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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Related posts:

State/OIG’s Upcoming Reports to Include Evaluation of Sexual Harassment, Hiring Authority

Posted: 12:50 am  ET

 

The State Department’s Inspector General started work on some subjects of note since last February. For those with stories to share about sexual harassment (and sexual assault), please contact the OIG Hotline or call 1-800-409-9926 and  1-202-647-3320.

We recognize that sexual harassment and sexual assaults are difficult to talk about, and all who we have been in contact with were deeply concerned of career repercussions. But we can all agree that these offenders – particularly high ranking individuals who abused their positions — will not stop until people stand up to them.

We’ve blogged about harassment and assaults for a while now.  Back in August 2016 , State/OIG told us that while they take allegations of sexual harassment “very seriously” as a general matter, “OIG refers allegations of sexual harassment, equal employment opportunity, and/or potential hostile work environment to the Department’s Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR), consistent with the FAM.”

State/OIG also informed us then that “if such matters appear systemic, then OIG may investigate. Indeed, in its report “Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security” (ESP-15-01) OIG examined the case of a Diplomatic Security manager with a long history of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations dating back 10 years.”

Also this: “Department employees who believe they have been subjected to whistleblower retaliation may contact OIG or the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). OIG can help the individual in understanding their rights and may investigate the retaliation, as well as alert the Department to any illegal reprisal.”

It took awhile but it looks like the IG is looking into this now. We hope that people will find the courage to speak up and consider sharing their stories. We don’t know when this moment will come again.

    • Evaluation of the Department’s Treatment of Reports of Sexual Harassment
    • Evaluation of the Department of State’s Use of Schedule B Hiring Authority
    • Inspection of the Bureau of Administration, Office of Critical Environment Contracting Analytics, Risk Analysis and Management
    • Inspection of the Status of Benghazi Accountability Review Board Recommendations

In April 2018, the following work were also started:

  • Audit of the Information Security Program for Sensitive Compartmented Information Systems at the Department of State
  • Inspection of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Fraud Prevention Programs

Note that this is not an exhaustive list of all the OIG work started.

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U.S. Embassy Kabul: Fire Alarm System Needs Prompt Attention or #MustHaveNoFireBeforeMarch2019

Posted: 12:45am  ET

 

State/OIG has issued a Management Assistance Report sounding the alarm over the fire alarm system at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. We should hope that no fire breaks out at post before March 2019. But do staffers need to sleep with buckets of sand next to their doors?

During the course of an audit of Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) construction projects at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) was alerted to potential risks to personnel and property due to the improper installation of the embassy’s fire alarm system. OIG concluded that the system was, in fact, improperly installed and did present safety risks. OIG is therefore issuing this Management Assistance Report to prompt immediate action to address the identified deficiencies.

OBO and the Bureau of Administration have undertaken a major office and residential expansion at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. As part of this expansion, in June 2010, the bureaus contracted with Caddell Construction, Inc. (Caddell), to build a number of new facilities at the embassy. These facilities include residential and office buildings, warehouses, parking and vehicle maintenance facilities, power plants, perimeter walls, guard towers, and compound access control facilities. Caddell is required to install fire alarm systems in each of the new buildings throughout the compound as part of its contract.

Fire alarm control panels installed in 23 buildings on the embassy compound are key components of the fire alarm system. Fire alarm control panels monitor and control each fire alarm-initiating and signaling device through microprocessors and system software. Fire alarm control panels are connected throughout the embassy compound via fiber optic cables that transmit data between each building and to Post One, a communications center staffed by Marine Security Guards. The Marine Security Guards at Post One are on duty 7 days a week, 24 hours a day and are responsible for ensuring that communications are routed to appropriate responders during emergencies or security threats. When a fire emergency occurs at any building on the embassy compound, Post One is alerted through the network of fire alarm control panels. Post One, in turn, alerts the embassy fire department and other emergency response personnel.

In July 2017, the embassy’s principal operations and maintenance (O&M) contractor, PAE Government Services (PAE), discovered that underground fiber optic cables on the west side of the embassy compound were accidentally cut by a construction worker. As a consequence of the damage to the fiber optic cables, fire alarm control panels in eight buildings could not transmit data to Post One for more than 6 months. After completion of OIG’s fieldwork in January 2018, OIG shared its findings with OBO officials. In response, embassy facility managers took steps to repair the damaged fiber optic cables and restored connectivity between the affected buildings and Post One.

OIG also found that the existing fiber optic cable network does not have a separate redundant path as required by Section 12.3.7 of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 72) code.1

According to NFPA, a redundant path helps ensure the network’s continued functionality if one of the cables is damaged. Without a redundant path, damage in one location can render sections of the network inoperable. Additionally, OIG found that seven fire alarm control panels on the east side of the embassy compound are not connected to Post One. Rather, these seven control panels are on a separate network connected to a guard post staffed by contractor security guards on the east side of the compound. Engineers in OBO’s Office of Fire Protection told PAE that this configuration is inconsistent with OBO standards and that ideally all fire alarm control panels on the embassy compound should be connected to the Post One communications center.

According to OBO officials, because the fiber optic cable network is part of a larger project involving the construction of multiple buildings and facilities, there is no requirement to install a redundant path until the end of the entire construction project, which is currently scheduled to be completed in March 2019. Furthermore, according to OBO officials, because the seven fire alarm control panels on the east side of the embassy compound are in temporary structures, there is likewise no requirement that those structures be connected to Post One. Notwithstanding OBO’s position, OIG made two recommendations to Embassy Kabul, in coordination with OBO, to take immediate actions to correct the identified deficiencies because they pose potential risks to the safety of embassy personnel and property.

Read in full here (PDF).

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State/OIG “Looking Into” Reported Political Targeting of @StateDept Career Employees

Posted: 3:02 am ET

 

Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, have called on State OIG Steve Linick to look into reports of violations of personnel policies and political retribution against State Department employees.

Our staffs have been in touch with whistleblowers alleging that the Department is engaging in prohibited personnel practices that appear to conflict with agency regulations and policies.  The information we have received corroborates recent reporting by CNN on the same matter.  We ask that you look into allegations that the Department has unlawfully targeted employees for political reasons due to their work under the last Administration.

Our staffs have been made aware of credible allegations that the State Department has required high-level career civil servants, with distinguished records serving administrations of both parties, to move to performing tasks outside of their area of substantive expertise.  At the very least, this is a waste of taxpayer dollars.  At worst, it may constitute impermissible abuse and retaliation.

The two Ranking Members requested that the State OIG “investigate the State Department’s FOIA surge.” They want to know if 1) “these personnel assignments made according to U.S. law and Department regulations?”   2) “Were the rights of the Department’s employees violated?”and 3) “Did political retaliation play any role?”

On January 30, govexec reported that State/OIG is “looking into” allegations that the agency is engaged in political targeting and other prohibited personnel practices.

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