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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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Related post:

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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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@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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U.S. Senate Confirms William F. Hagerty IV as U.S. Ambassador to Japan

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: 1:59 am ET

 

On July 13, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of William Hagerty IV to be the U.S. Ambassador to Japan. He succeeds Caroline Bouvier Kennedy (1957–) who served at the US Embassy Tokyo from November 19, 2013 to January 2017. See related posts:

Other previous appointees to this position include career and political appointees like Howard Henry Baker Jr. (1925–2014)Walter F. Mondale (1928–)Michael Joseph Mansfield (1903–2001)Douglas MacArthur II (1909–1997) and Ural Alexis Johnson (1908–1997) to name a few.

Only 6 of the last 15 appointments as Ambassador to Japan since the 1950’s were career diplomats:  Ural Alexis Johnson (1908–1997)Armin Henry Meyer (1914–2006)Douglas MacArthur II (1909–1997)John Moore Allison (1905–1978)Robert Daniel Murphy (1894–1978) and Michael Hayden Armacost (1937–).  According to history.state.gov, the last career diplomat sent as ambassador to Japan was Michael Hayden Armacost (1937–) who served from May 15, 1989–July 19, 1993. With the latest confirmation, it has now been 24 years since a career diplomat was appointed and confirmed as chief of mission at U.S. Embassy Tokyo.

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Tillerson Appoints Ex-USNATO Ambassador Kurt Volker as Special Representative For Ukraine Negotiations

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

Posted: 12:49 am ET

 

On July 7, the State Department announced Secretary Tillerson’s appointment of Ambassador Kurt Volker to serve as the United States Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations. Ambassador Volker served at USNATO from July 2, 2008 to May 15, 2009.  He was reported in spring as in the running for the position of Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR). This is Secretary Tillerson’s first special rep appointee.

Below is the released statement:

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson announced today his appointment of Ambassador Kurt Volker to serve as the United States Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations. Ambassador Volker, who has served previously as the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, and as Director for NATO and Western Europe on the National Security Council, will take responsibility for advancing U.S. efforts to achieve the objectives set out in the Minsk agreements. He will accompany the Secretary to Kyiv on Sunday, July 9, and is expected to continue to hold regular meetings with Ukraine and the other members of the Normandy Format: Russia, Germany, and France.

“Kurt’s wealth of experience makes him uniquely qualified to move this conflict in the direction of peace,” said Secretary Tillerson. “The United States remains fully committed to the objectives of the Minsk agreements, and I have complete confidence in Kurt to continue our efforts to achieve peace in Ukraine.”

Clips:

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New Report on Tillerson-Miller Battle Over Visa and Refugee Functions

Posted: 12:40 pm ET

 

The Bureau of Consular Affairs via history.state.gov:

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.

WaPo’s John Rogin reported on Sunday about the internal administration debate over which part of the government should be charged of deciding who gets into the United States.  WH policy adviser Stephen Miller has reportedly been pushing Secretary Tillerson to get “tougher” on immigration, vetting and refugee policy at the State Department.   Rogin writes that a White House official told him that if Tillerson doesn’t go along with the changes that Miller and others (???) in the White House are pushing the State Department to implement internally, the plan to strip Foggy Bottom of its role supervising these functions could gain traction.  Rogin’s report quotes State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert saying that Tillerson believes that two bureaus should remain where they are and the Secretary of State reportedly views consular and refugees work “as essential to the Department’s mission to secure our borders and protect the American people.” We linked to Rogin’s report below.

Stephen Miller is widely regarded as the principal author of Trump’s travel ban.  We have a feeling that the only “tougher” vetting that Miller and company will find acceptable is shutting down the U.S. border.

We know that some folks are already distressed with the news about the the potential transfer of consular function to DHS. It doesn’t help that Secretary Tilleron’s “listening tour” recommended it (see @StateDept Survey Report Recommends Moving Issuance of Visas, Passports, Travel Docs to DHS).  Neither is it helpful to discover that the nominee to be the next Assistant Secretary of Consular Affairs is on the record supporting this move (see Ex-FSO Who Once Advocated Moving Visas to DHS May be the Next Asst Secretary For Consular Affairs. And we haven’t forgotten that the nominee to be the next “M” is a seasoned GOP budget aide (see Trump to Nominate Top GOP Budget Aide Eric Ueland to be Under Secretary for Management #StateDept).

But take a deep breath.

Last March, OPM released a publication titled, Workforce Reshaping Operations Handbook (pdf). Under Transfer of Function, OPM writes:

An interagency transfer of a function and/or personnel requires specific statutory authorization. Without a specific statutory basis, there is no authority for an agency to permanently transfer a function and/or personnel to another agency on the basis of a memorandum of understanding, a directive from the Executive Office of the President, a reimbursable agreement, or other administrative procedure.

So Congress would have a say whether or not consular function should be stripped from State and moved to DHS. We anticipate that Congressional representatives — especially those with oversight responsibilities are already aware of the many improvements over the visa and refugee vetting process — would need a compelling justification for moving both functions to another agency.  Like how would DHS make it better, with Agatha and a pre-crime division?

Per historical record, on April 18, 1997 then President Clinton announced the reorganization of foreign affairs agencies. In December 1998, he submitted a report to Congress on the reorganization as required by the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, the Act that provided authority to reorganize the foreign affairs agencies. On March 28, 1999, the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) was integrated into the State Department. The United States Information Agency (USIA) was integrated into State on October 1, 1999.  The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), part of USIA, became a separate federal entity. The Act also provided that USAID remained a separate agency but on April 1, 1999, the USAID Administrator reported to and came under the direct authority and foreign policy guidance of the Secretary of State.  Shrinking State’s budget started in 1993 during the first Clinton term under Warren Christopher. The reorganization did not get completed until halfway through Clinton’s second term.

We cannot say whether or not this is going to happen. After all, during the Clinton years, GOP Senator Jesse Helms was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. So we need to pay attention where this is going, but would not do any good to panic over something that appears to be a floated idea at this time. It would, of course, be helpful if we can hear directly from Secretary Tillerson.

G20 Trump Keywords: Disharmony, Decline, Isolation, Plus Vlad’s CyberSecurity Ha! Ha!

Posted: 3:09 am ET

 

AND NOW THIs …

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4th of July 2017 – Cakes and Crowds For the 241st Birthday

Posted: 3:53 am ET

 

BONUS pics from K2 Base Camp in Pakistan, and from NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer aboard the space station posing with their patriotic garb on July 4 more than 250 miles above the Earth.

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4th of July 2017 – Scenes and Themes Around the Foreign Service

Posted: 3:35 am ET

 

 

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Former U.S. Naval Attaché to US Embassy Manila Michael Brooks Sentenced in Navy Scandal

Posted: 2:35 am ET

 

On June 16, 2017, USDOJ announced that a former U.S. Naval Attaché and Military Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador in the Philippines was sentenced for taking bribes in a massive U.S. Navy corruption scandal.

A Retired U.S. Navy Captain was sentenced in federal court today to 41 months in prison for his role in a massive bribery and fraud scheme involving foreign defense contractor Leonard Glenn Francis and his firm, Singapore-based, Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA).

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Alana W. Robinson Southern District of California, Director Dermot O’Reilly of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and Director Andrew Traver of the NCIS made the announcement.

In addition to the 41-month prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Janis L. Sammartino ordered Michael Brooks, 59, of Fairfax Station, Virginia, to pay a $41,000 fine and $31,000 in restitution to the U.S. Navy.  Brooks pleaded guilty in November 2016 to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.

Brooks, who served as the U.S. Naval Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines, from 2006 to 2008, has admitted accepting bribes of travel and entertainment expenses, hotel rooms and the services of prostitutes. In return, Brooks admitted that he used his power and influence to benefit GDMA and Francis, including by securing quarterly clearances for GDMA vessels, which allowed GDMA vessels to transit into and out of the Philippines under the diplomatic imprimatur of the U.S. Embassy. Neither GDMA nor any other defense contractor has ever been granted such unfettered clearances.

Brooks admitted that he also allowed Francis to ghostwrite official U.S. Navy documents and correspondence, which Brooks submitted as his own. For example, Brooks admitted allowing GDMA to complete its own contractor performance evaluations. A November 2007 evaluation, drafted by GDMA and submitted by Brooks, described the company’s performance as “phenomenal,” “unsurpassed,” “exceptional” and “world class.” Brooks also admitted providing Francis with sensitive, internal U.S. Navy information, including U.S. Navy ship schedules and billing information belonging to a GDMA competitor, at times using a private Yahoo! e-mail account to mask his illicit acts.

Twenty-one current and former Navy officials have been charged so far in the fraud and bribery investigation; 10 have pleaded guilty and 10 cases are pending. In addition, five GDMA executives and GDMA the corporation have pleaded guilty.

NCIS, DCIS and DCAA are conducting the ongoing investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark W. Pletcher and Patrick Hovakimian of the Southern District of California and Assistant Chief Brian R. Young of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.

Anyone with information relating to fraud, corruption or waste in government contracting should contact the NCIS anonymous tip line at www.ncis.navy.mil or the DOD Hotline at www.dodig.mil/hotline, or call (800) 424-9098.

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