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

Posted: 3:11 am ET

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

➥ The EAPs themselves are not readily usable during emergency situations

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

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

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

 Other details excerpted from the report:

Late Annual Updates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new system sometime this year?

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

Absent a functioning lessons learned process …

The GAO reviewers talk about lessons not learned:

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

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

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

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

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Open Forum Furor: An Attempt to Neuter Retiree Complaints About AFSA?

Posted: 1:44 am ET

 

AFSA’s Open Forum enables Foreign Service retirees to stay in touch with their Foreign Service colleagues on FS issues and maintain their FS legacy. Out of some 16,000 paying members, a sub-group of retiree-members use the online forum, and they are pretty vocal and not always complimentary to AFSA or its leadership. AFSA previously opted-in all members to the forum in 2014 so everyone gets to read the online conversation.

An Open Forum user said that all those who get the Open Forum digest daily benefits from being part of a dynamic discussion/debate of Foreign Service topics of interest, whether or not they chose to post in the forum themselves.

AFSA Director of Communications Asgeir Sigfusson recently told members that “We have heard from members asking us to do our best to stem the flow of emails and help with inbox clutter. In response, we are now opting everyone out of that daily email, which will reduce the number of weekly AFSA emails by up to seven.”

We were informed by our sources that “When asked, AFSA staff indicated they have no knowledge of any complaints about the Forum.”

AFSA’s President and State VP, and their communication shop are notoriously unresponsive to our inquiries, so um … pardon us if we no longer waste our time over there.  

The Open Forum mechanism to opt-in is reportedly not onerous, and we can certainly understand decluttering the inbox but some AFSA members are outrage, especially as the change was announced just a few days before it took effect.  More importantly, there is a strong suspicion that trimming access to the forum (or what members read even passively from the forum) and the requirement to opt-in are just ways to trim the unfavorable views expressed by the retired members.

Former AFSA Vice President for Retirees Larry Cohen who oversaw the creation of the forum did not minced words and said, “This as an attempt of AFSA leadership to neuter retiree complaints about AFSA.”

Ouch! What are they talking about in there, do tell!

A close AFSA observer notes that changes at AFSA that could have lead to this kerfuffle includes communication issues like Governing Board meeting agendas and approved minutes that should be available on the AFSA website for any interested member but are not.

“Overall AFSA leadership seems to want a tight control on information.  They do not share enough or ask enough.  The current communications policy divides up the Service by not sharing communications across all constituencies so that  all interested, whether active or retired, can be better informed.  Boards and staff continue to ignore the bylaw provision for constituency Standing Committees.  Now is a time to enlarge the tent, not restrict it.  Standing committees have an advisory function and allow for a broader range of perspectives.  The results or main themes or take-always from the  “focused conversations” organized by rank cohort are not shared with the membership with the degree of specificity needed to be useful.  It is not clear how focus group conversations are announced or participants selected.  What about retirees – are they included?”

That sounds almost as bad as the information control generated by the 7th Floor.

The AFSA observer also notes that elected representatives are accountable to members and every member deserves a respectful and timely response to any request for information.

Just yesterday, an Open Forum user complained that the three items he/she submitted have not been published nor acknowledged and asked, “What in the name of AFSA openness is going on?”

The AFSA election results for the 2017-2019 AFSA Governing Board had a total of 4,130 valid ballots cast or 25% of the eligible voting membership (note that the new Governing Board was seated last week, so old Prez but new State VP). That’s the same percentage of voters who participated in the 2015-2017 elections. A few years back, we sliced and diced the AFSA voting numbers and at that time, we noted that active-duty employees were the largest voting bloc in AFSA at over 60% of the total membership, but only about 16% of this constituency vote. Foreign Service retirees on the other hand, the second largest constituents of AFSA make up something like 26% of the total membership but almost half the total AFSA retiree members cast their votes (2016 membership is currently 10,792 active employees and 3,710 retired employees). The retirees also bring in about $260K in AFSA dues annually.

As a side note, did you hear about the ruling from the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB) about Foreign Service retirement and witholding of union dues? (Separate post to follow).

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Sen. Menendez Asks the Consular Affairs Nominee the Questions Y’All Wanna Ask

Posted: 1:26 pm PT

 

The Trump nominee to be Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday (see July 18 SFRC Hearing: Carl Risch to be Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs). There were four nominees during the hour and a half hearing chaired by Senator Ron Johnson, so basically 22.5 minutes for each nominee although the CT and CA nominees got most of the more substantial questions.

(click image to see the video)

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) reminded Mr. Risch of his old congressional testimony advocating for the transfer of visa function to DHS in 2002 (see Ex-FSO Who Once Advocated Moving Visas to DHS May be the Next Asst Secretary For Consular Affairs). The exchange between Menendez and Risch starts at 00:45:50 via C-SPAN video here.

Senator Menendez started by congratulating all the nominees then quoted from Mr. Risch’s old testimony: “Congratulations to all of you. Mr. Risch in 2007 you appeared before the House Subcommittee on Government Reform. In a hearing, you said during my tenure as unit chief I adjudicated approximately 25,000 visa applications. I resigned in May of 2002 even though I received top evaluation and a challenging assignment. While I longed to return to my private practice, I was discouraged by the State Department’s lack of dedication to the enforcement of laws. I took my job very seriously. The State Department did not.”

Senator Menendez then asked: “Do you believe the State Department isn’t  committed to rule of law and national security of the United States?”

Mr. Risch’s response:

“Thank you senator, for the question and for the opportunity to address that testimony. The testimony was in 2002, not in 2007. It was 15 years ago that that testimony took place. It was during the time that the Department of Homeland Security was just being stood up. I believe a lot has changed at the State Department in 15 years. I’m enthusiastic about the future the way the bureau will be fulfilling its function with interagency cooperation, continuous vetting.”

Senator Menendez did not let him off the hook and asked again, “Do you believe the State Department is committed to the rule of law and the national security of the United States?”

Mr. Risch responded, Currently senator, I absolutely do.”

The NJ senator started talking about refugee and migration issues then asked Mr. Risch, “So do you believe that the Department of Homeland Security, which is notoriously bloated with a whole host of dysfunctional components, should be responsible still to have the visa, the very essence of the department you’re being nominated to, to be transferred to the Department of Homeland Security?”

Mr. Risch’s response:

“Well, 15 years ago, senator, I stand behind my testimony. It was a completely different time. And there were a lot of talk about consolidating different things into the Department of Homeland Security. Currently, I watched the Deputy Secretary testify yesterday that it’s currently not the intent of the Department of State —”

This is in reference to Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s testimony from Monday, at the same panel, about State not having an intention to transfer the consular function to DHS.  Senator Menendez cut him off saying “I’m not asking what their intent, I’m asking your view. You’re nominated for this position.”

This is Mr. Risch’s response:

“My view is I would … I follow the leadership of Department of State if confirmed. But as of today, I intend to lead the Bureau of Consular Affairs as it is currently formed. I believe that I will be, if confirmed a strong leader of all functions of the consular bureau including the visa function.” 

 

 

 

There’s something about Mr. Risch’s response that’s not very comforting to our ears. You, too? Maybe it’s the use of the word “currently” as “at the present time,” as in “now.” Maybe, that’s just his favorite word. Maybe it indicates that he does not have a solid view about a U.S. Government agency’s commitment to the rule of law and national security of this country.

To the question about his belief whether the State Department is committed to the rule of law and national security of the United States, Mr. Risch responded with “I absolutely do,” but he prefaced that response with “currently.” He used the same word when talking about the intent of the State Department, and in describing the bureau he is nominated to lead.

The use of the word “currently” implies that things might change. Does he know something we don’t? What he believes now, may not be what he believes next month, or next year. If the White House decides to move the visa function to DHS, and the State Department’s intent changes, Mr. Risch will “follow the leadership” at State. Then he will be back in the Senate to explain, “Currently, the State Department believe it is best to …”

For what it’s worth, we asked somebody who previously worked with Mr. Risch at an overseas post and the one feedback we got though brief was complimentary.

Mr. Risch’s prepared testimony is available here (pdf).

If confirmed, Mr. Risch would succeed career diplomat Michele Thoren Bond who served as Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs from 2015-2017.

Below is a brief summary of the position and the previous appointees to this office via history.state.gov:

Assistant Secretaries of State for Consular Affairs

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (Jun 27, 1952; P.L. 82-414; 66 Stat. 174) established within the Department of State a Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs, headed by an Administrator with rank equal to that of an Assistant Secretary. From Mar 1 to Dec 30, 1954, the Bureau was renamed “Inspection, Security, and Consular Affairs.” From 1953 to 1962, the Secretary of State designated incumbents to this position. The Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962 (Jun 28, 1962; P.L. 87-510; 76 Stat. 123) made the Administrator a Presidential appointee subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. In 1962, the Department transferred the security function to the Deputy Under Secretary for Administration, but the title remained unchanged until 1977, when the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1978 (Aug 17, 1977; P.L. 95-105; 91 Stat. 847) changed the Administrator’s title to “Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs.” This title has been given in full in all subsequent commissions to this office.

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July 19 SFRC Hearing: Sharon L. Day to be U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica

Posted: 1:44 am ET

 

Today, the SFRC is holding a confirmation hearing on the nomination of Sharon L. Day to be the U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica.

Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Time: 02:00 PM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Rubio

The live video and the prepared testimony will be posted here when available.

Below is the report submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

SUBJECT: Ambassadorial Nomination: Certificate of Demonstrated Competence — Foreign Service Act, Section 304(a)(4)

POST: Republic of Costa Rica

CANDIDATE: Sharon L. Day

Sharon L. Day, served most recently as Co-Chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC), having been first elected in January 2011 and reelected in 2013 and 2015. She has been actively engaged in serving the Republican Party at the local, state and national level for more than twenty years. She is also active as a political columnist and commentator. Earlier in her career she was the Chief Executive Officer and Vice President of Marketing of Stop Loss International, Indianapolis, Indiana. Ms. Day also has been active in community service, include as Housing Authority Chair for the Broward County Housing Authority and as Commissioner on the Florida Commission on the Status of Women. Her extensive travel as Co-Chair of the RNC found her engaging and speaking on a wide range of political, economic, and social policy issues. That experience, coupled with her experience in business and institutional management, her leadership in service to her community, and her role as a public figure dealing with media and citizens of all walks of life, make her well-qualified to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica.

Previously, Ms. Day was the Republican National Committee Secretary (2009-2011). She has served as a member of the Broward County, Florida, Republican Executive Committee since 1994 and as State Committeewoman from Broward County since 1996. She was appointed by Governor Jeb Bush to serve on the Committee for Election Reform for the State of Florida following the election recount in 2000. Ms. Day has promoted diversity with the Republican Party empowering and encouraging more women candidates and working with state parties across the country.

Ms. Day attended the San Antonio Community College Business School and was awarded a Business Administration Certificate in 1970.

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

Posted: 4:22 am ET

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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@StateDept Publishes Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act Report

Posted: 4:41 am ET

 

The State Department published the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act Report on June 20. The Act enacted on December 23, 2016, authorizes the President to impose financial sanctions and visa restrictions on foreign persons in response to certain human rights violations and acts of corruption.

According to the notice, the President approved the report on April 21, 2017.  The report required per Pub. L. 114-328, Subtitle F details (1) U.S. government actions to administer the Act and (2) efforts to encourage the governments of other countries to impose sanctions that are similar to the sanctions authorized by Section 1263 of the Act.

Under Sanctions, the report notes:

“Although no financial sanctions were imposed under the Act during the 120 days since its enactment, the United States is actively seeking to identify persons to whom this Act may apply and collecting the necessary evidence to impose sanctions.”

Under Visa Sanctions, the report notes:

“Although no visa sanctions were imposed under the Act during the 120 days since its enactment, the Department of State is continuously reviewing available information in order to take appropriate actions with respect to visa ineligibilities.”

Under Termination of Sanctions, the report notes:

“No sanctions imposed under the Act were terminated in the 120 days since its enactment.”

The report also notes the following:

“With the passage of the Act, the United States now has a specific authority to identify and hold accountable persons responsible for gross violations of human rights and acts of significant corruption. The global reach of this authority, combined with a judicious selection of individuals and entities, will send a powerful signal that the United States continues to seek an end to impunity with respect to human rights violations and corruption. The Administration is committed to implementing the Act to support efforts to promote human rights and fight corruption. By complementing current sanctions programs and diplomatic outreach, the Act creates an additional authority to allow the Administration to respond to crises and pursue accountability, including where country-specific sanctions programs may not exist or where the declaration of a national emergency under the National Emergencies Act may not be appropriate. With the establishment of the first dedicated global human rights and corruption sanctions program, the United States is uniquely positioned to lead the international community in pursuing accountability abroad consistent with our values.”

While no individual has been sanctioned under the act, the report lists a few examples of Treasury Department designations issued in recent years which illustrates designations that align with the Act’s focus on human rights and corruption.

Andrey Konstantinovich Lugovoy: On January 9, 2017, Russian national and member of the Russian State Duma Andrey Konstantinovich Lugovoy was designated under the Magnitsky Act, which includes a provision targeting persons responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross human rights violations committed against individuals seeking to expose illegal activity by Russian government officials. Lugovoy was responsible for the 2006 extrajudicial killing of whistleblower Alexander Litvinenko in London, with Dmitriy Kovtun (also sanctioned) acting as his agent or on his behalf. Lugovoy and Kovtun were two of five individuals designated under the Magnitsky Act on January 9, 2017.

Evariste Boshab: On December 12, 2016, Evariste Boshab was designated under E.O. 13413 (“Blocking Property of Start Printed Page 28216 Certain Persons Contributing to the Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo”), as amended by E.O. 13671 (“Taking Additional Steps to Address the National Emergency With Respect to the Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo”), for engaging in actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Boshab offered to pay DRC National Assembly members for their votes in favor of a bill to amend electoral law to delay elections and prolong President Joseph Kabila’s term beyond its constitutional limit.

Kalev Mutondo: Also on December 12, 2016, Kalev Mutondo was designated under E.O. 13413, as amended by E.O. 13671, for engaging in actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in the DRC. Kalev supported the extrajudicial arrest and detainment of opposition members, many of whom were reportedly tortured. Kalev also directed support for President Kabila’s “MP” political coalition using violent intimidation and government resources.

North Korean Ministry and Minister of People’s Security: On July 6, 2016, the North Korean Ministry of People’s Security was designated pursuant to E.O. 13722 (“Blocking Property of the Government of North Korea and the Workers’ Party of Korea, and Prohibiting Certain Transactions With Respect to North Korea”) for having engaged in, facilitated, or been responsible for an abuse or violation of human rights by the Government of North Korea or the Workers’ Party of Korea. The Ministry of People’s Security operates a network of police stations and interrogation detention centers, including labor camps, throughout North Korea. During interrogations, suspects are systematically degraded, intimidated, and tortured. The Ministry of People’s Security’s Correctional Bureau supervises labor camps (kyohwaso) and other detention facilities, where human rights abuses occur, such as torture, execution, rape, starvation, forced labor, and lack of medical care. A Department of State report issued simultaneously with these designations cites defectors who have regularly reported that the ministry uses torture and other forms of abuse to extract confessions, including techniques involving sexual violence, hanging individuals from the ceiling for extended periods of time, prolonged periods of exposure, and severe beatings. Choe Pu Il, the Minister of People’s Security, was also designated for having acted for or on behalf of the Ministry of People’s Security.

Joseph Mathias Niyonzima: On December 18, 2015, Joseph Mathias Niyonzima was designated under E.O. 13712 (“Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Burundi”) for being responsible for or complicit in or for engaging in actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, or stability of Burundi. Niyonzima supervised and provided support to elements of the Imbonerakure pro-government militia in Burundi, a group that has been linked to the arrest and torture of individuals suspected of opposing the Nkurunziza regime. He was also involved in plans to assassinate prominent opposition leaders.

Fahd Jassem al-Freij: On May 16, 2013, Syrian Minister of Defense Fahd Jassem al-Freij was designated pursuant to, among other authorities, E.O. 13572(“Blocking Property of Certain Persons With Respect to Human Rights Abuses in Syria”) for his role in the commission of human rights abuses in Syria. During his time as Syrian Minister of Defense, the Syrian military forces wantonly and capriciously killed Syrian civilians, including through the use of summary executions and indiscriminate airstrikes against civilians. Some of these airstrikes killed civilians waiting outside of bakeries.

The report says that the United States is committed to encouraging other countries to impose sanctions that are similar to those provided for by the Act. “The Department of State actively participates in global outreach, including the G-20 Denial of Entry Experts Network, a sub-group of the G-20 Anti-Corruption Working Group, in which countries share best practices among visa and immigration experts. Through this network, the United States has encouraged other G-20 members to establish and strengthen corruption-related visa sanctions regimes.”

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@StateDept Withdraws Proposed Rule For Adoption Accreditation Requirements #HagueConvention

Posted: 4:05 am ET

 

Last year, the State Department proposed to amend the requirements for accreditation of agencies and approval of persons to provide adoption services in intercountry adoption cases. See below:

The Department of State (the Department) proposes to amend requirements for accreditation of agencies and approval of persons to provide adoption services in intercountry adoption cases. The proposed rule includes a new subpart establishing parameters for U.S. accrediting entities to authorize adoption service providers who have received accreditation or approval to provide adoption services in countries designated by the Secretary, which will be known as “country-specific authorization” (CSA). Adoption service providers will only be permitted to act as primary providers in a CSA-designated country if they have received CSA for that particular country. The proposed rule also strengthens certain standards for accreditation and approval, including those related to fees and the use of foreign providers. In addition, the proposed rule enhances standards related to preparation of prospective adoptive parents so that they receive more training related to the most common challenges faced by adoptive families, and are better prepared for the needs of the specific child they are adopting. These proposed changes are intended to align the preparation of prospective adoptive parents with the current demographics of children immigrating to the United States through intercountry adoption. Finally, the proposed rule makes the mechanism to submit complaints about adoption service providers available to complainants even if they have not first addressed their complaint directly with the adoption service provider.

You can read more on why the Secretary of State proposed to change this rule here.  In April, the State Department withdrew the proposed rule with the following brief notice:

The Department of State (Department) published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on September 8, 2016, proposing to amend its regulations implementing the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption and the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000. 81 FR 62322. The Department hereby withdraws that action. The comments provided in response to the NPRM will be considered in drafting a new rule, which is expected to be published later this year.

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@StateDept Spox Talks About Visa Refusals, Oh Dear!

Posted: 3:01 am ET

 

Via the Department Press Briefing:

(No longer daily, now rebranded, and better than ever)

QUESTION: Well, does that mean parole – the fact that parole had to be used would suggest – and let’s just put it in a – not in this specific context, because you won’t talk about these visas specifically – would suggest that the reason for ineligibility stands, that – in other words, that if parole is the only way a person can get into this country, that the decision made by the consular officers at post stands.

MS NAUERT: The consular officers – as I understand it, under law and the way that they handle visa adjudications, once a visa is denied, that that is not able to be reversed, that that decision is not able to be reversed.

QUESTION: Right. In other words – so the decision that was made at post that these girls or anyone was ineligible for a visa stands. So —

MS NAUERT: I can’t comment – I cannot —

QUESTION: — then one wonders why the immigration law is such that it determines or that someone looking at it determines that a bunch of teenage Afghan girls are somehow a threat to the United States or are somehow a – somehow – or otherwise ineligible for an American visa.

MS NAUERT: I think commenting on that, as much as I would like to be able to share with you more about this – you know I can’t. You know I can’t because it’s a visa confidentiality, but I can tell you that it is not reversible once a consular affairs officer denies someone’s visa. DHS took it up; they have the ability to do so. Anything beyond that, DHS would have to answer that.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean it remains the State Department’s position that someone who can only get into the country on this parole – on parole is ineligible for a visa, correct?

MS NAUERT: I wouldn’t conflate one with the other. That is DHS. That’s a different department. That’s a different kind of program. That’s not a program that we administer here. Okay?

QUESTION: But State Department denied the visas twice before the parole was granted.

MS NAUERT: I can’t comment on that. Again, that would come under visa confidentiality. DHS made its decision, and so we are now glad that the girls are coming to the United States and wish them well.

QUESTION: But would that initial decision be reviewed, then, and whatever —

MS NAUERT: I know that our people at very senior levels in Afghanistan were involved in this, and I’ll just leave it at that. Okay?

QUESTION: So if parole – if visa – if visa information is completely confidential and you can’t discuss it, why is parole information available? And then why didn’t you give parole to the —

MS NAUERT: That’s a – you have to talk to DHS about that. Again, that’s a DHS program.

NOW THIS — tales of visa confidentiality:

In fairness to the State Department, the agency did not release any statement about its issuance of a visa to the current central player of the Russian controversy. The Department of Homeland Security did that on its own in a statement to BuzzFeed News last week when DHS cited the issuance of a B1/B2 nonimmigrant visa by the U.S. Department of State in June 2016.

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Related items:

9 FAM 403.10-4  (U) OVERCOMING OR WAIVING REFUSALS

INA 291 places the burden of proof upon the applicant to establish eligibility to receive a visa.  However, the applicant is entitled to have full consideration given to any evidence presented to overcome a presumption or finding of ineligibility.  It is the policy of the U.S. Government to give the applicant every reasonable opportunity to establish eligibility to receive a visa.  This policy is the basis for the review of refusals at consular offices and by the Department.  It is in keeping with the spirit of American justice and fairness.  With regard to cases involving classified information, the cooperation accorded the applicant must, of course, be consistent with security considerations, within the reasonable, non-arbitrary, exercise of discretion in the subjective judgments required under INA 214(b) and 221(g).

Humanitarian or Significant Public Benefit Parole for Individuals Outside the United States

Individuals who are outside of the United States may be able to request parole into the United States based on humanitarian or significant public benefit reasons.

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Nixon and the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act

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Posted: 3:09 am ET

 

The 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act turned 43 years old this week.  It moved the fiscal year from July 1 to October 1 and created the budget committees in the House and the Senate. It also established the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). But there’s one other thing that folks may have forgotten — that the Act was inspired by then President Nixon’s refusal to disburse nearly $12 billion of appropriated funds by Congress. This seems relevant under the current circumstances where Congress may appropriate more funds than the Trump Administration’s budget request for the State Department.  Although apparently, loopholes can always be found if one is skilled enough.

The 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act modified the role of Congress in the federal budgetary process. It created standing budget committees in both the House and the Senate, established the Congressional Budget Office, and moved the beginning of the fiscal year from July 1 to October 1.

The 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act created a set of institutional changes designed to help Congress regain power over the budget process. The Act was inspired by Richard Nixon’s refusal to disburse nearly $12 billion of congressionally-appropriated funds in 1973-74 through the executive power of impoundment, as well as more generalized fears about the budget deficit. Nixon claimed that the deficit was causing high inflation and that as a result he needed to curb government spending. To this effect, in the 1972 presidential election he called on Congress to grant the President authority to cut federal spending so as to keep the budget under control. Congress opposed Nixon’s proposal and instead sought to reform Congress’ budgetary role. In 1972 Congress created a Joint Study Committee on Budget Control which called for procedural reforms to enable Congress to examine the federal budget from an “overall point of view, together with a congressional system of deciding priorities.” Following Nixon’s impoundment Congress acted on these recommendations and in 1974 passed the Act over the President’s veto.

The Act had two main goals: (1) strengthen and centralize Congress’ budget authority; (2) reduce the President’s impoundment authority. The latter was done by drafting detailed guidelines restricting how the President can impound funds already appropriated by Congress. The former—which has proven the more significant of the two—was done through a variety of means. The Act created the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to give Congress independent economic analysis and end the Executive Branch’s monopoly on budgetary information created by the 1921 Budget and Accounting Act. It created standing budget committees in both the House and the Senate, provided for greater numbers of staff for these and other committees involved in budget decisions, and made changes in the procedure of passing a budget. The new budget committee was required to pass a ‘concurrent budget resolution’ (to be passed by Congress no later than May 15) outlining the government’s overall expenditures and receipts, based on CBO estimates. The concurrent resolution would then serve as the blueprint for the regular work of the authorizing and appropriating committees as they drafted the budget. (Via University of California)

 

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

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog going. We’re running our fundraising campaign until Saturday, July 15.  Help Us Get to Year 10!

Posted: 1:53 am ET

 

In the Spring 2017 OIG Report to Congress, State/OIG informed Congress of the following:

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

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

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

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

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

Related items to read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The FAM reporting template notes the following:

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

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