@StateDept v. @USAID: Reconciling Interagency Priorities Remains a Top Management Challenge

Posted: 2:14 am ET

 

USAID/OIG reported on its Top Management Challenges for FY2017.  The following is an excerpt on one of its challenges, reconciling interagency priorities with examples from the Arab Spring and operations in Pakistan:

Contingency operations and other efforts require coordination with multiple U.S. Government agencies, yet USAID’s development priorities do not always align with other agencies’ priorities, making it difficult for USAID to achieve its core development mission. In particular, coordination with the State Department, which leads multiagency operations that respond to political and security crises, has presented challenges to USAID’s project planning and execution. Despite broad interagency guidance on State’s role in politically sensitive environments, USAID employees are sometimes unclear as to how to manage additional layers of review, respond to changing priorities, and balance short-term and long-term priorities. Lack of knowledge about other agencies’ processes exacerbates these challenges.

Arab Spring

To identify the challenges USAID faced during the early part of the protest movement that came to be known as the Arab Spring (December 2010-June 2014), we surveyed 70 USAID employees working on programs for Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen.1 According to USAID staff, the State Department’s influence over USAID programs increased after the Arab Spring began, creating additional challenges. For example, a USAID employee in Egypt noted that State’s control “severely constrains USAID’s ability to design and execute technically sound development projects,” stating that agreed-upon steps to design activities and select implementation mechanisms abruptly change. USAID staff pointed out that State’s added layer of review slowed operations, and USAID employees had to dedicate additional time to building consensus and gaining external parties’ approval. USAID employees also said State officials, unfamiliar with the Agency and its different types of procurement, made requests that were difficult to accommodate under USAID procedures.

In a more recent audit in Pakistan, we also found challenges in reconciling short-term political goals with long-term development goals.

Pakistan

Our audit of the $7.5 billion aid package authorized under the Enhanced Partnership for Pakistan Act (EPPA) found that USAID’s programs there have not achieved intended development objectives, in part because of competing priorities between State and USAID. The State Department has the lead role for assistance activities in Pakistan, making it responsible for budget and project decisions.2 At the outset, USAID/Pakistan followed State’s initial strategy, which lacked long-term development outcomes and goals. In 2013, USAID/Pakistan implemented a formal strategy that linked activities to a long-term development goal but lacked indicators to measure progress. The strategy also focused on repairing and upgrading Pakistan’s energy infrastructure—mirroring State’s focus on energy as key to long-term growth—but not on other priority areas, such as health, education, and economic growth. According to USAID staff, implementing a development strategy under State Department control was challenging.

As a result of our EPPA audit, we made recommendations to improve USAID’s development implementation in an interagency environment, including that USAID revise its policies to (1) clearly define USAID’s roles and responsibilities for designing and implementing development when it is subject to State Department control and (2) provide alternate development strategies when a country development cooperation strategy3 or a transitional country strategy is not an option. We also recommended that the Agency institute an interagency forum where USAID can better present its development per- spective in countries where the State Department takes the lead. In response, USAID’s Administrator has engaged the State Department leadership to discuss solutions, including better reconciling interests at the beginning of planning and programming, so that USAID and State leadership can help staff pursue both agencies’ objectives simultaneously.

USAID/OIG notes that USAID has begun actions to address OIG’s recommendations to address this challenge. However, until corrective actions are fully implemented and realized, reconciling interagency priorities to advance inter- national development will remain a top management challenge.

USAID/OIG indicates that it interviewed 31 USAID officials who worked on activities in these countries, and administered a questionnaire. In all, 70 employees from USAID either had interviews or responded to the questionnaire.

 

Related OIG items:

  • “Competing Priorities Have Complicated USAID/Pakistan’s Efforts to Achieve Long-Term Development Under EPPA” (G-391-16-003-P), September 8, 2016
  • “Most Serious Management and Performance Challenges for the U.S. Agency for International Development,” October 15, 2015
  • “Survey of USAID’s Arab Spring Challenges in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen” (8-000-15-001-S), April 30, 2015

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U.S. Ambassadors Bid So Long, Farewell, Auf wiedersehen, Adieu

Posted: 1:56 am ET

 

In early December, we did a round up of FS retirements and State Department goodbyes (see Foreign Service Retirements, and State Department Farewells and Departures).

This week, some of President Obama’s top representatives overseas mark the conclusions of their tours abroad with speeches, interviews, parties, videos, and long goodbyes.  There were also awards, and breakfasts. One got an honorary degree, another got a poster of thanks from a window.  Take a look!

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Snapshot: U.S. Ambassadorial Assignments Overseas (as of October 13, 2016)

Posted: 1:09 am ET

 

Below is a list of U.S. Ambassadorial Assignments Overseas prepared by the State Department’s Office of Presidential Appointments (HR/PAS) on October 13, 2016.  This is the last update as far as we are aware, so appointees who left USG service between then and now, like ambassadors assigned to Tanzania (Mark Childress) or to South Africa (Patrick Gaspard) are still reflected on this list. Career Ambassadors Tom Kelly (Djibouti) and Liliana Ayalde (Brazil) who also recently departed post, are also still listed as incumbents in this document.

For a list of political ambassadorships that will go vacant on Inauguration Day, click our list here.

 

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US Embassy New Zealand’s Chancery Rehab Project: Safety and Health Concerns With Ongoing Construction

Posted: 12:53 am ET

 

In November 2013, the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) announced the construction award, through “best value” determination of the major rehabilitation project of the chancery of the U.S. Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand.  This project, according to the announcement would include seismic strengthening, security improvements, and general building upgrades.

Below is a brief description of the project estimated to cost between $36-50 million:

SAQMMA-13-R0094, Wellington, New Zealand, Chancery Major Rehabilitation.

The 3,000 gross square meters Chancery building, originally constructed by the USG in 1977, sits on a 1.4 acre compound, located in the Thorndon section of Wellington, in close proximity to a number of other embassies and just north of the New Zealand government offices.  The compound is situated at the edge of a residential scale neighborhood of mostly two- to four-story buildings and is across the street from a neighborhood of much taller (up to approximately 16 stories), more densely sited commercial and mixed use buildings.

Anticipated renovation work includes:  retrofitting the exterior of the Chancery building façade to meet DOS standards for seismic and blast protection, systems upgrades throughout the building (electrical, telecommunication, mechanical, plumbing, fire and life-safety, and technical security), seismically bracing all building equipment and infrastructure, handicapped accessibility upgrade, constructing a 110 gsm addition to enlarge the work area, and space utilization improvements.  Site work includes: a physical security upgrade at the two vehicular entrances; new parking configuration; and new landscaped areas.

The project will require extensive use of swing space and construction phasing, as the Chancery office functions must be fully operational for the entirety of the project.

Via US Embassy Wellington, NZ

Photo by US Embassy Wellington, NZ

This week, we’ve received several concerns about the ongoing construction project:

Safety issues: “Work is going on while this building is still occupied by dozens of employees, creating a largely unsafe working environment. Repeated inquiries to Worksafe NZ have gone unanswered, despite the fact that there have been serious injuries on this project. At this point it’s just a matter of time until someone is killed on this site.  The building has been evacuated repeatedly due to fire alarms, and building-wide power outages are a routine occurrence.”

Structural concerns: “The building suffered damage from the Kaikoura earthquake in November, and staff were required to return to work before a structural assessment was completed.”

Health concerns:  “Employees in all sections are routinely subjected to excessively high levels of noise, dust and smoke. Dozens of employees have complained of respiratory and vision problems since the project began in 2014.” 

Communication issues:  “A dozen employees were recently evacuated to the British High Commission due to this project, and their workplaces were subsequently consumed by the work. After the High Commission’s closure these staff had to return to the Embassy, except now they effectively have no workspaces. There is no timeline for completion of the project, or for when the rest of the staff might expect any improvement in the work environment.”

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We’ve asked State/OBO about these concerns and allegations. We also wanted to know what the bureau has done to mitigate the disruption, and the health and security concerns regarding the ongoing construction. Below is the full response from the State/OBO spox:

In September 2013 the Department awarded a contract to rehabilitate the existing chancery in Wellington to meet seismic and security requirements, as well as address needed improvements to building systems.  The extensive construction work underway is required to retrofit and seismically strengthen the building.  The project was carefully planned in phases in order to maintain business operations of the embassy during the construction period and phasing plans and impacts were discussed and briefed to stakeholders prior to executing the project.  The project is scheduled for completion in early 2018.

Construction of an occupied building is always a difficult under taking and is inconvenient, but measures have been in place since the inception of the project to ensure the safety of both construction workers and embassy staff working in the building.  The project is being managed in accordance with the procedures and policies of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) and the Department.

OBO is aware of complaints such as those raised and has reviewed the matter.  Though the project has encountered challenges — as is expected with a project of this complexity – the review confirmed that there is an appropriate safety program administered by the construction contractor and enforced by OBO project management, and that there have not been violations of required policies and procedures.

The original note sent to us says that “There is no timeline for completion of the project” but the OBO spox readily told us that project is scheduled for completion in early 2018. That indicates to us that there may be a hiccup in the communication line between employees and the project folks.  Somebody please fix that.  Whatever discussions or briefs were done to “stakeholders” were not heard or understood.

A separate source told us that US Embassy Wellington and OBO were “looking into having some staff work at home”, or “occupy an office in the British High Commission”, to avoid disruptions while the chancery is renovated.  A check with the BHC, however,  indicates that the British High Commission in Wellington announced on November 24, 2016 that its building will be closed until further notice.  Damage from the recent earthquakes has apparently been discovered in their offices following an inspection so the building was temporarily closed for safety reasons.  Now folks still have work but no workspaces?  What’s the secret to making that work?

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Related items:

FedBiz listing: https://www.fbo.gov/spg/State/A-LM-AQM/A-LM-AQM/SAQMMA-13-R0094/listing.html

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Announces the Construction Award for Major Rehabilitation of U.S. Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand; Office of the Spokesperson; Washington, DC -11/12/13

 

Related posts:

 

 

America’s Cushiest Ambassadorships Will Go Vacant By Inauguration Day

Posted: 2:46 am ET

 

Unless requested to stay on, all political appointees of the outgoing Obama administration are expected to leave by the time President-elect Trump is sworn into office on Inauguration Day. The expectation includes politically appointed ambassadors (see Foreign Service Tradition: Political Ambassadors Have To Be Out By January 20). Some reports say that all Obama ambassadors were recalled, or fired, or asked to quit by January 20. All ambassadors were appointed by President Obama, so they are all Obama ambassadors.  About 50 ambassadors who are political appointees will step down by January 20.  The fact that these positions will go vacant next week is not unique, of course; the last time embassies went through this exact process was in January 2009, and previous to that, in January 2001, and on and on.  Those who are career ambassadors (worked up the ranks) were not asked to submit their resignations during this transition so they will continue with their tenures. If there are career ambassadors also stepping down in the next few weeks, those would merely be coincidences when their typical 3-year tour ends and they “rotate” to their new assignments.

Due to popular demand, we’ve compiled a list where political ambassadors are expected to step down next week.  The list is primarily extracted from a State Department document on ambassadorial assignments overseas prepared by the Office of Presidential Appointments (HR/PAS).  We’ve added a couple of vacancies that occurred since the document was last updated in October 2016. You will note that these embassies/posts are in some of the world’s most desirable locations. These positions are sometimes described as some of the “world’s cushiest ambassadorships” or the State Department’s “swankiest gigs”.  The list below also includes vacancies most recently encumbered by political appointees (with the exception of Syria which is traditionally encumbered by a career ambassador, and currently on suspended operation).

 

Ambassadors List (Political Appointees) Jan 2017 | p.1

Ambassadors List (Political Appointees) Jan 2017 | 1/2

Ambassadors List (Political Appointees) Jan 2017 | p.2

Ambassadors List (Political Appointees) Jan 2017 | 2/2

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President Obama Ends ‘Wet Foot, Dry Foot’ Policy For Cuban Migrants

Posted: 12:32 am ET

 

In August 2016, nine Latin American countries wrote a letter to Secretary Kerry about the USG’s “wet-foot/dry foot” policy and “expressing their deep concern about the negative effects of U.S. immigration policy across the region.” (see Nine Latin American Countries Request Review of U.S. “Wet Foot/Dry Foot” Policy For Cuban Migrants).

Today, the White House announced the end of the policy which allows Cuban migrants seeking passage to the United States who are intercepted at sea (“wet feet”) to be sent back to Cuba or to a third country, while those who make it to U.S. soil (“dry feet”) are allowed to remain in the United States. The change in policy is effective immediately according to DHS.  Below is the announcement:

Today, the United States is taking important steps forward to normalize relations with Cuba and to bring greater consistency to our immigration policy. The Department of Homeland Security is ending the so-called “wet-foot/dry foot” policy, which was put in place more than twenty years ago and was designed for a different era.  Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities.  By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea.

Today, the Department of Homeland Security is also ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program.  The United States and Cuba are working together to combat diseases that endanger the health and lives of our people. By providing preferential treatment to Cuban medical personnel, the medical parole program contradicts those efforts, and risks harming the Cuban people.  Cuban medical personnel will now be eligible to apply for asylum at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, consistent with the procedures for all foreign nationals.

The United States, a land of immigrants, has been enriched by the contributions of Cuban-Americans for more than a century.  Since I took office, we have put the Cuban-American community at the center of our policies. With this change we will continue to welcome Cubans as we welcome immigrants from other nations, consistent with our laws.   During my Administration, we worked to improve the lives of the Cuban people – inside of Cuba – by providing them with greater access to resources, information and connectivity to the wider world. Sustaining that approach is the best way to ensure that Cubans can enjoy prosperity, pursue reforms, and determine their own destiny. As I said in Havana, the future of Cuba should be in the hands of the Cuban people.

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SFRC Hearing: Rex Tillerson Talks Russia, China, Radical Islam, and American Leadership

Posted: 1:12 am ET

 

Secretary of State Designate Rex Tillerson appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today for his confirmation hearing. He was introduced by the senators from Texas,  John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. Former Senator Nunn and former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates also appeared to provide brief introductions before the hearing.

We made a word cloud below from Mr. Tillerson’s prepared statement.  The full statement is available here: PDF. Watch the hearing via the SFRC here or via C-SPAN here.

Via WordItOut

Via WordItOut

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U.S. Diplomacy Center Pavilion Opens With @JohnKerry, @HillaryClinton, @madeleine, and Colin Powell

Posted: 5:47 pm PT

 

Secretary of State John Kerry together with former Secretaries of State Madeleine K. Albright, Colin L. Powell, and Hillary Rodham Clinton marked the completion of the U.S. Diplomacy Center Pavilion located at the State Department’s 21st Street Entrance on January 10 with a well-attended reception.

The U.S. Diplomacy Center (@DiplomacyCenter) will be a 40,000 square foot, state-of-the-art museum and education center dedicated to telling the story of American diplomacy. Visitors will explore the role of diplomacy through interactive exhibits, compelling artifacts, hands-on education programs, and diplomatic simulations.  The Center’s goal is “to demonstrate the ways in which diplomacy matters now and has mattered throughout American history.  Diplomacy and the work of our diplomats in over 250 embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic missions are vital to our nation’s power, image, and ability to advance its interests around the globe.”

The funds used for this project?  The Department of State has a public-private partnership with the Diplomacy Center Foundation (DCF), founded by the late Senator Charles McC. Mathias, Ambassador Stephen Low and others. The costs for the construction of the museum and the fabrication of the exhibits are raised through a private sector capital campaign. The Department of State contributes space, staff and security for the Center. Taxpayers will not be paying for building the USDC; the center makes up less than .003% of the Department of State’s annual budget.

Here is a bit of history on the Center via the Foundation:

Foreign Service Ambassador Stephen Low (1927 — 2010) and Senator Charles “Mac” Mathias, R-MD (1922-2010) formed the Foreign Affairs Museum Council (FAMC), a nonprofit organization, to help build the first facility dedicated to American diplomacy in the United States and to raise funds from the private sector for the project. In 2013 the FAMC Board of Directors changed the name to Diplomacy Center Foundation. […] In 1999, Ambassador Low and Senator Mathias met with Secretary Madeleine K. Albright about their vision for a museum and education center of American diplomacy. Secretary Albright recognized the need and decreed that the museum should be located at the Department of State.

In 2010, Secretary Clinton appointed Elizabeth Frawley Bagley, Ambassador to Portugal, retired, to lead the fund-raising efforts on behalf of the Department. Simultaneously, the leadership of the Foreign Affairs Museum Council was assumed by William C. Harrop, a career Foreign Service Officer who had served as United States Ambassador to five countries. To date, $47.5 million of private sector funds have been raised from corporations, foundation and individuals toward the $55 million needed to build the Center. Under this new Pavilion will be the Founding Ambassadors Concourse where educational conferences, symposia and other USDC events will take place. The Founding Ambassadors initiative is led by Stuart A. Bernstein, Ambassador to Denmark, retired.

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Remember The Time When Darth Vader Refused to Stand in “That Visa Line” at US Embassy London?

Posted: 12:12 am ET

 

Ambassador Eileen Malloy previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs and was U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan from 1994 to 1997. The following is an excerpt from her Oral History interview recounting her first tour experience in London between 1978 and 1979. The interview was conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy for ADST in 2008.  During her first tour, the then newbie FSO felt underwhelmed by life in the Foreign Service though she did have one bright spot when she met Darth Vader, at where else? The visa line.  Via ADST | From What Have I Gotten Myself Into? Tales from Rough First Tours.

Once the staff came to me and said “there is this British man and he will not go away. He’s insisting on seeing you and he’s not an American.” So I finally went out and talked to him. He said, “You don’t know who I am and that’s the problem.”

He said, “I am Darth Vader.” I’m thinking, oh my God.

He was the British actor who played Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies (David Prowse).

Via ADST

Via ADST

The body was his. Of course the voice was James Earl Jones, but most people don’t realize he was never under that costume. The man said, “I am one of the biggest stars and nobody knows me and they’re telling me I have to go stand in that visa line and I will not stand in that visa line.”

So we took his visa application and walked him out the back door. He, I saw in the paper that he passed away about five years ago. He was a British body builder. Just, he just did all the stunts and everything. But it was really funny. No one knows my name—or my face—no one knows my face.

The transcript of Ambassador Malloy’s oral history interview is available in full here (PDF).

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