US Mission Iraq/INL: Sexing-up Them “Engagement” Numbers in Iraq?

Here is part of the SIGIR report that talks about the number of meetings (on the Iraqi side) and engagements (on the US Embassy Iraq/INL side) during the first three month period of 2012.

In late December 2011, Principal Deputy Minister of Interior al-Asadi ordered the formation of a committee within the MOI to coordinate with INL and manage MOI’s involvement with the PDP [Police Development Program]. The committee reported that MOI officials held 80 meetings with INL advisors from January 1 to April 1, 2012. (INL reported that it held 517 engagements with MOI personnel during the same three-month period.) In addition, the MOI committee noted that it had rejected 55 meeting requests by INL during the first three months of 2012. The committee characterized 52 meetings with INL as “beneficial,” 21 as “semi-beneficial,” 1 as “non-beneficial,” and did not assess the other 6. The MOI committee also concluded.

Let’s just say that there are no weekends at US Mission Iraq.

517 engagements
÷  90 days
—————————
=  5.744444 engagements a day for a three-month duration

Given that no one can just pick up and go in Iraq, and that it is deemed unsafe to travel without any security details over there, how does five meetings/engagements a day from just one part of US Mission Iraq even works?

What are included in these 517 engagements — meetings via emails? Appointments by telephones? Pigeon posts?  Two cans and a string? What counts?

Unfortunately, the SIGIR report did not explain what the meaning of “engagement” really is from the INL perspective. Or how many resulted in face-to-face or face-to-screen-meetings.

Well, whatever it is, the 517 “engagements” did not seem to help much.

According to SIGIR, as of July 2012, the number of INL in-country advisors was reduced to 36: 18 in Baghdad and 18 in Erbil, down from the 85 advisors supporting the program in January 2012.

Of course, in the glass is full perspective, one could argue that without that 517 “engagements”, the number of in-country advisors could have been down from 85 advisors to 6 or zero. The fact that we’re left with 36 should be considered a programmatic success or something.

SIGIR’s analysis of DoS’s FY 2013 budget request, however, shows that the Police Development Program support costs would go up to 94% of program funding and the per advisor costs would double to about $4.2 million per year.

In short, 36 advisors will still cost US taxpayers $151.2 million a year.

Before you get mad, just remember that we already have a $204.8 million savings from the 49 advisors who were cut off from the program.

This monopoly game is addicting and so exciting! Can we please buy a new school in my district with that money?

Domani Spero

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If State Dept Is Not Cancelling Iraqi Police Training Program, Why Is Its Contractor Packing Up?

Last week, NYT reported that the U.S. May Scrap Costly Efforts to Train Iraqi Police.  We blogged about it in State Dept May Dump Multi-Billion Dollar Iraqi Police Program; Noooooooo! Not So Says Embassy Baghdad.

During the Daily Press Briefing of May 14, the State Department Spokesperson clarified that “we have no intention to cancel our police training program in Iraq,” and told reporters that the department “had considerable difficulties with that story.”

If that is so, how come it has not requested a retraction of this NYT story? But more to the point, why it its contractor handling the police training program in Iraq, packing up?

Assistant Secretary of State for the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, former Ambassador William R. Brownfield visits with Iraqi Ministry of Interior officials at the Baghdad Police College forensics lab to discuss the future training of Iraqi police forces. 03.16.2011
Photo by Spc. Breeanna Dubuke (via dvidshub.net)

Here is the back and forth during the DPB:

QUESTION: I realize this was addressed by the Embassy yesterday, but I just want to get from here – you know what I’m talking about, yes? – in terms of the elimination, or reported elimination, of the Iraqi police training program. This – the report said that it was being considered that the whole program could be – could vanish, that it could go away. The Embassy, while it denied that, didn’t say that it wouldn’t be substantially cut or whittled down to a mere fraction of what it originally had been planned to be. Can you just clarify what exactly is – what are the plans for the police training program?

MS. NULAND: Well, first let me clarify we have no intention to cancel our police training program in Iraq. What we are engaged in, in collaboration with the Iraqis, is a right-sizing exercise for this program along with all of our programs. As you know, we are absolutely committed to, first of all, supporting Iraqi self-reliance. So if they tell us they need less support, we are going to downsize. And in this case, they are asking us to continue the advisory and training program but to downsize it, and also to saving the U.S. taxpayer money wherever we can. So I can’t give you a final size for this. We are in the evaluation process now, working with the Iraqis. But we do anticipate we’re going to be able to downsize it considerably while continuing to be able to support the Iraqis on the police training side.

QUESTION: Okay. This is the second time in – since the beginning of the year that this particular publication has written something about the Embassy which you had a serious dispute with. Both times it has been cast – the reports have cast these reductions or slashing of personnel as serious miscalculations by the Administration in terms of its Iraq policy. What’s your feeling about that, that characterization of it?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, it’s important to appreciate that we are in a new phase with Iraq. We’re in a phase where it is up to the Iraqis to decide precisely what kind of footprint they want by foreign support, foreign countries offering support, offering assistance in the context of their overall approach to their sovereignty. So we very much need to respect that this is a collaborative decision how much support they want on the police training side.

So we’re trying to be in step with their increasing self-reliance. We’re trying to do this in a negotiated, phased, managed way. But we’re also trying to make clear to Iraqis that we think we have valuable training, valuable advice to offer, as we do to some hundred countries around the world. So we’re going to work this through, but I think folks need to get on the program that we have a sovereign Iraq who’s going to make its own decisions about how much outside support it wants.

QUESTION: All right. So you agree or disagree with the characterization that this is – that this represents a serious political – or a serious policy miscalculation?

MS. NULAND: Well, of course I’m going to disagree with that. Thank you.

QUESTION: Was the report correct that the Administration has spent $500 million so far on the police training program?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have the total amount here, but as you know, we’ve been involved in police training from the beginning of the Iraq operation, as far back as 2003. I can take the question if it’s of interest to you to sort of tote it all up. But we were involved in police work ourselves, police training for the Iraqis from the beginning, the standing up of their own professional police forces. I don’t think anybody in that country wanted to submit themselves to the old Saddam-ite police, so it needed a bottom-up work and cleansing. So —

QUESTION: One other thing. The report alleged that much of the training provided by the United States, and in particular by the State Department since the departure of the U.S. military from Iraq, was not helpful to the Iraqis, that it consisted of retired or late-in-their-career American state troopers telling war stories about how they conduct their activities in the United States.

And it cited one anecdote in which it said that the two key indices of someone possibly going to – planning to launch a suicide bombing were: one, that they would withdraw a lot of money from the bank; and two, that they’d go out and get drunk. And it suggested that those were perhaps not very apposite indicators for Iraq where: one, a lot of Iraqis don’t have bank accounts; and two, a lot of Iraqis don’t drink. Do you – how do you address the criticisms in the story that regardless of how many millions were spent on this, that the training wasn’t actually all that useful?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I’m not going to get drawn into parsing the anecdotes in a story with which we took considerable issue, both in its macro assertions and in many of its details. We had considerable difficulties with that story, as the statement from Embassy Baghdad made clear.
With regard to the integrity of the police training that we do – we have done in Iraq over these many years, we stand by it. The Iraqis have a new, modern, more democratic police force largely as a result of the support of the international community led by the United States. I’m obviously not in a position to speak to every individual involved in this, but all over the world we rely on the expertise of retired officers from the United States, from other countries, who are willing to participate in these training programs. And they participate on the basis of their experience in democratic law enforcement, not to hang around and tell inappropriate war stories. So we stand by the program. And if you’d like more on the numbers, et cetera, we can get you a separate briefing.

QUESTION: Can I just – the last one this?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just given the severity of the differences that you had with this, has there been any contact between the Department or anyone – any senior officials in the Department and the editorship of the publication in question?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get into our discussions with the —

QUESTION: Well, have you asked for a correction or clarification or —

QUESTION: Or a retraction?

MS. NULAND: We have made absolutely clear in our public statements and in our messages to that publication how we feel about the story.

QUESTION: But does that mean that you’ve asked for a retraction or a correction or some kind of – I mean, after the first one, you demanded one. And you were quite open about it, and you got one.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I think we’re still working on that set of issues.

Either the NYT got this right or the NYT got this wrong.

And while State is working on “that set of issues” we heard from an official familiar with the program both under DOD and State that the contractor for the Police Development Program is packing up and will be out of there by this summer.

“If DoS intends to continue the program, they had better let the primary contractor know this because it is shuttering their operation as we speak.”

Our source says that there are less than 50 police trainers currently working under this contract, and by August 2012, all of them, will leave Iraq and finally end their embassy compound sequestration.

Somebody please send this tip to the spokespersons in Foggy Bottom and the US Embassy in Baghdad, in case this item was deemed “need to know.”

Here’s what we suspect will happen this summer. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), the department’s bureau with oversight of this program, will continue to staff its police development program at the US Embassy in Iraq. For sure, the FSOs assigned to work on this program are already preparing his/her pack out at his/her post for this summer’s rotation into Baghdad.  The incumbents currently working on this program in Baghdad are preparing to leave and polishing up their accomplishments for the year in their EERs. So certainly, even without the trainers, as long as the program is “open,” and “right-sized” to a skeleton crew of less than the fingers in your hand, we can all pretend that “we have no intention to cancel our police training program.”

So —  we’ll not end this program even when the Iraqi trainees have stop showing up, and what bony remains of the staff are all holed up in the embassy compound?  The pesky details from this DPB will be addressed in a separate post; DBP is giving me a giganotosaurus migraine as huge as embassy Baghdad.

Domani Spero

State Dept May Dump Multi-Billion Dollar Iraqi Police Program; Noooooooo! Not So Says Embassy Baghdad

So on Sunday, NYT’s Tim Arango reported from Baghdad that the U.S. May Scrap Costly Efforts to Train Iraqi Police. Quick excerpt:

BAGHDAD — In the face of spiraling costs and Iraqi officials who say they never wanted it in the first place, the State Department has slashed — and may jettison entirely by the end of the year — a multibillion-dollar police training program that was to have been the centerpiece of a hugely expanded civilian mission here.

What was originally envisioned as a training cadre of about 350 American law enforcement officers was quickly scaled back to 190 and then to 100. The latest restructuring calls for 50 advisers, but most experts and even some State Department officials say even they may be withdrawn by the end of this year.

The training effort, which began in October and has already cost $500 million, was conceived of as the largest component of a mission billed as the most ambitious American aid effort since the Marshall Plan.

Actually, according to SIGIR’s estimate, as of October 2011, the United States has spent about $8 billion to staff, train, and equip Iraq’s police forces.

On cross-cultural police mistraining or where in heaven’s name did we find these instructors?

A lesson given by an American police instructor to a class of Iraqi trainees neatly encapsulated the program’s failings. There are two clues that could indicate someone is planning a suicide attack, the instructor said: a large bank withdrawal and heavy drinking.

The problem with that advice, which was recounted by Ginger Cruz, the former deputy inspector general at the American Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, was that few Iraqis have bank accounts and an extremist Sunni Muslim bent on carrying out a suicide attack is likely to consider drinking a cardinal sin.

Last month many of the Iraqi police officials who had been participating in the training suddenly refused to attend the seminars and PowerPoint presentations given by the Americans, saying they saw little benefit from the sessions.
[…]
The largest of the construction projects, an upgrade at the Baghdad Police College that included installing protective covering over double-wide residence trailers (to shield against mortar attacks) and new dining and laundry facilities and seminar rooms, was recently abandoned, unfinished, after an expenditure of more than $100 million. The remaining police advisers will instead work out of the American Embassy compound, where they will have limited ability to interact with Iraqi police officials.

Read in full here.

That Iraqi police officials see little benefit from these training sessions should not be news to anyone. Last year, Iraq’s Senior Deputy Minister of Interior Adnan al Asadi told SIGIR: “What tangible benefit is there to my ministry of 650,000 people who are in the midst of massive security challenges on the streets of Iraq? Very little.”

Frankly, we can understand his point. There are bombings here and there, there’s an arrest warrant for the country’s vice president for terrorism charges, and we are training them on human resources and online recruitment, potential training venues in the United States, two-hour seminars on the “mediums of communication and how they are used to better communicate,” English language, GoCase Management Software for Commission of Integrity (but lead COI programmer was killed in spring 2011), and so on and so forth.

And there is the fact that Iraq has not made the financial contribution toward the cost of the Police Development Program (PDP) as required by US law and policy. SIGIR has pointed out that Iraq is certainly able to make such a contribution, and its failure to do so raises genuine concerns about its commitment to the program.

In last year’s appearance at the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, United States House of Representatives, Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., the Inspector General of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction had this to say:

“While the U.S. government views the PDP as about a billion dollar capacity-development program, the Iraqis view it as 115 English-speaking police advisors (25 of whom will be stationed in the stable Kurdistan Region) providing diverse training and support. With those advisors come burdens, including requests from the U.S. Embassy for land use agreements, for visas for third country national security guards, for weapons permits for armed security teams, and the like. The land use issue is significant. The primary PDP location in Baghdad is at Forward Operating Base Shield, which is right in the middle of an unstable area of Baghdad that houses the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Oil, and the Baghdad Police College. The Iraqis expressed concern that the placement of American advisors in that location may attract attacks that could affect nearby facilities.” [SIGIR 11-003T].

Police Development Program Sites in Iraq
Image via SIGIR
(click image for larger view)

We should not forget that Thomas R. Nides, deputy secretary of state for management and resources, in a February briefing with reporters in Washington said: “We have stood up a robust police-training program, which is doing a terrific job working with the local police in training and developing a program, which I think will pay enormous dividends.”

We can’t say if anyone has actually been able to sketch fully what those “enormous dividends” are like.

In any case, Sunday is a working day at the US Embassy in Baghdad, and yesterday, it released a Tarzan statement in response to the NYT report, which can be described as “a victory cry of the bull ape” sort of statement — “Police Development Program is a Vital Part of the U.S.- Iraqi Relationship”

Despite a New York Times report to the contrary, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the Department of State have no plans to shut down the Police Development Program (PDP) in Iraq that began in October 2011.  According to U.S. Embassy Spokesman Michael McClellan, “The Iraqi Government and the State Department regularly review the size and scope of our law enforcement assistance efforts to ensure that these  programs best meet the needs of Iraq’s security forces.“

As part of its review of staffing and space issues in early 2012, and in close consultation with the Iraqi Government, the Embassy and the Department of State decided to return the Baghdad Police College Annex to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and relocate U.S.-funded advisors to the Embassy compound by the end of 2012.

Read the full statement here.

We are seriously wondering if 1) anyone actually believe any part of that statement; and 2) if the US Embassy in Baghdad bothered to read SIGIR’s audit of the Iraq Police Development Program: Opportunities for Improved Program Accountability and Budget Transparency from October 2011

The audit, which according to SIGIR, was initially was impaired by the State Department’s lack of cooperation, and resulted in limited access to key officials/documents slammed the State Department’s handling of the Iraqi training program:

  • DoS does not have a current assessment of Iraqi police forces’ capabilities upon which to base its program.
  • While DoS has further defined the program since the option was adopted, it has not developed specific goals on what is to be accomplished, intermediate and longer-term milestones, metrics to assess progress and accomplishments, and or means to ensure transparency and accountability for program costs and performance.
  • Without specific goals, objectives, and performance measures, the PDP could become a “bottomless pit” for U.S. dollars intended for mentoring, advising, and training the Iraqi police forces. Meetings held with Iraqi police officials and training courses provided could simply become “accomplishments,” without any indicators of changes in the management and functioning of the Iraqi police forces that can be attributed to this costly program.

So for this quarter, here is the Police Development Program advisors’ bottomless accomplishments, with more coming next quarter:

  • 399 engagements with Baghdad-based advisors—up 105% from last quarter’s 195
  •  95 engagements with Erbil-based advisors—down 41% from last quarter’s 160
  •  23 engagements with Basrah-based advisors—down 34% from last quarter’s 35

As for indicators of changes, there are a few striking ones:

  • U.S. advisors/trainers will now be officially working at the embassy compound.
  • U.S. advisors/trainers will be working at the embassy compound, sans Iraqi trainees now allergic to PowerPoint presentations
  • And U.S. advisors/trainers will be working at the embassy compound, period.

Tarzaaaaaaaaaaaaan!

Domani Spero