Afghanistan Evacuation: A “Management Failure” Ripe For Review. By the GAO, Please

 

Secretary Blinken has reportedly ordered an internal review of the Afghanistan evacuation.  Who has been tasked to do the review? Wait, he did not ask the Deputy Secretary for Management or the Acting Under Secretary for Management to do it, did he?
Or the OIG? The OIG has seen what the State Department overlords can do to the entity and its personnel. While the overlords are not the same, we doubt that folks can shake that nightmare quickly. The State Department still does not have a Senate confirmed Inspector General. After what the previous administration did to the OIG and Steve Linick, you’d think that the Biden Administration would work quickly to fill that position. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Also if this debacle is causing seasoned employees to consider leaving the Service, you’d want to know, right?
We do think that the GAO should conduct this review; after all, part of its mandate is the evaluation of operations and performance. The GAO undertakes work through congressional requests, so let’s go ahead, let’s write to our favorite reps so GAO can get tasked with looking under the rugs.

Related items:

Swastika Investigation: No update but DS has “resorted to a number of investigative techniques”

 

Related posts:
August 11/21: Non-Update on the Swastika Investigation in Foggy Bottom
July 29, 2021: @StateDept Opens Swastika Incident Investigation in Foggy Bottom
Via DPB, October 12, 2021:
QUESTION: … I just want to ask about two reports. These are non-policy things. One – or actually, I’ll just ask about one because the IG report on it was not – I want to ask about something that has dropped off the radar but I asked you about a little while ago, and that’s the swastika incident in the elevator. What’s – it’s been now almost three – more than three months, or almost three months.
MR PRICE: It has. It has.
QUESTION: What’s going on?
MR PRICE: And our Diplomatic Security remains engaged in this investigation. As you know, immediately upon discovering this horrific symbol in the building, the Secretary ordered an investigation. They have resorted to a number of investigative techniques. We are also taking into account what other practices, procedures, tools we might implement here in the building to help us in the course of any such future investigations, hoping that we don’t need to resort to that. I don’t have an update for you.
QUESTION: So there’s – okay, nothing.
MR PRICE: But it remains a priority for us.

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#PandoraPapers Follow the Money of the Rich and Famous Around the World #hotspots

 

#USAPavilion Officially Opens For Expo 2020 Dubai

 

Related:

@StateDept Announces Commissioner General For UAE-Funded USA Pavilion in @Expo2020Dubai

 

Filed under the “living beyond our means” folder. The State Department announced recently the appointment of the USA Pavilion Commissioner General for the Expo 2020 in Dubai. Somebody forgot to mention that without the reported $60 million funding generosity from the United Arab Emirates, there would be no USA Pavilion for the commissioner to showcase American culture and innovation.
Holy guacamole, yes, you are free to quibble. It’s the World’s Fair, after all, so it’s all perfectly fine .. FINE… Friends don’t let friends attend the World’s Fair without their own pavilion to showcase.  Isn’t that what those wise, folks say?
Jan 2020: United Arab Emirates to Pay For Estimated $60Million USA Pavilion in Expo2020 Dubai #foreignassistance
Feb 2016: USA Pavilion at World Expo Milan 2015 and $26 Million of Unpaid Invoices

@StateDept’s Deferred Maintenance Backlog For Overseas Properties Estimated at $3Billion

 

The GAO recently released its review of the State Department’s overseas real property assets:
State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations operates and maintains over 8,500 owned and leased real property assets, including both buildings and structures. According to State, at least 60 percent of a building’s total lifecycle cost stems from operations and maintenance costs. GAO has reported that deferring maintenance and repairs can lead to higher costs in the long term and pose risks to agencies’ missions.
GAO was asked to review State’s efforts to manage its operations and maintenance needs. This report examines (1) how operations and maintenance funding for overseas assets changed from fiscal years 2016 through 2020, (2) the condition and maintenance needs of State’s overseas assets, and (3) the extent to which State has followed leading practices to address its deferred maintenance backlog.
Officials said they had not found it necessary to specifically request such funding because they only determined that the backlog had substantially increased from $96 million in fiscal year 2019 to $3 billion in fiscal year 2020 after using a new methodology for estimating deferred maintenance and repair. In addition, State does not have a plan to address the backlog, but officials estimated it could take 30 to 40 years to eliminate the backlog with current funding levels.
Dear, lord! What is this going to be like by 2050?

Excerpts from the report:

Assets/Operations Up, Maintenance Funding Nearly Unchanged

–The Department of State’s portfolio of overseas assets and expenditures to operate them have grown, but State-allocated funding for maintenance has stayed nearly the same. For fiscal years 2015 through 2019, both the number and square footage of State’s assets increased 11 percent and operations expenditures grew 24 percent. However, maintenance and repair funding has remained nearly unchanged.

— State’s allocation for Maintenance Cost Sharing—for projects collectively funded by State and tenant agencies overseas—was $399 million in fiscal year 2016 and $400 million in 2020.

From fiscal years 2016 through 2020, building operating expenditures for State and other agencies that work at overseas assets increased by 24
percent, from $530 million to $656 million annually. State’s allocated funding for maintenance and repairs for overseas assets has remained about the same in recent years, averaging $505 million from fiscal years 2016 through 2020.

That $3 Billion Could be Higher

— State set a single acceptable condition standard of “fair” for all assets and did not consider whether some assets, like chancery office buildings, were more critical to State’s mission when estimating its $3 billion deferred maintenance backlog. Had State set a higher condition standard for critical assets, its backlog would be higher.

It All Adds Up Over Time

Older chancery office buildings tend to be in poor condition and are a challenge to maintain. As shown earlier in table 4, we found that 72 of
216 (or 33 percent) chancery buildings—that OBO identifies as mission
condition due to a large amount of deferred maintenance that has built up
over time.

Ambassadorial Residences Take Note

In discussing the condition of ambassadorial residences with State, OBO officials said they have taken steps to evaluate and rank State’s
ambassadorial residences that are in need of major rehabs. OBO officials told us that State has preliminarily identified the need to rehabilitate or
replace ambassadors’ residences in Beijing, China; Kathmandu, Nepal; Nairobi, Kenya; Ottawa, Canada; Paris, France; Sarajevo, Bosnia and
Herzegovina; and Tegucigalpa, Honduras. However, OBO officials said there is no formal schedule for rehabilitating ambassadorial residences
because there is no predictable annual funding for rehabilitating State-only occupied assets.

More than a Quarter of Properties in “Poor Condition”

— More than a quarter of the State Department’s overseas buildings and other real properties are in poor condition by State’s condition standards, including almost 400 buildings and other assets that State considers critical to its mission.

FY21 $100 Million Request: Specific But Not Really

According to OBO officials, they outlined specific funding requested for maintenance and repair, including minor construction and improvement, in an appendix to State’s congressional budget requests. State’s fiscal year 2021 budget requested $100 million to address DM&R for State’s non–cost shared facilities. However, OBO officials noted that this funding was for the minor construction and improvement program (or modernization
budget), which does not specifically address the DM&R backlog.

GAO made five recommendations to the State Department:

The Secretary of State should ensure that that the Director of OBO reassess State’s acceptable condition standard for all asset types and
mission dependencies, to include whether mission criticality justifies a different standard among assets. (Recommendation 1)

The Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of OBO incorporates the mission criticality of its assets when deciding how to target maintenance and repair investments. (Recommendation 2)

The Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of OBO monitors posts’ completion of annual condition assessments that use a standardized inspection methodology, so that State has complete and consistent data to address its deferred maintenance and repair backlog. (Recommendation 3)

The Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of OBO develops a plan to address State’s deferred maintenance and repair backlog, and specifically identifies the funding and time frames needed to reduce it in congressional budget requests, related reports to decision makers, or
both. (Recommendation 4)

The Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of OBO employs models for predicting the outcome of investments, analyzing tradeoffs,
and optimizing among competing investments. (Recommendation 5)

 

Click to access gao-21-497.pdf

How soon before somebody needs to spend more time with the family?

 

Related: WaPo: Surprise, Panic and Fateful Choices, the Fall of Kabul

 

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US Embassy Kabul Suspends Operations on 8/31/21; Next, the Afghanistan Affairs Unit in Qatar?

 

The US Embassy in Kabul issued a Security Message announcing its suspension of operations:
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul suspended operations on August 31, 2021.  While the U.S. government has withdrawn its personnel from Kabul, we will continue to assist U.S. citizens and their families in Afghanistan from Doha, Qatar.
After 20 years, one ‘forever’ war finally ended and one of the largest US embassies in the world just closed its doors.
We are assuming that the US Embassy Kabul will now transition to the Afghanistan Affairs Unit (AAU) operating out of the US Embassy Doha in Qatar. This is a guess given the precedence with four other remote units after the suspension of diplomatic operations in Yemen, Venezuela, Libya, and much earlier, Somalia.

— Yemen Affairs Unit (Remote Mission Site: U.S. Embassy Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)

— Venezuela Affairs Unit (Remote Mission Site: U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colombia)
— Libya External Office (Remote Mission Site: U.S. Embassy Tunis, Tunisia))
U.S. Embassy Mogadishu, Somalia (Remote Mission Site: U.S. Embassy Nairobi, Kenya) – the Department officially established Embassy Mogadishu as a permanent post in 2019. The IG says that although the  Somalia Unit no longer exists as a remote mission, some staff continue to be based at Embassy Nairobi, and Embassy Mogadishu continues to rely on Embassy Nairobi for support services.
According to the IG audit, the VAU has been open for  almost 2 years; the YAU has been open for more than 6 years; and the Libya External Office has been  open for almost 7 years. The Somalia Unit operated from U.S. Embassy Nairobi, Kenya, for more than  9 years before the Department reestablished a permanent diplomatic presence in Somalia.
The most recent OIG report we could locate for Qatar is dated 2010. At that time, the OIG describes Embassy Doha as a mid-size embassy, with a staff of 82 U.S. direct-hire person­nel, 113 foreign national staff, and 11 locally hired American personnel. No Qatari citizens are employed by the mission. Operations under chief of mission authority include representatives from the Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Foreign Commercial Service. Operating budgets for U.S. Gov­ernment agencies under chief of mission authority total approximately $13.7 million.  Post is likely supersized already. We just don’t know by how many. Would be interested to see what the staffing pattern is going to be like for the AAU in Doha.

From way, way back in 2015:

Related posts:

WaPo: Surprise, Panic and Fateful Choices, the Fall of Kabul

 

Tuesday before the fall of Kabul, the U.S. Senate had just confirmed the nominations of Consular Affairs Assistant Secretary Rena Bitter and Diplomatic Security Assistant Secretary Gentry Smith. There is no Senate confirmed official for the Bureau of Administration, the agency’s logistics arm. There is no Senate confirmed official for the Under Secretary for Management, the umbrella office that provides leadership to 10 bureaus; a post currently encumbered by an Acting/M.
On August 18, three days after the fall of Kabul, the State Department announced that President Biden’s “M” nominee will be sent to Kabul (@StateDept Sends M Nominee John Bass to Kabul to Leverage “Logistics Experience” in Evacuation). In the coming days, there will likely be a louder push to examine the evacuation from Kabul. Some will be politically-motivated; we’re already seeing shades of Benghazi in online rhetoric.  For people living in the rational  universe, it would still be important to understand what happened there, how it happened, and why.
WaPo has a ‘must-read’ account on the fall of Kabul.  We would like to see the tic-toc inside Foggy Bottom during these fateful days. As P/Nuland was frantically calling foreign ministers to ask them to help with evacuation efforts, what was happening elsewhere?

On the Friday afternoon before Kabul fell, the White House was starting to empty out, as many of the senior staff prepared to take their first vacations of Biden’s young presidency. Earlier in the day, Biden had arrived at Camp David, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken was already in the Hamptons.

But by Saturday, the fall of Mazar-e Sharif — site of furious battles between pro and anti-Taliban forces in the 1990s — convinced U.S. officials that they needed to scramble. How quickly was a subject of dispute between the Pentagon and State Department.

In a conference call with Biden and his top security aides that day, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called for the immediate relocation of all U.S. Embassy personnel to the Kabul airport, according to a U.S. official familiar with the call.

Wilson’s embassy colleagues had been racing to destroy classified documents and equipment in the compound since Friday. An internal memo, obtained by The Washington Post, implored staff to destroy sensitive materials using incinerators, disintegrators and “burn bins.” The directive also called for the destruction of “American flags, or items which could be misused in propaganda efforts.”

Wilson said U.S. personnel needed more time to complete their work. But Austin insisted time had run out, the official said.
[…]
Within the palace, too, the illusion of calm was being punctured. Around midday, much of the staff had been dismissed for lunch. While they were gone, according to officials, a top adviser informed the president that militants had entered the palace and were going room to room looking for him.

That does not appear to have been true. The Taliban had announced that while its fighters were at the edges of Kabul, having entered through the city’s main checkpoints after security forces withdrew, it did not intend to take over violently. There was an agreement in place for a peaceful transition, and the group intended to honor it.

Yet that wasn’t the message that was being delivered to Ghani. The president was told by his closest aides that he needed to get out — fast.
[…]
For the United States, the scope of defeat was total — and was vividly rendered as helicopters evacuated embassy personnel to the airport. Before the American flag was lowered one last time, diplomats engaged in a frenzy of destruction, burning documents and smashing sensitive equipment.

“It was extremely loud,” said a senior U.S. official. “There were controlled fires, the shredding of classified paper documents, and a constant pounding noise from the destruction of hard drives and weapons.”
[…]
At the State Department, top brass, including Wendy Sherman, Blinken’s deputy, and Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of state for political affairs, were frantically calling foreign ministers to ask them to help with evacuation efforts and to coordinate a statement signed by 114 countries urging the Taliban to allow safe passage for evacuees. This, they realized, would be a historic evacuation effort.