American Academy of Diplomacy Opposes Nomination of Stephen Akard as @StateDept Personnel Chief

Posted: 2:10 am ET
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In a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Chairman Bob Corker and Ranking Member Ben Cardin, released publicly on October 30, the American Academy of Diplomacy (AAD) requests that the senators oppose the nomination of Stephen Akard to be Director General of the Foreign Service:

The American Academy of Diplomacy requests that you oppose the nomination of Stephen Akard to serve as Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources at the State Department. We have concluded that voicing our concerns with Mr. Akard’s nomination is required if the Academy is to meet its most important mission: to promote and protect America’s interests in a dangerous world by supporting an effective American diplomacy based on a strong Foreign Service and a strong Civil Service.

It looks like the AAD requested to meet with the nominee but had not been successful. The letter authored by former senior diplomats Ambassadors Tom Pickering and Ronald Neumann on behalf of the group says about Mr. Akard, “We hold no personal animus toward him.”  But added that ” … we have concluded that Mr. Akard lacks the necessary professional background to be the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources at the State Department. His confirmation would be contrary to Congress’s long standing intent and desire to create a professional American diplomatic service based on merit.

The letter further adds: “While Mr. Akard is technically eligible for the position, to confirm someone who had less than a decade in the Foreign Service would be like making a former Army Captain the Chief of Staff of the Army, the equivalent of a four-star general.”

The full letter is available to read here (pdf).

We’ve previously blogged about the Akard appointment on October 17 (see Trump’s Pick For @StateDept Personnel Chief Gets the Ultimate “Stretch” Assignment).

With the exception of noting this nomination on Twitter, and separately urging FS members “to embrace their roles as stewards of the institution”, we have not seen any public position on this nomination by the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional association and labor union of the Foreign Service since 1924.

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Congress Sends President Obama First State Department Authorization in 14 Years

Posted: 1:21 am ET
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Last week, we blogged that S.1635 the State Department authorization bill was marching to the finish line (see S.1635 ‘Department of State Authorities Act Fiscal Year 2017’ Marches to the Finish Line). On Saturday, December 10, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved S.1635, legislation referred to the Senate earlier from the House of Representatives where lawmakers apparently incorporated provisions from State Department authorization bills for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 . This is the first State Department authorization bill sent by Congress to the President in 14 years. Below is the statement from SFRC Chairman Bob Corker:

U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today announced that for the first time in 14 years, a State Department authorization bill will be sent to the president’s desk to be signed into law. Today, the Senate unanimously approved S.1635, legislation referred to the Senate earlier this week from the House of Representatives where lawmakers incorporated provisions from State Department authorization bills for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, which were authored by Corker and Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the committee.

“Today, Congress ends a 14-year drought by finally sending a State Department authorization to the president,” said Corker. “Restoring Congress’ rightful role in the conduct of U.S. engagement overseas has been a top priority of mine as chairman. I thank Senator Cardin for his partnership and appreciate the bipartisan cooperation and contributions of my committee colleagues and our counterparts in the House in renewing this important oversight process on behalf of American taxpayers. Among other provisions, this legislation will enhance the security of our embassies abroad, improve personnel and organizational practices of the State Department, and demand much needed oversight and accountability of U.N. peacekeeping missions to end horrific cases of sexual abuse and exploitation. Going forward, I am hopeful we can build even further on this important progress to ensure State Department funding is used in the most responsible manner to advance American interests.”

A summary of S.1635 is available here or read it below:

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SFRC Approves the Department of State Authorization Act of 2017 #DOSAA17

Posted:9:11 pm ET
Updated 4:22 pm PT
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On April 28, U.S. Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced committee passage of the bipartisan U.S. Department of State Authorization Act of 2017.  In 2015, the committee approved a State Department authorization bill for the first time in five years. A State Department authorization bill has not been signed into law since 2002.

Senators Corker and Cardin released a statement on the bill’s passage, below is an excerpt:

“Assuring the American people that their taxpayer dollars are used efficiently in advancing U.S. interests has been one of my top priorities as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” said Senator Corker. “We made a commitment to conduct a review of State Department programs and practices on an annual basis, and for the second consecutive year, I am pleased the committee approved a bipartisan authorization bill to fulfill our oversight responsibilities. This legislation requires the U.S. to use its leverage at the United Nations to end impunity over the horrific cases of abuse by peacekeepers. It also supports a stronger, more dynamic workforce and makes the issuance of passports and visas operate more like a business. I look forward to working with Senator Cardin and our committee colleagues to pass the bill through the full Senate this year.”

“It’s essential to provide the authorities for the State Department so it can strategically and effectively carry out America’s foreign policy, and I believe we’ve taken an important step in that direction today,” Senator Cardin said. “We fought hard to prioritize the Department’s essential requests while also improving some accountability measures. In a world of increasing challenges and opportunities, the men and women of the United States diplomatic corps work tirelessly day in and day out to keep America safe, improve global health, empower women, protect vulnerable populations, and engage with our allies and adversaries alike through our bilateral relationships and multilateral organizations. I thank Chairman Corker and the Committee’s Members for working in a bipartisan fashion to bring this bill to the Senate floor and look forward to its passage.”

The SFRC also released a summary of the key provisions; we hope to have a follow up post for the interesting bits:

We should note that a similar bill was introduced last year. “S.1635 – Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, Fiscal Year 2016″ was the first authorization bill passed by the SFRC in 5 years. At that time, our source on the Hill informed us that the State Authorization bill was offered as an amendment when the NDAA was debated in the Senate but it was not voted on and the NDAA passed on June 18 without it (That would be H.R. 1735 which passed 215 (71-25)  The State Authorization bill was not brought to the floor for a stand alone vote, and as far as we know, Senators Corker/Cardin were not able to attach it to another piece of legislation last year. So the bill died and went to the cemetery for dead bills.   The State Department authorization bill for FY2016 was actually wrapped in the deal that made the Roberta Jacobson confirmation possible; it was also passed by the Senate on April 28. (Thanks A!) The FY2017 bill is currently pending in the Senate. 

We’ll have to wait and see what happens this year.

 

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Foreign Service Nominations: @SenatorCardin Trying to Get the Senate to “Yes”

Posted: 12:31 am EDT
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In addition to the senior nominees stuck in the Senate, there are also 4 Foreign Service lists pending on the Executive Calendar.

PN573-4 | Nominations beginning Bradley Duane Arsenault, and ending Jamshed Zuberi, which 20 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on June 10, 2015.

PN643 | Nominations beginning Jennifer Ann Amos, and ending Holly Rothe Wielkoszewski, which 101 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on July 8, 2015.

PN877-1 | Nominations beginning Jason Douglas Kalbfleisch, and ending Stuart MacKenzie Hatcher, which 404 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on September 21, 2015.

PN800 | Nominations beginning Kreshnik Alikaj, and ending Brett David Ziskie, which 127 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on September 8, 2015.

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State Dept Authorization Bill Mandates Security Breach Reporting, NSA Consultations –Can PenTest Be Far Behind?

Posted: 12:27 am EDT
Updated: 11:23 am PDT
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Update: A source on the Hill alerted us that the State Authorization bill was offered as an amendment when the NDAA was debated in the Senate last month but it was not voted on and the NDAA passed on June 18 (That would be H.R. 1735 which passed 215 (71-25)  We understand that both chambers are now starting the process to bring the bill to conference in order to resolve differences.  The State Authorization bill, we are told, will not be part of those discussions.  In order for this to move forward, it will either need to be brought to the floor as a stand alone vote or Corker/Cardin could try again to attach it to another piece of legislation. Given that this is the first authorization bill passed by the SFRC in 5 years, and made it through the committee with bi-partisan support, we suspect that the senators will not just easily forget about this. — DS

On June 9, 2015, U.S. Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, applauded the unanimous committee passage of the Fiscal Year 2016 Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act. The SFRC statement says that it has been five years since the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a State Department Authorization bill and 13 years since one was enacted into law.  This State Department Authorization bill has been offered as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which currently is on the Senate floor. It is quite lengthy so we’re doing this in installments.

Below is the section on information technology system security that mandates security breach reporting, as well as making State Dept systems and networks available to the Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and any other such departments or agencies to carry out necessary tests and procedures.

The State Department’s Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) as of 2011 contains over 137 million American and foreign case records and over 130 million photographs and is growing at approximately 40,000 visa and passport cases every day. If the CCD is compromised, it would be a jackpot for hackers that would make the OPM hack severely pales in comparison.

If this bill passes, will the penetration test by NSA on one of the world’s largest data warehouses finally happen?

Via govtrack:

Section 206.Information technology system security

(a)In general

The Secretary shall regularly consult with the Director of the National Security Agency and any other departments or agencies the Secretary determines to be appropriate regarding the security of United States Government and nongovernment information technology systems and networks owned, operated, managed, or utilized by the Department, including any such systems or networks facilitating the use of sensitive or classified information.

(b)Consultation

In performing the consultations required under subsection (a), the Secretary shall make all such systems and networks available to the Director of the National Security Agency and any other such departments or agencies to carry out such tests and procedures as are necessary to ensure adequate policies and protections are in place to prevent penetrations or compromises of such systems and networks, including by malicious intrusions by any unauthorized individual or state actor or other entity.

(c)Security breach reporting

Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, and every 180 days thereafter, the Secretary, in consultation with the Director of the National Security Agency and any other departments or agencies the Secretary determines to be appropriate, shall submit a report to the appropriate congressional committees that describes in detail—

(1)all known or suspected penetrations or compromises of the systems or networks described in subsection (a) facilitating the use of classified information; and

(2)all known or suspected significant penetrations or compromises of any other such systems and networks that occurred since the submission of the prior report.

(d)Content

Each report submitted under subsection (c) shall include—

(1)a description of the relevant information technology system or network penetrated or compromised;

(2)an assessment of the date and time such penetration or compromise occurred;

(3)an assessment of the duration for which such system or network was penetrated or compromised, including whether such penetration or compromise is ongoing;

(4)an assessment of the amount and sensitivity of information accessed and available to have been accessed by such penetration or compromise, including any such information contained on systems and networks owned, operated, managed, or utilized by any other department or agency of the United States Government;

(5)an assessment of whether such system or network was penetrated by a malicious intrusion, including an assessment of—

(A)the known or suspected perpetrators, including state actors; and

(B)the methods used to conduct such penetration or compromise; and

(6)a description of the actions the Department has taken, or plans to take, to prevent future, similar penetrations or compromises of such systems and networks.

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S.1635: DOS Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, Fiscal Year 2016 – Security Clearance

S.1635: DOS Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, Fiscal Year 2016 – Security Clearance

Posted: 6:17 pm EDT
Updated: 11:31 am PDT
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Update: A source on the Hill alerted us that the State Authorization bill was offered as an amendment when the NDAA was debated in the Senate last month but it was not voted on and the NDAA passed on June 18 (That would be H.R. 1735 which passed 215 (71-25)  We understand that both chambers are now starting the process to bring the bill to conference in order to resolve differences.  The State Authorization bill, we are told, will not be part of those discussions.  In order for this to move forward, it will either need to be brought to the floor as a stand alone vote or Corker/Cardin could try again to attach it to another piece of legislation. Given that this is the first authorization bill passed by the SFRC in 5 years, and made it through the committee with bi-partisan support, we suspect that the this is not the end of this bill. We hope to write a follow-up post on the security clearance component of this legislation.
— DS

On June 9, 2015, U.S. Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, applauded the unanimous committee passage of the Fiscal Year 2016 Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act. The SFRC statement says that it has been five years since the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a State Department Authorization bill and 13 years since one was enacted into law.

“Our committee has a responsibility to ensure limited federal resources for the State Department are used in a cost-effective manner to advance U.S. interests,” said Corker. “This effort takes a modest but important step toward reestablishing oversight of the State Department through an annual authorization, which hasn’t been enacted into law since 2002. In addition to prioritizing security upgrades for U.S. personnel at high threat posts, the legislation lays the groundwork to streamline State Department operations and make them more effective.”

This State Department Authorization bill has been offered as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which currently is on the Senate floor. It is quite lengthy so we will chop this down in bite sizes.

Below is the part related to the suspension of security clearance. If this bill passes,  it means placing a member of the Foreign Service in a temporary status without duties and without pay once a determination to suspend clearance has been made. Diplomats with suspended clearances are typically given desk jobs or telecommuting work that require little or none of their expertise; looks like this bill changes that. The bill does not say what happens (does he/she gets back pay?) if the suspension of clearance does not result in revocation and the employee is reinstated. Or if suspended employees with no work/no pay will be allowed to take temporary jobs while waiting for the resolution of their suspended clearances.

Section 216. Security clearance suspensions

(a)Suspension

Section 610 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 U.S.C. 4010) is amended—

(1)by striking the section heading and inserting the following:

610.Separation for cause; suspension

; and

(2)by adding at the end the following:

(c)

(1)In order to promote the efficiency of the Service, the Secretary may suspend a member of the Service without pay when—

(A)the member’s security clearance is suspended; or

(B)there is reasonable cause to believe that the member has committed a crime for which a sentence of imprisonment may be imposed.

(2)Any member of the Foreign Service for whom a suspension is proposed under this subsection shall be entitled to—

(A)written notice stating the specific reasons for the proposed suspension;

(B)a reasonable time to respond orally and in writing to the proposed suspension;

(C)representation by an attorney or other representative; and

(D)a final written decision, including the specific reasons for such decision, as soon as practicable.

(3)Any member suspended under this subsection may file a grievance in accordance with the procedures applicable to grievances under chapter 11.

(4)If a grievance is filed under paragraph (3)—

(A)the review by the Foreign Service Grievance Board shall be limited to a determination of whether the provisions of paragraphs (1) and (2) have been fulfilled; and

(B)the Board may not exercise the authority provided under section 1106(8).

(5)In this subsection:

(A)The term reasonable time means—

(i)with respect to a member of the Foreign Service assigned to duty in the United States, 15 days after receiving notice of the proposed suspension; and

(ii)with respect to a member of the Foreign Service assigned to duty outside the United States, 30 days after receiving notice of the proposed suspension.

(B)The terms suspend and suspension mean placing a member of the Foreign Service in a temporary status without duties and pay.

More here: Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, Fiscal Year 2016. This old article (pdf) on security clearance and knowing your rights might also be a useful to read.

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