HFAC Passes the Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act (S. 1635)

Posted: 12:12 am ET
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S.1635 – Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, Fiscal Year 2016 passed the Senate with amendments by unanimous consent on April 28, 2016. (Also see Whoa! Senate Passes @StateDept Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, FY2016).

On May 26, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), passed, as amended, the Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act (S. 1635).  The legislation authorizes critical embassy security enhancements, Inspector General oversight of the State Department, and “streamlines and modernizes key aspects of the Department’s bureaucracy.”

Chairman Royce issued the following statement including some details:

“The annual authorization of the Department of State is the signature legislative action of this Committee.  It is our responsibility. The House has passed an authorization bill in each of the last six Congresses – but unfortunately it’s been 15 years since this legislation was signed into law.  We have an opportunity to break this unfortunate streak. 

“From improving oversight capacity of the Inspector General – an office this Committee successfully fought to have filled after sitting vacant for five years – to strengthening embassy security, today’s legislation improves the Committee’s ability to influence the agenda and activities of the Department of State.

“As a result of contributions from many members, this is a strengthened and important product; a bipartisan bill that bolsters this Committee’s role as overseer of State Department operations.  I look forward to seeing this measure advance.”

This legislation improves embassy and personnel security by:

  • Requiring the State Department to designate a list of high-risk, high-threat posts, thereby prioritizing resources and security for these posts;
  • Directing the State Department and Defense Department to jointly develop enhanced contingency plans for emergency situations, including planning for rapid deployment of military resources;
  • Improving security for the children and families of U.S. diplomats abroad;
  • Increasing the Department’s ability to hold personnel accountable for misconduct and unsatisfactory conduct related to embassy security;
  • Enhancing security training requirements for personnel assigned to high-risk, high-threat posts;
  • Expanding the Department’s ability to transfer funds from other accounts for immediate embassy security needs;
  • Authorizing the Department to use “best value” contracting globally, ensuring the highest standards of local guards providing security at embassies abroad; and
  • Improving the integrity of U.S. passports, ensuring that all security components are made in the U.S. by personnel with appropriate security clearances.

This legislation improves congressional and Inspector General oversight by:

  • Ensuring that the files and emails of the Inspector General (OIG) are not accessible by unauthorized Department employees;
  • Increasing the OIG’s access to reported instances of waste, fraud, and abuse;
  • Mandating monthly briefings to Congress on embassy security, especially at high risk, high threat posts.

Related items:

Markup: S. 1635
Full Committee | May 26, 2015

[Full text of S. 1635, as introduced]

S. 1635, To authorize the Department of State for fiscal year 2016, and for other purposes

An Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute was offered by Mr. Royce and agreed to by voice vote.

Summary of Committee Action

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Uh-oh Dept: Royce Issues Subpoena to OMB Over Diplomatic Security Training Facility Documents

Posted: 3:01 am EDT
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On May 28, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), issued a subpoena (pdf) to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  The subpoena compels OMB to provide the Committee with critical information he said HFAC has sought for nearly a year concerning the State Department’s plan to construct a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FAST-C) in Virginia.

Subpoena to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) | HFAC

Subpoena to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) | HFAC

Via HFAC:

The State Department plans to construct the FAST-C facility in Virginia at a cost of $413 million.  However, the project’s initial estimate of $950 million suggests the likelihood of considerable cost escalation over the construction period.  At either amount, the State Department proposal appears far more costly than the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) proposal to expand its Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia to provide State Department diplomatic security training, as is currently taking place.

Chairman Royce said:  “In an increasingly dangerous world, the security of U.S. diplomats abroad is paramount.  We must ensure that our diplomats receive improved security training, and a big part of providing that training effectively is making the most of our limited resources.  That is why for nearly a year, I’ve been asking OMB to provide the Committee with its analysis, which according to OMB officials’ statements to Committee staff, recommended using an existing facility — a course that the Administration has apparently chosen to ignore.  I’d like to know the factors considered in this important decision.”

In late 2013, OMB examined the two proposals to determine whether State’s request for funding for FAST-C was justified.  Chairman Royce encouraged OMB to determine which proposal best addresses the State Department’s vital training needs in a fiscally responsible way.  He also requested that the Government Accountability Office perform an independent analysis of the proposals in September 2014.

The Committee is aware that OMB analysts had completed a written analysis recommending that the State Department pursue its diplomatic security training at the DHS’s FLETC facility.

On May 19, 2014, Chairman Royce requested that then-OMB Director Sylvia Burwell provide the Committee with a copy of OMB’s analysis.  On May 1, 2015, Chairman Royce reiterated his request to current OMB-Director Shaun Donovan, expanding it to include all “documents and communications” pertaining to the FASTC and FLETC facilities during OMB’s review period.  OMB has given no indication it will comply fully with these requests.

Chairman Royce said: “I am disappointed that OMB hasn’t provided the Committee its analysis so that the Congress can make informed and responsible policy decisions in this critical area.  The internal documents underlying this analysis should tell us how and why OMB arrived at its decision.  In light of OMB’s continued refusal, I am left with no choice but to issue this subpoena.”

 

Related items:

  • Chairman Royce’s January 9, 2014 letter to then-OMB Director Sylvia M. Burwell encouraging an independent OMB analysis is available here.
  • Royce’s May 19, 2014 letter requesting OMB’s analysis is available here.
  • Royce’s May 1, 2015 letter threatening to compel production of the analysis is available here.
  • In September 2014, Chairman Royce, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), and Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency Chairman Jeff Duncan (R-SC) requested an independent Government Accountability Office review of the State and DHS proposals. That review is ongoing.

Related posts:

H.R. 1368: No Healthcare Subsidies for Foreign Diplomats Act of 2015

Posted: 12:12 am EDT
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Following the 2013 report that Russian diplomats were charged with alleged widespread Medicaid fraud between 2004 to 2013 at an approximate cost of $1,500,000 in fraudulently received benefits (see 49 Russian Diplomats/Spouses Charged With Picking Uncle Sam’s Pocket in Medicaid Scam), Congress investigated (Congress Seeks Information on Obamacare Coverage of Foreign Diplomats).

On March 17, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs announced  that U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced H.R. 1368, the No Healthcare Subsidies for Foreign Diplomats Act of 2015, legislation to prevent foreign diplomats from receiving subsidized health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  According to the Department of Health and Human Services, foreign diplomats and United Nations employees in the United States are currently eligible to obtain American taxpayer-funded subsidies under the ACA, such as premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions, just like American citizens and lawful permanent residents.  By contrast, U.S. diplomats overseas do not depend on foreign taxpayers for health care coverage, relying instead on domestic health insurance plans that provide overseas coverage.

Chairman Royce said: “After a year-long investigation, the Obama Administration finally came clean about the fact that foreign diplomats are eligible for taxpayer-funded health care subsidies.  This is unacceptable.   Americans’ tax dollars should not be used to foot the bill for foreign diplomats’ health care coverage.  I am pleased to reintroduce this legislation and look forward to working with Chairman Ryan to pass this commonsense reform.”

H.R. 1368:

  • Expresses the sense of Congress that foreign diplomats should be allowed to purchase health insurance coverage in the U.S., but the cost of that coverage should be borne by their sending States;
  • Expresses the sense of Congress that U.S. taxpayers should not subsidize the health insurance expenses of foreign diplomats;
  • Amends the Internal Revenue Code to make foreign diplomats ineligible for health insurance premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions under the ACA;
  • Requires the Secretary of HHS to certify to Congress that no foreign diplomats are receiving such benefits under the ACA; and
  • Requires the Secretary of State to notify all foreign missions in the U.S. that their personnel are ineligible for these benefits under the ACA.

The Committee says that initially, it sent a letter to Secretary Kerry requesting information on the arrest and the eligibility of foreign diplomats receiving government-funded medical benefits.  In January and April of 2014, the Committee also sent letters to the Secretary of Health and Human Services regarding foreign diplomats’ eligibility to receive Obamacare.  In a response on September 30, 2014, HHS confirmed foreign diplomats’ eligibility for government subsidized healthcare.  In October of 2014, Chairman Royce and former Chairman Camp wrote to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen seeking information about how many foreign diplomats have enrolled in the Affordable Care Act and have received subsidies.

The HHS response to the eligibility of foreign diplomats under Obamacare notes the following:

[F]oreign diplomats’ eligibility to participate in the Health Insurance Marketplaces is governed by the Affordable Care Act, which specifies that, in order to enroll in a qualified health plan (QHP) through the Marketplace, an individual must: (I) reside in the state that established the Marketplace; (2) not be incarcerated, other than pending the disposition of charges; and (3) be a United States’ citizen or national, or a non-citizen who is lawfully present and reasonably expected to remain so for the entire period for which enrollment is sought. Non-immigrant, non-citizens in the “A” and “G” visa classifications are lawfully present for this purpose, if they have not violated the terms of the status under which they were admitted or to which they have changed after admission. Accordingly, to the extent that a foreign diplomat who is a non-immigrant under an “A” or “G” visa classification and who has not violated the terms of the status under which he or she was admitted or to which he or she has changed after admission resides in the state that established the Marketplace and is not incarcerated other than pending the disposition of charges, he or she would be eligible for enrollment in a QHP through the Marketplace. The Department does not collect data on the number of foreign diplomats who participate in the Marketplace.

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Related posts:

 

 

Congress Seeks Information on Obamacare Coverage of Foreign Diplomats

— Domani Spero
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On October 29, 2014,  the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) wrote to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen seeking information after learning that foreign diplomats working in the United States are eligible for subsidized health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Excerpt from their letter:

The Committees on Foreign Affairs and Ways and Means are investigating the extent to which these diplomats receive taxpayer-subsidized premium tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.  We are seeking to determine how many such individuals participate in these programs and the total cost of such benefits.  As the agency principally responsible for administering health coverage tax credits, we request that you provide this information as soon as possible.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, foreign diplomats holding “A” or “G” visas are eligible to participate in an array of medical programs administered by the federal government, including participation in Health Insurance Marketplaces governed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Secretary of Health and Human Services has informed the Committee on Foreign Affairs that, if they meet basic ACA requirements, “a foreign diplomat could satisfy the statutory criteria to be eligible for a premium tax credit and cost-sharing reductions.”  The State Department has gone so far as to advertise to Foreign Missions, Permanent Missions to the United Nations, and the United Nations Secretariat that health care exchanges and “the benefits of the United States Affordable Care Act are available” to them.

The Foreign Affairs Committee has sought to determine the number of diplomats receiving coverage and subsides under the ACA.  Unfortunately, the State Department has informed the Foreign Affairs Committee that it “is not involved in the process through which foreign diplomats obtain government-funded benefits” and cannot provide that data.  The Department of Health and Human Services is likewise unable to provide this information.  Specifically, it noted that “[t]he Department does not collect data that identify whether individuals receiving services through our medical programs have diplomatic status.”  Similarly, “the Department does not collect data that identifies whether individuals receiving tax credits and/or cost sharing reductions have diplomatic status.”  Copies of these letters are attached for your reference.

We fully support the ability of foreign diplomats to purchase health care coverage in the United States.  We do not, however, believe that American taxpayers should subsidize these services.  To assist with our oversight of this matter, we ask that you please provide the following information as soon as possible, but not later than 5:00 p.m. on November 12, 2014.

  1. The total number, including from which country, of all non-immigrant, non-citizen “A” and “G” visa holders who are eligible for, and who have received, premium tax credits for qualified health plans under the Affordable Care Act;
  1. The total number, including from which country, of all non-immigrant, non-citizen “A” and “G” visa holders who are eligible for, and who have received, cost-sharing reductions for qualified health plans under the Affordable Care Act; and
  1. The total cost, and cost per individual, of all subsidies provided to the individuals above.

The signed letter and referenced attachments are available here.

Did you know about this? Do you know the rationale for this?  International relations is based on reciprocity, are our American diplomats eligible for healthcare subsidies in countries that avail of Obamacare subsidies here? Since the State Department is “is not involved in the process through which foreign diplomats obtain government-funded benefits,” in the United States, how is it supposed to press countries for reciprocal treatment on behalf of our diplomats?

According to a notice circulated (pdf) by the State Department in February 2014, individuals who are lawfully present in the United States, including U.S. citizens, permanent residents (green card holders), and “A” and “G” visa holders (principal or dependent), may purchase coverage through the health insurance marketplace/exchange. Additionally, the notice states that “Those Permanent Missions whose employees do not receive health and medical insurance benefits through the sending state, or Permanent Missions who have not entered into a health and medical insurance plan with a private insurance provider, may find the benefits provided by the ACA a cost effective way to insure their employees against high physician, hospital, and prescription drug costs.”

Note that A-1 – 2 visas are for foreign government diplomats and officials and their immediate family members while G-1 – 4 visas are for international organization officials and employees and their immediate family members.

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-02/20/14   OAS Note No. 07-B: OAS Affordable Care Act Guidance  [98 Kb]
-02/18/14   Notice: Town Hall Meeting – Health Insurance and the Affordable Care Act [280 Kb]
-11/26/13   USUN Diplomatic Note HC-115-(S)-13: UN Secretariat Affordable Care Act Guidance  [43 Kb]
-11/26/13   USUN Diplomatic Note HC-115-13: USUN Affordable Care Act Guidance  [42 Kb]
-11/21/13   Diplomatic Note 13-1117: Affordable Care Act Guidance  [33 Kb]

If True That Foreign Diplomats in the U.S. Are “Eligible” for Medicaid — That’s Absolutely Bonkers!

— Domani Spero

In early December, Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and George Venizelos, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced charges against 49 current or former Russian diplomats or spouses of diplomats employed at the Russian Mission in the United States for participating in a widespread fraud scheme from 2004 to August 2013 to illegally obtain nearly
$1.5 million dollars in Medicaid benefits. (See 49 Russian Diplomats/Spouses Charged With Picking Uncle Sam’s Pocket in Medicaid Scam).

On December 6, during the Daily Press Briefing, the State Department deputy spokesperson, Marie Harf said this:

“We routinely inform all foreign missions in the U.S. – most recently we did this in November – that we expect their personnel to maintain health insurance coverage. So under U.S. law, nonimmigrants, which diplomats fall under in this case, who meet certain eligibility criteria may apply for and receive federally funded medical care.”

Whaaat?!

Lest we get all excited, this is the same spokesperson, of course, who could not say what appropriate consular assistance is provided when an American citizen dies abroad.  Or who says from the podium that “It’s not for any State Department official to sign off on any arrests, right, even regarding a foreign diplomat.”  Whoops!  (We heard that the Special Agents of the Diplomatic Security Service toppled over in their swivel chairs when the clip aired on YouTube).

Then on December 14, UPI reported that “Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said “some of the diplomats accused of glomming on to the U.S. healthcare system were actually entitled to do so.”

Entitled to do so?  As in  a legal right or a just claim to receive it?

On December 16, Interfax also reported that Moscow is “already taking disciplinary measures in relation to the Russian diplomats accused in the U.S. of unlawfully receiving Medicaid benefits to cover the pregnancy and childbirth costs.”

The report quotes Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov saying, “This is a disciplinary offence, because, by being insincere in filing applications and citing inaccurate figures to receive some benefits, they violated the host country’s norms and rules, which a diplomat has no right to do. I’d like to stress once again: they are being subjected and will be subjected to disciplinary action.”  Now, the same report repeats this notion that some of the Russian diplomats were “entitled” to apply for such assistance due to their low income:

“We have looked into this. First, the allegation that none of them was entitled to this because they are foreigners is wrong. There are different laws in various states of the U.S. that allow for using Medicaid benefits by foreigners. Second, it is not quite true that the Russian diplomats’ incomes did not make them eligible for receiving such payments through Medicaid,” he said.

“We have studied the files of the said colleagues, and it turned out that at least some of them had salaries that entitled them to apply for such assistance from the U.S. fund at that moment. 

How bonkers is that?  That American taxpayers are subsidizing the health care cost of foreign diplomats in the United States.  Which part of this makes sense? Medicaid is a federally funded program designed to assist low-income families afford health care. And in this case, if the allegations are true, Russian diplomats took public assistance that would have been  helpful to low income Americans.

The big question now is — can we also call this foreign aid?

Screen Shot 2013-12-26

Extracted from Medicaid Renewal Form
(click image for larger view)

Now Congress wants to know Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is going on here. The SFRC is missing on this but U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, recently expressed “serious concern about foreign diplomats receiving, and reportedly defrauding, U.S. Government-funded benefits programs.” In his letter to Secretary Kerry, Chairman Royce requested a meeting plus written answers to the following questions:

1.      How will the Administration treat the 11 named defendants who, according to the U.S. Attorney, remain in the United States?  Will you ask the Russian government to waive their immunity so that they can be prosecuted?  If not, will the Department declare them persona non grata?

2.      How will the Administration treat the 38 named defendants who, according to the U.S. Attorney, no longer reside in the United States?  Will you request that they be extradited to stand trial?  If not, will the Department impose a U.S. visa ban on them?

3.      How will the Administration treat the unindicted co-conspirators at Russian diplomatic offices in the U.S. who allegedly advised and assisted the named defendants by supplying false documentation to New York officials in support of the fraudulent Medicaid claims?

4.      Will the Administration bill the Russian government for the Medicaid benefits its personnel fraudulently used?  If not, how will New York State’s Medicaid program be compensated for the loss?

5.      On December 5, 2013, Department of State Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf said, “We are still…reviewing the charges that were unsealed.”  How closely did the U.S. Attorney, Department of Justice, or Federal Bureau of Investigation cooperate with the Department of State during the investigation?  What steps did the U.S. Attorney take to coordinate with the Department of State before filing the complaint on November 18, 2013 or unsealing it on December 5, 2013?

This situation also raises a number of important questions about government programs that provide benefits to foreign diplomats.  I therefore would appreciate written answers to the following questions not later than January 13, 2014:

6.      On December 6, 2013, Department of State Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf stated that foreign diplomats in the United States “who meet certain eligibility criteria may apply for and receive federally funded medical care.”  What are the medical programs for which foreign diplomats may be eligible?  What are the eligibility criteria?  Over the last 10 years, how many foreign diplomats have used these programs?  What was the total cost of the benefits provided?  Please provide these data sorted by foreign diplomatic mission or international organization.

7.      Are foreign diplomats eligible for government-funded benefits other than Medicaid (e.g., Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)?  If so, which programs and what are the eligibility criteria?  Over the last 10 years, how many foreign diplomats have taken advantage of these programs?  What was the total cost of the benefits provided?  Please provide these data sorted by foreign diplomatic mission or international organization.

8.      Is the Administration aware of other cases where foreign diplomats fraudulently or inappropriately obtained Medicaid or other government-funded benefits?  Please provide the details of these cases, including the cost of any benefits that were inappropriately obtained.

9.      What is the Administration doing to ensure that foreign diplomats cannot inappropriately obtain government-funded benefits in the future?  Has the Administration asked relevant government benefit agencies to check their rolls for the names of foreign diplomats?  Does the Department regularly provide a list of foreign diplomats to relevant government benefit agencies?

And — if some foreign diplomats in the United States are “eligible” for Medicaid, how about some of their underpaid domestic workers, are they eligible, too?

Oh, for god’s sakes, maybe the State Department should just publish a handbook of freebies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Morsi Ousted, US Mission Egypt Now On Ordered Departure

— By Domani Spero

Shortly after noon today, the Department of State ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel and family members from Egypt due to the ongoing political and social unrest.  We understand that the AMIDEAST has also flown out the remaining interns/Arabic students (Andrew Pochner who was killed in Alexandria was an intern at AMIDEAST), and that the Fulbrighters have also left. Excerpt from the updated Travel Warning:

If you wish to depart Egypt, you should make plans and depart as soon as possible. The airport is open and commercial flights are still operating, although cancellations may occur. Travelers should check with their airlines prior to their planned travel to verify the flight schedule. There are no plans for charter flights or other U.S. government-sponsored evacuations. U.S. citizens seeking to depart Egypt are responsible for making their own travel arrangements.

Previously, on June 28, 2013, the Department of State authorized the departure of a limited number of non-emergency employees and family members.

The last time the US Embassy in Cairo was ordered evacuated was in January-February 2011.  The embassy staff did not return to post until April that year.

On 03 Jul 2013 19:36, Al Jazeera reported that the Egyptian army has overthrown President Mohamed Morsi, announcing a roadmap for the country’s political future that will be implemented by a national reconciliation committee:

The head of Egypt’s armed forces issued a declaration on Wednesday evening suspending the constitution and appointing the head of the constitutional court as interim head of state.

In a televised broadcast, flanked by military leaders, religious authorities and political figures, General Abdel
Fattah al-Sisi effectively declared the removal of  Morsi.

Sisi called for presidential and parliamentary elections, a panel to review the constitution and a national reconciliation committee that would include youth movements. He said the roadmap had been agreed by a range of political groups.

Ahram Online reported that the head of Egypt’s High Constitutional Court, the most senior Egyptian court, is Adly Mansour. He was promoted to position in June. He is now reported as the new interim president of Egypt.  The website also notes the attendees at the press conference where El-Sisi gave his speech included a number of top military and police officials who sat in two rows on either side of the podium; the Coptic Orthodox patriarch Tawadros II; the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayyeb; ElBaradei; a representative of Nour Party; Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, one of the anti-Morsi Rebel campaign’s founders; and a senior judicial figure.

Next talk coming up?

$1.3 billion in annual aid to Egypt’s military, or as time.com puts it, the aid that’s about 20% of Egypt’s most stable public institution.  The text of Foreign Assistance Act requiring US gov to cut military aid to countries after a coup: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/22/8422 ….

U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued the following statement on the removal of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt’s president:

“It is unfortunate that Morsi did not heed popular demands for early elections after a year of his incompetent leadership and attempting a power grab for the Muslim Brotherhood.  Morsi was an obstacle to the constitutional democracy most Egyptians wanted.  I am hopeful that his departure will reopen the path to a better future for Egypt, and I encourage the military and all political parties to cooperate in the peaceful establishment of democratic institutions and new elections that lead to an Egypt where minority rights are protected.  But make no mistake about it, Egypt is in for very difficult days.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also praised the Egyptian military for taking action, saying, “democracy is about more than elections.”

The folks over at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee appeared to be gone for the holidays.

President Obama released a statement with the following:

The United States is monitoring the very fluid situation in Egypt, and we believe that ultimately the future of Egypt can only be determined by the Egyptian people. Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsy and suspend the Egyptian constitution. I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process, and to avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsy and his supporters. Given today’s developments, I have also directed the relevant departments and agencies to review the implications under U.S. law for our assistance to the Government of Egypt.

 

And State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki apparently declined to specify earlier Wednesday what would constitute  a military coup, though she affirmed the U.S. recognition of Morsi as the democratically elected leader.

Haven’t we seen this before? Honduras. 2009 when the military removed a sitting president and flew him out to Costa Rica.  But certainly without the millions protesting like in Egypt.  Here’s what we might hear down the road.  “[O]n the ground, there’s a lot of discussion about who did what to whom and what things were constitutional or not, which is why our lawyers are really looking at the event as we understand them in order to come out with the accurate determination.”

We suspect that the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser is busy. There has not been a nominee since Avril Haines’ nomination was withdrawn so she could be nominated as CIA’s #2.  Mary McLeod, the Principal Deputy Legal Adviser is currently it.

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HFAC to @StateOIG: What happened to keeping the Congress “fully and currently informed”?

—By Domani Spero

U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee recently wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry regarding allegations of misconduct within the State Department and interference by senior State Department officials in the subsequent investigations. (See HFAC Chairman Ed Royce Demands Explanation Over Alleged Misconduct and Interference of DSS Investigations).

He has now called on the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to explain in detail how it produced the February 2013 OIG report on misconduct within the State Department and reported interference by senior State Department officials to stymie the subsequent investigations.

Basically, he told the OIG/D Harry Geisel that 1) he was troubled by reports that senior State Department officials may have prevented the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) from investigating instances of administrative and criminal misconduct within the Department; and 2)   he was concerned that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) was reportedly aware of eight separate instances in which senior political appointees within the Department “influenced, manipulated, or simply called off” these cases, yet it failed to disclose this information to Congress.

Wait, what? Oh, paper trail!  A memorandum, two drafts, a final and sanitized version of OIG report ISP-I-13-18.

  • October 23, 2012 Memorandum: Among the cases reportedly investigated by DSS described in this memo is a Department security official in Beirut was alleged to have sexually assaulted foreign nationals hired as embassy guards; members of the Secretary’s security detail allegedly “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries”; an “underground drug ring” may have supplied security contractors at Embassy Baghdad with drugs; and a U.S. Ambassador at a “sensitive diplomatic post” was “suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.”
  •  Draft report dated November 20, 2012: This draft included many of the details contained in the October memorandum, in addition to referencing the attempts to block the investigations.
  • Draft report dated December 4, 2012: This draft reportedly “watered down the language,” focusing more on the need for investigative independence.
  • Final Report dated February 28, 2013:  Inspection of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Divisions of Special Investigations, Criminal Investigations, and Computer Investigations and Forensics (ISP-I-13-18).  This was apparently submitted to Congress in February 2013 but “was bereft of any reference to these specific cases” according to Mr. Royce.

Why Congressman Royce might be pissed?

Apparently on March 14, 2013, OIG representatives briefed Committee staff on a final version of the report but did not mention any of these alleged cases.

At no time during this meeting did OIG personnel explain the basis of this finding or provide details concerning “undue influence” on DSS investigations.  When asked, officials declined to comment on specific examples.  While the Department and OIG deny any wrongdoing, the lack of detail appears to be inconsistent with the OIG’s mission to keep the Congress “fully and currently informed.”

So the congressman is asking for the “immediate production of both the October 23, 2012 memorandum and the draft Inspection report(s), as well as all documents and communications referring or relating to the February 2013 Inspection of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Divisions of Special Investigations, Divisions of Special Criminal Investigations, and Computer Investigations and Forensics (ISP-I-13-18).  Further, he wants an OIG briefing to discuss the OIG’s “knowledge of this entire matter” and a clarification in writing  “whether, and on what basis, OIG agreed to omit information from this final report pursuant to any State Department official’s request.”

The request was for all requested documents and information “as soon as possible” but no later than 5:00 p.m. on June 27, 2013.

The full letter is here.

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HFAC Chairman Ed Royce Demands Explanation Over Alleged Misconduct and Interference of DSS Investigations

— By Domani Spero

U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, demanded an explanation from Secretary of State John Kerry regarding allegations of misconduct within the State Department and interference by senior State Department officials in the subsequent investigations.

“I am deeply troubled by the allegations made in a recent CBS News story that senior State Department officials prevented the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) from investigating reports of administrative and criminal misconduct within the Department.  This story further alleged that the Department’s Office of Inspector General produced an October 2012 memorandum that contained eight specific instances in which DSS investigations were “influenced, manipulated, or simply called off.” 

Congressman Royce writes that in light of the possibility that the Department interfered with the independence of DSS investigations, he asked that Secretary Kerry provide the House Foreign Affairs Committee staff with a briefing as soon as possible and answer the following questions in writing:

1.      Did any State Department official instruct the Diplomatic Security Service not to pursue any of the eight cases identified in the October 2012 OIG memorandum?

2.      If so, please indentify the individual(s) and the nature of their influence on these DSS investigations.

3.      Has the Department taken any actions in response to either the OIG February 2013 Inspection report and/or the CBS News report?  If so, please detail them.

Please also produce all documents and communications referring and/or relating to the eight cases cited by the October 2012 OIG memorandum.

The congressional request comes with a deadline no later than 5:00 p.m. on June 25, 2013.

The full letter is here.

 

(._.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Congress Seeks Details on Status of Four State Dept Employees ‘Fired’ Over Benghazi

— By Domani Spero

Express mail has been terribly busy between the Hill and Foggy Bottom. On May 28, the House Oversight Committee issued a subpoena for “documents and communications referring or relating to the Benghazi talking points” from ten current and former State Department officials.

The very next day, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, along with 14 other Members of the Committee, also called on Secretary Kerry to detail what personnel actions the State Department has taken regarding the four Department employees who were cited by the Accountability Review Board (ARB) for displaying “leadership and management deficiencies” that led to the grossly inadequate security at the diplomatic facility in Benghazi last year.

In December last year, State Spokesperson, Victoria Nuland said: “The ARB identified the performance of four officials, three in the Bureau of the Diplomatic Security and one in the Bureau of Near East Asia Affairs….The Secretary has accepted Eric Boswell’s decision to resign as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, effective immediately. The other three individuals have been relieved of their current duties. All four individuals have been placed on administrative leave pending further action.”

You might want to read WaPo’s The Fact Checker – Has anyone been ‘fired’ because of the Benghazi attacks?

Below is an excerpt of Mr. Royce’s letter to Secretary Kerry:

As part of our inquiry, Committee Members have repeatedly asked the State Department to explain the employment status of certain Department personnel who were cited by the Accountability Review Board (ARB) for displaying “leadership and management deficiencies” that led to the inadequate security in Benghazi.

Initial reports indicated that these officials were “relieved of their duties,” thus implying their employment had been terminated.  However, by all accounts, these individuals have instead been placed on administrative leave and may or may not be returning to work.  Moreover, at least one of these individuals has stated that he has still not been informed of why he was removed from his position within the Department, or been allowed to view the ARB’s conclusions with respect to his job performance.  The Department’s handling of these matters is of great concern to the Committee, other Members of Congress, and the public.

When appearing before the Committee on April 17, 2013, you testified that you would soon be weighing in on an “internal review and analysis” of the performance of these individuals with respect to their handling of security issues.  Now that over one month has passed since your testimony, and over a full five months have passed since the ARB issued its report, we expect an immediate update on this process, and confirmation as to whether the referenced personnel are still employed by the Department.

Additionally, if these officials are still employed but on administrative leave, please describe what steps the Department has taken to resolve the issue of their employment status.  Please also provide a detailed account of any action taken by these officials to challenge the findings of the ARB report, including their basis for doing so.  Lastly, if any of these individuals are no longer employed by the Department, please provide a detailed explanation of the circumstances leading to the termination of their employment.

The full text of the letter is here.

The “at least one of these individuals” referred to in the letter above is without a doubt, Raymond Maxwell who told The Daily Beast that “nobody from the State Department has ever told him why he was singled out for discipline and that he has never had access to the classified portion of the ARB report.”

So now Congress wants details on what the State Department did to Diplomatic Security Assistant Secretary Eric J. Boswell, PDAS Scott P Bultrowicz, DAS Charlene R. Lamb and  NEA DAS Raymond Maxwell.

Ahnd, so do we!!

Obviously since there was no leadership and management deficiencies at the top … well, we need to see what the bureaucracy actually does to officials below who are deemed deficient in leadership and management.

But — hey, do you know why this is taking so long?  Are they still researching the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) so they can break the um … administrative gridlock?  Or are they updating the FAM so they can have a citation to cite?

Waiting bored until somebody translates this bureaucratic puzzle into something understandable for Congress and the neighbors …

(-__-)

Update: On May 30, the State Department was specifically asked about this during the Daily Press Brief, and here is the official word from the podium:

QUESTION: Okay. You’re aware of this letter that Congressman – also Chairman – Royce has sent inquiring as to the status of the four individuals who the ARB singled out in their classified version. Do you have an answer to – well, one, have you responded to him, and two, can you – if you have or if you haven’t, can you give us any update on what those – on what their status is —

MS. PSAKI: Well, we just received the letter yesterday, so I’m not aware of a formal response at this time, although that is something that we do do in response to letters, of course. I have seen the content of the letter. There’s no real mystery here. We talk – we’ve talked about this. I have talked about this from the podium, so let me walk you through a couple of status issues. One is the Secretary is briefed regularly by his senior staff and is focused on not only continuing the ongoing cooperation with Congress, but on implementing the ARB recommendations and coming to a conclusion on the status of these four individuals. He has publicly made that clear that he considers – and that he’s considering a number of factors.

As we’ve talked about a little bit before, career Foreign Service employees are entitled to due process and legal protections under the Foreign Service Act with respect to any potential disciplinary action, and Secretary Kerry, as he said in his budget testimony, there are a set of rules and standards that govern personnel actions such as these, and any actions must be considered with a full understanding of options.

So in terms of what the status is, he continues to review with all those factors —

QUESTION: Okay. Still pending?

MS. PSAKI: — and will make a decision soon.

In short, still pending.

(-__-)

 

 

 

 

What’s Missing From the Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013 (H.R. 1768)

As we have blogged here previously, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), introduced legislation on April 26, 2013, to increase the independence and transparency of future Accountability Review Boards (ARB). (See HFAC Chairman Ed Royce Introduces “Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013” (H.R. 1768)).

The bill currently has 22 co-sponsors and has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The current regs gave the Secretary of State the authority to appoint four out of five members of the ARB.  Under the proposed legislation, the Secretary of State may now only appoint two members of the Board:

“A Board shall consist of five members, two appointed by the Secretary of State, two appointed by the Chairperson of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (the CIGIE Chairperson), and one appointed by the Director of National Intelligence.”

On the ARB Staff:

“(2) Staff.–

“(A) In general.–A Board may hire staff to assist the Board, and may have any Federal Government employee assigned or detailed to such Board, with or without reimbursement, to assist such Board. Any such assignee or detailee shall retain without interruption the rights, status, and privileges of his or her regular employment.

“(B) Special rule.–Any individual who is hired, assigned, or detailed to assist a Board under subparagraph (A) shall be subject to the rule relating to the avoidance of conflicts of interest under subsection (a) in the same manner and to the same extent as a Member of such a Board is subject to such avoidance under such subsection.

“(C) Office of the Inspector General.–To the maximum extent practicable, individuals assisting the Board shall be employees of the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of State.”.

Here are the ARB staff that may potentially be affected if the ARB Reform Act is passed by the House, the Senate and signed into law:

  • Under current ARB regs, the ARB Staff Officer is a member of the M/PRI staff appointed by the Director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation (M/PRI), an office that reports directly to the Under Secretary for Management
  • An ARB Executive Secretary is also appointed by M/PRI when an ARB is convened.  The Executive Secretary coordinates and facilitates the work of that Board. The Executive Secretary will normally be a senior Foreign Service officer or a retired senior Foreign Service officer who is recommended by DGHR/CDA.  DGHR is an office an office that reports directly to the Under Secretary for Management.
  • Experts, consultants and support staff: As determined by the Board the Department will provide the necessary experts, consultants and support staff to enable the Board to carry out its duties effectively and efficiently.
  • S/ES-EX will provide a full-time dedicated administrative support coordinator (detailee or WAE) to assist the Executive Secretary of the ARB, as formalized in Administrative Notice No.05-02, dated February 22, 2005.

H.R. 1768 also addresses conflicts of interest and recusals:

(c) Conflicts of Interest.–Section 302 of the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act is amended by adding at the end the following new subsections

 “(c) Avoidance of Conflicts of Interest.–

“(1) In general.–The Secretary of State, the CIGIE Chairperson, and the Director of National Intelligence may not appoint any individual as a member of a Board if the Secretary, the CIGIE Chairperson, or the Director, as the case may be, determines that such individual has a conflict of interest concerning a person whose performance such Board reasonably could be expected to review.

   “(2) Declining appointment.–An individual shall decline appointment to membership on a Board if such individual has actual knowledge of a conflict of interest concerning a person whose performance such Board could reasonably be expected to review.

  “(3) Recusal from particular activities.–A member of a Board shall recuse him or herself from any Board activity, interview, deposition, or recommendation concerning a person with whom such member has a conflict of interest. Such member shall promptly notify the other members of such Board of any such recusal, but need not state the basis therefor.

The current regs specifies that the ARB report on its findings and program recommendations to the Secretary of State.  To those who are repeatedly harping why the Benghazi ARB did not interview Secretary Clinton, this might be the best answer.  The ARB is supposed to submit its report to the Secretary of State. Does it make sense for the ARB to interview the Secretary when the report is to be submitted to the same Secretary that convenes the Board?

12 FAM 036.3 also specifies that “The Secretary will, not later than 90 days after the receipt of a Board’s program recommendations, submit a report to the Congress on each such recommendation and the action taken or intended to be taken with respect to that recommendation. Note that the regs did not say the Secretary must provide the ARB report to Congress, only that he/she must report to Congress on the recommendations and the actions taken. There is nothing on the regs that precludes the Secretary of State from sharing the ARB report with Congress, but she is not required to do so under current laws.

On its program specification,  H.R. 1768 changes that and mandates that the ARB submits its findings and recommendations to the Secretary of State and Congress.

“(1) In general.–Except as provided in paragraph (2), not later than 90 days after a Board is convened in a case, such Board shall submit to the Secretary of State and Congress its findings (which may be classified to the extent determined necessary by the Board), together with recommendations as appropriate to improve the security and efficiency of any program or operation which such Board has reviewed.

And that’s all good improvement, but here is what’s missing —

A standing committee within the State Department actually assesses whether an ARB should be convened or not.  Whether the Secretary of State convenes an ARB or not depends on the  the recommendation of this standing committee.  Per 12 FAM 032.1, “the ARB Permanent Coordinating Committee (ARB/PCC) will, as quickly as possible after an incident occurs, review the available facts and recommend to the Secretary to convene or not convene a Board.”

The ARB Permanent Coordinating Committee (ARB/PCC) according to the FAM is composed of the following members:

(1) The Director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation (M/PRI), who will chair the Committee; [M/PRI reports to the Under Secretary for Management]

(2) The Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security or the Principal Deputy; [Diplomatic Security reports to the Under Secretary for Management]

(3) The Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research; [INR reports directly to the Secretary]

(4) The Coordinator for Counterterrorism [reports to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights]

(5) The senior deputy assistant secretary (or secretaries, as appropriate) of the relevant regional bureau(s); (regional bureaus report to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs]

(6) One representative designated by and representing the DNI; and

(7) The Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services [Consular Affairs reports to the Under Secretary for Management]

The FAM is clear that the  ARB process is “a mechanism to foster more effective security of U.S. missions and personnel abroad by ensuring a thorough and independent review of security-related incidents. Through its investigations and recommendations, the Board seeks to determine accountability and promote and encourage improved security programs and practices.”

An ARB is convened when there is serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property at, or related to, a United States Government mission abroad, and in any case of a serious breach of security involving intelligence activities of a foreign government directed at a United States Government mission abroad.

screen-capture_tunis-after

US Embassy, Tunisia

And yet in the aftermath of the 2012 mob attacks of U.S. embassies particularly in Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan and Yemen where there were significant destruction of USG properties, no ARB was convened.

Why?

The destruction of property was not just the embassy buildings and facilities but also includes a number of  torched armored vehicles. We don’t know what type of armored vehicles were lost during last year’s attacks, but armored vehicles used in Iraq in 2005 cost at least $205,742 each.

Some of these attacks went on for hours with no help from the host country government.  Some embassy employees thought they were going to die and called loved ones to say their goodbyes.

So it makes us wonder — was the ARB/PCC  blind to what happened at these posts, and thus did not make a recommendation to convene a Board?

Or did the the ARB/PCC thought convening an ARB amidst the Benghazi debacle and the Benghazi ARB was a tad too much for the agency to handle that no ARB was recommended?

If Congress must reform the Accountability Review Board to improve its effectiveness and independence, it ought to start with a look  at the Permanent Coordinating Committee, its composition and recommendation process on whether an ARB is to be convened or not.
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