US Embassy Juba: Dear Congress, This Facility Puts Employees “At Risk” But Hey, Waivers

By Domani Spero

The South Sudan gained independence on July 9, 2011, after being at war with Sudan for nearly 40 of the past 57 years. USCG Juba became an embassy the same time.  In early 2013, State/OIG conducted an inspection of the USG’s newest embassy in the world. The mission is headed by Ambassador Susan D. Page who arrived at post in December 2011; DCM Michael McClellan arrived at post in September 2012.  At just one paragraph, the leadership section of the OIG report is a haiku and the shortest we’ve seen ever.

For all those folks in Congress almost tearing their hair silly over the Benghazi talking points, here is one for you – Juba.  And this one is actually an embassy not a special mission like Benghazi.

Map of Juba, South Sudan

Map of South Sudan

Backgrounder excerpted from the OIG report:

The United States invested significant high-level energy and funding in the process that led to South Sudan’s 2011 referendum and subsequent independence. The South Sudan Government and people have a positive opinion of the United States for its role in their independence. However, the country faces severe and long-standing security, economic, and development challenges supplemented by worrisome government measures to restrict human and civil rights.

South Sudan is among the world’s poorest countries. The literacy rate is 27 percent, and half the population of 10.6 million is under the age of 18. The population of Juba has expanded to 1 million, a tenfold increase over the past decade. Although South Sudan has substantial oil reserves, exploitation requires trans-shipment of the crude oil to the Red Sea via Sudanese pipelines. The economy has deteriorated since January 2012, when the government shut down oil production as the result of disputes with Sudan. There is very little manufacturing or commercial farming, and most products are imported. The country suffers from a severe shortage of foreign currency. The United States and South Sudan have no significant bilateral trade.

The United States is the largest bilateral donor to South Sudan, providing $632 million in FY 2012. Since 2005, the United States has provided $10 billion in humanitarian, development, peacekeeping, and reconstruction assistance to South Sudan and eastern Chad. In South Sudan there are an estimated 212,000 refugees, 114,000 of them displaced, and since 2010, 691,000 returnees from Sudan. Fighting across the borders continues, resulting in new refugee flows.

One of the OIG’s key findings is that the Department has been unable to staff Embassy Juba adequately, “preventing the embassy from functioning as effectively as it should.” It operates out of a small chancery deemed too small to accommodate additional staff and the new embassy is not scheduled for construction until 2018.

But post is not short on ambition. Its 2014 Mission Resource Request includes as one of its goals “the elimination of conflicts in flashpoint areas;”  in a country that has only known war in 40 of the past 57 years.


Facility Puts Embassy Employees At Risk

The embassy compound is too small and operates under waivers for a number of security standards. The embassy cannot accommodate the personnel necessary to advance U.S. interests effectively and to manage and monitor the $1.6 billion development program—the largest in Africa. A recent USAID/South Sudan staffing review found the need for 27 new positions to oversee programs properly. Staffing on the policy side is also insufficient to meet Washington’s high demand. All reporting offices work long hours trying to keep up with questions from the National Security Council Staff, S/USSESSS, the Department, and the Combatant Command for Africa (AFRICOM).

The current facility puts embassy employees at risk. The inability to add more staff leaves assistance programs vulnerable to failure or misuse of funds. The Department has decided to keep the mission with its current footprint until construction of a new embassy. It will be a number of years, however, until the new embassy is ready. In the meantime, personnel and the integrity of our programs are at risk.

Tour of Duty

When Consulate General Juba became an embassy in July 2011, the Department specified that tours of duty would be unaccompanied and 1 year in duration, with two rest and recuperation trips. The Ambassador has developed policies to increase time on the ground, including a November 2012 policy setting a maximum of 33 days that an officer could be away from post. Frequent absences due to illness further reduce time in the office. The 1-year tour of duty has a number of negative consequences. Officers find it difficult to conduct policy advocacy effectively, because it takes so long for them to learn their portfolios and establish personal contacts with South Sudanese officials. They often do not have time to understand, oversee, and shape foreign assistance programs. Frequent rotations also result in ineffective management of locally employed (LE) staff, causing them to take less initiative due to shifting priorities.

Below are a few more items in the report that we thought striking .  We will blog separately about the consular operation there.

  • There is no entry-level officer development program at Embassy Juba. The two entry- level officers interact with the DCM on a regular basis, but there are no activities directed to their long-term career development.
  • The invisibility of the EEO counselor at a post with many junior officers and new LE staff members could account in part for the lack of EEO complaints. Local guard force personnel indicated on questionnaires and interviews that they had been victims of tribalism, favoritism, and other discrimination. Without the guidance of certified, trained personnel and ready access to pertinent information, mission employees cannot resolve EEO issues and are vulnerable to workplace discrimination.
  • The embassy’s limited computer platform leaves officers tracking upcoming visitors and reports on dry-erase whiteboards. Department-issued BlackBerry devices do not work in South Sudan.
  • Few employees use the embassy SharePoint site, inaugurated in October. Instead, they email documents to one another, inevitably missing some employees and spawning multiple requests for updates.
  • When asked how they track contacts, officers showed inspectors piles of business cards. These stacks are practically meaningless without context, which officers lack because of complete turnover in American staffing each summer.

Public Diplomacy Fail: $600 Million in Aid and Locals Don’t Know It’s From Uncle Sam?

 The PAO does not hold regular planning meetings with the Ambassador or the DCM, and there is no mission public diplomacy strategy. Other than the daily “gaggle” in the Ambassador’s office, which concentrates mostly on the agenda of the day, the only planning meeting is the weekly extended political section meeting once a week on Fridays. That meeting does not lend itself to an exchange of information on how the public affairs section can support mission objectives.

The USAID mission has a budget of more than $600 million, but USAID public affairs support is located in Washington. The Ambassador is an active promoter of USAID activities and often opens projects for them. USAID has brought on board an LE staff member in public affairs and is now in the process of hiring a documentation, outreach, and communications U.S. direct hire. It is important for the PAO to think ahead about how best to coordinate her work and that of the USAID documentation, outreach, and communications officer. As is, according to one interviewee, “the man on the street has no idea that the United States is contributing more than $600 million in assistance to South Sudan.”

The full report is available here.

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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