State Dept refused to name its SGEs because of reasons #1, #2, #3, #4 and … oh right, the Privacy Act of 1974

— Domani Spero

Last week, ProPublica posted this: Who Are State Dept’s 100 “Special Government Employees”? It Won’t Say.  We blogged about it here: Who Are State Dept’s 100 “Special Government Employees”? Dunno But Is Non-Disclosure For Public Good? Today, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has more on the subject. And after months of giving one reason or another to the reporters pursuing this case, the State Department is down to its Captain America shield  — the Privacy Act of 1974.

Below excerpted from POGO: State Dept. Won’t Name Advisers Already in Government’s Public Database:

They’ve all been selected to advise the State Department on foreign policy issues. Their names are listed on the State Department’s website.

So why won’t the Department disclose that these individuals are special government employees (SGEs)?

For four months, State has refused to name its SGEs, ProPublica reported last week, leaving the public to guess which outside experts are advising the Department on matters that affect the public’s interest.

Yet, the Project On Government Oversight was able to find more than 100 of the advisers identified as SGEs in an online government database. In other words, some of the information that State has been refusing to provide is hiding in plain sight.
[…]
State has refused to identify any of its special employees, even though most agencies contacted by ProPublica were easily able to provide a list of their SGEs.

First, a State spokeswoman told ProPublica her agency “does not disclose employee information of this nature.”

When ProPublica filed a request seeking the list of names under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it was told the agency doesn’t keep such a list, and State’s FOIA office refused to track down the information because it would require “extensive research.”

In September, ProPublica told State it planned to report that the Department was refusing to provide a list of names. In response, State said the FOIA request “was being reopened” and that the records would be provided “in a few weeks,” according to ProPublica.

“The State Department has since pushed back the delivery date three times and still hasn’t provided any list,” ProPublica reported last week. “It has been four months since we filed the original request.”

On Friday, a State official told The Washington Post that the Department is “diligently working to resolve” the FOIA request. The official cited concerns about “maintaining employee protections of privacy.”

State’s posture over the past several months is at odds with POGO’s finding: why can’t the Department give the press the same information it already supplied to a public database?

“Disclosure of certain employee information is subject to the Privacy Act of 1974,” Alec Gerlach, a State spokesperson, told POGO. “That some information may already be publicly available does not absolve the Department of Privacy Act requirements. Whether someone is an SGE is Privacy Act-protected information that we would not release except through the FOIA process.”

However, one of the authors of ProPublica’s story questioned why State hasn’t turned over the requested records. “I think anytime a government agency won’t reveal information, it raises questions about why they aren’t,” Liz Day, ProPublica’s Director of Research, told POGO.

Holy mother of god of distraught spoxes!  Okay, please, try not to laugh. It is disturbing to watch this type of contortion, and it seems to be coming regularly these days from Foggy Bottom.

Seriously.  If this is about the Privacy Act of 1974, why wasn’t ProPublica told of this restriction four months ago? And does that mean that all other agencies who released their SGE names were in violation of the Privacy Act of 1974?

Also, State/OIG was told that “The number of special government employee filers was given as 100.”  A State Department spokeswoman told ProPublica that there are “about 100” such employees.  But what do you know?  The Project On Government Oversight was able to find more than 100 of the advisers (excel download file) identified as SGEs in an online government database. Are there more? How many more?

The list does not include the more famous SGEs of the State Department previously identified in news report.

New message from Mission Command:  “Good morning, Mr. Hunt (or whoever is available). Your mission, should you choose to accept it, involves the retrieval of very Special Government Employee (SGE) names. There are more than a hundred names but no one knows how many more.  They are padlocked in the Privacy Act of 1974 vault, guarded by a monstrous fire-breathing creature from Asia Minor. PA1974 vault location is currently in Foggy Bottom.  As always, should you or any member of your team be caught or killed, everybody with a badge will disavow all knowledge of your actions. This message will self-destruct in five seconds.  If not, well, find a match and burn.”

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Still No Junkyard Dog? Senator Cruz Warns He’ll Place a Hold on All State Dept Nominations

— By Domani Spero
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) today released the following statement regarding President Obama’s failure to nominate an Inspector General (IG) for the U.S. Department of State. IGs are congressionally mandated officers who provide independent agency oversight.

The President’s failure to nominate a State Department Inspector General since taking office in 2009 is unacceptable. The position has been vacant for almost 2,000 days. This is a crucial oversight position and should be a priority for an agency facing substantial management challenges.

While several federal agencies are operating without a Senate-confirmed Inspector General, only the State Department has been without a credible and independent Inspector General for so long.

During the last five years, there have been deadly attacks on U.S. diplomatic personnel in Libya, mismanagement of security contractors at our embassy in Afghanistan, and hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars wasted for police training in Iraq. These issues highlight the State Department’s need for an Inspector General as soon as possible.

Until the President acts, I have notified Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that I will place a hold on all State Department nominations.

According to the Project on Government Oversight, the State Department’s Inspector General  has been vacant since January 16, 2008.  At 1,988 days and counting, the vacancy has been the longest unfilled position among the government watchdogs.  After over 600 days of vacancy, President Obama on June 10, 2013 did nominate Michael G. Carroll as the IG for USAID.

State Department sources apparently told The Daily Beast that outgoing Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford might be in contention for the IG job.  We don’t think that’s even permissible because he is still an active FS officer. And if he retires and is appointed IG, he would be in the same status as the current Acting IG Harold Geisel who is a retired FSO.  Ambassador Geisel, by the way, agrees that a Foreign Service officer cannot be an IG.  Below is an excerpt from his oral history interview.  The Sherman he refers to here is Sherman Funk who was named Inspector General for the State Department in 1987.

Q: The idea being to put somebody in who was not Foreign Service.

GEISEL: That is correct.

Q: Sort of, as I think they called it, a junkyard dog.

GEISEL: That’s what Sherman called it. He said his job was to be a junkyard dog. Now, the inspector general act did not require a non-Foreign Service type that was Jesse Helms who attached some legislation to something else that said a Foreign Service officer cannot be the IG. And after having served as the acting IG, I think that was one of the wisest things that Jesse Helms ever put into legislation because it’s impossible for a Foreign Service type who’s an honorable person to be IG when stuff is coming in over the transom about his friends.

Q: Yes.

GEISEL: I had to disqualify myself a few times. I would sign papers, my counsel would say you know this person, you’re going to sign this but you’re just going to see the person’s name but we’re not briefing you on this. Then I would be out of it and I would designate someone else to receive the work and to brief the deputy secretary about it. It didn’t happen too often but it happened.

Yup, the State Department needs a junkyard dog.  It needed that dog yesterday.

The State Department’s Patrick Ventrell says that “the Secretary and the President have identified an excellent candidate for Inspector General for the State Department, and we look forward to the nomination becoming public after the vetting and paperwork process is complete.”

(¬_¬)

The Sad Saga of US Consulate Jeddah’s New Consulate Compound via USASpending.gov

We previously blogged about USCG Jeddah  (see 2005 Jeddah ARB Recommended “Remote Safe Areas” for Embassies – Upgrades Coming … Or Maybe Not and New US Consulate in Jeddah – Under Construction Since 2007?)

There was a December 6, 2004 terrorist attack on USCG Jeddah where gunmen killed four locally employed staff members and injured nine others working outside the consulate building. At least six months before that, a $319,197 contract was awarded for the Jeddah facility upgrade.

Screen Shot 2013-04-20

On May 12, 2006, there was another attack on USCG Jeddah.  A number of shots were fired at the consulate compound but no casualties were reported.  Sixteen months after this attack and almost three years after the deadly 2004 attack, a $122,292,510 contract was awarded to Grunley Walsh for the design/build project in Jeddah.

Screen Shot 2013-04-20

Ten months later, a $390,000 contract was also awarded to Grunley Walsh for the design/build project in Jeddah. The reason for the modification was for “funding only action” whatever that means.

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On February 11, 2009, the $122,205,676 contract with the Grunley Walsh Limited Liability Company was again modified. The reason indicated for modification was “change order.” USASpending data indicates that the current contract value at the time of modification was $19,000 with $122,205,676 obligated.

Grunley-Walsh was renamed Aurora-LLC after it was sold.  At least, by April 29, 2010, Grunley-Walsh had become Aurora-LLC because according to McClatchy News, Aurora-LLC lawyers at that time were then dealing with the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Building Operations on its subcontractor issue with First Kuwaiti.

On May 10, 2010, Aurora was terminated from the Jeddah contract according to McClatchy News citing a State Department official, “after 90 percent of the contract period had expired, with only 54 percent of the work done.”

On November 18, 2010, Aurora LLC was mentioned in a letter from the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) to the White House questioning the independence of the State Department’s Inspector General.

As an aside — the website grunley-walsh.com is currently an online parking lot. Aurora-LLC is now a “page not found” although you can still find the cache version of the website here.  Findthecompany.com has an online snapshot of Aurora-LLC here showing $240 million in revenue in 2011.

The planned USCG Jeddah (image from state.gov/obo)

The planned USCG Jeddah (image from state.gov/obo)

We are unable to locate information on what happened to this project after the contract was reportedly terminated on May 10, 2010. We presumed incorrectly that there was another contractor after the contract was terminated in 2010; there does not appear to be one.  But two years and four months after that May 10, 2010 termination, there is a new contract and a new contractor.

On September 27, 2012, a $100,543,000 contract was awarded to American International Contractors, Inc.  While the USASpending page only states that this is for the construction of a New Consulate Compound in Saudi Arabia, the publicly available document on FDCD 2012 Fiscal Year OBO Capital Project Awards does indicate that SAQMMA-12-C-0221 for $100,543,000 is for the Jeddah NCC with an expected completion date of 24 months.

Screen Shot 2013-04-20

So excluding the facility upgrade in 2004, it looks like the Jeddah NCC which has been on the planning/construction/hold/construction/delivery phase since 2007 now amounts to $233,225,510. We’re terrible at math, but it looks like this project is now years delayed and almost double the original contract.

In addition, this project has now spanned the tenures of three secretaries of state – Rice, Clinton, and Kerry. Neither the State Department’s Inspector General Office nor the oversight people in Congress appears terribly bothered by the delay or the expanded cost of this project.

If anyone has the stories beyond the paper trail, we’d like to hear about it.

Meanwhile, a trip down memory lane —

In 2005, then Secretary Condoleeza Rice said this:

[W]e will also make sure that the tremendous charge that we have to lead the diplomatic effort, to support those diplomatic efforts, to train people well, to make sure that people are safe and secure in the embassies, to make sure that our nationals abroad have access to us so that they can be secure in dangerous times, that those will be very high priorities. I know they are very high priorities for me. They are high priorities for the President, as well. We will do everything we can to make sure that we’ve got the resources that we need.

Then there’s Secretary Hillary Clinton who said this:

[P]lease know that nothing is more important to us than your safety, and making sure you have secure places to live and work is our top priority.

Current Secretary of State John Kerry said this not too long ago:

I guarantee you that, beginning this morning when I report for duty upstairs, everything I do will be focused on the security and safety of our people. 

 

Somebody please put Jeddah on his agenda.  Of course, we can’t expect the secretary of state to be hammering nails at wherever place, but all that talk  and years on this … it’s sad to see that  USCG Jeddah is still missing a new secure building and no one seems to be upset about it.

— DS

Correction: USASpending.gov not/not USASpending.com

New US Consulate in Jeddah – Under Construction Since 2007?

We recently blogged about the US Consulate General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (see 2005 Jeddah ARB Recommended “Remote Safe Areas” for Embassies – Upgrades Coming … Or Maybe Not).  Then, as often the case, a reader writes; this time with a question  —  hey, do you know that we have constructed the shell of a new consulate in Jeddah on a big compound that just sits empty?

Nope, didn’t know that. We’ve been looking around and saw this:

The planned USCG Jeddah (image from state.gov/obo)

The planned USCG Jeddah (image from state.gov/obo)

The OBO website has few details about the Jeddah New Consulate Compound (NCC):

Estimated Construction Completion:  February 29, 2012
General Construction Contractor:  TBD
Architectural Firm: [blank]

Back in 2007, Arab News actually covered this new site. The NCC according to the news, citing a statement from USCG Jeddah, was supposed to  start construction in late 2007, and be completed in 2009:

JEDDAH, 13 August 2007 — The US Consulate in Jeddah is to be relocated within two to three years at a new site on the corner of King Road (Al-Malik Road) and Sari Street. Work is currently under way to prepare the new location, which will also serve as the consul general’s residence.

According to a press release posted on the consulate’s website, the newly appointed US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ford M. Fraker visited the new site on May 20 accompanied by Consul General Tatiana C. Gfoeller. The press release, however, did not identify the location.

“The visit follows a recent agreement approved by the Government of Saudi Arabia to purchase land for the new Consulate General compound. Construction for the new facilities will begin later in 2007 and is expected to be completed in 2009,” the statement said.

Then on June 10, 2010, in an article titled, Did the State Dept go to bat for First Kuwaiti? McClatchy News added a piece to the Jeddah puzzle:

“The official noted that Aurora was terminated from the Jeddah contract on May 10 this year, after 90 percent of the contract period had expired, with only 54 percent of the work done. (Aurora, according to other letters we obtained, is demanding $10.5 million in breach damages from the government, as well as $5.7 million for work it performed).”

If First Kuwaiti sounds familiar, that’s because in August 2011, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) also reported about this in Contractor Behind Bungled Embassy Construction Sends State Dept. List of Claims Totaling $375 Million.  

The State Department official who spoke to McClatchy News in June 2010 confirmed that the  Jeddah contract was terminated in May 2010 with only 54% of the work done.

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Bureau of Overseas Building  Operations’ Design and Construction Program for FEDCon 2013 – The Market Outlook on Federal Construction dated January 9, 2013 listed the Jeddah NCC (see slide 24) as one of the recently awarded projects.  The contractor listed for the project is the American International Contractors (AIC). According to its website, in 2012 AICI-SP was awarded contracts for construction of Department of State facilities in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and Taipei, Taiwan. It looks like the Jeddah NCC contract was for $100,543,000.00 awarded on 28 Sep 2012 for  a 24 month duration.

If the Jeddah NCC originally started construction in 2007 with a 2009 completion date, and the original contractor was terminated in 2010, the termination happened when it was already behind schedule. We presumed though cannot confirmed  that a new contractor was selected after that with an expected delivery date of February 29, 2012. If that worked out, there would not have been a reason to re-award this contact in 2012.  But there it is.

If anyone has a clearer and more straight-forward timeline for this project, please feel free to leave a comment or drop a line via contactify.  This new consulate is supposed to replace the old consulate which was attacked by terrorists on Dec. 6, 2004 and again on May 12, 2006.  We’d like to understand how this NCC can be 3-5 years behind schedule.  And if the 2012 contract is for $100,543,000.00, how much would be the total cost of Jeddah NCC when you add all the previous contracts for this facility alone? Is this phase whatever of one contract?

We don’t know anything more than what we’ve written here, which is not a lot, but — if this facility has been under construction since 2007 and in 2013 you can walk around in there and not a creature is stirring, something is the matter. And not knowing the answers to the what and whys are nagging us, um, literally to death!!

Now on the off chance that you’re reading this from Jeddah and doing your visa and ACS interviews from inside this new NCC, please send us a note and tell us when you moved in.

— DS