@StateDept’s Litigative Payments FY2018-FY2020 Via Judgment Fund-$72,634,701.57

 

The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (CBCA) is an independent tribunal housed within the General Services Administration. The CBCA presides over various disputes involving Federal executive branch agencies. Its primary responsibility is to resolve contract disputes between government contractors and agencies under the Contract Disputes Act. 
Contract Disputes (CDA) claims paid by the Judgment Fund are reimbursed by the agency whose appropriations were used for the contract in dispute. The No FEAR Act requires agencies to reimburse the Judgment Fund for payments made on their behalf to employees, former employees, or applicants for federal employment arising out of claims of actual or alleged violations of Federal anti-discrimination laws, Federal whistleblower protection laws, and/or retaliation claims arising from the assertion of rights under those laws.
For Suits in Admiralty Act, see USDOJ’s Aviation, Space & Admiralty Litigation Section of the Torts Branch which handles aviation, space, and maritime cases and claims. “Our clients include the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, all military services including the Navy and the Coast Guard, the Maritime Administration, the Transportation Security Administration, NASA, NSA, and the Departments of State, Interior, Transportation, and Commerce.  In its admiralty practice, the Section represents the United States in the government’s role as ship-owner, regulator, and protector of the nation’s waterways and maritime resources. Its admiralty litigation concerns collisions involving U.S. vessels and warships, grounding of vessels while using U.S. government-produced charts, challenges to the boarding of vessels on the high seas during national security and drug interdiction activities, and maritime-based pollution incidents, including vessel oil spills.  Affirmative admiralty actions seek compensation for the loss of government cargo; damage to locks, dams, and natural resources; and the costs associated with maritime pollution cleanups.”
The largest settlements below for the State Department are in contract disputes, one for $62 million, and another for $4.5 million. We’ve figured out where that $62 million settlement went, have you?
Second largest settlements are in payments under the Suits in Admiralty Act; two payments in 2018 and 2019 respectively for $2.5 million and $2 million each.
There are several foreign claims, and federal tort claims in US courts related to traffic (settlements are larger than in administrative payments). Also two notable cases for Title VII Discrimination in Federal Employment, both in the District of Columbia, one with a $14K settlement and the other with $200K.


 


 

 

 

BUT the seats in question are 0.3 inches wider than regular economy seats!!!

The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (CBCA) is an independent tribunal housed within the General Services Administration. The CBCA presides over various disputes involving Federal executive branch agencies. Its primary responsibility is to resolve contract disputes between government contractors and agencies under the Contract Disputes Act. In addition to contract disputes, the Board also adjudicates cases related to travel and relocation.
The following case relates to a Department of State employee assigned overseas who requested reimbursement of travel expenses for extended economy seating (EES) which was authorized on his orders. The agency denied his request after determining that the circumstances of his travel did not meet the agency’s requirements for reimbursement. The Board granted the claim.
This was a claim from a few years ago, but we were tickled by the 0.3 inches wider economy seat argument. Given what we’re seeing these days, my gosh!
Via CBCA 5686-RELO
Claimant is a foreign service officer currently assigned to Vietnam. On August 15, 2016, claimant and his spouse traveled twenty-three hours from Washington, D.C. to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam pursuant to permanent change of station (PCS) orders. Claimant’s orders authorized extended economy seating at the rate of $300 per person. Although the trip was booked on American Airlines,1 the leg from Boston, Massachusetts to Tokyo, Japan was operated by Japan Airlines (JAL). At the ticket counter in Boston, claimant inquired about upgrading his seats to extended economy, consistent with his authorization. The agent confirmed that such seats were available and reassured claimant that the seats were located in economy class. Claimant upgraded his seats for the sum of $600. His request for reimbursement of the cost of extended economy seating was denied.

I understand that you were authorized extended economy seating on your [travel orders], however, per guidance set forth by TTM-A/LM Transportation Branch and the guidance cable you have attached, not all airlines have economy seating available. In addition, TTM informed us that “premium” economy [programs] are not reimbursable as we are not reporting this under the Department’s mandatory annual Premium Class Travel Report. Based on our research on the Japan Airlines website and the seat guru site, Japan Airlines offers “premium” economy with extra services . . . and the seat guru showed that all Japan Airlines aircraft[] have [a] distinct premium economy cabin.

In response to the denial, Claimant requested a review of the decision, stating:

JAL Extended Economy is still Economy Class seating in [an] economy cabin with additional leg room, and seems to fit within [the] definition . . . My travel was over 14 hours at the allowable cost, and I did not take a rest stop or purchase business lounge [access]. . . The claim reviewer has only stated her reason [for denial] as JAL providing additional entertainment services in extended economy. Nowhere does the [Foreign Affairs Manual] or guidance mention entertainment services as something to preclude use of extended economy seating.

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Uh-oh! @StateDept’s Travel Provider Gets Hacked, Pays $4.5M in Bitcoin

 

Reuters reported last week that CWT (formerly Carlson Wagonlit Travel) was hit with a strain of ransomware called Ragnar Locker, which encrypts computer files and renders them unusable until the victim pays for access to be restored. “Hackers who stole reams of sensitive corporate files and said they had knocked 30,000 computers offline.”
Elsewhere it is reported that the hackers “may have stolen 2 terabytes of data, allegedly including thousands of global executives credentials. This is particularly worrisome given CWT provides travel services to as much as 33% of the Fortune 500.”
ITNews notes that “CWT, which posted revenues of US$1.5 billion last year and says it represents more than a third of companies on the S&P 500 US stock index, confirmed the attack but declined to comment on the details of what it said was an ongoing investigation.”
The news mainly talks about the 2 terabyte of sensitive files exfiltrated which supposedly include global executive credentials, but a CWT division, CWTSatoTravel is one of two contractors awarded a master contract by GSA “responsible for soliciting and managing travel for the U.S. military and government clients.” Government clients include the State Department where Carlson Wagonlit manages its travel management center.
According to GSA, the U.S. Federal Government is the largest consumer of travel services in the world.  ETS2, the government’s current Travel & Expense management solution, serves an active user base of over 1 million Civilian Government employees, and was used for 86 percent of all civilian agency travel in 2017.

ETS2 is a competitively bid master contract with two vendors providing agencies travel and expense software, hosting, and support services based on fixed-price transaction fees, which is a unique program within the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS).

Competitively bid ETS2 contracts were awarded to:

      • Concur Technologies, Inc., of Redmond, WA, in June 2012; and
      • CWTSatoTravel, of Arlington, VA, in September 2013.

CWTSatoTravel is the division of Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) responsible for soliciting and managing travel for the U.S. military and government clients. CWT is a global leader specialized in managing business travel and meetings and events.

The 2019 DOS Financial Report describes its Travel Systems Program

In 2016, the Department successfully transitioned to the next generation of the E-Government Travel Services (ETS2) contract with Carlson Wagonlit Travel. In 2016, the Department also implemented the Local Travel module allowing for the submission of local travel claims for expenses incurred in and around the vicinity of a duty station. The Department expanded the use of the Local Travel feature to also accommodate non-travel employee claims previously submitted through an OF-1164. In the Local Travel module, approvers will electronically approve claims and provide reimbursement to the employee’s bank account via EFT. The Department has completed this implementation for 118 posts overseas.

The Department continues to work with our bureaus and posts to identify improvements that can be made to the travel system. The Department also participates with other agencies to prioritize travel system enhancements across the Federal Government landscape. The Department worked with Carlson Wagonlit Travel to enhance the functionality of the Local Travel feature to more closely align with the temporary duty travel functionality for foreign currency and approver expense reduction options. The Department continues to work with Carlson Wagonlit Travel on enhancements to support integration improvements with our financial systems. The Department continues to work with Carlson Wagonlit Travel on enhancements to support the implementation of the Local Payments module domestically and has initiated work to implement mobile capabilities for approvals and reservations.

Somebody asked if anyone has  publicly acknowledged that the initial hack may imply a massive potential personally identifiable information  (PII) leak on the scale of the eQIP compromise.” 
The company released a statement to The Register saying “we have no indication that PII/customer and traveller information has been affected.”
Has Foggy Bottom said anything?

 

Contractor Resolves Charges Relating to Fraud on GSA Contract to Modernize the Harry S. Truman Building

 

Via USDOJ:
Government Contractor Resolves Charges Relating to Fraud on General Services Administration Contract to Modernize State Department Building

Alutiiq International Solutions LLC (AIS), a subsidiary of Afognak Native Corporation (Afognak) and an Alaskan Native Corporation, within the meaning of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, that performs construction work on government contracts, has entered into a non-prosecution agreement (NPA) and has agreed to pay over $1.25 million to resolve the Justice Department’s investigation into a kickback and fraud scheme perpetrated by a former AIS manager on a U.S. Government contract administered by the General Services Administration (GSA), announced Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

As part of the NPA, AIS has agreed to pay $1,259,444 in victim compensation payments to the GSA.  Under the terms of the NPA, AIS and its parent company, Afognak, have agreed to cooperate with the government’s ongoing investigation and prosecution of individuals, and to report to the department evidence of allegations of violations of U.S. fraud, anti-corruption, procurement integrity, and anti-kickback laws.  Afognak and AIS also agreed to enhance their compliance program and internal controls, where necessary and appropriate, to ensure they are designed to detect and deter, among other things, fraud and kickbacks in connection with U.S. federal government contracts.

According to AIS’s admissions contained in the NPA, beginning in or around June 2010, the AIS project manager assigned to a multi-million dollar GSA contract to modernize the Harry S. Truman Federal Building in Washington, D.C., began receiving kickbacks from a subcontractor on the project in exchange for steering work to the subcontractor.  These kickbacks initially were paid in the form of meals, vacations, and other things of value but, by 2015, the AIS project manager began demanding cash kickbacks equivalent to 10 percent of the value of contract modifications that were being awarded to the subcontractor.  At the same time, the AIS project manager billed the GSA for services purportedly provided by an on-site superintendent when there was no superintendent on site.  The AIS project manager’s false and fraudulent billings caused the GSA to pay $568,800 to AIS that it should not have paid.  Additionally, when making contract modification requests to the GSA, the AIS project manager illegally inflated the estimated costs that AIS received from its subcontractor, resulting in $690,644 in monies paid by GSA to AIS.
[….]

A federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned an indictment charging the AIS project manager, Elmer Baker, with conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Act, and four counts of wire fraud, in May 2019.  Trial is currently scheduled for Dec. 7, 2020, before U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson.

An indictment is merely an allegation, and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Read the full statement here. Download AIS Non-Prosecution Agreement

Pompeo Gets Ratioed For Tweet of Er …Diverse Group of White Men on His Foreign Affairs Policy Board

So, typically, the more negative replies a tweet gets over likes or retweets, the worse it is. There’s even a word for it: #ratioed. Luke O’Neil  of Esquire explained The Ratio in an article titled “How to Know if You’ve Sent a Horrible Tweet.”
On December 16, the 70th secretary of state tweeted a photo of his Foreign Affairs Policy Board members, a collection of foreign policy advisors, all white men in a variety of smiles, ties, hairstyles, but no, not a diverse group as described on state.gov. The FAPB charter was most recently renewed in July 2019 according to the Federal register:

“The Foreign Affairs Policy Board provides the Secretary of State with advice, real-time feedback, and perspectives from outside leaders and innovators, in support of the Department formulation and execution of policy. It taps external expertise to provide advice and recommendations regarding critical challenges in the dynamic and competitive global environment in order to enhance the power and influence of American diplomacy.”

GSA’s Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) database includes a report for 2019 Current Fiscal Year Report: Foreign Affairs Policy Board with staff and per diem payments of $29,668.00 in current fiscal year, and expected payments of $47,000.00 for next fiscal year. The notation in the FACA database says:

“No formal reports have been produced for public distribution. Meetings are closed to the public due to the sensitive nature of discussions. Members of the Board have submitted materials for senior State Department officials eyes-only. In 2018, no official meetings of the Board took place. In FY2019, two meetings took place.”

Some informative points in this report via GSA which does not appear to be available on state.gov:

20a. How does the Committee accomplish its purpose?

The committee gathers to discuss major international issues and foreign policy challenges that the Secretary has chosen, based on the his belief that a diverse array of experienced outside voices can usefully support him as he works to address those specific challenges. Each meeting includes discussion on one or more topics that the Secretary has chosen, interaction with other senior Department officials, and an opportunity for the Board to provide perspectives and views developed and discussed during the meeting to the Secretary.

20b. How does the Committee balance its membership?

The members are distinguished figures from a range of backgrounds, including academia, NGOs, think tanks, business, and government–all of whom bring a unique perspective based on that background and long experience dealing with international issues from a range of perspectives. The selection of membership was in coordination with the Board’s Membership Balance Plan.

20c. How frequent and relevant are the Committee Meetings?

It is anticipated that the board will meet an estimated four times per year occurring approximately every 3-4 months.

20d. Why can’t the advice or information this committee provides be obtained elsewhere?

The committee is necessary to supplement the advice and support the Secretary gets from the Department with a broad range of diverse outside perspectives on major international issues.

20e. Why is it necessary to close and/or partially closed committee meetings?

The meetings must be closed because of the sensitive nature of discussed topics and materials, which are often classified.

Under most significant program outcomes associated with this committee? “Major policy changes” and “Others” were checked.
Under what other actions has the agency taken as a result of the committee’s advice or recommendation? Two radio buttons were checked: “Reorganized Priorities” and “Reallocated resources”.
Right.
Note that previous FAPB members from 2009-2017 were identified with official State Department bios; there were 5 female members out of 23 members.
Pompeo’s current FAPB members do not appear to be identified on the State Department website.  Their bios are also not available on state.gov. Nine appointees to the Board were identified in the 2019 FACA database; one female member and eight male appointees (also see below). All are classified as “Special Government Employee (SGE) Member.”
FAPB charter says that the Board is “comprised of no more than twenty-five members who have distinguished backgrounds in U.S. diplomacy, development and national security affairs.”
Members are appointed for 2 years or less, and with “the exception of travel and per diem for official travel, all Board members serve without compensation.”

 

From GSA Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) Database: 2019 Current Fiscal Year Report: Foreign Affairs Policy Board                                   (click on image to see full document)

 

Later, Mr. Pompeo tweeted about convening the Board. No photo this time, and it’s not/not intended to clean up the previous tweet, silly!

But he’s yearning for Kansas, so his personal account tweeted another photo with a diversity of smiles. Enjoy!

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@StateDept’s $1,086,250 Organizational Study: Multiple Contractors Interviewed But Only 1 Offer?

Posted: 1:54 am ET
Updated: May 12, 1:02 pm PT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

Via CBS News:

The State Department will be spending at least $1,086,250 for the “listening tour” that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson launched Wednesday morning.

The department has contracted Insigniam, a private consulting firm, to conduct the review in a project they are calling the “Department of State organizational study.” The State Department has not replied to requests for comment on the review’s price tag and their decision to use Insigniam to carry out this review.

Tillerson and the Insigniam co-founder Nathan Owen Rosenberg served on the Boy Scouts of America board together in 2011. The State Department has not replied to requests for comment on the review’s price tag and their decision to use Insigniam to carry out this review.

After Bloomberg broke the news on April 27 that Secretary Tillerson is seeking a 9% workforce cut and has hired the consulting company Insigniam to conduct a survey, we started looking for the contract awarded. We wanted to see the scope of work and the statement of work requirement included in this contract. We were able to find a $60M Professional Staffing Support Contract awarded on April 5, an Intent to Sole Source $34K Representational Furnishings on April 24  on FedBizOpps where federal business opportunities are typically posted, but not this one.

We understand that Insigniam was elected under a “sole source” contract. On May 1st, we emailed the State Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs for information on how and when this contract was awarded since we have not been able to find  the agency’s sole source justification for the job. As of this writing, the State Department has neither acknowledged nor responded to our inquiry.

Three contracts

We have since learned of three transactions (thanks Z!) issued to Insigniam LLC, a company based in Pennsylvania’s 2nd congressional district (PA02). The first contract SAQMMA17C0157 dated April 25, 2017 is valued at $850,000. The second contract SAQMMA17C0157 dated April 28, 2017 is valued at $236,250.  The third contract SAQMMA17C0157 is dated April 29, 2017 and does not have an obligated value. The third contract’s “Reason for Modification” is listed as “M: Other Administrative Action.”  All three contracts list May 30, 2017 as the “current” and “ultimate” completion date.

click on image to see the contracts via usaspending.gov

The funding for these contracts have been requested through the Bureau of Administration (State/A) but the Contracting Office is the State Department’s Acquisitions office (AQMMA). This is a definitive, firm fixed price contract.  The cost or pricing data is listed as “W: Not Obtained — Waived.”  The contract description says “Department of State Organizational Study.”

Multiple contractors interviewed but only 1 offer?

Under Competition Information, usaspending.gov lists this contract as “not competed”; the reason for the non-competition is listed as “Urgency.” This section also saysNumber of Offers Received: 1.”

The State Department apparently told CBS News that “they interviewed multiple contractors for the project before selecting Insigniam.”

“Of the proposals reviewed, Insigniam’s was the most cost-effective for the expertise, scope, and timeline needed, including its ability to survey and provide analysis of large organizations,” a State Department official told CBS News.  

So the State Department interviewed multiple contractors but those companies did not compete for this contract? And only one offer was received?

The company is listed on usaspending.gov as a partnership with 49 employees and an annual revenue of $12.7M.  The contracting officer determined it as a “small business”, “woman owned” and a “self-certified disadvantage business.” Under competition information, however, these contracts indicate “no set aside used” and “no preference used.”

The GSA confirmed to us that “the agency will dictate whether they are required to use GSA schedules or directly from a vendor. GSA has no say in how a customer orders needed materials or services.”

We are aware of only one previous organizational study conducted at the State Department (if there’s more, let us know!). There was  a study focused on the Foreign Service and was based on three management conferences held by the Department in 1965. It was conducted by Professor Chris Argyris of Yale University.  There were a few others through the years; we’ll try and see if we can find a good list to post here. 

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Saudi Jewelry Gifts Questions: @StateDept Retains Gifts for the U.S. Diplomacy Center Collection

Posted: 3:30 am ET
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Some questions have been raised about the gifts from Saudi Arabia, particularly a few specific, high valued items given to Secretary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State.  We’ve asked the State Department about this, and we were told that one gift is pending transfer to the GSA but three have been retained for the U.S. Diplomacy Center (@DiplomacyCenter) collection.  The United States Diplomacy Center which is scheduled to be completed in 2016 is a public private initiative which will include some 6,000 diplomatic artifacts  — via:

The Department of State is providing the space, staff and security, while the private sector will provide the funds to design and build the 40,000 sq. ft. facility. The Center includes a 20,000 sq. ft. exterior Pavilion and its informative exhibits about today’s Department of State in Hall 1, the Founding Ambassador Concourse below Hall I, and two interior Halls both of 10,000 sq. ft. each: one chronicling the history of the American diplomacy, and the other focusing on education. The USDC is located at the Department of State building on 21st Street at Virginia Avenue NW, in Washington, DC. Visit the USDC website www.Diplomacy.State.gov for information on the progress and developments of the creation of the United States Diplomacy Center.

The following response from a State Department spokesperson:

Per GSA guidelines, there is no timeline for reporting gifts of more than minimal value to GSA after they’ve been received. The Department of State reports all gifts of more than minimal value annually in the Federal Register and generally biannually directly to GSA when doing a transfer of gifts. The Department transfers the maximum quantity of gifts GSA has the capacity to accept.

When a gift is no longer being used for official use, it must be reported within 30 days to the Office of the Chief of Protocol, to pend transfer to GSA.

‎All four gifts in question are in the possession of the Department of State. The first three are in official use, as part of the collection of the U.S. Diplomacy Center. The final is being stored and pending transfer to GSA, and will be transferred when GSA has the ability to accept it.‎‎

Here are some gifts currently included in the Diplomacy Center’s online collection:

Screen Shot

Screen Shot

 

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