Dear @StateDept, How Many More Mina Changs Do You Have?

 

As far as we know, no one starts a job at the State Department without a security clearance. Diplomatic spouses working security escort or mailroom jobs are not even allowed to start work without a security clearance or an interim clearance.
So when NBC News Investigation reported that a senior political appointee at the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations — a deputy assistant secretary (she’s one of the top three senior bureau officials)  made false claims and exaggerations, we were wondering what this means to the thoroughness of the background investigations conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security? Were the adjudicators aware of these issues prior to the issuance of the clearance? If not, why not? If yes, well, what in guacamole’s name happened here?

A senior Trump administration official has embellished her résumé with misleading claims about her professional background — even creating a fake Time magazine cover with her face on it — raising questions about her qualifications to hold a top position at the State Department.

An NBC News investigation found that Mina Chang, the deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations, has inflated her educational achievements and exaggerated the scope of her nonprofit’s work.

Whatever her qualifications, Chang had a key connection in the Trump administration. Brian Bulatao, a top figure in the State Department and longtime friend of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, attended a fundraiser for her nonprofit in Dallas and once donated $5,500 to her charity, according to a former colleague of Chang’s.

As of this writing, her biography is still up on state.gov. Her Twitter account appears to have disappeared but her Instagram account is still online. Back in July 2019, she was also rumored to be the next U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, a report that was officially denied by US Embassy Manila.
The Diplomatic Security Service (DSS headed by Director Todd J. Brown), an office which resides under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (headed by Michael T. Evanoff), under the umbrella of the Under Secretary for Management (headed by Brian Bulatao), conducts personnel security background investigations for the Department of State and other federal agencies. After determining the candidate’s national security eligibility, DSS contacts the appropriate hiring authority.
According to Diplomatic Security, the national security eligibility determinations take into account a person’s:
  • Stability
  • Trustworthiness
  • Reliability
  • Discretion
  • Character
  • Honesty
  • Judgment
  • Unquestionable loyalty to the U.S.
The organization she once served as CEO, Linking The World, has now posted a lengthy message on its website primarily defending its former CEO. It claims that “Mina has undergone 4 independent agency reviews, including the FBI, and ultimately garnered both Top Secret and Sensitive Compartmented Information clearances.”
Item #8 says:

Mina obtained her position at the State Department on her own merit, at no time was Brian Bulatao part of her nomination / recruitment / review process.  An auction bid from 2015, is a despicable example of correlation with no foundation.  Anyone who reads her online articles would know that she has both supported and been critical of the current administration.  

Career diplomat George Kent who serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) in the European and Eurasian Bureau and testified on Wednesday at the Impeachment Hearings — now, he obtained his position as a DAS at the State Department on his own merit.
A political appointee gets  a job through a political connection. Ms. Chang is a political appointee; are we to understand that she got her job on her own merit by knocking on Foggy Bottom’s door?  Or did she apply through USAjobs.gov? Should be interesting to know how she got to Foggy Bottom.
According to Linking the World, Ms. Chang’s nomination was also “not withdrawn by the Administration of anyone other than herself.”

“Mina’s nomination was not withdrawn by the Administration, or anyone other than herself.  Simply, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been rather busy with other activities and all nominees were subject to extensive delays.  Mina loves her position at State and decided to withdraw herself from the process to focus on stabilization operations.  Again, anyone who reviewed her recent past, with work in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Somalia, would know that this decision makes absolute sense.

This is, of course, contrary to reporting and public records that indicate the nomination was withdrawn by the President.  Ms. Chang was nominated in 2018 to be Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, vice Jonathan Nicholas Stivers (see PN2528).  On January 03, 2019 the nomination was  “Returned to the President under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate.” The renomination was received by the Senate on January 16, 2019 (see PN115). On September 9, 2019, the U.S. Senate “Received message of withdrawal of nomination from the President.”
Deputy assistant secretaries do not require Senate confirmations. Appointments are typically not publicly announced.
So, now we’re left wondering if this case is an exception, or if there are any more cases like this in Foggy Bottom?

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Burn Bag: Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) has a new mission, no more stabilization or stab/ops

Posted: 12:02 am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

Via Burn Bag:

Yes, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) has a new mission: “CSO advances the Department of State’s understanding of how to anticipate, prevent, and respond to violent conflict through analysis and planning; monitoring, evaluation, and learning; and targeted, in-country efforts that inform U.S. government policymaking.”    Since there’s no longer any mission element about stabilization and stabilization operations, why is that being left in the Bureau’s name?

Burn Bag: State/CSO gets a new mission statement but remains a bureau in fundamental crisis

Via Burn Bag:

As of Friday morning’s announcements of the new mission statement and the bureau town hall (from which most everyone left more confused than informed) to discuss the new organization chart, we remain a bureau in fundamental crisis. Everyone scratching their heads about what they do and exactly whom they support.

CSO’s contractors continue to be an internal force just as the OIG report cited. Worse yet, we already have total supervisory overhead (civil service, foreign service, and third party contractors’ employees) of almost 1:1 with “doers” and despite what the bureau told Congress. Lots of editing and reviewing and pontificating takes place but very little drafting or other original work. It reminds me of a third world state run enterprise!

Should the new name now be the Bureau of Conflict Analysis and Atrocity and Violent Extremism Prevention and J Undersecretary Pet Issues (CAAVEPJUPI)?

tumblr_inline_when you do stuff

via canadian foreign service problems

 

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David Malcolm Robinson – From Office of the High Representative to Conflict and Stabilization (State/CSO)

Posted: 2:41 am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

President Obama recently announced his intent to nominate Ambassador David Malcolm Robinson as the next Assistant Secretary for Conflict and Stabilization Operations and Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization at the Department of State. The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador David Malcolm Robinson, a career member of the Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as Principal Deputy High Representative of the International Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a position he has held since 2014. Previously, Ambassador Robinson was Assistant Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan from 2013 to 2014, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration from 2009 to 2013, and Special Coordinator for Venezuela in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs from 2008 to 2009. Ambassador Robinson served as U.S. Ambassador to Guyana from 2006 to 2008 and as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana from 2003 to 2006. He also served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Asuncion, Paraguay from 2000 to 2003. His earlier assignments included posts in El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Iceland.

Ambassador Robinson received a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame, an M.S. from the National War College, and a Master of Divinity from Christ the King Seminary.

If confirmed, Ambassador Robinson would succeed Frederick Barton who stepped down in August last year.  In March 2014, the Office of Inspector General released its blistering inspection report (pdf) of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. The report gave us a sad and we blogged about it here. (See QDDR II Walks Into a Bar and Asks, What Happened to the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations?).  The 2014 OIG report famously noted CSO’s top management philosophy of “churn” to prevent people from staying in CSO for more than 3 years.

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QDDR II Walks Into a Bar and Asks, What Happened to the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations?

— Domani Spero

The State Department says that the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) is “a sweeping assessment of how the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) can become more efficient, accountable, and effective in a world in which rising powers, growing instability, and technological transformation create new threats, but also new opportunities.” 

In July 2009, Secretary Clinton announced that the State Department, for the first time ever, will conduct a QDDR. The report from a 17-month review was released in December 2010.

Yesterday, Secretary Kerry, joined by Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, and recently appointed Special Representative for the QDDR, Thomas Perriello launched the State/USAID review process for the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR II). Special Rep Thomas Perriello was appointed top QDDR II honcho by Secretary Kerry in February 2014. Previously, Mr. Perrielo served as the congressman from Virginia’s fifth district, and most recently served as CEO of the Center for American Progress.

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at the public launch of the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) review process for the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) April 22, 2014 (state.gov photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at the public launch of the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) review process for the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) April 22, 2014
(state.gov photo)

Also yesterday at the DPB, the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that The 2014 QDDR builds on the foundation established by the 2010 review as a part of Department and USAID’s processes of continuous improvement.” And because AP’s Matthew Lee was in attendance, it was quite a show (see Erik Wemple’s AP reporter scorches State Department spokeswoman on Hillary Clinton initiative over at WaPo).

We understand that the Deputy Secretary will also host a QDDR II Town Hall meeting in Foggy Bottom today.  Perhaps somebody could ask how the State Department is going to fix QDDR I’s offspring, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations?

Why fix it? Well, in March 2014, State/OIG posted its inspection report (pdf) of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO). It looks like a huge mess and may need more than therapy.

The CSO was created in November 2011, as directed by the 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), to replace S/CRS and be “the institutional locus for policy and operational solutions for crisis, conflict, and instability” as a whole of government endeavor.  CSO is one of eight bureaus and offices that report to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. The Under Secretary position was vacant for much of 2013— the second half of CSO’s 2-year existence.  Below are some of the OIG report’s key judgments:

  • The mission of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations remains unclear to some of its staff and to many in the Department and the interagency. The bureau was established in 2011 but there remains a lack of consensus on whether coordination, analysis, or operations should dominate its mission.
  • The bureau does an inadequate job managing its large contingent of contractors. The inspection uncovered weaknesses in oversight, performance of inherently governmental functions, and incomplete contracting officer’s representative files. [Redacted] (b) (5)
  • Bureau practices violate basic Department regulations and procedures in several areas, including security, travel and hiring. Procedural and physical security programs require prompt attention.

But there’s more. The following bulleted items are extracted from the OIG report:

Leadership: Leading By Example

  • The Assistant Secretary’s leadership resulted in some progress toward establishing new directions for the bureau in a short time. There have been internal costs, however, as CSO struggles from a lack of directional clarity, lack of transparency, micromanagement, and re-organizational fatigue. The turnover of 54 percent of CSO staff between February 2012 and August 2013 created widespread internal suspicion and job insecurity in addition to confusion in the Department and the interagency.
  • The new noncareer leadership arrived with fresh models and analytics for conflict prevention and intervention, but some of them lacked basic understanding of the roles, responsibilities, and workings of the Department, especially of the regional and functional bureaus they are tasked to support.
  • The Assistant Secretary sought to demonstrate the bureau’s value to senior leaders in the Department and Congress in the bureau’s first year of operation. His early focus has been for CSO to operate where it can, rather than where it should. Relatively few of the bureau’s engagements to date have been in places or on issues of significant foreign policy importance.
  • In addition, the Assistant Secretary and several of his deputies promote a culture of bending and evading rules. For example, the OIG team heard in multiple interviews that CSO leadership loosely interpreted the level of bureau or embassy support for certain of its activities, arguing that doing so is justified by the urgent nature of its work and need to build a more innovative and agile bureau. Interviewees gave examples of disregard for the Department’s procedures, This laxity contributed to low staff scores for morale and leadership of some in the front office. The perceived CSO attitude that it does not have to follow [Redacted] (b) (5) rules is cited by some bureaus and ambassadors as reasons they seek to avoid working with CSO. The Assistant Secretary needs to lead by example and ensure that the deputies do the same.

Top-Heavy Bureau, Staffing “Churn” and Curtailments

  • Since the establishment of CSO, there have been curtailments in six of its 15 Foreign Service positions. The bureau had not been active in recruiting Foreign Service officers in the past, but for the past cycle it actively campaigned for candidates with some success.  Upon the departure of the remaining Foreign Service DAS, there will be no Senior Foreign Service officer in the front office.
  • Athough the bureau is new and its organizational structure in frequent motion, CSO has many relatively new, talented, and dedicated, staff who frequently impress bureaus and embassies when deployed. The staff includes Foreign Service, Civil Service , fellows, and contractors. They function in a chaotic atmosphere and sometimes lack familiarity with their portfolios and the Department.
  • The CSO front office promotes turnover among its staff to foster innovation. This philosophy creates considerable job insecurity and uncertainty. According to one study, 54 percent of CSO’s staff (direct hire and contractor) has turned over since the reorganization. The human resources team has started conducting exit interviews with departing staff to determine their reasons for leaving CSO.
  • Overseas deployments of 6 months or longer offer both opportunities and heavy responsibilities. Deployment burnout is evident as reported in interviews with staff and personal questionnaires, and the OIG team questions how long this model can endure.
  • The bureau is top-heavy. Its front office comprises the Assistant Secretary, a Civil Service Senior Executive Service principal deputy assistant secretary, two noncareer deputy assistant secretaries (DAS), a Senior Foreign Service DAS for administration, and two GS-15 senior advisors. In addition to the four DASes and two front office GS-15 advisors, CSO has 21 GS-15 and FS-01 positions.

The Traveling Band of Conflict Mitigators to Honduras, Nigeria Plus Conferences/Meetings in the UK, Belgium, and Switzerland — Oh, My!

  • In Honduras, CSO estimates the budget for its 2-year anti-violence program at $2 million. Six CSO staff in Washington support the program. According to CSO data, in FY 2013, 28 CSO staff members made 58 trips to Honduras, collectively spending 2,837 days there, at a cost of approximately $450,000. By contrast, USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives employs one staff member in Washington and two in Honduras to oversee a similar but larger $12 million program.
  • In Nigeria, CSO estimates that its anti-violence program in the Niger Delta region will cost $5.6 million. The central component is a television series that will advocate nonviolent ways to address grievances. CSO estimates it will broadcast one hour of programming a week for 13 weeks. It hopes to complement the television series with support to community groups and local governments. CSO envisions maintaining three Washington-based staff members on long-term temporary duty assignments in Nigeria in FY2014 and hiring two more staff locally. It expects to devote up to eight staff—four to five full-time—in Washington to support the program. In August 2013, to prepare for the program and begin implementing it, CSO travelers spent 578 days in Nigeria at a cost in excess of $111,000.
  • Many CSO employees commented in OIG personal questionnaires and interviews that some front office travel to conferences and meetings, especially to Europe, appeared to be linked more to personal interests than to the bureau’s mission. During FY 2013, CSO employees took 17 trips to the United Kingdom, 7 trips to Belgium, and 6 trips to Switzerland. In one case, the PDAS and two other DASes were in London at the same time for different meetings.
  • Justifications provided in the approved requests for travel authorization and invitational travel often do not contain sufficient detail to link the trips directly to CSO goals. According to 14 FAM 533.4-1, authorizing officials must ensure that conference travel is necessary to accomplish agency goals. Likewise, Department policy on gifts of invitational travel in 2 FAM 962.1-8e (1) (b) states that travel must relate to an employee’s official duties and represent priority use of the traveling employee’s time. Without adequate justification, funds and staff time devoted to travel and trip support could be wasted. More transparency in the travel approval process also could increase staff understanding of the purpose of travel.

Morale needs duct tape over there!

  • OIG’s pre-inspection survey results reflected lower than normal morale among bureau staff, in terms of both personal and office morale. Ninety-six percent of CSO staff who completed personal questionnaires responded to questions on morale. The bureau average for office morale was 2.75 and for personal morale 3.09, on a 5-point scale. Bureau leadership sought to attribute these low scores to dissatisfaction among former S/CRS staff who, due to reorganization and other changes, perceived themselves as marginalized in the new bureau. The OIG team found that dissatisfaction was more widespread than this explanation suggested.
  • Comments on morale in the personal questionnaires cited many factors behind low bureau morale. The most common included cramped office space/lack of privacy (cited by 20 percent of the respondents); too many reorganizations and physical moves; pressure from senior management (including the Assistant Secretary and deputies) to bend, force, or evade Department regulations and hire favored candidates; top management’s philosophy of “churn” to prevent people staying in CSO for more than 3 years; lack of clear communication or inconsistent application of policies; shifting priorities; fear of retribution from senior management; and the residual impact of the reorganization and layoffs during the creation of CSO.
  • The status of the former S/CRS staff and the impact the reorganization had on them merits attention. Although some have been promoted to leadership positions, surveys and interviews with other S/CRS staff indicate they feel they are treated shabbily, are encouraged to leave because they no longer fit the organization’s new needs, and are not valued. CSO leadership needs to find ways to address these perceptions.

Integrated Not Replicated — Really?

  • Several Department offices and other agencies work on issues similar to CSO’s. For example, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor promotes democracy and the rule of law, including free and fair elections. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement trains police. The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Middle East Partnership Initiative manages programs that support democratic transition in the region. USAID has experience, infrastructure, and programs in place in most nations facing conflict.
  • USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives has a mission statement almost identical to that of CSO. CSO and the Office of Transition Initiatives have worked together on several engagements with the participation of staff from both. The QDDR acknowledged that the capabilities of USAID and the Department often overlap. But their efforts must be integrated, not replicated. When asked about the imperative to engage in program activities overseas, many CSO staff told the OIG team that the bureau needs to implement overseas programs to be considered relevant and influential within the Department and interagency.

These are all troubling items, of course, and there’s more but this report is frankly, depressing to read. We should note that another disturbing content of the State/OIG report is the significant number of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints within CSO in the last year. The per capita rate of informal complaints from direct-hire employees according to State/OIG is five times the Department average. So the bureau tasked with “operational solutions for crisis, conflict, and instability” not only had a 54 percent turnover (see page 8) since reorganization, it also has five times the agency’s average in informal EEO complaints.

Maybe this sounds crazy — but we think that the bureau with “Stability Operations” on its name ought to have stability, steadiness and firmness in its operation before it starts “fixing”, “mitigating” or what have you in conflict areas.

Perhaps QDDR II will provide an opportunity to do just that?

If not, there’s always QDDR III in 2018.

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