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@StateDept Now Required to Report Allegations and Investigations to OIG Within 5 Days

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Posted: 1:53 am ET

 

In the Spring 2017 OIG Report to Congress, State/OIG informed Congress of the following:

OIG did not encounter any attempts to interfere with IG independence—whether through budgetary constraints designed to limit its capabilities or otherwise—for the reporting period from October 1, 2016, through March 31, 2017.

During this reporting period, OIG identified the following incidents where the Department resisted or objected to oversight activities or restricted or significantly delayed access to information. The incidents either arose during or persisted into this reporting period. As to each item, OIG has addressed the issue as described below:

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) has limited and continues to limit OIG’s permanent worldwide access to specific DS systems that OIG requires to conduct its oversight activities. OIG has and continues to make repeated requests for access, and DS has denied or revoked access without notice. At this time, OIG is working with the Department to correct this situation.

The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) delayed OIG access to requested information. OIG worked with the Department and sub- sequently obtained the required information. OIG continues to work with the Department to ensure that, in the future, INL provides requested information in a timely manner.

OIG previously explained in response to other requests from Congress that it had faced challenges investigating allegations of criminal or serious misconduct by Department employees. This limitation was addressed in recent legislation— enacted in December 2016—that requires the Department to submit to OIG within 5 days a report of certain allegations of misconduct, waste, fraud, and abuse. OIG and the Department are actively working to ensure that these reports are provided in a timely manner and that OIG receives all necessary information as required by the statute.

Related items to read:

On or about this time, the State Department has also updated 1 FAM 050 of the Foreign Affairs Manual as the reporting requirement was included in the Department of State Authorities Act for Fiscal Year 2017:

1 FAM 053.2-6  Required Reporting of Allegations to the OIG
(CT:ORG-411;   04-13-2017)

a. Effective December 16, 2016, section 209(c)(6) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as added by section 203 of the Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017 (22 U.S.C. 3929(c)(6)), provides:

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 5 business days after the date on which the head of such Department entity is made aware of such allegation.

b. Any allegation meeting the criteria reflected in the statute should immediately be brought to the attention of the relevant head of a bureau, post, or bureau-level office. (Bureau-level offices are entities on the Department’s organizational chart as revised from time to time, see Department Organizational Chart.)

c.  The first report by any Department entity should cover the period beginning December 16, 2016 (the day the law went into effect), and ending not later than five business days before the date of that report. Thereafter, any additional reportable information is due not later than the five-business day deadline stated in the statute. 

d. Questions regarding this reporting requirement may be directed to the Office of the Legal Adviser for Management (L/M), or the OIG’s General Counsel or Deputy General Counsel.

e. As outlined in 1 FAM 053.2-5, any Department employee or other personnel may continue to raise any allegations directly to OIG, via the OIG Hotline, internalhotline@stateoig.gov, or 1-800-409-9926, or the other methods listed elsewhere in the FAM.  All Employees, Locally Employed Staff, Foreign National Employees, individuals providing services via Personal Service Agreements (PSAs), Personal Service Contractors (PSCs), third party contractors, subcontractors, and grantees at all levels are also reminded of the existing reporting requirement contained in 1 FAM 053.2-5 paragraph d and the existing reporting requirements regarding criminal activity, employee misconduct, allegations of harassment, or any other reportable offenses to the relevant action office in Washington.

f.  Below is a reporting template, which may be modified pursuant to the situation or needs of the reporting entity.  

The FAM reporting template notes the following:

The information provided in this report is preliminary and may be unsubstantiated.  Any records or information provided to the OIG in the preliminary report are compiled for law enforcement purposes under the meaning of the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552.  The information in this preliminary report may constitute Personally Identifiable Information.  The unauthorized disclosure of information contained in this preliminary report could reasonably be expected to constitute a violation of the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. 552a.  To the extent the information pertains to an open investigation, the release of such preliminary information could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.

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DOJ Grants Immunity to Bryan Pagliano, Ex @StateDept Staffer and HRC’s Former Server Guy

Posted: 2:16 am EDT

 

 

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State Dept Suspends All Tarrant County (Texas) Passport Processing Authority

Posted: 12:50 am  PDT

 

 

The Star Telegram reports that the State Department has suspended all Tarrant County (Texas – Ft Worth’s county) acceptance agents’ authority to accept passport applications.

The Tarrant County district clerk’s office cannot process passport applications until an investigation into a “possible infraction” is completed by the U.S. State Department, County Administrator G.K. Maenius said Tuesday.

The district clerk’s office has not been able to accept applications since it was notified by the State Department of the investigation on June 25, Maenius said.

The clerk’s office has processed about 33,000 applications so far this year. As a registered agent of the State Department, the office has been handling passport applications since 1999, currently at six locations around the county.

One prospective passport applicant told the Star that she could not even pick up the paperwork for the passport application nor get any information about passports from one of the processing sites in the county.
Read more here.

The Tarrant County website posted the following information:

Screen Shot 2015-07-08

via Tarrant County, TX

NBCDFW.com says that the order comes amid a federal investigation into the use of fraudulent documents to obtain passports in Tarrant County and whether clerks followed proper procedures, according to a person familiar with the case.

Later on July 8, NBC5 reports that the Department of State confirmed it is investigating Tarrant County’s passport office and had ordered the county to stop taking passport applications but would say little else.

“We can confirm that all passport acceptance facilities in Tarrant County, Texas, have temporarily suspended accepting U.S. passport applications,” a State Department spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “As a review is ongoing, we cannot comment on further details.”

Last May, a Grand Jury in the Southern District of Texas indicted three women charged with nine counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with the alleged use of U.S. passport information from the Houston Passport Office. (See U.S. Passport Agency Contractor, Two Others Indicted for Alleged Use of Stolen Passport Information). That case is currently pending in the Southern District of Texas in Houston. Jury selection and trial in that case is set for October 13, 2015.

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State/OIG Releases Investigation on CBS News Allegations: Prostitution as “Management Issues” Unless It’s Not

— Domani Spero

 

In June last year, CBS News’ John Miller reported that according to an internal State Department Inspector General’s memo, several recent investigations were influenced, manipulated, or simply called off at the State Department. The memo obtained by CBS News cited eight specific examples.

Memos showed that probes included allegations of:

  • A State Department security official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” on foreign nationals hired as embassy guards
  • Members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries” — a problem the report says was “endemic.”
  • An “underground drug ring” was operating near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and supplied State Department security contractors with drugs.
  • The case of a U.S. Ambassador who held a sensitive diplomatic post and was suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.
  • Investigation into an ambassador who “routinely ditched … his protective security detail” and inspectors suspect this was in order to “solicit sexual favors from prostitutes.”
  • “We also uncovered several allegations of criminal wrongdoing in cases … some of which never became cases,” said Aurelia Fedenisn, a whistleblower and former investigator for the Inspector General.

You may revisit that CBS News report here. At that time, State/OIG told us that “On its own initiative, OIG’s Office on Investigations has been conducting an independent review of allegations referred to it by our Office of Inspections.” In a statement to CBS News, State/OIG also said about the investigation: “We staffed it independently and appropriately and they were people hired specific for this review at the end of 2012. They are on staff. We staffed it with the best people we can find at hand to do the job.”

We’ve blog about this previously:

Yesterday, State/OIG finally released its long-awaited report to this investigation, excerpt below:

The allegations initially related to eight, high-profile, internal investigations. […]

In three of the eight internal investigations, OIG found that a combination of factors in each case created an appearance of undue influence and favoritism by Department management. The appearance of undue influence and favoritism is problematic because it risks undermining confidence in the integrity of the Department and its leaders.

This review assesses the Department’s handling of those eight investigations. OIG did not reinvestigate the underlying cases. In conducting this review, OIG interviewed Department employees, examined case files, and reviewed 19,000 emails culled from the Department’s electronic communications network. OIG’s findings are not necessarily indicative of systemic issues affecting all DS cases. However, they reveal issues with current Department policies and procedures that may have significant implications regarding actual or perceived undue influence.

Handling “management issues” relating to a U.S. Ambassador

OIG found that, based on the limited evidence collected by DS, the suspected misconduct by the Ambassador was not substantiated. DS management told OIG, in 2013, that the preliminary inquiry was appropriately halted because no further investigation was possible. OIG concluded, however, that additional evidence, confirming or refuting the suspected misconduct, could have been collected. For example, before the preliminary inquiry was halted, only one of multiple potential witnesses on the embassy’s security staff had been interviewed. Additionally, DS never interviewed the Ambassador and did not follow its usual investigative protocol of assigning an investigative case number to the matter or opening and keeping investigative case files.
[…]
The Under Secretary of State for Management told OIG that he decided to handle the suspected incident as a “management issue” based on a disciplinary provision in the FAM that he had employed on prior occasions to address allegations of misconduct by Chiefs of Mission. The provision, applicable to Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials, states that when “exceptional circumstances” exist, the Under Secretary need not refer the suspected misconduct to OIG or DS for further investigation (as is otherwise required).2 In this instance, the Under Secretary cited as “exceptional circumstances” the fact that the Ambassador worked overseas.3 (underlined for emphasis)

DS managers told OIG that they viewed the Ambassador’s suspected misconduct as a “management issue” based on another FAM disciplinary provision applicable to lower-ranking employees. The provision permits treating misconduct allegations as a “management issue” when they are “relatively minor.”4 DS managers told OIG that they considered the allegations “relatively minor” and not involving criminal violations.

Office of the Legal Adviser staff told OIG that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do not apply to Ambassadors who, as in this instance, are political appointees and are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service.5

OIG questions the differing justifications offered and recommends that the Department promulgate clear and consistent protocols and procedures for the handling of allegations involving misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials. Doing so should minimize the risk of (1) actual or perceived undue influence and favoritism and (2) disparate treatment between higher and lower-ranking officials suspected of misconduct.6

But the footnotes!

2* 3 FAM 4322.2 states that incidents or allegations involving Chiefs of Mission that could serve as grounds for disciplinary action and/or criminal action must be immediately referred to OIG or DS to investigate. This section further states that “[i]n exceptional circumstances, the Under Secretary for Management…may designate an individual or individuals to conduct the investigation.” No guidance exists describing what factors to consider in determining what constitutes “exceptional circumstances.”

3* In the SBU report provided to Congress and the Department, OIG cited an additional factor considered by the Under Secretary—namely, that the Ambassador’s suspected misconduct (solicitation of prostitution) was not a crime in the host country. However, after the SBU report was issued, the Under Secretary advised OIG that that factor did not affect his decision to treat the matter as a “management issue” and that he cited it in a different context. This does not change any of OIG’s findings or conclusions in this matter.

4* 3 FAM 4322.3.a provides that a management official “must initially determine whether he, she, or another management official should be the investigating official, or whether the matter should be referred to” OIG or DS for further action. This section further provides that if the official determines that the “alleged misconduct is relatively minor, such as leave abuse or failure to perform assigned duties, that official or another management official may handle the administrative inquiry” and need not refer the matter to OIG or DS.

5* After the SBU report was issued, the Under Secretary of State for Management advised OIG that he disagrees with the Office of the Legal Adviser interpretation, citing the provisions in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 which designate Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President as members of the Foreign Service. See Foreign Service Act of 1980, §§ 103(1) & 302(a)(1) (22 USC §§ 3903(1) & 3942(a)(1)).

6* During the course of this review, OIG discovered some evidence of disparity in DS’s handling of allegations involving prostitution. Between 2009 and 2011, DS investigated 13 prostitution-related cases involving lower-ranking officials. OIG found no evidence that any of those inquiries were halted and treated as “management issues.”

OIG to M’s “exceptional circumstances”  — what the heck is that?

“…OIG concludes that the Under Secretary’s application of the “exceptional circumstances” provision to remove matters from DS and OIG review could impair OIG’s independence and unduly limit DS’s and OIG’s abilities to investigate alleged misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior Department officials.

Well, it’s shocking that M, DS and the Legal Adviser could not agree on a simple thing. We do think the OIG is exactly right here. Why have an oversight and investigation arm if some higher up can declare no investigation necessary under an “exceptional circumstances”clause, that’s not even spelled out.

The Inspector General is ranked equivalent to an Assistant Secretary.  According to the regs, he reports directly to the Secretary, the Board, the Commissioner and the head of any other organization for which the OIG is assigned oversight responsibility, or to the extent such authority is delegated, to the officer next-in-rank. But 1 FAM 053.2-2 Under Secretary for Management (M) (CT:ORG-312; 07-17-2013)  put in place before the current OIG assumed office, also has this to say:

The Under Secretary for Management (M) is the Secretary’s designated top management official responsible for audit and inspection follow-up and the Secretary’s designee for impasse resolution when Department officials do not agree with OIG recommendations for corrective action.

We’ll have to watch and see how this turns out.  Must add that nowhere in the Foreign Affairs Manual does it say that the Inspector General may not/not investigate matters considered “management issues” under  “exceptional circumstances.”

 

Related item:

-09/30/14   Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (ESP-14-01)  [685 Kb] Posted on October 16, 2014

FBI Investigates Vahey Case: International School Teacher, a Suspected Child Predator

— Domani Spero

Via FBI:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is seeking the public’s assistance to identify alleged victims of a suspected international child predator. William James Vahey, a 64-year-old U.S. citizen, was a suspect in an international sex crimes investigation who committed suicide on March 21, 2014. His alleged victims were American and international students enrolled in private schools abroad where Vahey taught, beginning in 1972.

A USB thumb drive belonging to Vahey and provided to the FBI revealed pornographic images of minor males, approximately 12 to 14 years old, who appeared to be asleep or unconscious. The images were captioned with locations and dates that referenced places Vahey had previously traveled with students. When Vahey was confronted about the images, he reportedly admitted molesting boys throughout his entire life and said he gave the minors sleeping pills prior to the molestation.

FBI agents have reviewed photographs dating back to 2008 that depict at least 90 alleged victims. The FBI is seeking to notify individuals of the ongoing investigation and encourage additional alleged victims to come forward.

Vahey, who maintained residences in London and Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, traveled extensively and internationally during the past four decades, working as a middle school and high school teacher at several American international schools in at least nine different countries. He taught history, geography, and social studies, and also coached junior varsity and basketball teams for boys. He regularly accompanied students on overnight field trips.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24

In addition to foreign nationals, the schools where Vahey worked were attended by the children of American diplomats, military personnel stationed overseas, and other American citizens working abroad.  Between 1972 and 2014, Vahey was employed at the following schools:

▪2013–March 2014: Managua, Nicaragua
Vahey was employed as a ninth grade world history and advanced geography teacher at the American Nicaraguan School, located in Pista Suburbana, Managua, Nicaragua. His employment was terminated on March 12, 2014.

▪2009–2013: London, United Kingdom
Vahey was employed as a history and geography teacher for middle and high school students at the Southbank International School, located in London, United Kingdom.

▪2002–2009: Caracas, Venezuela
Vahey was employed as a social studies and history teacher for middle school students at Escuela Campo Alegre, located in Caracas, Venezuela.

▪1992–2002: Jakarta, Indonesia
Vahey was employed as a social studies teacher for middle school and high school students at the Jakarta International School, located in Jakarta, Indonesia.

▪1980-1992: Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
Vahey was employed as middle school assistant principal and social studies teacher for middle school students. He also coordinated K-9 social studies curriculum at Saudi Aramco Schools, located in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

▪1978–1980: Athens, Greece
Vahey was employed as a social studies teacher and guidance counselor for middle school students at the American Community School, located in Athens, Greece.

▪1976–1978: Ahwaz, Iran
Vahey was employed as a history teacher for middle school students and spent one year as a fifth grade teacher at the Passargad School, located in Ahwaz, Iran.

▪1975–1976: Madrid, Spain
Vahey was employed as a middle school teacher at the American School in Madrid, Spain.

▪1973–1975: Beirut, Lebanon
Vahey was employed as a social studies teacher for middle and high school students at the American Community School of Beirut, located in Beirut, Lebanon.

▪1972–1973: Tehran, Iran
Vahey was employed as a social studies teacher for middle school students at the Tehran American School, located in Tehran, Iran.

 

If you have information about the ongoing investigation regarding William James Vahey, or believe you may have been victimized by him, you may complete the FBI’s confidential questionnaire or submit a confidential email to: HOvictimassistance@ic.fbi.gov. You can also contact your local FBI office or the nearest American Embassy or Consulate.

Read more here: http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/seeking-info/willliam-james-vahey

Allegations on how this was handled by the American school in Managua has surfaced online here (thanks K!). UK’s Daily Mail also reports that Vahey had been investigated at Southbank International over a previous ‘incident’ during his time at the school. But it claimed it was not pursued at the request of both parents and child.

The State Department was asked: The FBI has conducted an investigation of a pedophile that taught for decades on schools that are used by the children of U.S. diplomats. Has there been any concern from any families in how you handle this kind of threat? And will that be part of the new civilian security undersecretaries?”

Here is the official non-answer answer:

MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you for raising this terrible case. The FBI is seeking the public’s assistance to identify victims of a suspected international child predator who is now deceased. The focus is to locate and identify victims. The – many of the victims will likely be American citizens. It is expected that the victim pool will be multinational. In addition to foreign nationals, the schools were attended by children of American diplomats, military personnel stationed overseas, and other American citizens working abroad. The FBI is committed to providing victim assistance as needed. We will continue to work with the FBI through the – through DS and other national and international law enforcement partners on this ongoing investigation. By his own admission, Mr. Vahey provided victims with sleeping pills prior to the alleged criminal acts. And obviously, as you noted, this has raised a significant concern. We’re certainly closely with the FBI on this around the world.

Nine countries, four continents and that’s the best answer they could come up with, folks.

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State/OIG Is Hiring! One Senior Investigative Counsel Wanted for Complex/Sensitive Allegations

— By Domani Spero

In early October, State IG Steve Linick was joined at the Inspector General Office by two former officials from FHFA-OIG; the office also had a partial make over of its top ranks.   See New Faces, Old Faces — State Dept’s Office of Inspector General Gets a Make-Over.  Now State/OIG has announced job openings for three other positions.

Criminal Investigator
OIG-2014-0008
GS-1811-12/13
Closes: November 24, 2013

Attorney Adviser- General (Senior Investigative Counsel)
OIG-2014-0006
GS-0905-15
Closes: December 11, 2013

Director (Congressional and Public Affairs)
OIG-2014-0007
GS-0301-15
Closes: December 12, 2013

Well, what are you waiting for?  Active links added for those interested in applying for those jobs.

The Attorney Adviser position caught our eyes.  According to usajobs.gov, this position is specifically responsible for the following (not full list, see job announcement here):

  • Receiving and reviewing allegations of misconduct involving senior DOS/BBG employees that may involve violations of law, DOS/BBG regulations, or applicable standards of conduct;
  • Undertaking investigations to pursue such allegations either alone or as part of an OIG team. Drafts public and non-public reports of investigative findings or conclusions;
  • Identifying significant violations of policies or procedures that become evident in the course of investigations, evaluations, and other special projects, and submitting recommendations for corrective action;
  • Personally handling matters assigned by the IG/DIG that involve sensitive, highly visible issues;

The job is a full-time permanent  GS-15 position with a salary range of $123,758.00 to $155,500.00/per annum.

In any case, we got curious about this so we asked the IG office, and here is what we’re told:

“While the Director, Congressional & Public Affairs is an established position that has recently become vacant, the Investigative Counsel is a new position for the State OIG. The IG envisions hiring an individual with legal and/or prosecutorial experience to enhance OIG’s ability to pursue civil and criminal penalties and to investigate complex and sensitive allegations of employee misconduct.

In addition, this individual would be assigned to conduct special reviews and projects for the OIG.  This approach has been used successfully at the Department of Justice OIG, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), and the Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General.”

They do have complex and sensitive allegations to tackle over there.

Remember this past summer when there was a big kaboom in Foggy Bottom ? (See CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal.  The Cable’s John Hudson had an exclusive with Aurelia Fedenisn, a former State Department inspector general investigator Exclusive: Whistleblower Says State Department Trying to Bully Her Into Silence.  Some real serious allegations were made about cases that were reportedly ”influenced, manipulated, or simply called off” in the State Department.  State/OIG released a statement to CBS News here.

There were eight cases alleged in that memo.  None of those cases appeared on the OIG’s semi-annual report to Congress.  We’re still waiting for the results of the investigation.

State/OIG told us that “the eight cases to which you referred continue to be under review.”

A separate case involving allegations about the U.S. Consulate General in Naples did make it to the OIG semi-annual report ending March 31, 2013:

“On November 2, 2012, OIG received a request from Senator Rand Paul to investigate allegations of staff misconduct at the U.S. Consulate General in Naples, Italy. In its response, OIG noted that the complaints were referred to the appropriate offices in the Department and that the complainants were provided contact information for the offices to which the complaints were referred.”

State/OIG explained that the way its Office of Investigations (INV) works is that all incoming complaints and/or allegations are processed through the Hotline.  OIG INV then “assesses each incoming complaint and/or allegation individually to determine the most appropriate course of action based on the facts of the matter.”  This Naples case was referred out of the IG and is reportedly ongoing in the State Department’s Office of Civil Rights.   We have to say that this is a case that already got ugly but can get a whole lot uglier.

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