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GAO Cites Gaps in @StateDept’s Crisis and Evacuation Preparedness for Overseas Posts

Posted: 3:11 am ET

 

The GAO recently released its review of the State Department policies and procedures for evacuating overseas posts. The report notes that from October 2012 to September 2016, the State Department evacuated overseas post staff and family members from 23 overseas posts.  The evacuation was in response to various threats, such as terrorism, civil unrest, and natural disasters. Overseas posts undergoing evacuations generally have three types of movement: authorized departure (voluntary), ordered departure (mandatory) of specific post staff or family members, and suspended operations (closure).

The report also note that in fiscal years 2010 through 2016, State’s reported costs associated with evacuating from posts on 53 occasions were roughly $25.5 million.

“According to State officials, costs associated with evacuations varied due to several factors, including the number of post staff and family members evacuated. In fiscal year 2014, costs associated with evacuating Embassy Maseru in Lesotho were roughly $20,000, while in the same year, costs associated with evacuating Embassy Sana’a in Yemen were roughly $1.9 million.”

Certainly, a big chunk of that cost has to come from security and transportation. Below are the significant gaps cited by the GAO in the State Department’s crisis and evac preparedness:

U.S. personnel working at overseas posts, along with the family members who accompany them, face a range of threats to their safety and security—such as terrorism, civil unrest, and natural disasters. To help protect them, State has established processes to prepare overseas posts for crises and to conduct evacuations. However, State has significant gaps in implementation of its preparedness processes for crises and evacuations at overseas posts.

➥Overseas posts are not completing required annual Emergency Action Plans (EAP) updates

➥ Diplomatic Security is not identifying incomplete updates in its Emergency Action Plan (EAP) reviews

➥ The EAPs themselves are not readily usable during emergency situations

➥ Although regular drilling is a critical crisis preparedness task, very few overseas posts have completed all required annual drills

➥ Because overseas posts are not submitting required after-action reports containing lessons learned following evacuations, the State Department is missing important opportunities to identify challenges and best practices and to make changes to prepare for future evacuations from overseas posts.

The report concludes that “while State has taken initial actions— including some actions in response to our ongoing work—to improve implementation of its preparedness processes for crises and evacuations, significant shortcomings exist.” It also says that “while each of these gaps is of concern, taken together, they increase the risk that post staff are not sufficiently prepared to handle crisis and emergency situations.”

 Other details excerpted from the report:

Late Annual Updates:

In fiscal year 2016, about 1 in 12 overseas posts were late in completing required annual updates. On average, these posts were about 6 months late in completing their EAP updates. For fiscal year 2016, the list of posts that were late in completing their annual EAP updates included 7 posts rated high or critical in political violence or terrorism.

DS Does Not Fully Review Key Sections of EAPs Submitted by Overseas Posts

The FAH directs DS to review each EAP submitted by an overseas post during the annual EAP review cycle to ensure that EAPs include updated information needed by State headquarters and other agencies to monitor or assist in responding to emergency situations at posts.22 To conduct these annual reviews, DS Emergency Plans Review Officers in Washington use a list of 27 key EAP sections that the Emergency Plans Review Office has determined should be updated each year.23 According to DS officials, Emergency Plans Review Officers spot check these 27 key EAP sections to review and approve each EAP. In addition, DS officials told us that Review Officers consider forms included in key EAP sections that they spot check to meet the annual update requirement if the forms were updated up to 3 years prior to the check.24

DS does not document its annual EAP review process. We requested the results of the Emergency Plans Review Officer reviews, including data on who conducted them and what deficiencies, if any, were found. Federal internal control standards call for agency management to evaluate performance and hold individuals accountable for their internal control responsibilities.25 However, DS was unable to provide copies of the reviews completed because the Emergency Plans Review Officers do not document these results.

Emergency Action Plans Are Viewed As Lengthy and Cumbersome Documents That Are Not Readily Usable in Emergency Situations

While officials from State headquarters and all six posts we met with told us that EAPs are not readily usable in emergency situations, officials at five of the six posts we met with also said there is value for post staff to participate in the process of updating EAPs to prepare for emergencies. The process of updating the EAP, they noted, includes reviewing applicable checklists and contact lists before an emergency occurs, which can help post staff be better prepared in the event of an emergency. Officials at two of the six posts we met with also observed that EAPs contain large amounts of guidance because it is easier for responsible staff at post to complete required updates to their specific sections if all the guidance they need is directly written into each EAP.

The GAO reviewers were told that EAPs are often more than 800 pages long. “Our review of a nongeneralizable sample of 20 EAPs confirmed this; the 20 EAPs in our sample ranged from 913 to 1,356 pages long,” the report said.

One other footnote says that “while each major section, annex, and appendix of an EAP had its own table of contents, the full EAP lacked a single, comprehensive table of contents or index.”

A new system sometime this year?

The State Department is reportedly in the process of developing a new electronic system for overseas posts to draft and update their EAPs to address issues with the current system, according to State headquarters officials. According to the report, the State Department plans to launch the new system in the second half of 2017.

Absent a functioning lessons learned process …

The GAO reviewers talk about lessons not learned:

We learned of several challenges that posts faced in different evacuations in discussions with officials from the six posts with whom we met. Different posts mentioned various challenges, including disorganized evacuation logistics and transportation, unclear communication with local staff, confusion surrounding the policy for evacuating pets, problems with shipment and delivery of personal effects, difficulty tracking the destination of staff who were relocated, poor communication with senior State leadership regarding the post’s evacuation status, difficulties getting reimbursement for lodging or personal expenses related to the evacuation, and other similar challenges.

Absent a functioning lessons learned process, State’s ability to identify lessons learned and to share best practices from staff that have experienced evacuations may be constrained.

Back in 2009, Rep Howard Berman sponsored H.R. 2410 during the 111th Congress to provide for the establishment of a Lessons Learned Center for the State Department and USAID under the Under Secretary for Management.  That bill made no specific provision as to staff composition of the Center or its funding, and it also died in committee (H.R. 2410: Lessons Learned Center, Coming Soon?).

In 2016, the State Department and the Foreign Service Institute marked the opening (reportedly after two years of preparation) of its Center for the Study of the Conduct of Diplomacy. Then D/Secretary Tony Blinken said that the Center ensures “that we apply the lessons of the past to our conduct and actions in the future.” Some media outlet called it a ‘lessons learned’ center but its aim is on the study and analysis of diplomatic best practices to study how to effectively apply policy.

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GAO Reviews @StateDept’s Efforts to Protect U.S. Diplomatic Personnel in Transit

Posted: 2:34 am ET

 

According tot he GAO, many of the worst attacks on U.S. diplomatic personnel—including 10 of the 19 attacks that prompted State to convene ARBs—occurred while victims were in transit.  It recently released its report on the State Department’s efforts to protect U.S. diplomatic personnel in transit overseas. See Diplomatic Security: State Should Enhance Its Management of Transportation-Related Risks to Overseas U.S. Personnel (GAO-17-124).  For this report, GAO evaluated the extent to which State, with regard to transportation security at overseas posts, has (1) established policies, guidance, and monitoring; (2) provided personnel with training; and (3) communicated time- sensitive information.

Summary:

The Department of State (State) has established policies related to transportation security for overseas U.S. personnel, but gaps exist in guidance and monitoring. GAO reviewed 26 posts and found that all 26 had issued transportation security and travel notification policies. However, policies at 22 of the 26 posts lacked elements required by State, due in part to fragmented implementation guidance on what such policies should include. State also lacks a clear armored vehicle policy for overseas posts and procedures for monitoring if posts are assessing their armored vehicle needs at least annually as required by State. These gaps limit State’s ability to ensure that posts develop clear policies that are consistent with State’s requirements and that vehicle needs for secure transit are met.

While State provides several types of training related to overseas transportation security, weaknesses exist in post-specific refresher training. Regional security officers (RSO) receive required training related to transportation security in special agent courses, and nonsecurity staff reported receiving relevant training before departing for posts—including on topics such as defensive driving and the importance of taking personal responsibility for one’s security—as well as new arrival briefings at posts. At most of the 9 posts GAO visited, however, staff had difficulty remembering key details covered in new arrival briefings or described the one-time briefings as inadequate. State’s requirements for providing refresher briefings are unclear, potentially putting staff at greater risk.

State uses various systems at overseas posts to communicate time-sensitive information related to transportation security, but several factors hinder its efforts. RSOs and other post officials are responsible for communicating threat information to post personnel. However, at 4 of the 9 posts it visited, GAO learned of instances in which staff did not receive important threat information in a timely manner for various reasons. In one case, this resulted in an embassy vehicle being attacked with rocks and seriously damaged while traveling through a prohibited area. In addition, while all 9 of the posts GAO visited require that personnel notify the RSO before traveling to certain locations, personnel at more than half of the 9 posts said they were unaware of these requirements or had difficulty accessing required travel notification systems.

State.gov Emails

We should note that family members who do not work for our embassies and consulates do not have state.gov emails. And by the way, they are the ones  who are driving around in their host countries — from homes to schools, to groceries, to playdates, etc — in their private vehicles with diplomatic plates. Excerpt from the GAO report:

RSOs at the nine posts we visited told us they communicated transportation-related threat information to post personnel through various methods, such as post-issued radios, personal and official e-mail, text messages to work and personal mobile phones, and phone trees. However, we learned of instances at four of the nine posts in which personnel did not receive important threat information in a timely manner.  For instance, at one of the posts we visited, the RSO sent a security notice restricting travel along a specific road and warning that recent violent protests in the area had resulted in injuries and even death, but because the notice was sent exclusively to state.gov e-mail addresses, some non-State personnel at the post did not receive it at the e-mail address they regularly used and were unaware of the restriction. The personnel subsequently traveled through the restricted area, resulting in an embassy vehicle being attacked with rocks while on unauthorized travel through the area. While no one was hurt, the vehicle’s front windshield was smashed. The RSO told us that to avoid similar situations in the future, he would add the personnel’s regularly used e-mail addresses to his distribution list for security notices. At another post, focus group participants stated that they did not receive any information from the RSO or other post officials about the security-related closure of a U.S. consulate in the same country and instead learned about the closure from media sources. Participants in focus groups at two other posts stated that threat information is often either obsolete by the time they receive it or may not reach staff in time for them to avoid the potential threats.

OpenNet Accounts

Personnel at more than half of the nine posts we visited cited difficulty using travel notification systems or were unaware or unsure of their post’s travel notification requirements. While three of the nine posts we visited permit personnel to use e-mail or other means to inform the RSO of their travel plans, the remaining six posts require personnel to complete an official travel notification form that is only accessible through a State information system called OpenNet. However, according to officials responsible for managing State’s information resources, including OpenNet, not all post personnel have OpenNet accounts. Specifically, all State personnel at overseas posts have OpenNet accounts, but some non-State agencies, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, typically only have a limited number of OpenNet account holders at each post; some smaller agencies, such as the Peace Corps, usually have none. One focus group participant from a non-State agency told us that because she does not have an OpenNet account, her ability to submit travel notifications as required depends on whether or not she is able to find one of the few individuals at the post from her agency that does have an OpenNet account. Similarly, the travel notification policy for another post requires that post personnel use an OpenNet-based travel notification system even though the policy explicitly acknowledges that not all post personnel have OpenNet accounts.

Armored Vehicles and the EAC

The FAH establishes a minimum requirement for the number of armored vehicles at each post. The FAH also states that post Emergency Action Committees (EAC) must meet at least annually to discuss post armored vehicle programs and requirements.21 According to the FAM, it is important that EACs provide information on posts’ armored vehicle requirements to ensure there is sufficient time to budget for the costs of such vehicles, including the extra costs associated with armoring them.22

We found that DS may not be meeting the first of these FAH requirements, and EACs are not meeting the second requirement at every post. With respect to the first requirement, DS officials initially explained that under the FAH, every embassy and consulate is required to have a certain number of armored vehicles, but we found that not every consulate met this requirement as of May 2016. These potential deficiencies exist in part because DS has not instituted effective monitoring procedures to ensure that every embassy or consulate is in compliance with the FAH’s armored vehicle policy.

The GAO recommend that the Secretary of State direct Diplomatic Security to take the following eight actions:

  1. Create consolidated guidance for RSOs that specifies required elements to include in post travel notification and transportation security policies. For example, as part of its current effort to develop standard templates for certain security directives, DS could develop templates for transportation security and travel notification policies that specify the elements required in all security directives as recommended by the February 2005 Iraq ARB as well as the standard transportation-related elements that DS requires in such policies.
  2. Create more comprehensive guidance for DS reviewers to use when evaluating posts’ transportation security and travel notification policies. For example, the checklist DS reviewers currently use could be modified to stipulate that reviewers should check all security directives for DS-required elements recommended by the February 2005 Iraq ARB. The checklist could also provide guidance on how to take the presence or absence of these required elements into account when assigning a score to a given policy.
  3. Clarify whether or not the FAH’s armored vehicle policy for overseas posts is that every post must have sufficient armored vehicles, and if DS determines that the policy does not apply to all posts, articulate the conditions under which it does not apply.
  4. Develop monitoring procedures to ensure that all posts comply with the FAH’s armored vehicle policy for overseas posts once the policy is clarified.
  1. Implement a mechanism, in coordination with other relevant State offices, to ensure that EACs discuss their posts’ armored vehicle needs at least once each year.
  2. Clarify existing guidance on refresher training, such as by delineating how often refresher training should be provided at posts facing different types and levels of threats, which personnel should receive refresher training, and how the completion of refresher training should be documented.
  3. Improve guidance for RSOs, in coordination with other relevant State offices and non-State agencies as appropriate, on how to promote timely communication of threat information to post personnel and timely receipt of such information by post personnel.
  4. Take steps, in coordination with other relevant State offices and non- State agencies as appropriate, to make travel notification systems easily accessible to post personnel who are required to submit such notifications, including both State and non-State personnel.

The GAO report notes that the State Department concurred with all its recommendations except one.  State did not concur with the sixth recommendation to clarify guidance on refresher training. In its response, State described a number of efforts that RSOs take to keep post personnel informed, such as sending security messages via e-mails and text messages, and therefore State did not believe additional formal training was necessary.  The GAO acknowledge the efforts but writes:

Nevertheless, participants in 10 of our 13 focus groups either had difficulty recalling certain security policies and requirements or described their security briefings as inadequate. Participants noted that this was, in part, because it can be challenging to remember the content of new arrival security briefings while they are simultaneously managing the process of moving and adjusting to a new post and because of the one-time nature of new arrival briefings. DS headquarters officials stated that most violations of post travel policies are due to personnel forgetting the information conveyed in the new arrival briefings.

This is the third in a series of GAO reports on diplomatic security. For GAO’s previous work on security at residences, schools, and other soft targets, see GAO-15-700 (http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-700) and for the review of security at embassies and consulates, see GAO-14-655 (http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-655).

 

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Snapshot: U.S. Security- Related Assistance for Egypt, FY2011-2015, as of 9/30/15

Posted: 12:05  am ET

Via gao.gov (PDF):

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-15

Via gao.gov

 

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Snapshot: Unaccompanied Children By Country of Citizenship (FY2009-2014)

Posted: 12:25 am EDT

Via GAO

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the number of UAC from any country apprehended at the U.S. border climbed from nearly 28,000 in fiscal year 2012 to more than 42,000 in fiscal year 2013, and to more than 73,000 in fiscal year 2014. Prior to fiscal year 2012, most UAC apprehended at the border were Mexican nationals.5 However, as figure 1 shows, starting in fiscal year 2013, the total number of UAC from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras surpassed the number of UAC from Mexico and, in fiscal year 2014, far surpassed the number of UAC from Mexico.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27

Recent data and research indicate that, while fewer UAC are being apprehended in the United States in 2015, the pace of migration from Central America remains high. According to DHS, as of August 2015, apprehensions at the southwest border are down 46 percent compared with last year—with more than 35,000 UAC apprehended in fiscal year 2015 compared with about 66,000 through the same time period in fiscal year 2014. However, analyses of DHS data indicate that apprehensions in the month of August 2015 increased compared to previous months this year and exceeded by nearly 50 percent August 2014 apprehensions. Moreover, research by two nongovernmental organizations indicates that a greater number of Central Americans this year are being apprehended in Mexico. According to the Migration Policy Institute,6 Mexico has increased its enforcement capacity and is apprehending a greater number of Central American migrants, including children.

{…}

In fiscal year 2014, USAID, State, DHS, and IAF allocated a combined $44.5 million for El Salvador, $88.1 million for Guatemala, and $78 million for Honduras. In addition, MCC signed a threshold program agreement with Honduras in fiscal year 2013 totaling $15.6 million, a compact agreement with El Salvador in fiscal year 2014 totaling $277 million, and a threshold program agreement with Guatemala in fiscal year 2015 totaling $28 million.

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GAO Lists Titles of Restricted Reports, See @StateDept Report SubList

Posted: 1:57 am EDT

 

The following reports have been determined to contain either classified information or controlled unclassified information by the audited agencies and cannot be publicly released. As such, they have not been posted to GAO’s website and have product numbers that end in C (classified) or SU (controlled unclassified information).

The list is intended by the GAO to keep Congress, federal agencies, and the public informed of the existence of these products. The list consists of all such classified or controlled products issued since September 30, 2014 and will be updated each time a new report is issued according to gao.gov.

Members of Congress or congressional staff who wish to obtain one or more of these products should call or e-mail the Congressional Relations Office (202) 512-4400 or congrel@gao.gov.

All others who wish to obtain one or more of these products should follow the instructions found on Requesting Restricted Products.

Via FAS/Secrecy News:

A congressional staffer said the move was prompted by concerns expressed by some Members of Congress and staff that they were unaware of the restricted reports, since they had not been indexed or archived by GAO.

Publication of the titles of restricted GAO reports “was not necessarily universally desired by everyone in Congress,” the staffer said, and “it took about a year” to resolve the issue. But “GAO deserves a lot of credit. They decided it was the right thing to do, and they did it.”

Although primarily aimed at congressional consumers, the new webpage also serves to inform the public. GAO is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, but will usually entertain requests for records anyway. However, GAO is not authorized to release information that has been classified or controlled by an executive branch agency.

The full list of restricted reports is here. Below are the reports relevant to the State Department:

Kabul: Camp Sullivan Mishap Related to HESCO Security Barriers
GAO-15-708RSU: Published: September 28, 2015

Diplomatic Security: State Department Should Better Manage Risks to Residences and Other Soft Targets Overseas

GAO-15-512SU: Published: June 18, 2015

Combating Terrorism: Steps Taken to Mitigate Threats to Locally Hired Staff, but State Department Could Improve Reporting on Terrorist Threats

GAO-15-458SU: Published: June 17, 2015

Combating Terrorism: State Should Review How It Addresses Holds Placed During the Foreign Terrorist Organization Designation Process

GAO-15-439SU: Published: April 21, 2015

Interagency Coordination: DoD and State Need to Clarify DoD roles and Responsibilities to Protect U.S. Personnel and Facilities Overseas in High-Threat Areas

GAO-15-219C: Published: March 4, 2015

Critical Infrastructure Protection: DHS and State Need to Improve Their Process for Identifying Foreign Dependencies

GAO-15-233C: Published: February 26, 2015

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty: State Informs Congress of Russian Compliance through Reports and Briefings

GAO-15-318RSU: Published: February 25, 2015
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FASTC Fort Pickett v. FLETC Glynco: GA Senator to Hold Hearing on Diplomatic Security Training Center

Posted: 2:09  pm EDT

 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its review of the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) project (see this) last month.  This project has been  a subject of contention in Congress; the VA delegation is supportive, of course, of its site location in Fort Pickett, Virginia and the Georgia and Texas representatives are pushing for the site to be built in the FLETC facility in Glynco, Georgia. The FASTC project has been on a long battle to get done since 2011, see the details and updates here, but it really has been on the planning stage for more than a decade.

Tomorrow, October 8, Senator David Perdue, Jr. , the junior Senator from Georgia and the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee that oversees budget and operations for the State Department will chair another hearing on the FASTC project. The witnesses include representatives from DS, GAO and FLETC:

Screen Shot 2015-10-07

We expect that the prepared statements and a video of the hearing will be posted here when available.

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Related posts:

Reading Tips: Recent Reports From State/OIG, USAID/OIG, SIGAR, GAO, CRS

Posted: 12:40 pm EDT

 

State/OIG

Management Assistance Report: Action Still Needed to Update the Department’s Standards of Conduct as They Relate to Trafficking in Persons and to Comply with a Related Recommendation Posted On: September 17, 2015

Audit of Selected Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund Management Control Posted On: September 14, 2015

Audit of Department of State Management and Oversight of Non-Lethal Assistance Provided for the Syrian Crisis Posted On: September 14, 2015

 

USAID/OIG

09/16/2015Management Letter Regarding Environmental Concerns Identified During the Survey of Selected USAID/Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance Programs in Iraq

09/15/20158-OPC-15-002-P Audit of Overseas Private Investment Corporation Projects in Jordan and Turkey

09/11/2015A-IAF-15-008-P Audit of the Inter-American Foundation’s Fiscal Year 2015 Compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002, as Amended

09/10/20159-000-15-004-P Audit of USAID’s Evaluation Policy Implementation

09/03/20155-482-15-007-P | Audit of USAID/Burma’s Shae THOT (The Way Forward) Program

09/01/2015 4-000-15-001-S | Survey of USAID’s Development Leadership Initiative in Southern and Eastern Africa

 

SIGAR

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Special Inspector General John F. Sopko at Georgetown University, Washington, DC Thursday, September 10, 2015

Afghan Refugees and Returnees: Corruption and Lack of Afghan Ministerial Capacity Have Prevented Implementation of a Long-term Refugee Strategy Thursday, August 27, 2015

Power Grid Project at the Counter Narcotics Strip Mall in Kabul: Construction Met Contract Requirements but Electrical System Was Not Deemed Operable Until More Than 18 Months After Project Completion Monday, August 3, 2015

 

GAO

Diplomatic Security: Options for Locating a Consolidated Training Facility  GAO-15-808R: Published: Sep 9, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 2015.

Regionally Aligned Forces: DOD Could Enhance Army Brigades’ Efforts in Africa by Improving Activity Coordination and Mission-Specific Preparation  GAO-15-568: Published: Aug 26, 2015. Publicly Released: Aug 26, 2015.

SEC Conflict Minerals Rule: Initial Disclosures Indicate Most Companies Were Unable to Determine the Source of Their Conflict Minerals  GAO-15-561: Published: Aug 18, 2015. Publicly Released: Aug 18, 2015.

International Food Assistance: USAID Should Systematically Assess the Effectiveness of Key Conditional Food Aid Activities  GAO-15-732: Published: Sep 10, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2015.

 

CRS Reports via Steven Aftergood/Secrecy News

The FY2014 Government Shutdown: Economic Effects, updated September 11, 2015

Procedures for Congressional Action in Relation to a Nuclear Agreement with Iran: In Brief, Updated September 11, 2015

The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy, Updated September 14, 2015

Syrian Refugee Admissions to the United StatesCRS Insight, September 10, 2015

Cyprus: Reunification Proving Elusive, Updated September 10, 2015

Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations, Updated September 8, 2015

Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations, Updated September 10, 2015

Iran Nuclear Agreement, Updated September 9, 2015

Statutory Qualifications for Executive Branch Positions, Updated September 9, 2015

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GAO: FASTC Fort Pickett Fully Meets Requirements, FLETC Glynco, Not Really

Posted: 3:25 am EDT

We have previously written about the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) project that has been snared in a tug of war in Congress.

On September 9, the Government Accountability Office finally released its review of the project. Concerned by the considerable variation in the cost estimates for FASTC and FLETC, members of Congress requested that GAO provide further information on both the requirements and costs of DS training. GAO examined (1) key site requirements critical to the provision of DS training and the extent to which the FASTC and FLETC proposals meet these requirements and (2) the estimated capital and recurring costs of these proposals and the extent to which the capital cost estimates conform to leading practices for reliable cost estimates. The GAO report was publicly released on September 16.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16

via GAO

See Figure 3: Key Events in Plans to Consolidate Bureau of Diplomatic Security Training (pdf)

Excerpt below:

State has been in the process of looking for a site suitable for its DS training facility for more than a decade. In 2011, State and the General Services Administration (GSA) identified Fort Pickett near Blackstone, Virginia, as the preferred site for the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC). The initial 2012 master plan for FASTC would have consolidated hard- and soft-skills training at Fort Pickett for an estimated cost of $925 million. In March 2013, State reduced the scope of FASTC to exclude facilities for soft-skills training and life support functions, such as dormitories and a cafeteria, ultimately decreasing the estimated cost of the current proposal to $413 million. Also in 2013, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directed State to work with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to assess the viability of using the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia, to accommodate DS’s training. In November 2013, FLETC submitted a business case to OMB indicating that it could meet DS’s requirements, including soft-skills training, for an estimated cost of $272 million. Following this assessment, DS, FLETC, and OMB could not agree on a path forward.

In April 2014, the administration reaffirmed the selection of Fort Pickett for FASTC, and State and GSA began implementing their plan to construct FASTC. State and GSA have obligated about $71 million to date toward FASTC at Fort Pickett.2 In May 2015, GSA purchased land and, in June 2015, awarded a contract for the initial phase of construction of FASTC.
[…]
[W]e analyzed four of DS’s requirements that we determined were critical in the selection of a site for DS’s training facility and found that Fort Pickett fully met all four while FLETC did not fully meet any.7 First, building FASTC at Fort Pickett would enable DS to consolidate at one location 10 of the 12 widely scattered hard-skills training venues it is currently using.8 FLETC can accommodate many of these venues on its Glynco campus but would have to conduct some exercises at a Marine Corps training facility about 30 miles away. Second, we found that Fort Pickett is available for nighttime training, which DS conducts on about 190 days per year, while at FLETC there may be some limitations on nighttime training. We also determined that the Fort Pickett site held advantages in terms of proximity to Washington, D.C., and exclusivity of use, both of which were requirements highlighted in reports stemming from the Benghazi ARB.

We found that neither the FASTC nor the FLETC estimate for capital costs fully meets best practices. The FASTC estimate fully or substantially meets three of the four characteristics—comprehensive, well documented, and accurate—and partially meets one characteristic of reliable cost estimates— credible; the FLETC estimate partially or minimally meets all four characteristics.10 FLETC officials noted that their estimate was prepared in a short period of time based on incomplete information regarding State’s requirements; more complete information would have enabled them to develop a more comprehensive estimate. See enclosure V for more detail on our assessment. Our assessment of the reliability of these cost estimates focused on the processes used to develop the estimates rather than estimates themselves, enabling us to make a more direct comparison of their reliability.

In addition to capital costs for acquisition and construction of a DS training center, the government will incur costs of sending students to training. These recurring student costs include travel, lodging, meals and incidental expenses, and compensation for time spent traveling. We projected these costs over 10, 25, and 50 years in three different scenarios for both the FASTC and FLETC proposals. We estimate that the costs of sending students to FASTC over 10 years will be $43 million to $121 million less, in net present value, than sending students to FLETC.11 The difference in student costs between FASTC and FLETC increases over time, from between $122 million and $323 million less for FASTC after 25 years, to between $309 and $736 million after 50 years. See enclosure III for further details on the assumptions used in each of these scenarios.

Click on 672362 to read the full report (38 pages – pdf).

Maybe this is the end of it and the project at Fort Pickett can finally go forward?  It is likely that there will be at least one more hearing on this, one congressional committee (was that HOGR?) promised a hearings once the GAO report is completed.

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New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status

Posted: 3:11 pm EDT
Updated: 811:33 pm PDT

 

In February 2015, we blogged about the proposed changes to the State Department’s danger pay incentives (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay). In February, a total of 26 countries with 45 posts/locations were eligible to receive danger pay allowance according to the publicly available data from the State Department’s Office of Allowances. As of September 6, 2015, employees in a total of 28 countries with 47 named post and locations, plus 20 undesignated posts labeled as “other” are eligible to receive danger pay differential.  Note that “other” is a place which is not listed individually in Section 920 of the Department of State Standardized Regulations (DSSR) but which is located in a country or area which has been so designated by the Secretary of State, e.g. Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan.

Danger Pay allowance provides additional compensation for employees serving at designated danger pay posts. It is paid as a percentage of basic compensation in 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35% increments. In addition to being paid to permanently-assigned personnel, danger pay may also be paid to employees on temporary duty or detail to the post.

According to the State Department,  the danger pay allowance is in lieu of that part of the hardship post  differential rate (Chapter 500) at a post which is attributable to  political violence.  Consequently, the rate of post differential may be reduced while danger pay allowance is in effect to avoid dual crediting  for political violence.

Under circumstances defined by the Secretary of State, a danger pay  allowance may also be granted to civilian employees who accompany U.S. military forces designated by the Secretary of Defense as eligible for imminent danger pay.  The Secretary of State will define the area of  application for civilian employees and the amount of danger pay shall  be the same flat rate amount paid to uniformed military personnel  as imminent danger pay.  Danger pay authorized under this subparagraph  will not be paid for periods of time that the employee either receives  danger pay authorized under subparagraph “f” or post differential that would duplicate political violence credit.

Danger Pay authorized under DSSR 652(g), unofficially referred to as “hazardous duty” or “imminent danger pay,” is paid at a flat monthly rate (currently $225). Employees cannot receive Post Hardship Differential and Danger Pay under DSSR 652(g) for the same periods of time, nor can employees receive Danger Pay under DSSR 652(f) and 652(g) at the same time. Imminent Danger Pay under DSSR 652(g) is established for designated areas for U.S.G. civilian employees accompanying uniformed military for whom the Secretary of Defense has established a similar benefit. No review of the Post Hardship Differential is conducted when establishing Imminent Danger Pay under DSSR 652(g) so employees cannot receive both allowances since they are being provided for duplicate conditions.

Plus Posts

The total number of countries (26 to 28) and locations (45 to 47) under the changed designations do not tell the details. Let’s start with countries which gained danger pay differentials under the new designations.

  • Kenya: The capital city of Nairobi retained its 15% danger pay differential and nine new locations are now designated at 15% as well (Kihara, Wangige, Kahawa, Kikuyu, Kiambu, Ruiru, Kibichiku, Thogoto, Other). We’d appreciate it if  somebody can help us understand why we have this nine new entries? Who or what do we have in these places? Contact us here.  Embassy Nairobi is the largest U.S. embassy in Africa with a staff of more than 1,300 (including local employees and more than 400 U.S. direct hires) among 19 federal agency offices.  The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Kenya includes four U.S. Government agencies as implementers of the program: USAID, CDC, the U.S. Army Walter Reed Medical Research Unit, and the Peace Corps. In terms of staffing, USAID is the second largest component in the mission next to the State Department, with DOD and CDC as the third and fourth largest components respectively. (Thanks J.) 
  • Colombia: The capital city of Bogota lost its 15% pay differential but seven new locations, namely, Baranquilla, Buenaventura, Cali, Medellin, San Andres, San Marta, Other are now designated at 15% danger pay. DEA has the second largest representation (next to the State Department) among agencies at U.S. Mission Colombia, so we conclude that this new designation covers DEA employees and contractors, as well as military personnel operating outside the capital city.
  • Haiti: The capital city of Port-au-Prince, as well as Petitionville and all Other locations are newly designated at 15%.
  • Turkey: Gaziantep is newly designated at 25%.  The city is located in the southeastern Anatolia, some 185 kilometres east of Adana and 97 kilometres north of Aleppo, Syria.
  • In Tunisia, Carthage has been added at 25%.

All posts in Afghanistan, CAR, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan (except Quetta), Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen are  now at the top bracket at 35%.

Back in February, we’ve asked why Erbil and the Erbil Diplomatic Support Center in Iraq did not have the same danger pay rates.  Under the new designation, the Erbil Diplomatic Support Center (EDSC) and Basrah have both been bumped up to 35% (they were previously at 25% and 30% respectively). The State Department has not totally ditched the seven danger pay brackets but with very few exceptions, it has narrowed the danger pay posts into tighter bundles at the 15%, 25% and 35% pay brackets.

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click image to view the full list

Minus Posts

There are also losers under the new designation. All the locations are diplomatic/consular posts where we have permanently stationed employees.

  • Mexico: Back in February, Nogales was at 10%, Ciudad Juarez, Matamoros and Tijuana were at 15%, and Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo were both at 20%. As of September 6, the only post in Mexico with danger pay is Ciudad Juarez at 15%.
  • Saudi Arabia:  Riyadh, Jeddah and Dharan were all at the 15% danger pay bracket in February 2015. Under the new designation, all these posts no longer have danger pay differential. The only location in Saudi Arabia currently designated at 15% is “Other.”
  • Algeria lost its 15% for Algiers but retains 25% for Other.
  • Burundi lost its 5% for Bujumbura but retains 5% for Other.  We should note that US Embassy Bujumbura went on “ordered departure” for non-emergency personnel and family members on May 15, 2015. There is a Travel Warning against all travel to Burundi and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Burundi depart as soon as it is feasible to do so.”  The evacuation status for post—either authorized or ordered—has a 180-day clock  (by law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days). Has that evacuation lifted? If not, isn’t it odd that post currently on evacuation status does not have “danger pay” for the emergency personnel remaining at post? Does that make sense? Yes, there are hardship and COLA differentials, but the embassy was not evacuated due to hardship, was it?
  • Israel and Jerusalem both lost their 15%.
  • Nigeria lost its 10% danger pay designation for Lagos.

We understand that at U.S. Mission Saudi Arabia where Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran have lost their 15% danger pay, “M” had increased the hardship differential at all three posts from 15% to 25%. So the net loss of pay to officers/specialists is at 5%. But as we’ve also previously noted here, Eligible Family Members (EFMs) receive danger pay while working in embassies but do not receive any other differentials. All EFMs in posts that lost their danger pay designation will suffer a pay cut and will not receive any hardship pay in lieu of the danger pay lost. The few dual-income families in Mexico and Saudi Arabia, will actually have a pay cut of at least 20%.

We’ve posted potential fallouts to these changes back in February. We understand that these are among the questions that still remained unanswered from Foggy Bottom.

One source says that his/her post “have asked AFSA for updates on what they are doing and recommending” but that post  is only “getting radio silence so no kudos to AFSA either.”

Danger Pay, like Post Hardship Differential, and Difficult-to-Staff Incentive Differential (also known as Service-Needs Differential) are all considered recruitment and retention incentives. These allowances are designed to recruit employees to posts where living conditions may be difficult or dangerous. The State Department has been criticized for its inability to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of its incentive program, specifically its danger and hardship programs. The GAO had also previously complained that State did not comply with a congressional mandate to evaluate its increases in hardship and danger pay.   We don’t know if these new changes now include an evaluation of the effectiveness of these incentives.

 

Danger Pay- September 2015 Diplopundit

3 FAM 3270 DANGER PAY ALLOWANCE (pdf)

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