on the website.  The US Embassy in Ecuador, however, helpfully posted the following FAQ:

Q: What can you tell us about the technical issue? Were entries lost? Was this a hacking attempt?
The technical issue was a failure to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth, which is permitted in certain limited circumstances. This was not a result of any outside interference or hacking attempt.

Q: How many entries had been received before this technical issue?
Due to technical issues, we are unable to reliably estimate how many valid entries were received at this time. In order to protect the integrity of the process and ensure a fair opportunity to all entrants, we are restarting the entry period now.

Q: How many DV entries does the Department expect for DV-2019?
In DV-2018, the last year for which numbers are available, we received more than 14 million entries from principal applicants.

Q: How will the Department notify applicants whose entries are not valid? 

The Department will send an automated email notification to each Diversity Visa entrant from whom an entry was received before October 18, 2017, using the email address provided on the lottery entry form, directing the entrant to check the website dvlottery.state.gov for an important announcement.  We will also work through our embassies and consulates to inform potential entrants of the situation and new registration period using social media and local media outlets.

Since this program, presumably was the same program used in last year’s lottery, why would the “technical issue” that failed “to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth” only surface now?  Did CA switched contractor between last year and this year’s lottery roll out? Did contractor perform system programming change after the last lottery but before the current one opened on October 3, 2017?

What we don’t understand is if this is a technical issue now, why was this not a technical issue last year if they’re using the same program?

This is not the first time that a “technical issue” happened with diversity visa lottery program.

We were reminded recently that the May 2015 DV lottery site crashed when people were trying to check lottery results. But the really big one happened much earlier in 2011 when Consular Affairs ran the FY2012 lottery, and it turned out the lottery results were not even random, so CA had to nullify the visa lottery results and ran the lottery again.  The nullification resulted in a lawsuit against the Department of State. That lawsuit was eventually dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on July 14, 2011.

The State/OIG did review that FY2012 DV debacle, and since we’re not clear how the current technical issue occurred, we’ll revisit the 2011 case:

The OIG team found three problems that led to this failure, all of which stem from the lack of adherence to sound project management and systems development principles. First, CA’s Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) implemented a system programming change without performing adequate testing. Second, CST changed contract task orders without notifying the Office of Acquisition Management (AQM). Third, CST management failed to adequately discuss the changes with all stakeholders and thus did not fully understand how overseas consular officers administer the DV program.

Also this:

The primary reason for the DV 2012 program failure was that CST did not adequately test the new computer program for the random selection of potential DV program participants. Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended,3 limits the number of DVs that may be available by both region and country. Therefore, 22 CFR § 42.33(c) requires that selection be based on random rank-ordering of participants by region through a computer program designed for this purpose. When participants submit their records, the computer program assigns a sequential number to each record based on the participant’s region. Subsequently, the selection process uses the sequential numbers to randomly rank-order the participants’ records. CST management decided in November 2010 not to use the commercial off—the—shelf statistics analysis program that it had used successfully for random rank—ordering in numerous previous years. Instead, CST management asked one of its contractors to develop a program. This new computer program had a coding error that produced a nonrandom rank-ordering and thus failed to meet INA requirements. The program not only selected 98 percent of the applicants from the first two dates of the allowed submission dates, it also selected multiple individuals from the same families.

According to CST management and the contractor staff who developed the new DV computer program, testing scenarios were limited to validating that all geographic regions were assigned the correct numerical limitation and that the total number of selectees to be drawn was accurate. In addition, the development, testing, and production implementation of the program were done exclusively by one contracting company that, due to poor planning and failure to consult with all DV stakeholders, did not have adequate information to create a complete test plan for the computer program. Key stakeholders such as CST’s independent validation and verification team, the Visa Office, and the contractor that operated and managed the legacy computer program were not involved in planning and implementing the new computer program.
[…]
Principals in the Visa Office were not aware that changes had been made to the computer program until after it failed and the results had to be voided. CST management further stated that it is not clear to them which office is responsible for administering the DV program.

Read the full report here: https://oig.state.gov/system/files/176330.pdf.

So again, did the Consular Affairs contractor perform system programming changes after last year’s lottery but before the current one opened on the 3rd of October?

If that did not happen, and CA is using the same system, how did CA principals become aware that the system is failing “to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth?”

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Snapshot: Stop/Start Process For Hardship Pay For Employees Traveling Away From Post

Posted: 12:57 am ET
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Via GAO:

Stop/Start Process For Hardship Pay (click on image for larger view)

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Snapshot: @StateDept Process For Determining Danger Pay Eligibility

Posted: 3:07 am ET
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Via GAO:

Danger Pay Process, State Department via GAO, September 2017

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GAO Reviews @StateDept’s Hardship and Danger Pay Allowances

Posted: 4:21 am ET
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Back in February 2015, we blogged about the State Department then considering changes to its danger pay allowance (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay). In September 2015, we updated that post as new danger pay designation came into effect (see New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status.)

More recently, the Government Accountability Office was asked by the House Oversight and Government Reform (HOGR) Committee to review the State Department’s administration of hardship and danger pay for its employees. The GAO report examines the following:

(1) State’s spending at overseas posts for hardship and danger pay in fiscal years 2011-2016
(2) the extent to which State has followed its process for determining hardship and danger pay rates at overseas posts
(3) the procedures State uses to implement its policies for stopping and starting hardship and danger pay when employees temporarily leave their assigned overseas posts
(4) the extent to which State has identified improper payments related to hardship and danger pay.

The GAO made the following conclusions:

  • State mostly followed the new processes it established in 2015 for determining hardship and danger pay rates and locations, in a few cases it awarded Director Points that increased hardship pay for posts without clearly explaining in its documentation how the conditions at these posts met State’s criteria. Without clearer documentation, State cannot provide assurances that it is applying Director Points consistently across posts and tenures of ALS Directors, potentially leading to increased spending on hardship pay not otherwise justified under State’s current process for determining rates.  (The report notes that 12 of the 15 memos did not clearly document how the posts met State’s criteria for awarding Director Points.  State approved hardship rates for these posts that were 5 percent higher than the rate they would have received in the absence of Director Points. State policies note that Director Points may be awarded for extreme conditions not adequately captured in State’s written standards).
  • State has not assessed the cost- effectiveness of its policies and procedures for stopping and starting hardship pay when employees temporarily leave their overseas posts. State officials noted that these policies and procedures are resource intensive to implement and contribute to improper payments, which are costly to recover. Without reviewing the cost-effectiveness of these policies and procedures, State does not know whether they are effective, efficient, and economical.
  • By not analyzing available data compiled by CGFS, State may be missing an opportunity to identify, recover, and prevent improper payments related to hardship pay with the potential to produce cost savings for the U.S. government. Our independent analysis of State data identified overseas posts accounting for millions of dollars in hardship spending in fiscal years 2015 and 2016 that may be at high risk for improper payments.

It also offers the following recommendations for the following offices:

Director of Allowance/ALS — should clearly document how the conditions at relevant posts meet the criteria for Director Points to ensure that hardship pay rates for overseas posts are consistently determined across posts and tenures of ALS Directors.

Undersecretary of Management — should assess the cost- effectiveness of State’s policies and procedures for stopping and starting hardship pay for employees who temporarily leave their assigned overseas posts. (Recommendation 2)

Department’s Comptroller/CGFS — should analyze available diplomatic cable data from overseas posts to identify posts at risk of improper payments for hardship pay, identify any improper payments, and take steps to recover and prevent them. (Recommendation 3)

Other details:

FOUR POSTS: The GAO conducted fieldwork at four posts that receive hardship or danger pay: Islamabad, Pakistan; Mexico City, Mexico; New Delhi, India; and Tunis, Tunisia.

THREE-QUARTERS OF FS WORKFORCE:  According to State data, about three-quarters of the department’s Foreign Service overseas work force, as of September 30, 2016, was based at a post designated for hardship pay.

HARDSHIP PAY: As of February 5, 2017, State offered hardship pay at 188 of its 273 overseas posts (about 69 percent).

DANGER PAY: As of February 5, 2017, State had provided danger pay at 25 of its 273 overseas posts (about 9 percent).

SIX POSTS: As of February 5, 2017, 21 overseas posts were eligible for both hardship and danger allowances, and 6 posts were receiving the maximum 70 percent combined rate for hardship and danger pay: Bangui, Central African Republic; Basrah, Iraq; Kabul, Afghanistan; Mogadishu, Somalia; Peshawar, Pakistan; and Tripoli, Libya.

AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ: State spent about $138 million on hardship pay in Afghanistan and Iraq in fiscal years 2011 through 2016— about 19 percent of its total spending on hardship pay. State spent about $125 million on danger pay in these two countries over the same period, almost half of its worldwide danger pay spending.

1 BILLION (FY2011-2015) :  State spent about $1 billion for hardship and danger pay in fiscal years 2011 through 2016, including $732 million for State employees serving in locations designated for hardship pay and $266 million for employees serving in locations designated for danger pay.

STOP/START PAYMENTS: According to CGFS data, overseas posts sent diplomatic cables requiring CGFS to make more than 10,000 manual adjustments to temporarily stop and start employees’ hardship pay in both 2015 and 2016.

IMPROPER PAYMENTS: CGFS identified a total of about $2.9 million in improper payments for hardship and danger pay in fiscal years 2015 and 2016.  As of March 2017, CGFS had recovered almost $2.7 million, or about 92 percent, of the improper payments it identified in 2015 and 2016 related to hardship and danger pay. According to CGFS officials, the bureau was continuing efforts to recover the remaining 8 percent.

The full report is available to read here: GAO OVERSEAS ALLOWANCES 9-2017.
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Tillerson to Shrink Special Envoys/Reps Ranks — Honk If You Approve! Honk! Honk!

Posted: 3:03 am  ET
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We’ve previously blogged about the special envoys/reps at the State Department going back to 2014.  In 2015, Senator Bob Corker [R-TN] introduced Senate bill S. 1635: Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, Fiscal Year 2016. We agreed with Senator Corker then that every secretary of state should be asked to account for these 7th Floor denizens/positions, most especially on their necessity to the effective conduct of the foreign affairs of the United States.  The American Academy of Diplomacy in its American Diplomacy at Risk report also recommended that “special envoys, representatives, coordinators, etc. should be appointed only for the highest priority issues and should be integrated into relevant bureaus unless special circumstances dictate otherwise.”

The Corker bill was enacted after it was signed by President Obama on December 16, 2016.  Sec. 418 of the bill requires the Secretary of State to report to appropriate congressional committees a tabulation of the current names, ranks, positions, and responsibilities of all special envoy, representative, advisor, and coordinator positions at the Department, with a separate accounting of all such positions at the level of Assistant Secretary (or equivalent), their appointment authorities, reporting requirements, staffing, and other details.  The draft bill may have originally required a Senate confirmation for these positions but the inacted bill, Public Law 114–323, does not include that requirement.

Secretary Tillerson’s letter to Senator Corker notes that he is providing notification per section 7015(a) and 7034(l) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2017 (Div. J, P.L. 115-31) on certain organizational changes related to special envoys and related positions, as well as changes to special envoys and related positions that do not require notification to the Committees. He writes:

I believe that the Department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus, and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose. In some cases, the State Department would leave in place several positions and offices, while in other cases, positions and offices would be either consolidated or integrated with the most appropriate bureau. If an issue no longer requires a special envoy or representative, then an appropriate bureau will manage any legacy responsibilities.

This integration will address concerns that under the current structure, a special envoy or representative can circumvent the regional and functional bureaus that make up the core of the State Department. In each case, the allocated budget, staff members, and responsibilities would be reallocated to the appropriate bureau. Issues that require high-level interaction with senior foreign officials will be assigned to a senior official to whom authority is delegated to conduct such diplomacy.

Let’s give Secretary Tillerson a thumbs up, okay? This needed doing for some time, and we are pleased to see that some of these responsibilities are reverting to the functional and regional bureaus; that subject matter experts in the bureaus will be put to good use again, and will not be kept in the dark. It’s good to see Tillerson tamping down the proliferation of um … mushrooms. Let’s see if he can keep at it.

In response to Secretary Tillerson’s letter, Senator Corker released a statement here  expressing appreciation for “the work Secretary Tillerson has done to responsibly review the organizational structure of special envoys and look forward to going through these changes in detail.”

The Secretary’s letter includes nine (9) special envoy, special representative, special advisor, coordinator, and related positions that will be removed or retired:

The Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks position will be removed, as the talks ceased in 2008. One position and $224,000 in support costs will be realigned within the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs (EAP).

The Transparency Coordinator position will be removed. Legacy or future responsibilities will be addressed by the Under Secretary for Management (M). Three positions and $165,000 in support costs within the D&CP will be reprogrammed from the Office of the Secretary to the Under Secretary for Management (M).

The Special Advisor for Global Youth Issues position will be removed. The portfolio of helping the U.S. Government engage young people internationally falls within the scope of the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R). There is no support cost for this position.

The Special Envoy for the Colombian Peace Process position will be removed and the functions assumed by the Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau (WHA). There is no position established for this special envoy, and $5,000 in support costs within D&CP will be reprogrammed from the Office of the Secretary to the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA).

The Personal Representative for Northern Ireland Issues position will be retired. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement has been implemented with a devolved national assembly in Belfast now in place. Legacy and future responsibilities will be assigned to the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR). This will involve realigning $50,000 in support costs within the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR).

The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review Special Representative position will be removed. The State Department is undergoing an updated review process under the Presidential Executive Order on reorganizing the executive branch. This will involve realigning 8 positions and $1,247,000 in support costs within D&CP from the Office of the Secretary to the Under Secretary for Management (M).

The U.S. Special Envoy for the Closure of Guantanamo Detention Facility position will be removed. Any legacy and future responsibilities will be assigned to the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA). This will involve realigning 9 positions and $637,000 in support costs within D&CP from the Office of the Secretary to Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA).

The Special Adviser for Secretary Initiatives position will be removed. There is no staff currently authorized for this position. This will involve reprogramming $43,000 in support costs.

The Senior Advisor to the Secretary position will be removed. This will involve reprogramming 4 positions and $350,000 in support costs from the Office of the Secretary to Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff (S/P).

Here are some of the titles that will be removed and the functions performed by the appropriate bureaus:

Special Coordinator for Haiti| The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) will retain the functions and staff of the Special Coordinator for Haiti. The title will be removed and 9 positions and $656,000 in support costs will remain in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA).

U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change. Functions include engaging partners and allies around the world on climate change issues. This will involve realigning 7 positions and $761,000 in support costs within D&CP from the Office of the Secretary to the Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs (OES).

U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic Region. Functions include advancing U.S. interests in the Arctic. This will involve realigning 5 positions and $438,000 in support costs within D&CP from the Office of the Secretary to the Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs (OES).

Special Coordinator for Libya and Senior Advisor for MEK Resettlement (SCL) | The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) will assign the functions of the Special Coordinator for Libya and Senior Advisor for MEK Resettlement (SCL) to a deputy assistant secretary. The title will be removed and 2 positions and $379,000 in support costs will remain in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA).

U.S. Special Envoy for Syria | The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) will retain the functions of the U.S. Special Envoy for Syria. The title will be removed and the functions continue to be performed by a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA). The title will be removed and 2 positions and $379,000 in support costs will remain in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA).

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan | The Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) will assume the functions and staff of the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and coordinate across the government to meet U.S. strategic goals in the region. This will involve removing the title and sustaining the realignment of 9 positions and $1,985,000 in support costs within D&CP from the Office of the Secretary to the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA). Given the Administration’s recent South Asia policy announcement, the Secretary will consider options regarding diplomatic responsibilities in the region as needed.

Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation | The Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) will assume functions and staff of the Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation, including ensuring that the nuclear steps to which Iran committed in the JCPOA are fully implemented and verified. This will involve removing the title and realigning 5 positions and $1,208,000 in support costs from the Office of the Secretary to the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN).

Coordinator for Cyber Issues (CCI). Functions encompass advancing the full range of U.S. interests in cyberspace including security, economic issues, freedom of expression, and free flow of information on the internet. This will involve realigning 23 positions and $5,497,000 in support costs from the Office of the Secretary to the Bureau of Economic & Business Affairs (EB).

Read the full list here: Tillerson-Corker-Letter via Politico.

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Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s “Naughty List” — What’s That All About?

Posted: 3:48 am ET
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On August 8, we blogged about a woman who reported that she was raped and stalked by a supervisory Diplomatic Security agent assigned to one of the bureau’s field offices in the United States. The blogpost includes the State Department recently issued guidance on sexual assaults covering personnel and facilities in the United States (See A Woman Reported to Diplomatic Security That She Was Raped and Stalked by a DS Agent, So What Happened?).

We have since been been told that if we keep digging, we will “find much more” and that we should be looking for the “Naughty List” also known as the Adverse Action list.

When we asked what kind of numbers we’re talking about, we were informed that “the numbers are enough to say this is a systemic issue within the department.”  In the course of looking into this one case, we discovered a second case similar to the one we blogged about last week.  But the allegation was related to a different employee.

We’ve asked Diplomatic Security about the List but to-date we have not heard anything back.  We have two sources who confirmed the existence of the list.

What is the “Naught List”?

The list is formally called the Adverse Action list. We understand that this is a list of Diplomatic Security employees who are under investigation or declared “unfit for duty“.  Among the allegations we’ve got so far:

  • Investigations where agents were not disciplined but suspected of similar offenses
  • Investigations that languished on somebody’s desk for a decision
  • Agents curtail from post due to their “inappropriate behavior” and then just get reassigned somewhere else to become someone else’s problem (or nightmare if you are the victim).
  • Most agents are sent back to work with a slap on the wrist, regardless of how egregious the allegation against them were.
  • That this blog is only aware of two cases while “there are many more than that that exists.”
  • The system is highly flawed when you have coworkers/buddies investigating you.
  • That the Sexual Assault Policy is all smoke and mirrors without a mechanism to ensure the alleged perpetrator does not reoffend by discipline, removal, or treatment once its been established that the allegation has merit.

We’ve seen this movie before, haven’t we?

In October 2014, State/OIG published its Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.  That report includes a case where the OIG found an appearance of undue influence and favoritism concerning a DS Regional Security Officer (RSO) posted overseas, who, in 2011, allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct and harassment.  DS commenced an internal investigation of those allegations in September 2011.  The report notes that at the time the investigation began, the RSO already had a long history of similar misconduct allegations dating back 10 years at seven other posts where he worked.

The report also notes that “notwithstanding the serious nature of the alleged misconduct, the Department never attempted to remove the RSO from Department work environments where the RSO could potentially harm other employees, an option available under the FAM.”  The OIG reports that in November 2013, based on evidence collected by DS and the Department’s Office of Civil Rights, the Department commenced termination of employment proceedings against the RSO. The RSO’s employment in the Department did not end until mid-2014, approximately 3 years after DS initially learned of the 2011 allegations.

Now three years after that employee’s departure, and six years after that 2011 allegations, here we are once again. Similar cases, different characters.

The questions we’ve been asked

Of which we have no answer — but we’re hoping that Diplomatic Security or the State Department would be asked by congressional overseers — are as follows:

√ Why would DS want to keep an agent or agents on that reflects so poorly on the Agency? Does DS not find this to be a liability?

√ Is Diplomatic Security (DS) prepared to deal with the aftermath if this agent continues to commit the same offenses that he has allegedly been accused of, especially if there is a track record for this agent?

√ There is an internal group that meets monthly to discuss these cases; they include representatives from at least six offices across bureaus, so what happened to these cases? Why are these actions tolerated?

√ If DS is so proactive based on its new Sexual Assault Policy, why are they not seeking a quicker timeline from investigation to discipline, to demonstrate to alleged victims that the agency does indeed take these allegations seriously?

We have to add a few questions of our own. Why do DS agents continue to investigate misconduct of other DS agents that they will likely serve with in the future, or that they may rely on for future assignments?

According to the Spring 2017 Report to Congress, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) has limited and continues to limit OIG’s permanent worldwide access to specific DS systems that OIG requires to conduct its oversight activities. Why? (see @StateDept Now Required to Report Allegations and Investigations to OIG Within 5 Days).

What are we going to see when we (or other reporters) FOIA this “Naughty List”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

➥ The EAPs themselves are not readily usable during emergency situations

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

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

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

 Other details excerpted from the report:

Late Annual Updates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new system sometime this year?

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

Absent a functioning lessons learned process …

The GAO reviewers talk about lessons not learned:

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

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

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

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

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Related post:

SFRC Grills D/S Sullivan About @StateDept FY18 Reauthorization Bill and Reorganizational Plans

Posted: 4:22 am ET
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Deputy Secretary John Sullivan appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 18 for a hearing intended to Review the State Department Reauthorization Bill for FY 2018 and the State Department Reorganization Plans. As we expected, the deputy secretary cited the “listening tour” as the “cornerstone” of the agency’s redesign efforts:

In the 21st century, the United States faces many evolving threats to our national security. As the Committee knows well, the State Department – with a workforce of more than 75,000 – must respond to these challenges with the necessary speed and the appropriate resources. In other words, the nature of our work at the State Department demands flexibility and adaptability to an ever-changing world. We ask that the Committee keep this in mind as you continue to evaluate proposals for the Authorization Bill.

We also appreciate the great interest and support the Committee has shown to the Department’s efforts to make our programs and organizations more efficient and effective. The cornerstone of this redesign effort has been the input and feedback received from State Department employees.

Our main take away from watching the hearing is that D/Secretary Sullivan is a more personable and reassuring presence when talking about the State Department and USAID. He comes across as a champion of his agency without contradicting his superiors. He sounded reasonable and accommodating to the requests of the senators. At one point during the hearing, Senator Udall (D-NM) complained that he sent the Department a letter asking for specific information but has not received a response in four months. D/Secretary Sullivan quickly apologized, saying this is the first he’s heard of it, and he will make sure it is acted soonest.

There were lots of concern about the reported merger of State and USAID.  D/S Sullivan assured the senators that there is no predetermination in absorbing USAID to State. He also told Senator Menendez that there is no intention to fold USAID into State. He explained that the merger is a proposal made by people outside of the State Department but that there has not been an intention to absorb USAID to State.

He was also asked about the idea floated by the WH of moving CA and PRM functions to DHS. He told the panel that it is not the intent of the Department to move these functions.  He told the senators that it is something that if it were raised, they would  consider it but that it would be from a position that the two are vital to the mission of the State Department. Senator Shaheen (D-NH) informed him that if this  happens, she would be one of those leading the charge against it.

Senator Udall said the panel need significant oversight language in the bill to ensure that Congress has a say on the reorganization at State. Senator Cardin said that he expect State to implement what Congress has authorized and wanted some some assurance that when Congress passes the appropriation and authorization that it would be carried out. D/S Sullivan assured him that his agency will comply with the law, execute the law, and follow the instructions of Congress.

Special envoys is a big topic for the panel. Apparently there are about 68 special envoys; of that 7 are permissive positions (Congress uses may instead of shall) and 11 are mandated positions.  The senators worry that they all come with large staff. One senator wanted to know — if Congress is the authorizing body, do they have to put these positions in a statute? And should the Senate provide advice and consent for all of them. Senator Corker notes that despite the complaints about the multiple special envoys, Secretary Tillerson had recently appointed a Special Envoy for Ukraine. He notes that if we have somebody working on policy that the individual should go through confirmation.

In addition to the budget request and the reorganization, other topics discussed include diversity, employee welfare (Mission Juba got a mention from Senator Coons), Global Engagement Center (a mention from Senator Portman), morale problems and isolated leadership (Senator Udall’s concerns), hiring freeze, and the Russian diplomatic properties.

Senator Corker closed the meeting with a compliment for D/S Sullivan about the latter bringing a lot to the Department at the time when it is most needed.

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@StateDept Now Required to Report Allegations and Investigations to OIG Within 5 Days

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Posted: 1:53 am ET
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In the Spring 2017 OIG Report to Congress, State/OIG informed Congress of the following:

OIG did not encounter any attempts to interfere with IG independence—whether through budgetary constraints designed to limit its capabilities or otherwise—for the reporting period from October 1, 2016, through March 31, 2017.

During this reporting period, OIG identified the following incidents where the Department resisted or objected to oversight activities or restricted or significantly delayed access to information. The incidents either arose during or persisted into this reporting period. As to each item, OIG has addressed the issue as described below:

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) has limited and continues to limit OIG’s permanent worldwide access to specific DS systems that OIG requires to conduct its oversight activities. OIG has and continues to make repeated requests for access, and DS has denied or revoked access without notice. At this time, OIG is working with the Department to correct this situation.

The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) delayed OIG access to requested information. OIG worked with the Department and sub- sequently obtained the required information. OIG continues to work with the Department to ensure that, in the future, INL provides requested information in a timely manner.

OIG previously explained in response to other requests from Congress that it had faced challenges investigating allegations of criminal or serious misconduct by Department employees. This limitation was addressed in recent legislation— enacted in December 2016—that requires the Department to submit to OIG within 5 days a report of certain allegations of misconduct, waste, fraud, and abuse. OIG and the Department are actively working to ensure that these reports are provided in a timely manner and that OIG receives all necessary information as required by the statute.

Related items to read:

On or about this time, the State Department has also updated 1 FAM 050 of the Foreign Affairs Manual as the reporting requirement was included in the Department of State Authorities Act for Fiscal Year 2017:

1 FAM 053.2-6  Required Reporting of Allegations to the OIG
(CT:ORG-411;   04-13-2017)

a. Effective December 16, 2016, section 209(c)(6) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as added by section 203 of the Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017 (22 U.S.C. 3929(c)(6)), provides:

REQUIRED REPORTING OF ALLEGATIONS AND INVESTIGATIONS AND INSPECTOR GENERAL AUTHORITY.—

(A) IN GENERAL.—The head of a bureau, post, or other office of the Department of State (in this paragraph referred to as a ‘Department entity’) shall submit to the Inspector General a report of any allegation of—

(i) waste, fraud, or abuse in a Department program or operation;

(ii) criminal or serious misconduct on the part of a Department employee at the FS–1, GS–15, or GM–15 level or higher;

(iii) criminal misconduct on the part of a Department employee; and

(iv) serious, noncriminal misconduct on the part of any Department employee who is authorized to carry a weapon, make arrests, or conduct searches, such as conduct that, if proved, would constitute perjury or material dishonesty, warrant suspension as discipline for a first offense, or result in loss of law enforcement authority.

(B) DEADLINE.—The head of a Department entity shall submit to the Inspector General a report of an allegation described in subparagraph (A) not later than 5 business days after the date on which the head of such Department entity is made aware of such allegation.

b. Any allegation meeting the criteria reflected in the statute should immediately be brought to the attention of the relevant head of a bureau, post, or bureau-level office. (Bureau-level offices are entities on the Department’s organizational chart as revised from time to time, see Department Organizational Chart.)

c.  The first report by any Department entity should cover the period beginning December 16, 2016 (the day the law went into effect), and ending not later than five business days before the date of that report. Thereafter, any additional reportable information is due not later than the five-business day deadline stated in the statute. 

d. Questions regarding this reporting requirement may be directed to the Office of the Legal Adviser for Management (L/M), or the OIG’s General Counsel or Deputy General Counsel.

e. As outlined in 1 FAM 053.2-5, any Department employee or other personnel may continue to raise any allegations directly to OIG, via the OIG Hotline, internalhotline@stateoig.gov, or 1-800-409-9926, or the other methods listed elsewhere in the FAM.  All Employees, Locally Employed Staff, Foreign National Employees, individuals providing services via Personal Service Agreements (PSAs), Personal Service Contractors (PSCs), third party contractors, subcontractors, and grantees at all levels are also reminded of the existing reporting requirement contained in 1 FAM 053.2-5 paragraph d and the existing reporting requirements regarding criminal activity, employee misconduct, allegations of harassment, or any other reportable offenses to the relevant action office in Washington.

f.  Below is a reporting template, which may be modified pursuant to the situation or needs of the reporting entity.  

The FAM reporting template notes the following:

The information provided in this report is preliminary and may be unsubstantiated.  Any records or information provided to the OIG in the preliminary report are compiled for law enforcement purposes under the meaning of the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552.  The information in this preliminary report may constitute Personally Identifiable Information.  The unauthorized disclosure of information contained in this preliminary report could reasonably be expected to constitute a violation of the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. 552a.  To the extent the information pertains to an open investigation, the release of such preliminary information could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.

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