Whistleblower Protection Memo – How Useless Are You, Really?

Back in July, we blogged that State/OIG cited a State Department’s revocation of an employee’s security clearance in retaliation for whistleblowing in its Semi-Annual Report to Congress for October 2017-March 2018. State/OIG recommended that the whistleblower’s security clearance be reinstated (see State/OIG Finds @StateDept Revoked Security Clearance in Retaliation For Whistleblowing).  Retaliatory revocation is not an unheard of practice but we believed this is the first time it’s been reported publicly to the Congress.

Also in July, there was a joint OIG-State memo noting that “Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public when they disclose fraud, waste, and abuse. The Department is committed to protecting all personnel against reprisal for whistleblowing.  This summer OIG told us that Congress enacted a new provision in 2017 that requires an agency to suspend for at least 3 days a supervisor found to have engaged in a prohibited personnel practice, such as whistleblower retaliation, and to propose removal of a supervisor for the second prohibited personnel practice. (see @StateDept’s Retaliatory Security Clearance Revocation Now Punishable By [INSERT Three Guesses].

In September, we note the time lapse since the official report was made to the Congress and wondered what action the State Department took in this case.  If the State Department believes, as the memo states that “Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public” we really wanted to know what the State Department has done to the official/officials responsible for this retaliatory security clearance revocation.

We also want to see how solid is that commitment in protecting personnel against reprisal — not in words, but action.  So we’ve asked the State Department the following questions:

1) Has the security clearance been reinstated for the affected employee, and if so, when?

2) Has the senior official who engaged in this prohibited personnel practice been suspended per congressional mandate, and if so, when and for how long? and

3) Has the State Department proposed a removal of any supervisor/s for engaging in this prohibited personnel practice now or in the past?

As you can imagine, our friends over there are busy swaggering and to-date have not found the time to write back.

Folks, it’s been eight months since that annual report went to the U.S. Congress. If you’re not going to penalize the official or officials who revoked an employee’s security clearance out of retaliation, you were just wasting the letters of the alphabet and toner in that darn paper writing out a whistleblower protection memo.

And the Congress should be rightly pissed.

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USG-Funded Radio Televisión Martí Targets American Philanthropist George Soros

 

On October 26, Mother Jones reported that Radio Televisión Martí went after George Soros in a two-part piece that aired in May 2018. The hit piece called the philanthropist a “multimillionaire Jew” and “the architect of the financial collapse of 2008.” The Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) oversees Radio and Television Martí at its headquarters in Miami.  The U.S. Agency for Global Media (formerly BBG), a U.S. taxpayer-funded entity oversees OCB.  The videos have been taken down but are still available on YouTube here and here.  The State Department’s Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs serves as the Secretary of State’s representative on the Board.  Heather Nauert became Acting Under Secretary on March 13, 2018 until October 10. 2018. As of this writing, we have not seen anything out of the State Department regarding these segments targeting a private American citizen.

On October 29, CEO John Lansing who joined BBG in 2015 released a statement that says in part the following:

“It was brought to my attention this weekend that the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), which is overseen by the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), earlier this year aired a video segment about George Soros that is inconsistent with our professional standards and ethics. USAGM networks’ content is required to adhere to the highest standards of professional journalism.

Those deemed responsible for this production will be immediately placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into their apparent misconduct. Disciplinary action appropriate under federal law may then be proposed, including the potential removal of those responsible, depending on the outcome of that investigation.

Via MJ:

Tomás P. Regalado, the director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, told Mother Jones in an email, “Judicial Watch is a good source, but having said that, it should not have been the only source. The two part series was not precise and did not have on the record sources to balance the story.” Regalado noted that he became OCB director on June 6, several weeks after the segment aired, and three days later he appointed a new news director and assignment editor.

“To be fair and to show that we in the new administration are committed to journalistic integrity, the stories have been pulled out of the digital page, not because we want to hide anything, but because we want to be transparent if we say that the story did not have the required balance, then it should not be on the air,” he said.

Holy guacamole! Senator Flake tweeted “TV Marti director says its program on George Soros lacked “balance.” Sorry, there is no balance that makes anti-Semitism right. BBG must investigate how such programming was produced and and why it aired.”

OCB has an annual budget of $28.1 million, it has 117 employees, and an audience estimated at 1 million.

AND NOW THIS —

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FSJ: MED’s Focus on Clearances and Restricting Access to SNEA #NotSupportForFamilies

We’ve blogged previously about the problems encountered by Foreign Service families with the State Department’s Bureau of Medical Services (see StateDept’s MED Services Drive Employees with Special Needs #FSKids Nuts; Also @StateDept’s Blackhole of Pain Inside the Bureau of Medical Services (MED). The latest issue of the Foreign Service Journal features a piece by James Brush who previously worked as a child psychologist at the State Department.

Via FSJ: James Brush, Ph.D., is a child and adolescent psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C. He worked at the State Department as a child psychologist with the Child and Family Program division of MED Mental Health from January 2013 through March 2016. Prior to his work at State, he had a private practice in Cincinnati, Ohio, for 26 years. A past president of the Ohio Psychological Association, he continues to be involved as a committee chair. 

Below is an excerpt from The Demise of MED’s Child and Family Program (FSJ)

The Child and Family Program within the Bureau of Medical Services’ Mental Health program was constituted in 2013, when the full team was finally in place after years of planning. I was brought onto the team as one of two child psychologists. By March, we had on board a child psychiatrist director, two child psychologists and three clinical social workers who had experience in treating and managing the needs of children and adolescents.

I was on the ground floor of this program, and our mission was both exciting and challenging. This was the first extensive effort within the State Department to support the specific mental health and developmental needs of children, adolescents and their families living abroad.
[…]
By 2015, three of the psychiatrists who were opposed to the CFP functioning as a comprehensive support program ended up having leadership roles in MED. Dr. Stephen Young took over as the director of mental health. Dr. Kathy Gallardo took over as deputy director of mental health, and Dr. Aleen Grabow was brought in as a child psychiatric consultant. Together, they worked toward limiting the scope of the CFP, limiting the SNEA program and reducing the opportunities for families with disabled children through more restrictive use of child mental health clearances.

Within a year of their tenure in leadership, we lost our child psychiatrist director, the two child psychologists and one clinical social worker. I and the other providers left because Drs. Young and Gallardo changed the mission and scope of the CFP. It became an unpleasant place in which to work, with the emphasis being on clearances and restricting access to SNEA. Support for families was no longer the focus. Rather, support services were being cut and the clearance process was being used to restrict the opportunities of those with disabled children.

The program is now a skeleton of what it was previously, with only one social worker, one child psychologist and one retired Foreign Service psychiatrist. Telemedicine is forbidden. The program now basically performs an administrative function, processing clearances and SNEA requests.

Read the entire piece here.

We understand that State/OIG is aware of some allegations related to the special needs education allowance (SNEA) and is doing “exploratory work”. Well, Dr. Brush’s account should be instructive.  This is not one of the employees battling the bureaucracy on behalf of their children, this is one of the people who used to work at MED.

While we might be tempted to think that the troubling response could be some form of retaliation for blowing this issue up in the media, it is hard to imagine that MED’s policy and focus on restricting access to SNEA and the medical clearance do not have the full blessings of the State Department leadership all the way to the 7th Floor. After all, if State really wanted to resolve these cases, it would have worked with these FS families to accommodate their needs, avoid forcing people into taking loans to pay/repay for special ed needs expenses, and it would have afforded families an appeals process (IT. DOESN’T).

And they certainly would not/not have threatened people who pursue this issue, right? RIGHT?

Perhaps, this is what they mean when they talk about the new Department of Swagger? Take it or leave?

(Thought bubble: How long before the proponents of this policy get promotions, Superior Honor Awards or Presidential Rank Awards?)

While the State Department has lifted the hiring freeze, and the A-100 classes are no longer on a hit and miss schedule, it is not clear to us what the new secretary of state’s position on the previously planned 8% shrinkage of the agency workforce. If that was a WH imperative as opposed to Tillerson’s, it would be hard to imagine Secretary Pompeo going against it.

The CRS report on the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs: FY2019 Budget and Appropriations dated April 18, 2018 and updated on August 9, 2018 notes the following:

The Department of State released guidance in May 2018 lifting the hiring freeze and allowing the department to increase staffing to December 31, 2017, levels. Subsequent press reports indicate that the department intends to hire 454 new employees beyond end of year 2017 levels but also suggest that hiring must be circumscribed by previous commitments former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made to reduce its workforce by 8%.

So this brings us to the “take it or leave” scenario for FS employees with special needs children. Since these kids are given limited medical clearances with no appeals (which precludes most if not all overseas assignments), Foreign Service families will be forced to serve either in domestic assignments in order to stay together; serve separately with employees going overseas, while their families stay in the United States, or employees may opt to pay everything out of pocket and not ask for SNEA to avoid getting snared in MED’s clutches.

Begs the questions: 1) How many career employees would stay on when their employer talk the talk about supporting FS families but know it’s just a gum chewing exercise? And 2)  Is this what a slow walk to 8% looks like??

By the way, if there’s an alternate reasonable explanation for all this that does not require our relocation to the parallel universe, Earth, Too, send us an email, we’d love a good chat.

 

Related items:

 

 

State/ECA Program Manager Gets 13 Months in Prison For KickBacks

Back in July in a catch-up post, we  blogged about  State/ECA employee Kelli R. Davis, 48, of Bowie, Maryland, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit theft of public funds and engage in honest services wire fraud before U.S. Senior District Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia.  On September 7, she was sentenced to 13 months in prison for accepting kickbacks and stealing federal funds intended for a foreign exchange program maintained by the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Below is the announcement from USDOJ:

State Department Official Sentenced to Prison for Engaging in Honest Services Wire Fraud and Theft of Federal Funds

Via USDOJ:

A program manager for the U.S. Department of State was sentenced to 13 months in prison today for accepting kickbacks and stealing federal funds intended for a foreign exchange program maintained by the U.S. Department of State.  Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Inspector General Steve A. Linick of the U.S. Department of State and Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno of the FBI Washington Field Office’s Criminal Division made the announcement.

Kelli R. Davis, 49, of Bowie, Maryland, was sentenced by Senior U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, III of the Eastern District of Virginia.  On May 24, Davis pleaded guilty to a one-count information charging her with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and theft of public money.

According to admissions made in connection with her plea, Davis was a Program Specialist for the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  She also served as the Program Manager and Grants Officer Representative for the Sports Visitors Program, which sponsored foreign exchanges for emerging youth athletes and coaches from various countries.  The exchange program was managed by George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, through a federal grant and cooperative agreement with the State Department.

Davis admitted that between February 2011 and March 2016, she conspired with others to steal portions of the federal money allocated to the Sports Visitor Program by, among other things, falsifying vendor-related invoices and making fraudulent checks payable to a government contractor, Denon Hopkins, who supplied transportation services for the program.  In total, Davis and Hopkins stole approximately $17,335 from the State Department.  They have both admitted that Hopkins used portions of the funds to pay kickbacks to Davis to retain his transportation contract.  In addition, Davis stole an additional $17,777 from the program over a multi-year period.

The Department of State’s Office of Inspector General and the FBI’s Washington Field Office investigated the case.  Trial Attorney Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly R. Pedersen of the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case.

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Former Senior Diplomat Uzra Zeya Blasts @StateDept’s Diversity Slide, and More

Career diplomat Uzra Zeya previously served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Paris. Previous to that, she was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL).  She has over two decades of policy experience in the Department, where she has focused on the Near East and South Asia regions and multilateral affairs. Since joining the Foreign Service in 1990, Ms. Zeya’s overseas assignments have included Paris, Muscat, Damascus, Cairo, and Kingston. Ms. Zeya also served as Chief of Staff to Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, where she supported a range of policy initiatives, ranging from the U.S. response to transitions in the Middle East to deepening engagement with emerging global powers. Other assignments include serving as Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, Deputy Executive Secretary to Secretaries Rice and Clinton, Director of the Executive Secretariat Staff, and as UNGA coordinator for the International Organizations bureau.  Below is an except from the piece she wrote for Politico.

Via Politico: Trump Is Making American Diplomacy White Again

I worked at the State Department for 27 years and was proud to watch it become more diverse. Until President Trump

In 2017, as the media ran out of synonyms for “implosion” in describing Rex Tillerson’s tenure as secretary of state, a quieter trend unfolded in parallel: the exclusion of minorities from top leadership positions in the State Department and embassies abroad.

This shift quickly became apparent in the department’s upper ranks. In the first five months of the Trump administration, the department’s three most senior African-American career officials and the top-ranking Latino career officer were removed or resigned abruptly from their positions, with white successors named in their places. In the months that followed, I observed top-performing minority diplomats be disinvited from the secretary’s senior staff meeting, relegated to FOIA duty (well below their abilities), and passed over for bureau leadership roles and key ambassadorships.
[…]
Although the department did not dispute the decline in minority and female ambassador nominees, an official said the percentage of African Americans, Hispanics and women hired as Foreign Service officers had increased from 2016 to 2017. That’s an encouraging sign at the entry level, but it does not address reduced minority representation at the senior level. With dozens of ambassadorial and other senior positions vacant, there is still time for Secretary Pompeo to reverse the slide in diversity among the department’s leadership; it’s worth noting that the Trump administration is not even two years in, while Obama and Bush each had eight years to shape the department’s top ranks. But up to now, Foggy Bottom’s upper echelons are looking whiter, more male and less like America.
[…]
In my own case, I hit the buzz saw that Team Trump wielded against career professionals after leading the U.S. Embassy in Paris through three major terrorist attacks over three years and after planning President Trump’s Bastille Day visit. Upon returning to Washington, as accolades for the president’s visit poured in, I was blocked from a series of senior-level jobs, with no explanation. In two separate incidents, however, colleagues told me that a senior State official opposed candidates for leadership positions—myself and an African-American female officer—on the basis that we would not pass the “Breitbart test.” One year into an administration that repudiated the very notion of America I had defended abroad for 27 years, I knew I could no longer be a part of it, and I left government earlier this year.
[…]
[I]t is difficult to leverage diversity with a Senior Foreign Service that remains 88.8 percent white and more than two-thirds male. If the State Department is not going to acknowledge this problem, Congress should insist on a serious commitment to diversity in American diplomacy from Secretary Pompeo—by demanding answers for the slide in minority and female senior representation at State, accountability if any officials have violated equal opportunity laws, prohibitions on political retaliation and protections for employees who report wrongdoing.

 

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US Embassy Costa Rica Sub-Contractor Gets 30 Months For Stealing USG Funds #VisaFees

This past July, we blogged about US Embassy Costa Rica’s sub-contractor who leaded guilty to the theft of visa fees (see What did we miss?).  On September 7, USDOJ announced that the contractor, Mauricio Andulo Hidalgo, age 43, of Costa Rica was sentenced to 30 months in prison for theft of government funds.

Via USDOJ:

Charleston, South Carolina —- United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon announced today that Mauricio Andulo Hidalgo, age 43, of Costa Rica, was sentenced to a term of 30 months in prison by the United States District Court in Charleston for stealing from the United States Government.

Hidalgo previously pled guilty to Theft of Government Funds, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 641.  United States District Judge Patrick Michael Duffy, of Charleston, imposed the sentence, which also includes three years of supervised release and mandatory restitution.

Evidence presented at a change of plea hearing established that Hidalgo used his position as President of SafetyPay-Central America to steal over $293,832 of government funds that were supposed to be transferred to a bank account maintained by the Department of State’s Global Financial Services Center in Charleston.  SafetyPay-Central America had been hired as a subcontractor to handle the processing of visa application fees for the United States Embassy in Costa Rica.  As part of the scheme, Hidalgo diverted the funds from a SafetyPay bank account in Costa Rica to another Costa Rican account under his sole control.

The case was investigated by special agent Katherine Kovacek of the Department of State/Office of Inspector General, which is led by Inspector General Steve A. Linick.  Assistant United States Attorneys Marshall “Matt” Austin and Nathan Williams both of the Charleston Office prosecuted the case.

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@StateDept’s Retaliatory Security Clearance Revocation Now Punishable By [INSERT Three Guesses]

 

In July, we blogged about a short item in the latest State/OIG Semi-Annual Report to Congress that indicates it substantiated an allegation of a security clearance revocation in retaliation for an employee’s whistleblowing activity under PPD-19. State/OIG recommended that the whistleblower’s security clearance be reinstated. See State/OIG Finds @StateDept Revoked Security Clearance in Retaliation For Whistleblowing

On July 20, 2018, an unclassified memo jointly signed by Deputy Secretary John Sullivan and State/OIG Steve Linick was released by the Deputy Secretary’s office (with a Whistleblower Info flyer). The memo says in part:

Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public when they disclose fraud, waste, and abuse. The Department is committed to protecting all personnel against reprisal for whistleblowing.

The attached memorandum describes how to make a whistleblowing disclosure and the legal protections that exist for whistleblowers, including Foreign and Civil Service employees and employees of Department contractors and grantees. The memorandum also describes how to file a complaint if you believe you have been subject to improper retaliation.

The memo also identifies the Whistleblower Ombudsman for the State Department as  Jeff McDermott:

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 requires Inspectors General to designate a Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman. Jeff McDermott has been designated as the Whistleblower Ombudsman for the Department. He is available to discuss the protections against retaliation and how to make a protected disclosure, but he cannot act as your legal representative or advocate. You may contact him atWPEAOmbuds@stateoig.gov.

The memo concludes with a reminder that State Department employees “have a right” to communicate directly with the OIG, and provides contact details:

Remember that Department employees always have a right to communicate directly with OIG. The OIG hotline number is 800-409-9926, and the hotline website is https://oig.state.gov/hotline. OIG’s main website is https://oig.state.gov/.

We suspect that this memo may have been prompted by the IG report to the Congress that an employee had his/her security clearance revoked in retaliation for whistleblowing.

So we wrote to the Whistleblower Ombudsman Jeff McDermott with our congratulations, and, of course to ask a couple of simple questions:

Citing the Sullivan-Linick memo, we asked how is this going to discourage retaliation on whistleblowers when we don’t know what consequences officials face when they are the perpetrators of such retaliation?

Given the latest example of an employee whose security clearance was revoked in retaliation for whistleblowing, we asked if anyone at the State Department has disciplined for doing so?

Since we did not get a response from the Whistleblower Ombudsman, we asked State/OIG for comment last month and was told the following:

Please note that there are different disclosure and review processes for contractor and employee whistleblower retaliation allegations. There is also a different review process for allegations of whistleblower retaliation in the form of actions that have affected an employee’s security clearance. OIG primarily reviews contractor whistleblower and security clearance retaliation allegations, while the Office of Special Counsel generally reviews employee retaliation allegations.

Congress enacted a new provision last year that requires an agency to suspend for at least 3 days a supervisor found to have engaged in a prohibited personnel practice, such as whistleblower retaliation, and to propose removal of a supervisor for the second prohibited personnel practice. OIG believes that these new provisions will demonstrate that there are serious consequences for whistleblower retaliation.

The case you are referring to is a retaliatory security clearance revocation case, and the decision about what action to take has not yet been determined by the Department.

So it’s now September. If the State Department believes, as the memo states that “Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public” we really would like to know what the State Department has done to the official/officials responsible for this retaliatory security clearance revocation.

 

Related posts:

State/OIG Reports Summarized in Classified Annex to the Semiannual Report to the Congress, 10/1/2017–3/31/2018

 

Via State/OIG:

AUD-MERO-18-29 page54image9152Audit of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Management and Oversight of Explosives Detection Canine Services in Afghanistan | 2/2018

AUD-SI-18-23  Management Assistance Report: DynCorp Intelligence Analysts Supporting the Embassy Air Program Lack Access to Information Needed To Fully Identify Risks and Mitigate Threats | 1/2018

AUD-SI-18-22 Audit of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ Management of page54image14736Construction Materials Destined for Controlled Access Areas |1/2018

AUD-IT-18-18 Management Assistance Report: The IT Network Supporting the Colombian page54image16808Aviation Program Requires Attention To Ensure Compliance With Federal Standards | 1/2018

AUD-MERO-18-11 Audit of Emergency Action Plan for U.S. Embassy Kyiv, Ukraine page54image19136 | 12/2017

AUD-IT-18-12 Audit of the Department of State Information Security Program page54image20832 | 10/2017

ISP-S-18-12 Classified Inspection of Embassy Managua, Nicaragua | 3/2018

ISP-S-18-09  Classified Inspection of Consulate General Curacao, Kingdom of the Netherlands page54image26120| 1/2018

ISP-S-18-04 Classified Inspection of Embassy Beijing and Constituent Posts, China page54image27808 | 12/2017

ISP-S-18-08 Inspection of Construction Security for New Embassy Compound Jakarta, page54image29496Indonesia | 11/2017

ISP-S-18-06 Classified Inspection of Consulate General Hong Kong, China page54image31288 | 11/2017

Four additional reports (titles classified) can be found in the Department of State Classified Annex to the Semiannual Report to the Congress.

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State/OIG Finds @StateDept Revoked Security Clearance in Retaliation For Whistleblowing

 

Via State/OIG

OIG did not substantiate any allegations of whistleblower retaliation related to Department contractors or grantees. However, OIG did substantiate an allegation of a security clearance revocation in retaliation for whistleblowing activity under PPD-19. As required by the Foreign Affairs Manual, OIG reported its findings to the Under Secretary for Management. The report recommended that the whistleblower’s security clearance be reinstated.

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Presidential Policy Directive-19 (PPD-19) PDF

The brief note from State/OIG’s semi-annual report includes little details about a security clearance revocation, not suspension. According to 12 FAM 233.4, suspension is an independent administrative procedure that does not represent a final determination and does not trigger the procedures outlined in 12 FAM 234, which includes revocation.  With revocation, the Department may determine that immediate suspension without pay from employment under 5 U.S.C. 7532 is deemed advisable.

After State/OIG’s referral to “M”, the Under Secretary for Management will reportedly transmit the IG materials to the Security Appeals Panel, “if one is convened in the matter, and to other Department officials as appropriate” according to the Foreign Affairs Manual.

Note that the State Department does not have a Senate-confirmed “M” as of this writing. We want to know if the security clearance is not reinstated per OIG recommendation.

State/OIG’s semi-annual report also does not include information on consequences for the individual/individuals who perpetrated the revocation of this whistleblower’s security clearance in retaliation for whistleblowing activity.

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USAID/OIG Takes First Stab in Autopsy of Tillerson’s State/USAID Redesign

Posted: 1:45 am ET

 

In response to last year’s congressional request, USAID/OIG reviewed “USAID’s process in developing its reform plans and its compliance with congressional notification requirements.” We believe this is the first official accounting available on what transpired during Tillerson’s Redesign project, but primarily on the USAID side. We’re looking forward to State/OIG’s review of the project on its side.

The March 8, 2018 USAID/OIG report titled “USAID’s Redesign Efforts Have Shifted Over Time” was publicly posted on March 9, 2018. This report was originally marked “Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU)” and when publicly released, some of the appendices were redacted apparently at the assertion of the State Department and USAID that these be withheld from public view (see Appendix D, E and F. “USAID and the State Department have asserted that these appendixes should be withheld from public release in their entirety under exemption (b)(5) of the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(5). OIG has marked this material SBU in accordance with 22 CFR 212.7(c)(2), which states that the originator of a record is best able to make a determination regarding whether information in that record should be withheld”).

USAID/OIG’s task was to determine (1) how USAID developed its redesign plans pursuant to Executive Order 13781, which were addressed by describing both the events and actions taken by USAID to develop its reform plans and the assessments of USAID’s actions by those involved in the process, and (2) whether USAID complied to date with fiscal year 2017 appropriation requirements.

USAID/OIG  interviewed 42 officials from across USAID. Interviewees included USAID employees from the Administrator’s Office, members of the Transformation Task Team, employees across every bureau and independent office, and overseas mission directors. The report says that these individuals were selected because of their knowledge of specific portions of the redesign process. There was also a survey that includes all 83 USAID mission directors worldwide (27 of whom responded). USAID/OIG also interviewed six senior officials from the State Department involved in the joint redesign process “to corroborate USAID testimony and portray a more balanced, objective sequence of events leading to the reform plan submissions.”

USAID/OIG’s conclusion:

“Results of our point-in-time review indicate good intentions by USAID as well as the State Department. However, USAID’s limited involvement in the design of the listening survey, uncertainty about redesign direction and end goals, and disagreement and limited transparency on decisions related to the consolidation of functions and services raise questions about what has been achieved thus far and what is deemed actionable. Given the concerns raised by USAID personnel, transparency—as well as compliance with congressional notification requirements—could prove challenging as redesign plans turn into actions.”

The details below are excerpted from the report:

Redesign process was resource-intensive and ad hoc

  • During this nearly 3-month process, USAID reported contributing around 100 employees (mostly senior officials) spanning 21 of its 24 bureaus and independent offices. Ten employees were detailed full-time to the effort. These participants were 48 percent Civil Service employees, 28 percent Foreign Service employees, 7 percent political appointees, and 5 percent contractors.
  • The State Department was reported to have brought around 200 people into the process.
  • According to work stream leaders, the State Department’s initial guidance for the teams was to “think big” with “no guardrails,” but the lack of boundaries and explicit goals hindered progress. The looming question of whether USAID would merge into the State Department not only distracted teams but further confused the direction of the redesign process.
  • The initial lack of direction was viewed as a hindrance by representatives from all work streams.
  • Participants described the joint redesign process as “ad hoc.” Interviewees from both the State Department and USAID noted instances when leaders of the joint process seemed unsure of the next steps. For example, a senior State Department official involved in coleading a work stream said there was not a lot of preparation, and the work streams did not know what the final products would be.

Joint disjointed efforts and disagreements

  • USAID shared its supplemental plan with the State Department days before the OMB deadline. A senior State Department official stated that the State Department was not pleased with the supplemental plan, noting that some of USAID’s proposals should have been developed through the joint process. The State Department asked USAID to remove some of its proposals relating to humanitarian assistance, foreign policy, and strategic international financing because State Department’s decisions regarding these areas had not been finalized. In the end, the supplemental plan USAID submitted to OMB contained 15 proposals (appendix E), while the version previously submitted to the State Department had 21. The six removed supplemental proposals are shown in appendix F. A senior USAID official noted, however, that USAID let OMB know what the filtered and unfiltered supplemental plan looked like.
  • Interviewees from the work streams and various leadership positions noted disagreement on decisions related to consolidation of USAID and State Department functions and services. Members from the work streams at all levels stated that the ESC—tasked to resolve disagreements within the work streams—rarely did so and was often unable to reach consensus on major issues such as the consolidation of IT and management services, or how to divide humanitarian assistance and funding decisions between the State Department and USAID.
  • Even after some decisions were thought to have been made, USAID officials reported instances when the State Department would revisit the decisions, forcing USAID to defend what was already considered resolved. This rethinking of decisions led a number of interviewees from both USAID and the State Department to wonder whether there were strong advocates for consolidation of services within the State Department.
  • Officials familiar with ESC [Executive Steering Committee] also noted that the committee lacked a formal process to resolve disagreements, and opinions were often split along State Department and USAID lines. As a result, some decisions on consolidation were left on hold and remain undecided.

USAID not part of listening survey decision

  • According to a top USAID official, the decision to administer a survey was made by the State Department alone, and USAID had little say as to whether it should participate or how the survey would be administered. USAID was not part of the contracting process with Insigniam and was brought in after most of the details were decided. The week following the issuance of OMB’s memorandum guidance, Insigniam engaged State Department and USAID officials to provide input into developing the listening survey questions but gave them less than 2 business days to provide feedback. A small group of senior USAID officials worked over the weekend to compile suggestions and submitted it by the requested deadline. Despite this effort, USAID officials did not feel their input was sufficiently incorporated into the survey. 

Questions about data integrity

  • Questions of data integrity were raised, including projected cost savings of $5 billion that would be realized with the proposed reforms—projections several USAID officials characterized as unrealistic. For example, one senior USAID official stated that the contractor responsible for compiling work stream data did not adequately understand USAID and State Department processes before applying assumptions.

 

  • The data and analysis behind the listening survey were also closely held. USAID officials reported requesting and being denied access to the complete, “raw” survey data, which is owned by the State Department. Some interviewees noted that without access to data, it would be difficult to interpret the magnitude of some of the issues identified in the listening survey.
  • This concern with data integrity was consistent throughout our interviews. For example, a senior USAID official stated that Deloitte—who was compiling data for work stream decision making—did not obtain an adequate understanding of processes before applying assumptions to them. Other work stream participants said that because data came from different systems in USAID and the State Department, it was difficult to accurately compare scenarios between agencies. According to several interviewees familiar with the data, the process had poor quality assurance. For example, documents were kept on a shared server with no version control. Moreover, interviewees noted that much of the decision-making information for the work streams was “experiential”—based on the backgrounds of people in the subgroup rather than hard data.
  • In addition, interviewees from both the State Department and USAID questioned Insigniam’s recommendation to move the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs to the Department of Homeland Security—a recommendation some claimed was unlikely to have been based on data from the listening survey. This prompted a number of those involved in the reform process to question how survey input had been processed and the validity of the rest of Insigniam’s takeaways.

(NOTE: A source previously informed us that only 5-6 individuals have access to the raw data; and that the survey data is in a proprietary system run by Insigniam. Data collected paid for by taxpayer money is in a proprietary system. We were also told that if we want the data, we have to make an FOIA request to the Transformation Management Office, but our source doubts that State will just hand over the data).

Concerns about inclusiveness and transparency

  • A number of interviewees, including some mission directors and heads of bureaus and independent offices, felt the redesign process was not only exclusive, but also lacked transparency. According to senior USAID staff, OMB instructed the Agency to keep a close hold on the details of the redesign. While some mission directors noted that biweekly calls with bureau leadership, agency announcements, and direct outreach kept them informed of the redesign process as it occurred, field-based officials expressed dismay and disillusionment with what seemed to be a headquarters-focused process.

Mission closures and congressional notifications

  • [W]hile mission closings remain under consideration, some actions taken by USAID raised questions about compliance with notification requirements to Congress. To meet the congressional notification requirement, USAID must notify the Committees on Appropriations before closing a mission or reorganizing an office. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017, Section 7034, requires congressional notification “prior to implementing any reorganization of the Department of State or the United States Agency for International Development, including any action taken pursuant to the March 31, 2017, Executive Order 13781.”
  • Specific mention of USAID’s offices in Albania, India, and Jamaica as candidates for the chopping block.

Non-notification and violation of FY2017 appropriations legislation

  • In the case of USAID/RDMA [Regional Development Mission for Asia], our analyses of USAID’s actions were less conclusive and raised questions about compliance with notification requirements to Congress. On August 17, 2017, the Acting Deputy Administrator requested from the Asia Bureau and USAID/RDMA a closure plan for the regional mission. The closure plan would outline the timing, funding, and staff reductions for a 2019 closure date. It was noted that the closure plan was for discussion purposes only, and USAID leadership would consult with the State Department to ensure that any future decisions would be in line with overall U.S. foreign assistance and foreign policy strategy.
  • [O]n August 18, 2017, the Agency removed six Foreign Service Officer Bangkok positions from a previously announced bid list. The Agency also informed the U.S. Embassy Bangkok, counterparts in the State Department’s East Asia/Pacific Bureau, and USAID leadership in the Bureaus of Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance and Global Health of a planned closure of USAID/RDMA’s activities. USAID leadership noted that they were given until the end of 2019 to complete the actual phaseout. Our best assessment is that the totality of the Agency’s actions relating to USAID/RDMA— without notifying Congress—violated the spirit of the FY 2017 appropriations legislation. 13

Aspirational savings of $5 to $10 Billion: not based on analysis, “came out of nowhere”

  • According to the joint plan, the proposed reforms would yield $5 billion in savings (link inserted) over a 5-year period; however, this amount did not factor the investment costs of $2.8 billion over that same period, which would result in net savings of $2.2 billion. These projections were characterized as unrealistic by several USAID officials. A senior USAID official involved in reviewing data stated that the $5 billion projection was unrealistic given the process used by the State Department and USAID to gather and analyze information. The official stated that the State Department’s reported aspirational savings of $10 billion was not based on analysis, but rather “came out of nowhere.”

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