Who’s a Slacker in Policing Sexual Misconduct in Federal Agencies? Take a Guess

Posted: 1:26 am ET
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WaPo just did a piece on sexual misconduct in federal agencies, or the lack of consistent disciplinary practices across agencies based on the staff report by the House Oversight Government Report Committee (report embedded below).

Here’s a public request from WaPo’s Joe Davidson who writes the Federal Insider column:

Questions for Federal Insider readers: How pervasive is sexual harassment in the federal government? If you have been the target of sexual harassment, please tell us the circumstances, what form the harassment took, whether it was reported, what was done about it and whether the perpetrator was disciplined. We will use this information for a future column. In certain cases we can print your comments without identification. Please send your comments to joe.davidson@washpost.com with “sexual misconduct” in the subject line.

Here is an excerpt from the OGRC, a case study that is distinctly familiar:

The hearing examined patterns of sexual harassment and misconduct at the USDA, as well as the fear many employees had of retaliation for reporting these types of cases. It also addressed the agency’s response to harassment incidents and its efforts to improve.66

At the hearing, two women testified publicly about the harassment they personally experienced while on the job at the Forest Service and how the agency’s subsequent investigation and discipline failed to address those responsible. Witness Denice Rice testified about her experiences dealing with sexual harassment on the job when her division chief was allowed to retire before facing discipline, despite his history of misconduct.67 Further, the Forest Service re-hired this individual as a contractor and invited him to give a motivational speech to employees.68 In addition, witness Lesa Donnelly testified about her and others’ experiences with sexual misconduct at the Forest Service. Her testimony spoke about those who were too afraid to report harassment because they feared retaliation from the perpetrators.69

The report cites USAID and the State Department for having Tables of Penalties but although it cites USAID for having “differing Tables of Penalties for foreign service employees and other civilian employees primarily covered by Title 5, United States Code”, it says that the State Department’s Table is “used for foreign service employees only”.

The Foreign Affairs Manual actually spells out penalties for both Foreign Service and Civil Service employees.

3 FAM 4370 LIST OF OFFENSES SUBJECT TO DISCIPLINARY ACTION – FOREIGN SERVICE

24. Use of U.S. Government equipment for prohibited activities, including gambling, advertising for personal gain, or viewing, downloading, storing, transmitting, or copying materials that are sexually explicit, while on or off duty or on or off U.S. Government premises

50. Violation of laws, regulations, or policies relative to trafficking in persons and the procurement of commercial sex, any attempt to procure commercial sex, or the appearance of procuring commercial sex

51.  Sexual Assault (3 FAM 1700)

3 FAM 4540 LIST OF OFFENSES SUBJECT TO DISCIPLINARY ACTION – CIVIL SERVICE

24. Use of U.S. Government equipment for prohibited activities, including gambling, advertising for personal gain, or viewing, downloading, storing, or transmitting, or copying materials that are sexually explicit, while on duty.

48. Violation of laws, regulations, or policies relative to trafficking in persons and the procurement of commercial sex, any attempt to procure commercial sex, or the appearance of procuring of commercial sex

49. Sexual Assault (3 FAM 1700)

You will note by now that sexual harassment is not on these Tables of Penalties.  Both regs cited above have a section that says its Table of Penalties is not an all-inclusive list. The State Department says “It is impossible to list every possible punishable offense, and no attempt has been made to do this:” But it includes this:

#a. Employees are on notice that any violation of Department regulations could be deemed misconduct regardless of whether listed in 3 FAM 4540.  This table of penalties lists the most common types of employee misconduct.  Some offenses have been included mainly as a reminder that particular behavior is to be avoided, and in the case of certain type of offenses, like sexual assault, workplace violence, and discriminatory and sexual harassment, to understand the Department’s no-tolerance policy.

#b. All employees are on notice that misconduct toward, or exploitation of, those who are particularly vulnerable to the employee’s authority and control, e.g., subordinates, are considered to be particularly egregious and will not be tolerated.

The State Department’s sexual harassment policy is here.  Also see  3 FAM 1520  NON-DISCRIMINATION ON THE BASIS OF RACE, COLOR, NATIONAL ORIGIN, SEX, OR RELIGION updated last in December 2010.

For blogposts on sexual harassment click here; for sexual assaults, click here.

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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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New London Embassy: Design Passed the Full Mockup Blast, So Why the “Augmentation Option” For $2 Million?

Posted: 2:58 am EDT
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Back in July last year, we wrote about the New London Embassy (NLE) project. Our trusted source told us that the project “went into construction before its glass facade design was tested to confirm it will meet blast standards.” Our source further explained that  the testing was needed only because the New London Embassy does not use known, familiar, window systems. The curtain wall apparently has no frames to ‘bite’ the glass and retain it under blast. That is a new technique for OBO we’re told, so the bureau reportedly had no basis to analyze the design (see New Embassy Construction Hearing: Witnesses Not Invited, and What About the Blast-Proof Glass?).

On December 8, the House Oversight Committee held a hearing on the New London Embassy Project. Below is an excerpt from State/OIG Steve Linick’s prepared statement (PDF):

In July 2015, OIG published the findings of its performance audit of the London NEC construction project.1 During this audit, OIG reviewed the Department’s evaluation and approval of the project design, including the design of the outer façade of the Chancery building,2 which comprises two layers. The outermost layer consists of a scrim stretched over a network of thin aluminum components. The scrim wraps the building to the east, west, and south, acting as a screen. Underneath the scrim, a glass curtain wall with an aluminum frame forms the inner layer of the building’s envelope.

OIG’s first objective was to determine whether the Department resolved security issues with the curtain wall design before allowing construction to begin. The Department’s physical security standards require all new office buildings such as the Chancery at the London NEC to provide blast protection to keep people and property safe from an attack. Moreover, by law and Department policy, the Department must certify to Congress that the project design will meet security standards prior to initiating construction.

OIG found that the Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) and Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) did not obtain blast-testing results for the Chancery’s curtain wall design before the Department certified the project and authorized initiation of construction. As discussed in more detail below, initiating construction prior to security certification and blast testing increased the financial risk to the Department and taxpayers, and was contrary to the Department’s policy.

A second objective for OIG was to determine whether the Department adhered to Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) requirements in negotiating a price for the NEC. OIG found that the contracting officer responsible for the NEC construction contract awarded the construction portion of the contract without requiring the contractor to provide an explanation of approximately $42 million in cost differences between the initial proposal and the final proposal. Because the contracting officer did not obtain sufficient information when negotiating the final price for the construction portion of the contract as required by the FAR, OBO was unable to assess fully the contents of the construction proposal that the contracting officer ultimately accepted and used as the basis for the firm-fixed-price award.

A practice that does not comply with 12 FAM 361.1

Since at least 2003, the Department has followed the practice of issuing limited notices to proceed, as set forth in the 2003 draft agreement, thereby authorizing construction contractors to begin limited tasks (not including foundation work) prior to certification. This practice, however, does not comply with 12 FAM 361.1, which states that “no contract should be awarded or construction undertaken until the proponent of a project has been notified by the Department that the appropriate certification action has been completed.” Notwithstanding the prohibition in 12 FAM 361.1, DS approved OBO’s request for early site work and construction of the piling foundation of the London NEC in November 2012, more than a year before certification and blast testing.

Concerns with the security of the curtain wall

The London NEC’s outer façade design was new and was never previously evaluated or tested by DS. The glass curtain wall design used in the NEC needed to meet a variety of security criteria, including forced-entry/ballistic resistant (FE/BR) and blast-protection requirements. As early as November 2012, DS notified OBO of its concerns with the curtain-wall design. DS informed OBO that there were substantial omissions and deficiencies of essential information related to FE/BR testing, curtain-wall sound mitigation, and blast-design methodology. This meant that DS would not accept computer modeling of the curtain wall to certify whether it would meet blast requirements and thus would require field validation as a condition to certify the project. CSE also expressed concerns with the security of the curtain wall and notified DS that its concerns would “need to be resolved by either a follow-on design or a written agreement” from OBO.

An “alternate curtain wall system” – just in case

Based on that written assurance and prior to any blast testing, the Under Secretary of State for Management certified to Congress on December 16, 2013, that the London NEC would be constructed in a secure manner and would provide adequate and appropriate security for sensitive activities and personnel. During this timeframe, OBO tasked the design firm for the NEC to develop solutions in the event the curtain wall failed the blast test. Specifically, OBO worked with the contractor to develop an “alternate curtain wall system” that was acceptable to DS for certification without blast testing.

An “augmentation option”— for an additional cost of $2 million

DS oversaw two series of component-level blast tests in February and April 2014. According to DS, the tests were necessary to determine the viability of employing structural silicone for the curtain wall. However, because the test results were mixed and inconclusive, OBO and DS agreed that the full mockup blast test would be the only valid test of the design. The full mockup blast test occurred on May 28, 2014, and according to DS, the design passed. Nevertheless, DS and OBO reached an agreement incorporating what became known as an “augmentation option”— for an additional cost of $2 million. Employing this option, although not necessary to meet standards, was intended to provide an added measure of security.

As noted in our audit, OIG recognizes that the Department’s decision to initiate construction of the London NEC prior to completing the required blast testing was driven by a schedule to complete construction by 2017. However, by initiating construction without first completing blast testing, the Department committed itself to the construction of a building that could have required significant redesign, potentially placing millions of dollars at risk.

 

The House Oversight Committee hearing page is here with the rest of the video clips and the prepared statements of the witnesses from OIG, OBO, and Diplomatic Security.

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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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Burn Bag: Family Members Not Affected by #OPMHack? Here’s the Missing GIF From OPM’s Website

Via Burn Bag:

OPM, in the FAQ section of the CSID website, declares that our family members were “not affected by this breach. The only data potentially exposed as a result of this incident is your personal data.”  Thus, our family members cannot use the credit monitoring and identity theft protection services.  But wait.  My spouse’s name, date of birth, place of birth, passport number, and social security number were listed in my SF-86.  And my SF-86 has been compromised.  So hasn’t my spouse been “affected” by this breach, too?

So far no one has been fired, no one has accepted responsibility for the breach, and the OPM notification letter says, “Nothing in this letter should be construed as OPM or the U.S. Government accepting liability for any of the matters covered by this letter or for any other purpose.”

via reactiongifs.com

via reactiongifs.com

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New Embassy Construction Hearing: Witnesses Not Invited, and What About the Blast-Proof Glass?

— Domani Spero
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Last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on Examining New Embassy Construction: Are New Administration Policies Putting Americans Overseas in Danger? The congressional witnesses to the full committee hearing included Lydia Muniz, the Director, Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations at the State Department (prepared statement here pdf), Casey Jones, the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) who oversees the Program Development, Coordination and Support and Construction, Facilities and Security Management Directorates. Previously, he was the Director of Excellence in Diplomatic Facilities, assisting the Department in launching its Excellence initiative (see prepared statement here pdf), and Grant S. Green, Jr., the State Department Under Secretary for Management from 2001 to 2005 and  panel chairperson of the State Department Report on Diplomatic Security Organization and Management.  The report which remains under SBU cloak was leaked to Al Jazeera in May 2014 but is available online here. Congress is apparently not happy that the report was not made available to them and that they had to print it out from the AJAM website.

The accompanying Al Jazeera report says:

A confidential government report obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit sharply criticizes the U.S. Department of State’s diplomatic security operations and raises serious concerns about an elaborate embassy construction program overseas.
[…]
The panel also delivered a stiff jab to another State Department entity, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), which supervises the design and construction of U.S. facilities abroad. The bureau is pushing a new design and building program that, department officials said, enhances the appearance of overseas facilities but also provides essential security for the safety of U.S. personnel.

But here is the part of that AJAM report that should have perked many ears in Foggy Bottom:

William Miner, the former director of the OBO’s design and engineering office, said the department began using Standard Embassy Design a few years after the East African bombings at two U.S. embassies in 1998. The buildings were constructed quickly and were “very secure, very safe.” He explained, “You needed to get people under cover and use a standardized approach to do that. OBO actually designed and built over 100 embassies using that strategy.”

On the other hand, Miner said, “we went overboard from a safety and security standpoint.” Now, with the transition to Design Excellence, he said he worries that “the pendulum will swing in the other direction with the design issues.” The challenge, he said, is to find “the right balance.”

Miner said he retired from the State Department in January, as did others who worked for him. He said the changes in the design program and a desire to pursue other professional interests were factors in his decision to leave after 28 years.

Miner said he registered his concerns over the design approach with senior OBO officials. “I was not alone in shouting in the wind,” he said. “The office of diplomatic security shouted even more forcefully,” expressing the view that the Design Excellence program was “a bad way to go.”

Discussing the development of the new London embassy, now under construction, Miner said that the planned curtain wall façade is “fragile,” adding, “You don’t want to beg for problems but this façade could be asking for trouble.”

Last month, CBS News reported on the Design Excellence with specific focus on the New London Embassy’s (NLE) blast proof glass:

The State Department has made design a priority for U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. New buildings must be better looking and more energy efficient. But CBS News has learned this is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars — while potentially keeping American officials in harm’s way.

A striking glass structure, set to open in 2017, will be the new U.S. embassy in London. But six months into construction, CBS News has learned, the project is already at least $100 million over the initial cost estimate, partly due to manufacturing challenges with the design’s six-inch-thick blast-proof glass.

When HOGR had its hearing last week, the Committee did not invite Mr. Miner who left the State Department after 28 years of service. The Committee also did not invite anyone from Diplomatic Security. Instead the Committee invited Mr. Green who left the State Department in 2005, and Mr. Casey who was recruited by the State Department in 2012. Sometime after 2009, Ms. Muniz served as Principal Deputy Director at OBO prior to her appointment as OBO director in 2012.  Of course, Congress wanted hear from these witnesses; Mr. Green chaired the panel that did the report that was leaked to AJAM but did we really need the top two officials from OBO there? What’s with a hearing on “putting Americans overseas in danger” without Diplomatic Security (DS), the bureau “responsible for providing a safe and secure environment for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy” as a witness? And no one wants to hear first-hand from Mr. Miner why he and some of his staff quit OBO?

Our State Department source familiar with OBO work told us that this glass facade issue has been “an enormous point of contention between DS and OBO for a year or more,” but it hadn’t gotten into the press before the AJAM story in May.  Our source speaking on background as he/she is not authorized to speak for the State Department says that Mr. Miner headed all of OBO’s design and engineering work, and if he doesn’t think the London design will work for blast protection, then “I assume Congress may want to call him for a hearing.” So far, it doesn’t look like Congress is anxious to talk to him.

But here’s the kicker:

Our source said that the New London Embassy (NLE) “went into construction before its glass facade design was tested to confirm it will meet blast standards.”

This wouldn’t have the potential of leaving  OBO with a billion-dollar fiasco, would it?  Also — is this the kind of thing that would make a veteran official like Miner and some of his staff quit their jobs?

Our source explained that  the testing was needed only because the New London Embassy does not use known, familiar, window systems. The curtain wall apparently has no frames to ‘bite’ the glass and retain it under blast. That is a new technique for OBO we’re told, so the bureau reportedly had no basis to analyze the design.

Here is what Ms. Muniz said in May when the AJAM story broke:

Lydia Muniz, director of the OBO, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that the London design meets DS safety and security standards. If there are any problems in testing for blast vulnerability, she said, steps will be taken to rectify the situation. Asked if an earlier test failed, she said, “We are still testing. We don’t make any final determinations until the completion of testing, including the full-scale mock-up, which has not taken place yet. I would not say that it failed.”
[…]
“Safety and security are not taking a back seat under this program,” she said. “There is no diminishing in any way the security standards that diplomatic security puts forward.”

Forgive us for not understanding this — how can anyone say that the design meets DS safety and security standards if  testing has not yet been completed?  Isn’t that a tad premature?  And, should we expect some quibbling about the meaning of these test results in the future?

Dear Diplomatic Security, we hope you have nordstromed yourselves!

It’s been a couple of months since that AJAM interview.  So, did the curtain wall/windows withstand the blast test yet?  Yes? No? Maybe? Are we all confident about the results? Might we learn more about this test results from the Congress, or State/OIG or GAO anytime soon?

New Embassy London

New Embassy London via Google Images

Now, the good news apparently is that the lower-level construction that’s going on now at the New London Embassy is separate from the curtain wall and windows.  We understand that is fine and chugging along to 2017. But allow us to be the curmudgeon in the room and say, what if …

…what if when completed, the tests indicates a blast vulnerability?

The New London Embassy cost approximately a billion dollars.

How much would it cost to “rectify the situation” for the curtain walls/windows for a building like this, if needed?

 

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