Patrick Kennedy, Other Officials Step Down – Yo! That’s Not the “Entire” Senior Management

Posted: 10:09 am PT
Updated: 10:29 am PT
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Yesterday, Mark Toner, the State Department’s Acting Spokesperson said that “Patrick Kennedy will resign as Under Secretary for Management on January 27, and retire from the Department of State on January 31. A career Foreign Service Officer, Under Secretary Kennedy joined the Department in 1973.”  To read more about him, see The State Department’s Mr. Fix-It of Last Resort Gets the Spotlight.

Today, WaPo reports that the “entire senior management team just resigned.” In addition to U/S Kennedy stepping down, others named includes A/Barr, CA/Bond, DS/Gentry Smith, all career diplomats, and presumably are retiring from the Foreign Service. Previous departures include OBO’s non-career appointee, Lydia Muniz o/a January 20, and Diplomatic Security’s Greg Starr who retired a week before inauguration.

As we have noted before in this blog, U/S Kennedy has been the Under Secretary for Management since 2007. He is the longest serving “M in the history of the State Department, and only the second career diplomat to encumber this position. U/S Kennedy’s departure is a major change, however, it is not unexpected.

The “M” family of offices is the train that runs the State Department, it also affects every part of employees lives in the agency. But there are 13 offices under the “M” group.  Four departures this week including Kennedy, plus two previous ones do not make the “entire” senior management.  If there are other retirements we are not hearing, let us know.  But as one former senior State Department official told us  too much hyperventilation at the moment “is distracting from things that really are problematic.”  

The challenge now for Mr. Tillerson who we expect will be confirmed as the 69th Secretary of State next week, is to find the right successor to lead the “M” group.  We hope he picks one who knows the levers and switches in Foggy Bottom and not one who will get lost in the corridors.

Update: Via CNN “Any implication that that these four people quit is wrong,” one senior State Department official said. “These people are loyal to the secretary, the President and to the State Department. There is just not any attempt here to dis the President. People are not quitting and running away in disgust. This is the White House cleaning house.”

Update: Statement from Mark Toner, Acting Spokesperson:

“As is standard with every transition, the outgoing administration, in coordination with the incoming one, requested all politically appointed officers submit letters of resignation. The Department encourages and advocates for senior officers to compete for high level offices in the Department. These positions are political appointments, and require the President to nominate and the Senate to confirm them in these roles. They are not career appointments but of limited term. Of the officers whose resignations were accepted, some will continue in the Foreign Service in other positions, and others will retire by choice or because they have exceeded the time limits of their grade in service. No officer accepts a political appointment with the expectation that it is unlimited. And all officers understand that the President may choose to replace them at any time. These officers have served admirably and well. Their departure offers a moment to consider their accomplishments and thank them for their service.”

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US Embassy Kabul’s Two New Buildings Have Hazardous Electrical Currents That Can Cause Severe Injury and Death

Posted: 1:39 am ET
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On July 24, 2009, DODIG released its report on Electrocution Deaths in Iraq (see Appendix A for the list of 18 U.S. military and contractors who died from electrocution from March 2003- March 2009 (PDF).

On September 1, 2009, US Air Force Staff Sgt. Adam Hermanson who worked for State Department contractor, Triple Canopy also reportedly died from electrocution. According to one media report, his body was discovered on the floor of a shower near his quarters at Camp Olympia. (See State Dept Contractor Electrocuted in Iraq).

On April 12, State/OIG posted its Management Alert: Hazardous Electrical Current in Office and Residential Buildings Presents Life, Health, and Safety Risks at U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan (PDF) affecting potentially 1200 individuals.  The two buildings (a 917-desk New Office Annex (NOX) and the 298-bed Staff Diplomatic Apartment (SDA-1) are part of a major office and residential expansion at Embassy Kabul at a cost of nearly $800 million. Embassy personnel reportedly began occupying the NOX in July 2015, and residents began moving into the SDA-1 apartments in February 2016.

This is a “management alert” as such, its  intention is indeed “to alert” the State Department leadership about this significant issue that requires immediate corrective action. The only think missing from this management alert is its distribution list; we don’t want to hear later on that this went only as far as the assistant secretaries desks.

Excerpt below:

During the course of an ongoing audit of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) construction and commissioning of a new office and residential apartment building at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) identified life, health, and safety risks to building occupants due to a type of hazardous electrical current—known as objectionable current—in both the office and apartment building. Specifically, OIG and the USACE team, which included master electricians from Task Force Protect Our Warfighters and Electrical Resources (POWER), discovered objectionable currents measuring up to 16.7 amps in the New Office Annex (NOX) building and up to 27 amps in the residential apartment building—Staff Diplomatic Apartment (SDA-1).1 Objectionable current is electrical current occurring on the grounding wiring of a building. Although the National Electrical Code does not establish a life safety threshold for objectionable current, Task Force POWER considers any objectionable current a risk to life and safety.

Industry safety standards regarding electrical shock indicate that loss of life is probable with current as low as 10 amps.2 In the case of the NOX, the objectionable current measured 6 amps more than the level that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have determined is likely to result in cardiac arrest, severe burns, and probable death. With respect to the residential apartment, or SDA-1, the objectionable current measured 17 amps more than the level of amperage that the CDC has determined is likely to result in death. The most common causes of objectionable current are improperly installed electrical wiring, equipment, and faulty electrical appliances.

The NOX is designed to accommodate more than 900 Department personnel, and when fully occupied, SDA-1 will house nearly 300 residents. When objectionable current flows on metal parts, it can cause electric shock and even death from ventricular fibrillation because of the elevated voltage. It can also cause a fire to ignite if combustible material is placed near the current. As a result, the life, health, and safety of Department personnel occupying these buildings are at risk. Accordingly, OIG is recommending that Embassy Kabul in coordination with OBO take immediate action to: (1) examine the installation of electrical wiring, equipment, and appliances in the NOX and SDA-1 to ascertain the cause for the objectionable current; (2) determine what mitigation measures can be immediately taken to eliminate or reduce risk to personnel occupying the buildings; (3) and, to the extent necessary, inform residents of the existence of objectionable current and the risks associated with it, and provide instructions on how to eliminate or avoid accompanying hazards.

State/OIG says that Task Force POWER in Afghanistan was created by Congress in response to the deaths of 14 U.S. personnel in Iraq in 2008 due to electrocution as well as injuries to a number of others from electrical shock. Its mission is to identify and correct electrical issues at all military facilities in Afghanistan.

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Senior embassy officials briefed:

OIG and Task Force POWER representatives briefed senior embassy officials of their findings on February 27, 2016. Subsequent to that briefing, the Department sent a cable (see Appendix C) on February 29, 2016, stating, among other things, that little or no objectionable current was measured prior to occupancy but that it is taking actions to address the high levels of objectionable current that have now been detected. The Department also issued a Management Notice on March 2, 2016, further outlining the actions it is planning to take to address the issue (see Appendix D). OIG is equally concerned with the safety and security of personnel living and working at the embassy and believes that it is paramount that the embassy takes actions to address the concerns.

Embassy Kabul’s response:

Embassy Kabul reported that Facilities Management, OBO, and maintenance and construction contractors have examined the electrical wiring in the NOX and SDA-1 and have documented the objectionable current readings at the buildings’ electrical panels. The group also examined the main power distribution loop servicing both the East and West sides of the embassy compound and subsequently shared this information with OBO’s Electrical Safety Working Group.

Embassy Kabul further stated that although the group consisting of Facilities Management, OBO, and contractors performed detailed inspections of the buildings and the power distribution loop, it has not been able to determine a single root cause of the objectionable current. Due to the highly technical nature of objectionable current, the embassy indicated that it must defer to the OBO subject matter experts as well as OBO’s Electrical Safety Working Group for guidance and a determination of the causes of objectionable current at the SDA-1 and NOX buildings

State/OBO’s response:

OBO told OIG in its formal response that it “conducted comprehensive reviews of SDA-1 and the New Office Annex (NOX) buildings prior to occupancy. At that time, little or no objectionable current was measured. However, it is not unusual for objectionable current to present itself after the installation of equipment and appliances post- occupancy and when the building is running at full capacity.”

OIG recommended that the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ Facilities Management Office, in coordination with Embassy Kabul, determine what mitigation measures can be immediately taken to eliminate or reduce risk to personnel occupying the buildings.

OBO Director Lydia Muniz told OIG Steve Linick in its memorandum response that “OBO does not agree that the observed objectionable current poses a general problem for the occupants of the building, but agrees that workers in the restricted electrical and mechanical rooms face a potential hazard.”

“OBO Response: OBO did not concur that observed objectionable current poses a general problem for the occupants of the building. OBO stated that the first priority of both OBO and Embassy Kabul was to inspect residential spaces and those used by the public. According to OBO, the readings in residential and public spaces were consistent with readings taken prior to building occupancy, and OBO verified that the objectionable current was limited to locked and restricted mechanical and electrical rooms.”

As a result of OBO’s non-concurence, OIG considered its recommendation unresolved:

… because OBO did not concur that the observed objectionable current poses a risk for occupants in the NOX and SDA- 1. According to Task Force POWER, until OBO is able to isolate the source(s) of objectionable current, it may be present anywhere throughout the electrical system. Higher readings of amperage detected in mechanical and electrical rooms may be the cumulative result of multiple sources of objectionable current located throughout the building. Additionally, according to Task Force POWER, higher levels of objectionable current will be observed at the electrical panels, as this is where all electricity returns to complete the circuit. While authorized personnel performing maintenance on the electrical system are at a higher risk of coming in contact with objectionable current, there is no evidence that the risk is limited only to workers in restricted electrical and mechanical rooms.

The Thing (From Another World) - James Arness plays the hostile plant-based extraterrestrial in the 1951 RKO Pictures sci-fi horror. (gif via Dangerous Universe)

The Thing (From Another World) – James Arness plays the hostile plant-based extraterrestrial in the 1951 RKO Pictures sci-fi horror. (gif via Dangerous Universe)

A need for increased awareness and mitigation measures for all embassy personnel:

State/OIG says it “will consider the recommendation resolved when OBO and Embassy Kabul identify mitigation measures to eliminate or reduce the immediate risk to those personnel occupying the NOX and SDA-1. The March 2, 2016 Management Notice issued to all Embassy personnel increased awareness, but did not identify mitigation measures for all Embassy personnel. Instead, the notice limits its guidance to advising employees not to enter or tamper with locked mechanical rooms or electrical boxes. This recommendation will be considered closed when OIG receives and accepts documentation demonstrating that OBO, in conjunction with U.S. Embassy Kabul, has implemented mitigation measures to eliminate or reduce the immediate risk to office workers and building residents in addition to those mitigation steps already taken to reduce the risk to workers accessing mechanical and electrical rooms.”

Click here for the American Heart Association’s Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care in the case of electric shock — particularly on modifications for basic life support and advanced cardiovascular life support.

 

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

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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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