Venezuela Expels US Embassy Caracas CDA Todd Robinson, DCM Brian Naranjo #48Hours

Posted: 11:23 am PT

 

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Secretary Pompeo Gets a Formal Foggy Bottom Swearing In With POTUS in Attendance

Posted: 4:21 am PT

 

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@StateDept Prepares For Interim $20M+ US Embassy Jerusalem Arnona Project

Posted: 12:57 am ET

 

There was a curious story over the weekend about the new U.S. Embassy Jerusalem where POTUS claimed  to have saved millions and millions of dollars for the construction of the new embassy:

Trump has told this story before. In early March, during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump made the same claim about being presented with a $1 billion bill that he rejected. At that point, Trump said the actual cost would be $250,000, not $400,000.

Second, Trump’s depiction of what’s happening appears to glamorize the reality. To speed the process of transitioning from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the United States will be upgrading an existing facility in Jerusalem. The New York Times reported in February that the first phase — the phase that would be complete in the three-month window mentioned by Trump on Friday — would be to “carve out some office space for Ambassador David M. Friedman and a small staff.” Then, by the end of 2019, the existing compound will be expanded to increase the available office space.

Unless his staffers just gave POTUS a piece of paper purporting to be a bill for a $1 billion U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, the description above is not how embassies are funded and constructed in the real world. First, the State Department’s Bureau of Buildings Operations is tasked with overseeing the construction of the agency’s overseas building program:

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) directs the worldwide overseas building program for the Department of State and the U.S. Government community serving abroad under the authority of the chiefs of mission. In concert with other State Department bureaus, foreign affairs agencies, and Congress, OBO sets worldwide priorities for the design, construction, acquisition, maintenance, use, and sale of real properties and the use of sales proceeds.

Second, the design and construction of these projects are announced for open competition.  It is a multi-phase process and typically spans multiple years depending on scope and size of the project.

Third, granted that this is a White House priority, Congress is still tasked with appropriating funds for the construction of this embassy.  We have not seen the amount for NEC Jerusalem project although the State Department’s budget justification did say:

The construction of a U.S. Embassy facility in Jerusalem will be among the Department’s highest priority for capital security investments in FY 2018 and FY 2019.

State/OBO has 15 overseas construction contracts in FY2017 at a total cost of about $3B; none includes the Jerusalem project. However, there was an A/E design award for a USCG Jerusalem project for $2,899,963 awarded in FY2016 to Krueck+Sexton Architects Chicago with project description listed as “BFM, proj. dvlp. services.”

Krueck+Sexton Architects also have this image up of US Consulate General Jerusalem. And one of its staffers in an online interview said that his “main focus has been on a master plan for a new U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, Israel, which includes a 200,000 sqft. office building and the development of several other government buildings on a 16-acre site.”

Of particular note — on April 16, USCG Jerusalem announced a “Meet and Greet” for contractors interested in “Phase 2 Arnona Project.” The project provides improvements to the Arnona property where the consulate general is located. A source familiar with the project confirmed to us that this is the interim build-out of the Arnona consular annex, and is intended to accommodate a small ambassador staff and the MSG Detachment. Below is an excerpt from USCG Jerusalem’s announcement (PDF):

There is an upcoming Building Construction project at the U.S. Consulate General Arnona Jerusalem. The project will be competitively let (bid) by U.S. general contractors, followed by project award to a single, winning U.S. contractor in June 2018. The U.S. contractor may subcontract renovation work to local, Israeli construction companies. The project award to a U.S. contractor is expected to exceed $20 million. The Design-Build project scope includes Building Addition, Compound Upgrades, and Improvements to Utilities and Parking.

If the interim US Embassy in Jerusalem is expected to cost at least $20M, who can really expect the permanent embassy to cost between $150K-$400K? It’s not like they’re just building a guard shack.

For context, just the replacement and repair of Forced Entry & Ballistic Resistant (FE/BR) products (doors/windows) for US Embassy Dhaka cost $1.1M back in 2011; an HVAC Upgrade in Bratislava cost $480,000.00 in 2011; and a temporary embassy “fit-out and installation” in Tripoli, Libya the same year cost $998,000.00. Also, the design/build of the consular waiting area alone in Port of Spain was $856,000. Heck, a Surabaya warehouse cost the USG $3,922,458. 00. More items here. So if somebody tells you he can build an embassy for $400K, best run away unless the work scope is for a tiny house embassy for one with no guards.

The interim Jerusalem embassy facility is not to be confused with the New Embassy Compound Jerusalem, which is a separate project, and is “yet to be defined” according to our source. The expectation is for the embassy design award to come out next year. Which means the construction of the new permanent embassy may not start until late 2019 or early 2020, with the actual completion of the NEC project 2-3 years later barring a calamity.

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GOP Fundraiser John Rakolta Jr. to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates

Posted: 4:41 am  ET

 

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Ex-Federal Employee Hounded by YouKnowWho Gets a GoFundMe For Legal Defense Fund

Posted: 3:50 am ET

 

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All Promotions Into/Within the Senior Foreign Service Must be Vetted by White House?

Posted: 1:23 am  ET

 

State/HR recently sent a Frequently Asked Questions to newly promoted OCs concerning the differences between being an FS-01, the highest rank in the regular Foreign Service, and as OC, the starter rank in the Senior Foreign Service. The FAQ talks about pay, bidding, EERs, benefits, and of course, promotions. And then there’s this question, and apparent answer:

Q: When are promotions from FS-01 to OC effective?
Answer: Promotion boards issue a list in the fall of officers “recommended” for promotion from FS-01 to OC, OC to MC and MC to CM. However, all promotions into and within the Senior Foreign Service must be vetted by the White House, confirmed by the Senate and attested by the President. This process can take several months. Promotions into and within the SFS are effective the first pay period following Presidential attestation. However, you may start bidding as an OC as soon as the promotion list is released by the board.

Yo! You know this is nuts, right? The White House can barely vet its own staffers, and it will now vet all promotions of FSOs into and within the Senior Foreign Service? With one exception that we are aware of (and we’ll write about that case separately), this WH vetting requirement is new, and yes, we remember the “improved” vetting required by the SFRC back in 2015 (SFRC Bullies Diplomats Up For Promotion to Self-Certify They Have Not Been Convicted of Any Crime).  Is the WH also vetting all senior promotions out of the Pentagon? Who’s going to be doing this and what does this vetting includes? Also whose great idea was this, pray tell?  Will State/HR and A/DGHR soon say that this vetting has always been done by the White House since the beginning of whatevs?

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U.S. and 20+ Countries Expel Russian Diplomats Over UK Nerve Agent Attack

Posted: 4:08 am  ET

 

 

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Trump Formally Nominates Pompeo to be 70th Secretary of State as Tillerson Exits

Posted: 3:14 am  ET

 

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DGHR Nominee Stephen Akard Now Nominated as Director of the Office of Foreign Missions

Posted: 9:52 am  PT
Update: 7:24 pm PT

 

Update: Late on March 20, the White House officially withdrew the nomination of Mr. Akard for DGHR. 

On March 19, the White House announced the nomination of former FSO Stephen Akard to be the Director of the Office of Foreign Missions (with the Rank of Ambassador). The WH released the following brief bio:

Stephen Akard of Indiana, to be Director of the Office of Foreign Missions (with the Rank of Ambassador), Department of State.  Mr. Akard has served as a senior advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, U.S. Department of State since January, 2017.  Previously he was Chief of Staff, Vice President and General Counsel, and Director of International Development for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, Indianapolis, Indiana from 2005 -2017.  Earlier in his career, Mr. Akard was a Foreign Service Officer with the Department of State from 1997 – 2005 and had assignments in India, Belgium, and as a special assistant in the Executive Secretariat of the State Department.  He earned his B.A, M.B.A. and J.D. degrees from Indiana University, Indianapolis, Indiana.  Mr. Akard was honored with several awards while serving in the State Department, including two Meritorious Honor awards, and a Distinguished Alumni Award from Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis in 2000.

Akard was previously nominated as Director General of the Foreign Service and personnel chief of the State Department (DGHR). As far as we can tell, the White House has not withdrawn the DGHR nomination. We are, however, hearing that a new DGHR nominee is in the works but we’re still seeking confirmation.

Akard’s OFM nomination was announced on March 19 together with Joseph Mondello, the nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago. Mondello’s nomination was sent to the Senate on March 19 together with five other nominees that does not include Akard’s name, but the public notification is bound to show up at some point.

 

 

Related posts:

 

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Congress Seeks Documents/Transcribed Interviews in @StateDept “House Cleaning”

Posted: 4:32 am  ET

 

On March 15, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the Ranking Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, sent a letter to the White House and State Department releasing new documents obtained by a whistleblower showing high level political appointees targeting career civil servant employees they believed did not adequately support President Donald Trump’s agenda.

We have obtained extremely disturbing new documents from a whistleblower indicating that high-level officials at the White House and State Department worked with a network of conservative activists to conduct a “cleaning” of employees they believed were not sufficiently “supportive” of President Trump’s agenda. They appear to have targeted these staffers despite being fully aware that they were career civil service employees and despite the career employees expressing willingness to support the policy priorities of the Trump Administration.

Over the past year, we have heard many reports of political attacks on career employees at the State Department, but we had not seen evidence of how extensive, blunt, and inappropriate these attacks were until now. In light of this new information, we now request that you produce additional documents regarding these staffing decisions and make several officials available for transcribed interviews with Committee staff.

The congressional representatives say that the documents they have show that political appointees characterized career State Department employees in derogatory terms, including as “a leaker and troublemaker”; “Turncoat , associated with previous policy”; and “Obama/Clinton loyalists not at all supportive of President Trump’s foreign policy agenda.”

The congressional letter requests the following documents and information including transcribed interviews by March 29, 2018:

(1) all documents and communications referring or relating to any reassignment or proposed reassignment that was considered or ordered since January 20, 2017, of career or civil service employees at the Department;

(2) all documents and communications referring or relating to any proposed or actual reassignment or removal of career or civil service employees at the Department since January 20, 2017, based on alleged personal political beliefs, prior service with previous Administrations, or work on prior Administrations’ foreign policy priorities, including any documents authored by, copying, involving, or referring to:

(a) Christine Ciccone;

(b) Makan Delrahim;

(c) Sean Doocey;

(d) Julia Haller;

(e) Brian Hook;

(f) Edward Lacey;

(g) Matthew Mowers; or

(h) Margaret Peterlin; and

(3) all documents and communications referring or relating to proposed or actual personnel actions since January 20, 2017, against Sahar Nowrouzzadch, including the curtailment of her detail to the Policy Planning staff.

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