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Notable Details From Tillerson’s Congressional Appearances on FY18 Budget Request

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Posted: 2:55 am ET

 

Secretary Tillerson appeared on the Hill for hearings on the FY2018 State Department Budget Request, the first under the Trump Administration. On June 13, he appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (see video here), and later that same day, he was before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (see video here). On June 14, Secretary Tillerson also appeared before the full House Foreign Relations Committee (HFAC) to talk about the Trump budget request for the State Department.  During the HFAC hearing, Representative Eliot Engel told Secretary Tillerson that “a member of your staff informed my staff that the reorganization you’re planning  of the State Department will require statutory changes ….”

Should be interesting to find out what kind of changes Tillerson is seeking from Congress in restructuring the agency.  Are we going to see the merging of some functional bureaus? Geographical bureaus realigned to mirror DOD’s combatant commands? Post closures? A new under secretary position swapped for a different one? A brand new mascot to improve morale?

Below are some details from Mr. Tillerson’s testimonies (all in quotation marks) with a few comments of our own.

#1. Reorganization Objective

“I think when this is all said and done, our objective is to enable the people – our Foreign Service officers, our civil servants, our people in our missions, foreign nationals – to deliver on mission with greater efficiency and effectiveness. And in effect, we’re going to get an uplift in effort delivered to the mission.”
— June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

#2. Themes and Organizational Boxes

“…Several themes emerged, and I think the overarching theme, obviously though, is the extraordinary dedication and patriotism of the men and women in the State Department and USAID and why they undertake a career like this. And that is a strength that we will build upon. What we heard from a number of people is they are dedicated to this broad mission of representing America’s interests around the world, but from time to time – not just now, but historically as well – there have been mixed messages within the department, between the department and USAID, between the State Department and embassies, missions themselves. So a greater clarity around how the mission is defined and how direction is given.”
–June 13, SFRC

“So most of the themes have to do with – and this was the nature, though, of what we wanted to engage people with – is not, “Is this the right objective or are these the right organizational boxes?” Tell us how you get your work done, and tell us what gets in the way of you getting your work done, and what frustrates you, because that translates to inefficiency and ineffectiveness. As I said, we have no preconceived notions going in. It would have been very easy to approach this, take the organization chart, start collapsing boxes, start making it flatter in an uninformed way. I don’t have any number in mind as to what the efficiency will be, whether it is going to be 10 percent, whether it’s going to be 25, 30; we’re going to let the redesign drive what those efficiencies will be. That’s my experience in doing this in very large organizations both in the private sector and in the nonprofit sector where I’ve taken a similar approach. At the end of it, we capture significant efficiencies, but let’s let the work of the redesign drive that, not go in and say, “I’m looking for 20 percent.” Because those generally are not sustainable changes then.”
–June 13, SFRC

#3. Performance and Accountability

“We also heard a theme that they do not feel that people are held accountable for their work at the State Department, that poor performers are not dealt with. And the people in the State Department know who is getting the work done and who is not getting the work done, and it’s demoralizing to them when they see that we don’t deal with those who are not delivering on their responsibilities. That gets to how we praise performance, how we give people feedback, how we work to improve their performance, so we have a number of human resources processes that we believe can be improved, and a number of leadership areas that need to be addressed.”
–June 13, SFRC

 

#4. Surveys Completed – 35,000 (out of 84,048 overall staffing for State and USAID)

“We have just completed collecting information on our organizational processes and culture through a survey that was made available to every one of our State and USAID colleagues. Over 35,000 surveys were completed, and we also held in-person listening sessions with approximately 300 individuals to obtain their perspective on what we do and how we do it. I met personally with dozens of team members who spoke candidly about their experiences. From this feedback we have been able to get a clearer overall view of our organization. We have no preconceived outcomes, and our discussions of the goals, priorities, and direction of the State Department and USAID are not token exercises.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

NOTE: How do we reconcile Tillerson’s “we have no preconceived outcomes” with #10 “by the end of Fiscal ’18, we think we’ll be down about 8 percent overall” before his reorganization study/listening tour is even done?

#5. Eliminating Obstacles

“Well, that’s what the entire redesign exercise is about, is understanding better how the work gets done. What we’ve learned out of this listening exercise is the – our colleagues in the State Department and USAID can already identify a number of obstacles to them getting their work done efficiently and effectively. If we eliminate some of those obstacles, it’s like getting another half a person, because they have their time available now to direct it at delivery on mission, as opposed to managing some internal process that’s not directly delivering on mission. I just use that as an example.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

#6. Redesign Timeframe

“I think we will finalize the listening report here in the next few weeks, and we’re going to make that available so people can see that. Out of that report, though, there are about 13 themes that emerged and these were extremely valuable to begin to help us focus on where are the greatest opportunities to remove obstacles for people, because that’s really what this is about, is how do we allow people to get their work done more effectively and more efficiently? And we will be going after the redesign. Some of this is internal processes, some of it is structural, some of it are constraints that, quite frankly, Congress puts on us through some of the appropriation structures. And I understand all well-intended to ensure accountability and oversight, but it ends up adding a lot of layers. So we’re going to be getting at that. We hope to have the way forward, the next step framed here in the kind of August timeframe, so that we can then begin the redesign process itself September. I’m hoping we can have all of that concluded by the end of the calendar year, and then ’18 will be a year of how do we implement this now? How do we effect the change and begin to get that into place?”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee


#7. Implementation in 2018

“I’ll get a final report. I’m interviewing a couple of individuals who will come in and help us now with the next stage, which is the redesign effort itself, which will be – which will involve the colleagues in the State Department and USAID. That effort likely we’ll have that framed over the course of the summer. The effort itself will likely get underway sometime in August, September timeframe when we have our pathway for the process, how we want to engage our colleagues, how we want to get at various elements and themes that emerged from the listening session. Now, some of this is work process, some of it is how we handle people, some of it is how decisions are made. It’s a very broad set of issues which were quite informative. So we’ve got to map out how do we want to get at each of those, but the work itself will start towards the end of the year. Hopefully, we will have some clarity around what that looks like by the end of this year; early next year, we’ll begin implementation.”
–June 13, SFRC

 

#8. Who’s coming to Foggy Bottom?

“… Having done this in the private sector once or twice and in a big nonprofit once, there is a process that I know has delivered for me in the past. So we just concluded this listening effort, which will inform us and shape how we feel we need to now attack the redesign and the way forward. Now, I’ve interviewed a couple of individuals to come in and help me lead that effort.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

#9. Institutionalizing Change

“Well, I think that perhaps the difference in how we’re thinking about this, not a – just is what people think about things differently. The effort that we’re undertaking is to institutionalize change so that it stays and we capture, now and forevermore, these efficiencies.”
–June 13, SFRC

#10. State Department Workforce Projected to be ⬇︎8% by End of FY18 — 1:3 Replacement

“We actually are up about 50 Foreign Service officers from the start of the year, about a half a percent. The effect will come later, as what we’re doing is just allowing normal attrition to bring the numbers down. And as we look forward, we know we’ve got to continue to replenish our Foreign Service officer corps, so we are still interviewing people. And as we look ahead, we’ll probably be looking at a one-for-three kind of replacement. But the Foreign Service, if you – if we look further out, and I think we’ve said this publicly – by the end of Fiscal ’18, we think we’ll be down about 8 percent overall on the permanent State Department Foreign Service/Civil Service. Foreign Service is actually only going to be down about 4 percent; civil servants are going to be down about 12. So it’s being managed in a deliberate way, but being very mindful of not diminishing the strength of our Foreign Service officers.”
–June 13, SFRC

NOTE: On May 10, careers.state.gov posted this note in the forum: “The Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment sent letters to all candidates on the Generalist registers notifying them of the opportunity to join the Consular Fellows Program. This program is a priority initiative for the US Department of State in the coming years and we encourage all of our qualified candidates to consider joining the Foreign Service to fill this important role.”  HR is telling FSO candidates waiting to be called to a class (career tracks) that they can join the Consular Fellow Program (non-career track, 60 months tenure). Why would anyone want to do that?  This tells us that State has hiring authority for the CF program, but may not have one for the career candidates. Also see #14 below.

#11. Staffing the Top Ranks of the State Department

“We’re at about, I would say, the 50 percent mark in terms of undersecretaries/assistant secretaries. In terms of people that have been identified, names are actually being submitted so they can begin to work their way through the White House PPO process, but also, for a lot of people, they have to get this paperwork behind them. And I would tell you that is no small challenge. As I check on the status of various people we have recommended and nominated to the White House, what I’m finding is more o[en than not it’s the paperwork that is slowing them down. In my own case, I had to hire eight people to help me get mine done. Most people can’t afford to hire eight people to help them get their paperwork done, so it takes a very long time. But we’re about 50 percent of the way through, and we have other names that are in process. What we’re doing, we try to get the candidate list of people we think are – would be useful to talk to down to a couple, and then we actually interview them face to face and then make a decision and submit them. So this is a pretty active process. It’s one I sit down with the people that are helping me coordinate it about every 10 days just to see where are we, make decisions on other people. If we’re hearing feedback, we talk to folks, maybe they don’t want to do it after all. So it’s moving, and that’s about where we are within the State Department and the bureaus.”
–June 13, SFRC

RELATED POSTS: 
America’s Cushiest Ambassadorships Will Go Vacant By Inauguration Day;
Who Will Be Acting Secretary of State Pending Rex Tillerson’s Confirmation? (Updated);
Tillerson/Priebus Standoff on Ambassadorships, Plus Rumored Names/Posts (Updated);
Snapshot: @StateDept Presidential Appointee Positions Requiring Senate Confirmation;
Is Foggy Bottom’s T-Rex as Stealthy and Cunning as His Theropod Namesake?;
Rex Tillerson’s Inner Circle Photo Album, Say Cheese Con Quezo!

 

#12. No firing program planned

“We’re not going to have to fire anyone. This is all being done through the hiring freeze, normal attrition, with a very limited, if needed – because we haven’t determined whether we’ll even need it – a very limited buyout program between the end of this year and next. So there is no firing program planned.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

Note: The last time the State Department suffered through a 27% budget cut between 1993-1996, the agency trimmed more than 1,100 jobs at the State Department, 600 jobs at  the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), and shuttered consulates in 26 foreign cities. USAID lost about 2,000 jobs and closed 28 aid missions abroad (see The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA).  We understand that there are plans to close the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah, Iraq, as well as several smaller posts. If those plans are implemented, how can the State Department avoid a firing program? In the case of Basrah, will American employees simply be relocated to other posts, and will local employees simply be absorbed by Baghdad and other posts in the region? (see U.S. Consulate General #Basrah, Iraq: Six-Year Old Diplomatic Outpost Faces Closure).


#13. EFM Hiring Freeze

“State Department family members that are eligible to be hired in mission – we have a waiver process in place for that, and I have approved a number. The freeze does extend, in answer to your question, to all of those. But where we have critical missions, like in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, where we really need these positions filled by family members who are willing to go to those tough locations, I have been providing waivers in those circumstances.”
–June 13, SFRC

NOTE: We’ve blogged previously about the hiring freeze and EFM jobs. According to the November 2016 data, there are about 300 EFM positions in SCA (bureau covers AfghanistanPakistanBangladesh), 560 positions in AF, and almost 400 positions in NEA (bureau covers IraqEgyptLebanon). Back in April, we were hearing that some 70+ EFM waivers were requested. At that time, we understand that Tillerson only granted waivers for 6 EFM positions, and all are for priority posts. Since the State Department’s Public Affairs office refuses to answer routine questions from this blog, we’re hoping that congressional reps will ask follow-up Questions For the Record (QFRs).

If the Secretary of State is only issuing EFM waivers to family members accompanying FS employees to critical missions like Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, he’s basically ignoring the potential fallout of this decision to smaller posts, or posts with high turn-over this transfer season.

Posts typically depend on EFMs to provide support in consular sections, facilities management, security, health unit, vetting, grants, etc. When post has only about a dozen Direct Hire (DH) American employees, this support is just as critical to these mission.  So when these EFMs leave their posts during the ongoing transfer season, these positions will not be filled due to the hiring freeze; and they can’t be hired at their next posts because of the same hiring freeze. When posts are unable to hire EFMs, these jobs still need to be done, so DH employees will need to do their jobs and the EFM jobs. And if there are other gaps in staffing, folks could be wearing three-four hats.  Until when? Potentially until Tillerson lifts the freeze. Which won’t happen until the reorganization plan is “fully developed.” Which may not happen until fall or end of the calendar year. Maybe he’ll wait until early 2018 when the plan is implemented?  Oh, who knows? Does he even care?

READ MORE:
Snapshot: Geographic Distribution of Family Member UnEmployment Overseas;
Oy! That Rumor About Foreign Service Family Member Employment as “Corporate Welfare”;
Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?;
No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”

 

#14. Rangel and Pickering Fellows

“I don’t think we’ve frozen the Rangel and Pickering programs in terms of people that are in process. We’re continuing and we’re going to continue to take applicants as well. But let me follow up with you because I don’t think there’s a full freeze in place of those.”
–June 13, SFRC

“There is no freeze. The structure of the program Rangle-Pickering which is very important to us, and we have every intention of continuing it. The obligation and the contract that the young people and others engage with us when we fund their tuition and for their graduate studies is that we confirm that we offer them a position in Consular Affairs. That is confirmed and it’s a five-year commitment on their part to serve. We then say, we will put you on the list for consideration for the next A-100 Foreign Service class.  We are holding the next A-100 Foreign Service class because quite frankly right now our Foreign Service officer staffing were actually up about 50 people from the beginning of the year with our expected manning — which we’re looking at an 8% reduction by the end of fiscal 2018 — in order for us to have time to manage how we want that to occur so that we do not diminish the strength of the Foreign Service corps. We are holding the next A-100 class so nothing has been frozen and we want people to continue to apply and they’re all offered a position in Consular Affairs. And that is no change from the past. There’s never been a guarantee that anyone would have a clearer offer or pathway to the Foreign Service that would be considered for Foreign Service based upon the work they completed but they always have an offer to go to work in Consular Affairs.”
–June 14, HFAC in response to Congressman Meeks

Note: The Charles B. Rangel Fellows and the Thomas R. Pickering Fellows are two of the nine fellowship programs under the State Department’s  Diplomacy Fellows Program (DFP) designed to advance eligible candidates to the Foreign Service Oral Assessment for the competitive selection of entry level Foreign Service Officer Candidates.  The careers.state.gov website states  “We are not currently accepting applications for the Diplomacy Fellows Program.”  Also see the DPB of June 15, 2017.  A total of 31 members signed a letter to Tillerson calling on the Secretary of State to exempt the Rangel and Pickering Fellows from the State Department hiring freeze.

The Secretary told Congress that the State Department is holding the next A-100 class but the classes for July and September have not been confirmed. The next FSO/Generalist class is scheduled to start on July 10.  As of June 8, 2017, careers.state.gov is telling applicants “Still no decision has been taken regarding A-100 classes for Foreign Service Specialist and Generalist candidates this year.” There has been no recent update on start dates as far as we could tell.

Tillerson appears to be saying there’s no assurance for the diplomacy fellows to get a spot in A-100 class (career appointment) but that there was always an offer  for them to go work for Consular Affairs. What? That can’t be right. He did not specifically mentioned Consular Fellows but since he also talked about Consular Affairs and a 5-year commitment, we suspect that this is the program he is talking about.

Consular Fellows are hired via limited non-career appointments (LNAs). The Consular Fellow LNA appointment is for 5 years, but may be terminated at any time based on performance and/or needs of the Service. These are paid, non-career positions. The Consular Fellows program, similar to its predecessor, the Consular Adjudicator Limited Non-Career Appointment (CA LNA) program, is not/not an alternate entry method to the Foreign Service or the U.S. Department of State, i.e. this service does not lead to onward employment at the U.S. Department of State or with the U.S. government.  See more here: https://careers.state.gov/work/foreign-service/consular-fellows.

If the Consular Fellows Program will be the hiring priority initiative this year and in the coming years, before long the Foreign Service will be encumbered by career Foreign Service officers/specialists (1:3 hiring to attrition) and non-career Consular Fellows on a 60 month limited appointment who can only do consular tours.  At some point, unless there is a correction, the Foreign Service will again be divided into career diplomatic employees, and a consular corps with a limited career track that does not go beyond 5 years. That’s the future we’re reading.

HIRING: We’ve blogged previously about this here:
@StateDept Gets Exemption From Trump Federal Hiring Freeze, March Classes Are On;
Snapshot: Historical and Projected Foreign Service Attrition;
With Zero Information From @StateDept, Foreign Service Candidates Remain in Limbo;
OMB Issues Initial Guidance For Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze (Read Memo);
President Trump Freezes Federal Hiring Regardless of Funding Sources (Read Memo);
@StateDept Sends Out Job Offers to Prospective FSOs For March 6 Class But — Will There Be Jobs?

 

#15. Safety as the Highest Priority

“We’ve made the safety of not just our State Department employees but Americans broadly our highest priority, certainly as it relates to our embassy presence, our consular office presence, and our missions around the world. If you examine the security elements of the budget, our budget for Diplomatic Security is actually up 11 percent, year on year. Where we have reductions has to do with some of the construction, the buildings, part of the budget for embassies and other facilities. Part of that we’ll manage with some multiyear commitments across ’17 to ’18, and some of this has to do with just our ability to move projects along promptly. We are clearly committed to the Benghazi ARB recommendations, and I’m monitoring those carefully. We have some gaps we need to close. The OIG has helped us identify some of those. We’re going to stay on top of those. If there were more funds there, we would simply try to step up more activity on some of the building and maintenance issues. So most of the reduction is in building and maintenance efforts, which we believe are manageable, at least through Fiscal Year ’18.”
–June 13, SFRC

#16. Security and Embassy Construction – Back to Standard Design

“The current budget around security, both security services as well as embassy construction will allow us to maintain our program pretty much through 2018. We will begin to have planning difficulties in 19 at this level and we’re in discussions with OMB about that. And I think to your points about the execution against embassy construction, it really is an execution issue and I agree we need to get back to standard designs, fear scope changes, we don’t need to be unique every place. Plus I’m a fit for purpose guy and we ned to build what’s needed first to deliver the mission.”
— June 14, HFAC

#17. Money Spent Not/Not Indicator of U.S. Commitment 

“I am listening to what my people tell me are the challenges facing them and how we can produce a more efficient and effective State Department and USAID. And we will work as a team and with the Congress to improve both organizations. Throughout my career, I have never believed, nor have I experienced, that the level of funding devoted to a goal is the most important factor in achieving it. Our budget will never be determined – will never determine our ability to be effective; our people will.”
–June 13, Appropriations Sub-Committee

“….That long list of challenges on that board over there have been around for a while. The level of spending we’ve been carrying out hasn’t solved them. I go back to my view that I don’t think the money we spend is necessarily an indicator of our commitment. I think how we go about it – and we’ve got to take some new approaches to begin to address some of these very daunting challenges. The aid and the support and what we can bring to the issue is important. I’m not in any way diminishing that. But I don’t – I think if we equate the budget level to somehow some level of commitment or some level of expected success, I think we’re really undercutting and selling short people’s intellectual capacity to bring different approaches to these problems.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

 

#18. Refugees

“I would take exception to the comment that we’re walking away from our responsibilities in that region with all of the men and women in uniform we have fighting and the State Department diplomatic resources we have to get at the reason the refugees are in Jordan. And I would tell you in working with the region, they all understand – Turkey, Jordan, others understand – we’d like the refugees to stay close to their homes so they can go back. Having them come all the way to the United States doesn’t – may not achieve that. So our approach on the significant problem of refugee migration locally is to solve the problem that allows people to go home. We have already seen some success in the liberation of Mosul and other cities. We hope to replicate that kind of success in Syria where we have come behind the military quickly when they liberate an area, create a secure zone, restore power and water, restore hospitals, restore schools. We have close to 40,000 children back in school in East Mosul already. People will come back if we create the conditions. So we really want refugees to return; it’s not the objective to have Jordan have to house those refugees now and forevermore.”
–June 13, SFRC

#19. Russia Sanctions

“I think it is important that we be given sufficient flexibility to achieve the Minsk objectives. It is very possible that the Government of Ukraine and the Government of Russia could to come to a satisfactory resolution through some structure other than Minsk that would achieve the objectives  of Minsk which we’re committed to. So my caution is I would not want ourselves handcuffed to Minsk if it turns out the parties decides to settle this through a different agreement.”
— June 14, HFAC

#20. Russian Dachas and Irritants 

“So we segmented the big issues from this list of what I call the irritants. The dachas are on that list. We have things on the list, such as trying to get the permits for our consular office in St. Petersburg. We’ve got issues with harassment of our embassy employees in Moscow. We have a list of things; they have a list of things. I don’t want to suggest to you this is some kind of a bartering deal. It’s more, let’s start working on some of the smalls and see if we can solve them. As to the dachas, these two properties have been in ownership of the Russians dating back to the Soviet Union – 1971. They’ve owned these properties and have used these properties for a very long time. They were transferred to the Russian Federation Government for $1 at the breakup of the Soviet Union. We have continued to allow them to use these properties, and they have used these properties continuously for all that time. President Obama, in response to the interference with the election, expelled the 35 Russian diplomats and seized these two properties. What we’re working through with them in this conversation is: Under what terms and conditions would we be, would we allow them to access the properties again for recreational purpose? We’ve not taken the properties from them; they still belong to them. So we’re not going to seize properties that are theirs and remove their — but we are talking about under what conditions would we allow you to use them for recreational purposes, which is what they have asked.”
–June 13, SFRC

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House Democrats Call on @StateDept to Resist Potential Political Witch-Hunts

Posted: 1:12 am ET

 

In October 2016, then candidate Donald Trump retweeted an editorial by the NYPost about what it calls the “State Department’s shadow government.” Trump’s Twitter archive also includes a few tweets about the “State Department” here, “embassy” here, and the term “ambassador” here. Given the tenor of his typical tweets, these tweets are normal in their abnormality, that is, they’re not unique in themselves.

Last week, there were reports that the Trump Transition asked the Department of Energy for a list of agency employees or contractors who attended meetings or conferences on climate change. The 74-point questionnaire (PDF) includes questions like “Can you provide a list of all Department of Energy employees or contractors who have attended any lnteragency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings? Can you provide a list of when those meetings were and any materials distributed at those meetings, EPSA emails associated with those meetings, or materials created by Department employees or contractors in anticipation of or as a result of those meetings?”

The Department of Energy had since responded saying,  “We will be forthcoming with all publically-available information with the transition team. We will not be providing any individual names to the transition team.”

The report was concerning given the department history with the red scare and the lavender scare; we wondered where else the Transition Teams were seeking names. On December 14, CNN reported that Donald Trump’s transition team disavowed the questionnaire sent to the Energy Department requesting the names of employees working on climate change issues. “The questionnaire was not authorized or part of our standard protocol. The person who sent it has been properly counseled,” a Trump transition official told CNN.

We are not aware that a similar request was sent to the State Department. However, the Democratic members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) have already called on Secretary Kerry “to resist any attempt by the incoming Administration to single out individual employees who have worked in support of Obama Administration priorities.”  In their letter, 18 Committee members urged Secretary Kerry to follow suit with their Energy Department counterparts and refuse any such request.

In a letter to Secretary Kerry, the Members wrote, “We believe your Department should work to ensure a smooth transition of power.  However, individual civil servants, Foreign Service Officers, and other staff should not be singled out for their work in support of policy objectives that clash with the next Administration’s goals, leaving them vulnerable to retribution by the incoming Administration. In our view, gathering names in this manner bears striking resemblance to dark chapters in our history marked by enemies lists and political witch hunts.”

The letter also informed the State Department that the HFAC website will soon have a link that State Department and USAID personnel can use securely to report unethical or illegal practices.  The new tool is provided reportedly to help ensure that “employees feel safe when reporting evidence of waste, fraud, and abuse of authority, including discrimination and other civil rights violations.”

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S.1635 ‘Department of State Authorities Act Fiscal Year 2017’ Marches to the Finish Line

Posted: 4:03 am ET

 

On December 5, the House passed S.1635, the authorization bill for the State Department that was previously passed by the Senate on April 28, 2016.  [On motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill, as amended Agreed to by the Yeas and Nays: (2/3 required): 374-16].  The bill’s short title is now the ‘Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017’.  House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce said that “the House has passed an authorization bill in each of the last six Congresses, but unfortunately, it has been nearly 15 years since this legislation was signed into law.” The version of the bill passed by the House is slightly different from the version passed by the Senate this past spring. Our understanding is that the Senate will now need to approve the House changes and when that is done, the bill will go to the White House for President Obama’s signature.

Some components of DOSAA17 that the SFRC approved on April 28, 2016 for FY2017 (see SFRC Approves the Department of State Authorization Act of 2017 #DOSAA17) have made it to approved House version of S.1635, including a 3-year pilot program that provides for a lateral entry into the Foreign Service. We blogged about this previously here, herehere and here.

Section 415 which covers Security Clearance Suspension also made it to this bill with one important difference — “In order to promote the efficiency of the Service, the Secretary may suspend a member of the Service when—(A) the member’s security clearance is suspended; or (B) there is reasonable cause to believe that the member has committed a crime for which a sentence of imprisonment may be imposed.” Written notice and appeals are provided for FS members but the suspension without pay language had been deleted. The bill notes that “suspend” and “suspension” means placing a member of the Foreign Service on temporary status without duties.  We blogged about this portion of the bill back in May (see @StateDept may soon get the ‘security clearance suspension without pay’ hammer, it’s a baaad idea).

Title IV—covers personnel and organizational issues including the following:

Section 401 directs the Secretary to establish and implement a prevailing wage rates goal for positions in the local compensation plan that is post-specific and “not less than the 50th percentile of the prevailing wage for comparable employment in the labor market surrounding each such post.”

Section 402 expands the Overseas Development Program from 20 positions to not fewer than 40 positions; within one year of the date of the enactment, it requires a cost/benefit analysis and allows the ODP expansion to more than 40 positions if the benefits outweigh the costs identified.

Section 403 requires that the promotion of any individual joining the Service on or after January 1, 2017, to the Senior Foreign Service shall be contingent upon such individual completing at least one tour in—‘‘(i) a global affairs bureau; or‘‘(ii) a global affairs position.

Section 405 provides for reemployment of annuitants and a waiver for annuity limitations if “there is exceptional difficulty in recruiting or retaining a qualified employee, or when a temporary emergency hiring need exists.”  That’s good news for retirees.

Section 409 provides, with exception, for non- career employees who have served for five consecutive years under a limited appointment under this section may be reappointed to a subsequent noncareer limited appointment if there is at least a one-year break in service before such new appointment. The Secretary may waive the one-year break requirement under paragraph (1) in cases of special need.’’ This is also good news for those who are on Limited Noncareer Appointments (LNAs).

Section 414 provides for Employee Assignment Restrictions. “The Secretary shall establish a right and process for employees to appeal any assignment restriction or preclusion.”

There are a couple of items that FS families would be interested in — this bill requires the Secretary, under Section 417, to submit to Congress 1) a report on workforce issues and challenges to career opportunities pertaining to tandem couples in the Foreign Service as well as couples with respect to which only one spouse is in the Foreign Service; 2) Section 714 includes an item for those with dependents who are on the autism spectrum:  “It is the sense of Congress that the Secretary should endeavor to ensure coverage and access, for dependents with ASD of overseas employees, to the therapies described in subsection (a), including through telehealth, computer software programs, or alternative means if appropriate providers are not accessible due to such employees’ placement overseas.”

Title I includes embassy security and personnel protection.

Section 103 provides for direct reporting — that the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security report directly to the Secretary, without being required to obtain the approval or concurrence of any other official of the Department, as threats and circumstances require.

Section 104 addresses Accountability Review Board recommendations related to unsatisfactory leadership.

Section 112 address local guard contracts abroad under diplomatic security program and allows for the awarding of contracts on the basis of best value as determined by a cost-technical tradeoff analysis.

Section 117 provides that “the Secretary to the extent practicable shall station key personnel for sustained periods of time at high risk, high threat posts in order to establish institutional knowledge and situational awareness that would allow for a fuller familiarization of the local political and security environment in which such posts are located.”

Section 121 provides security training for personnel assigned to high risk, high threat posts and Section 122 states the sense of Congress regarding language requirements for diplomatic security personnel assigned to high risk, high threat post.

The bill also requires the Department of State to submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report, in classified form, that contains a list of diplomatic and consular posts designated as high risk, high threat posts. Further, it mandates monthly security briefings on embassy security including security tripwires; in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, an evaluation of available United States military assets and operational plans to respond to such posts in extremis; and personnel staffing and rotation cycles at high risk, high threat posts, among other things.

Title II is a stand alone section that covers State/ OIG and USAID/OIG. It looks like Inspector General Steve Linick got almost all the congressional requests he made back in 2015 (see OIG Steve Linick Seeks Legislative Support For Kill Switch on State Dept “Investigating Itself”).

Sec. 201. provides for competitive hiring status for former employees of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGAR).

Sec. 202. Annually for four year, the Secretary is required to submit a certification of independence of information technology systems of the Office of Inspector General of the Department of State and Broadcasting Board of Governors on files/systems managed by the State Department.

Sec. 203 provides for the protection of the integrity of internal investigations. It amends  Subsection (c) of section 209 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 U.S.C. 3929) by adding at the end the following new paragraph: ‘‘(6) REQUIRED REPORTING OF ALLEGATIONS AND INVESTIGATIONS AND INSPECTOR GENERAL AUTHORITY.— “(A) IN GENERAL.—The head of a bureau, post, or other office of the Department of State (in this paragraph referred to as a ‘Department entity’) shall submit to the Inspector General a report of any allegation of—“(i) Waste, fraud, or abuse in a Department program or operation; “(ii) criminal or serious misconduct on the part of a Department employee at the FS-1, GS-15, or GM-15 level or higher; “(iii) criminal misconduct on the part of a Department employee; and “(iV) serious, noncriminal misconduct on the part of any Department employee who is authorized to carry a Weapon, make arrests, or conduct searches, such as conduct that, if proved, would constitute perjury or material dishonesty, Warrant suspension as discipline for a first offense, or result in loss of law enforcement authority. “(B) DEADLINE.—The head of a Department entity shall submit to the Inspector General a report of an allegation described in subparagraph (A) not later than five business days after the date on which the head of such Department entity is made aware of such allegation.”

Section 206 imposes restrictions on USAID/OIG salaries to limit the payment of special differentials to USAID Foreign Service criminal investigators to levels at which the aggregate of basic pay and special differential for any pay period would equal, for such criminal investigators, the bi-weekly pay limitations on premium pay regularly placed on other criminal investigators within the Federal law enforcement community. “This provision shall be retroactive to January 1, 2013.”

Title III covers international organizations. Section 301 provides for oversight of and accountability for peacekeeper abuses. Section 307. provides for whistleblower protections for United Nations personnel.

Under Title V for Consular Authorities, the bill includes Section 502 which signifies Congressional interest on U.S. passports made in the United States.

Title VI calls for the establishment of the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission including membership, powers, and staffing.

Title VII contains miscellaneous provisions including Section 713 that directs “The Secretary shall make every effort to recruit and retain individuals that have lived, worked, or studied in predominantly Muslim countries or communities, including individuals who have studied at an Islamic institution of higher learning.” Section 707 calls for a GAO report on Department critical telecommunications equipment or services obtained from suppliers closely linked to a leading cyber-threat actor.  Section 710 address the strategy requirement to combat terrorist use of social media. And Section 712 calls for the public availability of reports on nominees to be chiefs of mission. State/HR already posts publicly the nominees’ Certificates of Competency but this provision makes clear that the posting of these certificates on a public website is a requirement “Not later than seven days after submitting the report required under section 304(a)(4) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 U.S.C. 3944(a)(4)) to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, the President shall make the report available to the public, including by posting the  report on the website of the Department in a conspicuous manner and location.” 

List of contents (this version does not appear to be available at congress.gov at this time:

TITLE I—EMBASSY SECURITY AND PERSONNEL PROTECTION

Subtitle A—Review and Planning Requirements

Sec. 101. Designation of high risk, high threat posts.
Sec. 102. Contingency plans for high risk, high threat posts.
Sec. 103. Direct reporting.
Sec. 104. Accountability Review Board recommendations related to unsatisfactory leadership.

Subtitle B—Physical Security and Personnel Requirements

Sec. 111. Capital security cost sharing program.
Sec. 112. Local guard contracts abroad under diplomatic security program.
Sec. 113. Transfer authority.
Sec. 114. Security enhancements for soft targets.
Sec. 115. Exemption from certain procurement protest procedures for non-competitive contracting in emergency circumstances.
Sec. 116. Sense of Congress regarding minimum security standards for temporary United States diplomatic and consular posts.
Sec. 117. Assignment of personnel at high risk, high threat posts.
Sec. 118. Annual report on embassy construction costs. Sec. 119. Embassy security, construction, and maintenance.

Subtitle C—Security Training

Sec. 121. Security training for personnel assigned to high risk, high threat posts.
Sec. 122. Sense of Congress regarding language requirements for diplomatic se- curity personnel assigned to high risk, high threat post.

Subtitle D—Expansion of the Marine Corps Security Guard Detachment Program

Sec. 131. Marine Corps Security Guard Program.

TITLE II—OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL OF THE DEPART- MENT OF STATE AND BROADCASTING BOARD OF GOVERNORS

Sec. 201. Competitive hiring status for former employees of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.
Sec. 202. Certification of independence of information technology systems of the Office of Inspector General of the Department of State and Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Sec. 203. Protecting the integrity of internal investigations.
Sec. 204. Report on Inspector General inspection and auditing of Foreign Service posts and bureaus and other offices of the Department. Sec. 205. Implementing GAO and OIG recommendations.
Sec. 206. Inspector General salary limitations.

TITLE III—INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

Sec. 301. Oversight of and accountability for peacekeeper abuses.
Sec. 302. Reimbursement of contributing countries.
Sec. 303. Withholding of assistance.
Sec. 304. United Nations peacekeeping assessment formula.
Sec. 305. Reimbursement or application of credits.
Sec. 306. Report on United States contributions to the United Nations relating to peacekeeping operations.
Sec. 307. Whistleblower protections for United Nations personnel.
Sec. 308. Encouraging employment of United States citizens at the United Nations.
Sec. 309. Statement of policy on Member State’s voting practices at the United Nations.
Sec. 310. Qualifications of the United Nations Secretary General.
Sec. 311. Policy regarding the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Sec. 312. Additional report on other United States contributions to the United Nations.
Sec. 313. Comparative report on peacekeeping operations.

TITLE IV—PERSONNEL AND ORGANIZATIONAL ISSUES

Sec. 401. Locally—employed staff Wages.
Sec. 402. Expansion of civil service opportunities.
Sec. 403. Promotion to the Senior Foreign Service.
Sec. 404. Lateral entry into the Foreign Service.
Sec. 405. Reemployrnent of annuitants and Workforce rightsizing.
Sec. 406. Integration of foreign economic policy.
Sec. 407. Training support services.
Sec. 408. Special agents.
Sec. 409. Limited appointments in the Foreign Service.
Sec. 410. Report on diversity recruitment, employment, retention, and promotion.
Sec. 411. Market data for cost-of-living adjustments.
Sec. 412. Technical amendment to Federal Workforce Flexibility Act.
Sec. 413. Retention of mid- and senior-level professionals from traditionally under-represented minority groups.
Sec. 414. Employee assignment restrictions.
Sec. 415. Security clearance suspensions.
Sec. 416. Sense of Congress on the integration of policies related to the participation of Women in preventing and resolving conflicts.
Sec. 417. Foreign Service families workforce study.
Sec. 418. Special envoys, representatives, advisors, and coordinators of the Department.
Sec. 419. Combating anti-Semitism.

TITLE V—CONSULAR AUTHORITIES

Sec. 501. Codification of enhanced consular immunities.
Sec. 502. Passports made in the United States.

TITLE VI—WESTERN HEMISPHERE DRUG POLICY COMMISSION

Sec. 601. Establishment.
Sec. 602. Duties.
Sec. 603. Membership.
Sec. 604. Powers.
Sec. 605. Staff.
Sec. 606. Sunset.

TITLE VII—MISCELLANE OUS PROVISIONS

Sec. 701. Foreign relations exchange programs.
Sec. 702. United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.
Sec. 703. Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Sec. 704. Rewards for Justice.
Sec. 705. Extension of period for reimbursement of seized commercial fishermen.
Sec. 706. Expansion of the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Program, the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Program, and the Donald M. Payne International Development Fellowship Program.
Sec. 707. GAO report on Department critical telecommunications equipment or services obtained from suppliers closely linked to a leading cyber-threat actor.
Sec. 708. Implementation plan for information technology and knowledge management.
Sec. 709. Ransoms to foreign terrorist organizations.
Sec. 710. Strategy to combat terrorist use of social media.
Sec. 711. Report on Department information technology acquisition practices.
Sec. 712. Public availability of reports on nominees to be chiefs of mission.
Sec. 713. Recruitment and retention of individuals who have lived, worked, or studied in predominantly Muslim countries or communities.
Sec. 714. Sense of Congress regarding coverage of appropriate therapies for dependents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Sec. 715. Repeal of obsolete reports.
Sec. 716. Prohibition on additional funding.

(Roll no. 603). (text: CR H7160-7172)

 

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

Posted: 12:12 am ET

 

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

#

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

Posted: 3:01 am EDT

 

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:

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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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HFAC Chairman Ed Royce Introduces “Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013” (H.R. 1768)

On April 26, 2013, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), introduced legislation to increase the independence and transparency of future Accountability Review Boards (ARB), the temporary investigative bodies that are  convened to  review security-related incidents that result in “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.”

According to Mr. Royce’s website the “Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013” (H.R. 1768) will increase the independence of future ARBs from the State Department, limiting the Secretary of State’s role.

Here is part of Mr. Royce’s reasoning:  “When then-Secretary of State Clinton testified about the Benghazi attack in January, she repeatedly referred to the ARB findings, calling it an ‘independent’ investigative body.  But the fact is, Secretary Clinton convened the ARB  and hand-picked four of its five members.  This ARB failed to assess the roles of so-called “seventh floor” State Department officials in the decisions that led to the Benghazi mission’s severely compromised security posture, despite strong evidence suggesting these senior officials were involved.  This legislation will ensure that future ARBs are, in fact, independent of State Department leadership.”

The text of the proposed legislation has not been posted yet. But according to Mr. Royce’s website, The Accountability Review Board Reform Act addresses the following:

  • increases the five-member ARB’s independence from the State Department.  Under current law, the Secretary of State appoints four of an ARB’s five members.  Under this legislation, the Secretary will appoint only two of the five members, with the Chair of the Council of Inspectors General of Integrity and Efficiency (the chief U.S. inspector general) appointing two members, and the Director of National Intelligence appointing the fifth member.
  • improves the staffing model of future ARBs.  Currently, an ARB relies on State Department employees to assist with the investigation of other State Department employees.  Under this legislation, ARB staff would be drawn from the Office of Inspector General.
  • eliminates potential conflicts of interest by banning individuals from serving as an ARB member or an ARB staffer if they have a personal or professional relationship with someone expected to be investigated.
  • enhances transparency and allows greater oversight of the ARB process.  Current law requires that the Secretary disclose only the names of the five ARB members.  This legislation requires the Secretary to disclose the names of any senior State Department employees tasked with assisting an ARB.
  • allows greater oversight.  Current law requires that the ARB submit a final report to the Secretary.  This legislation requires that the ARB also submit the final report to Congress.

According to data in congress.gov, H.R.1768 was introduced by Rep Royce, Edward R. [CA-39] on 4/26/2013. It currently has  16 cosponsors  and has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

We’ll post comments after we’ve seen the full text of H.R. 1768.

— DS

GOP’s Benghazi Report: Anonymous DS Agent, Whistleblowers and Embassy “Security”

There are three items we found interesting in Appendix I of the House GOP’s interim report on Benghazi.

House Committee on Government and Oversight Reform: The Committee has heard from, and continues to hear from, multiple individuals with direct and/or indirect information about events surrounding the attacks in Benghazi.

On April 17, CBS News reported that multiple new whistleblowers are privately speaking to investigators with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and that the Committee had sent new letters to the CIA, DOD and State. If there are multiple whistleblowers as claimed here, we could be looking at Benghazi hearings going on all the way to 2014 and even 2016. By then Diplopundit Jr. would be old enough to drive and what more, junior would never ever again confused Benghazi with Bujumbura. So that’s something to look forward to.

House Foreign Affairs Committee: Approached a DS agent who was on the scene in a not-yet-successful effort to obtain additional information. This individual wishes to remain anonymous. 

The individual may wish to remain anonymous but that anonymity is not going to go very far inside the building. How many DS agents were on the scene of the attacks again?  That’s a pretty thin cover.  Poor guy won’t get any peace or space between now and then, whenever then maybe.

House Foreign Affairs Committee: Building on its Benghazi investigation, the Committee is taking a broader look at embassy security to determine whether the State Department is adequately protecting its personnel at other diplomatic facilities. Improving embassy security is a Committee legislative priority. The Committee is particularly concerned about, and is currently investigating, the security situation at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. 

Well, then all we can add is that the Committee better hurry with the broader look Congress is doing before it’s too late.

It can start with the Consulate General in Jeddah

Want to go further than 2007?   Why don’t we try 30 years back with the US Embassy in Beirut?

Apparently, thirty long years after the Beirut embassy bombing, we might be close to finally building a Fortress in Beirut. Ay caramba but it’s now happening!

Proposal for the U.S. Embassy building in Beirut, conceived by Ralph Rapson in 1953.

Proposal for the U.S. Embassy building in Beirut, conceived by Ralph Rapson in 1953. This project is not related to the current one. (image via the Lebanese Architecture Portal – click on image to view original material)

While at it, Congress might want to see if the State Department bothered to learn anything from the embassy mob attacks last year since no ARB was ever convened.  We understand that in some of those posts attacked, there were strict orders from the front office to restrict dissemination of information and photos on the extent of the damages (US Embassy Tunis was one exception).

Might it be true that some of our embassies in the Arab Spring countries are trying to shape perceptions to what they imagine their embassy and host country should be instead of basing post and host country expectations on reality?

If the Committee is particularly concerned about the security situation at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan where we have a large number of contract guards and the U.S. military, should it not be also concerned with the U.S. Embassy in Egypt where neither is present and mobocacy now rules?

— DS