Congress “Examines” @StateDept FOIA Compliance, Talks Hillary, Hillarrry, Hillarrrrry

Posted: 4:20 pm ET
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On September 8, the House Oversight and Reform Committee (HOGR) held a hearing Examining FOIA Compliance at the State Department. The hearing has four State Department officials as witnesses starting with Patrick Kennedy, the Under Secretary for Management and Janice Jacobs, the agency’s Transparency Coordinator. It also includes two staffers from the Executive Secretariat. Some members expressed appreciation for the work these officials have done, one referring to them as “clean-up” people at State.

For the most part, it’s the kind of theater that we’ve come to expect from the Congress. One member asked about the Yemen War and the arm sales to Saudi Arabia. In an FOIA hearing.  More than a couple members used the hearing to throw darts at the absent Hillary Clinton. No, no response required from any of the witnesses in those segments. Another member wants the State Department to go get Colin Powell’s emails from his tenure at the State Department. A member brought up Colin Powell’s role in the lead up to the Iraq War. There was a bit of discussion on retroactive classification and Foreign Government Information (FGI). Another member wanted to know the names of the people who are processing and redacting FOIA requests. We stopped watching when Chaffetz did a quiz show on what Congress should not be able to see.  We include the links below to the prepared statements of the State Department officials as well as the hearing page here, if you want to watch the video.

Oh, get ready, apparently over the next few days, the Committee will hold a couple more hearings like this. On September 12, it will hold a hearing on classification and redactions in FBI’s investigative file. On September 13, it will hold a hearing on the preservation of records at the State Department. This last one is also called an “examination.” By October, we might see hearings focusing on an Examination of the State Department’s Cafeteria Selection.  It remains to be seen if the next hearings will result in any findings at all, or if perhaps this is nothing but a roundabout way of getting folks an audition for spoken entertainment with Audible.

 

The Honorable Patrick F. Kennedy Under Secretary for Management U.S. Department of State Document
The Honorable Janice Jacobs Transparency Coordinator U.S. Department of State Document
Ms. Karin Lang Director, Executive Secretariat U.S. Department of State Document
Mr. Clarence N. Finney, Jr. Deputy Director for Correspondence, Records, and Staffing Division, Executive Secretariat U.S. Department of State Document

Here’s the GOP side talking about putting the “e” at the end of potato and Hilary Clinton.

Here’s the Dems talking about the GOP and Hillary Clinton.

Welcome to the next 60 days of depressing nightmare on the Hill, in addition to the other one unfolding on teeve. Excuse us now, we’ll just go find us some cats for therapy.

 

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HOGR Democrats Invoke 1928 Statute Then Release in Full Colin Powell’s Email Tips to #HillaryClinton

Posted: 1:45 am ET
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Remember when former Secretary of State Colin Powell said this:

On September 7, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (HOGR), publicly released an email exchange between former Secretary of State Colin Powell and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in January 2009 on the use of blackberry and personal email. The bit about official records is going to drive FOIA advocate nuts.

According to Cummings’ press release, he obtained the email exchange between Secretary Powell and Secretary Clinton through a unique statutory provision known as the “Seven Member Rule” in which any seven members of the Oversight Committee may obtain federal records from federal agencies.

The Seven Member Rule is unique authority passed by Congress and signed by the President in 1928 that requires any executive agency to “submit any information requested of it relating to any matter within the jurisdiction of the committee” when requested by seven members of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The Members requested the Powell-Clinton emails by September 6, 2016. Two emails were produced by the State Department to the House Oversight Committee on September 6, 2016, and clearly marked “NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE.”  But of course, it was publicly released in full on September 7, 2016 with only one redaction; presumably, Secretary Powell’s AOL email address.

 

Read directly via the House Oversight Committee here (PDF).

 

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By The Numbers: State Department Congressional Response 2015

Posted: 1:39  am EDT
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This past January, Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (HOGR) to testify on the State Department’s response to Congressional requests for documents in 2015. Below is extracted from her prepared testimony (PDF):

160,000 pages: provided to the Committee for its investigation of embassy construction

6,000 pages: provided to the Committee on the Jakarta New Embassy Compound

5,000 constituent cases: response provided to members of Congress – everything from lost passports to missing constituents overseas to helping with visas for constituents’ family members.

2,500 briefings: provided to the Hill on foreign policy issues

2,137 Consular Notifications pages: provided to the Committee on overseas construction

1,700 Congressional letters: provided response to congressional inquiries

536: Congressional Member and staff delegation trips abroad.

168 Hearings: Congressional hearings where State Department officials appeared in 2015

21 staffers:  people dedicated to processing documents with support from new legal and information technology personnel for the Congressional Document Production Branch.

9 Investigations: currently with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that the State Department is working on

1 Congressional Document Production Branch: new unit created at the State Department to “enabling us to respond to more committees simultaneously than ever before.”

 

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FASTC Hard Skills Training Center: “Who owes who favors?”

Posted: 12:19 am EDT
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On September 9, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (HOGR) held a hearing to examine the efforts to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel and assets in northern Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexican border (see HOGR Hearing: Violence on the Border, Keeping U.S. Personnel Safe).  There were questions about danger pay, security, local guard pay, planned facilities, hardship posts, staffing and yes, a congressman did suggest that we close our consulates in Mexico.

During the hearing, one congressman also showed up to beat up DS A/S Gregory Starr about the FASTC hard skills training center set to be built at Fort Pickett. The congressman from Georgia, Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (GA-1)wanted to know why the OMB has not released its report on this politically contentious project that has been going on for years.  Um… probably because it’s not Diplomatic Security’s report to release? What the congressman from Georgia probably really want to ask is why the heck is the State Department building a training facility  in Fort Pickett, VA, didn’t everybody know that FLETC in Glynco, GA is the best facility there is?  We did not see the representatives from the VA delegation, probably because this was a hearing related to border posts.  Not sure, the congressman was really interested in the answers to the questions he asked. He told Mr. Starr to “go back and compare the two sites.” We wonder how many times Diplomatic Security has to go back and compare these two sites. Until all the congressional delegates are happy with it?  Did he ask other questions about the border posts? Must have missed that.

The Skeptical Bureaucrat recently did a piece on the FASTC:

To review the situation, the administration wishes to construct a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) that would consolidate ‘hard skills’ training by the State Department and its partners at Fort Pickett in southside Virginia. Some members of Congress are trying to stop the project, ostensibly on grounds of economic efficiency, and would require the State Department to use the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Georgia for hard skills training. Both sides are currently awaiting the public release of a General Accountability Organization (GAO) report that evaluates the business case for building FASTC at Fort Pickett.

This week the Progress-Index, a local newspaper in the Fort Pickett area, interviewed and quoted a senior Diplomatic Security Service official for an article about the political impasse over FASTC. Well, hum, that’s interesting. I presume the senior official had gotten official clearance to make those remarks. I further presume that State gets to review the expected GAO report before it goes public. Putting 2 + 2 together, I wonder whether DS is signalling with the interview that it knows the GAO will support building FASTC at Fort Pickett?

Here’s the article, Report could speed up diplomatic training center at Fort Pickett:

State Department officials are hoping a soon-to-be released report will help end wrangling in Congress that has delayed construction on a diplomatic security training center at a National Guard base in Virginia.

Construction on the first phase of the facility at Fort Pickett, just over the Dinwiddie County border, was set to begin Aug. 1 with a completion date set for 2019. State Department officials have put that work on hold while they respond to Congressional requests for information.

The State Department stands by its selection of Fort Pickett, saying its proximity to Washington, D.C., and rural location would allow it to conduct around-the-clock military-style training. The site is also within driving distance of Marine bases in Virginia and North Carolina that State Department personnel train with, as well as Navy special warfare forces that are stationed in Virginia Beach.

Stephen Dietz, executive director of the State Department’s bureau of diplomatic security, said the Marines have told him that they can’t afford to travel to Georgia for State Department training. He said the cost estimates for the southeastern Georgia site [FLETC} only have to do with construction, and don’t include operation, maintenance or travel costs for State Department, military or intelligence agency personnel. 

Read TSB’s  Possible Tip-Off About FASTC Hard Skills Training Center at Fort Pickett?

The report cited by TSB also has a quotable quote from Mayor Billy Coleburn of Blackstone, Virginia who has been looking forward to as many as 10,000 people coming through for State Department training each year:

“If you’re banking your hopes on common sense and consensus in Washington, D.C., you stay up late at night worrying,” said Mayor Billy Coleburn. “Who owes who favors? Who gets browbeaten behind the scenes. Those are things we can only imagine — what happens in smoke-filled rooms in Washington, D.C?”

We can’t imagine those things. Nope.

What we’ve learned from this hearing is that Congress is really worried about the security of U.S. diplomatic personnel overseas. Until it’s not.

So far, it has not been able to get its act together on a project that’s the center of a long standing tug-of-war between politicians. For sure, there will be another hearing. And another. And another.

It certainly is interesting to watch these congressional hearings where our elected reps demonstrate their deep understanding of the issues bubbling with barely hidden agendas. Can we please start sending these folks to Crash and Bang training?  Also, Channel 9 has Survivor Matamoros Nuevo Laredo, all 9 square miles of the city you’re allowed to go  is also accessible on Channel 9, any volunteers?

Anybody out there know what’s happening to the GAO report?

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HOGR Hearing: Violence on the Border, Keeping U.S. Personnel Safe

Posted: 2:47 pm EDT
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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on September 9, to examine the efforts to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel and assets in northern Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexican border. The Committee notes on its introduction the risks posed to U.S. personnel and the public by the criminal violence in northern Mexico are numerous including:

  • February 2015the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros reported 227 separate security incidents in the U.S. border region.
  • May 2015two government buildings in Matamoros were struck by bomb attacks. 
  • June 2015a gunman on the Mexican side of the border fired multiple shots at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter. 
  • June 2015a U.S.-contracted vehicle was hijacked by armed criminals which resulted in the theft of over 11,500 Border Crossing Cards.

The video is available here. The witnesses include three officials from the State Department (DS, OBO, WHA), an official from DHS/CBP, and a representative from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).  There is no representative from the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) in this hearing.

Screen Shot 2015-09-09

U.S. Mission Mexico | Border Posts

William H. Moser Deputy Director, Bureau of Overseas Building Operations U.S. Department of State Document
Gregory B. Starr Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Diplomatic Security U.S. Department of State Document
Sue Saarnio Deputy Assistant Secretary, Western Hemisphere Affairs U.S. Department of State Document
Robert L. Harris Director, Joint Task Force – West U.S. Customs and Border Protection Document
Brandon Judd President, National Border Patrol Council American Federation of Government Employees Document

The hearing is also available here via C-SPAN.

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